Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Ultimate Direction and didn’t receive a vest for testing purposes. This review is based solely on my opinion and experiences with the Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 in training and racing.
My First Ultimate Direction Running Vest
Two weeks before my first race in 2021 – the Schwerin Lake Trail Ultra – I was scouring the market for a new running vest. I have been a loyal customer of Salomon until then. The Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 is my first running vest from another company. I was happy with it during my first test runs. It also successfully accompanied me to a third-place finish in the Schwerin Lake Trail Ultra.
Since I bought it, I have run almost every day with the Ultimate Direction strapped to my back and am (mostly) happy with it. It is perfect for shorter training runs where you don’t need to pack a lot of gear and a whole day’s worth of water and snacks. After trying several other vests and packs, I finally found one that fits snuggly, and my back is happy that the chafing from carrying a running vest finally subsided.
How Does It Fit?
As suggested above, the Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 fits nicely. I ordered it because it comes in an XS-S size, which is still a rarity for running vests.
However, I still needed to cinch down the straps all the way when running with a relatively empty pack, where I only had the two water bottles filled and a few snacks with me. Still, even when the vest is only lightly loaded, it doesn’t bounce and feels like an extension of your body.
I used to have a lot of issues with chafing when wearing running vests from Salomon. This has become a non-issue now.
What I especially love about the Ultimate Direction is that you have many options to adjust the fit.
First of all, you have two wide shoulder straps that have two adjustable chest/sternum straps. At first, the strap hooks are a bit hard to attach, but it becomes easier after a few weeks of use.
For extra adjustability, the pack has an elastic cinch cord that runs from the bottom of the shoulder straps to the back of the pack. Another bonus of the side compression is that you can adjust the fit on the run to accommodate different loads due to dwindling water reservoirs or a change of clothing.
The vest is quite stretchy and allows for heavy breathing, even when the straps are cinched down. As a result, it sits tight and secure but lets you breathe without any restrictions.
How Much Space Does It Have?
The vest comes with two large front pockets designed to hold a 500 ml soft flask. On the right side, two open stretchy pockets are attached to the soft flask pocket. Here you can store smaller items, like gels or bars. I like to carry electrolyte tablets, honey gels, or cheese in them.
Below the soft flask pockets are two stretchy pockets. One is zippered, and one is open-topped.
Unfortunately, my smartphone (Xiaomi) doesn’t fit into the zippered pocket, so I carry it in a running belt.
The chest straps have elastic loops for attaching trekking poles to the front of the pack. I also use them to attach my whistle. The whistle that comes with the Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 is pretty useless because it hardly makes any sound. So I use another one.
The back of the pack has one large open stretchy pocket that fits a 2l bladder. The bladder is sold separately. I use Salomon’s 1,5l water bladder with the Ultimate Direction, and it works well too. You can attach the bladder via a loop on the top of the pocket. Apart from this, the bladder just sits loosely in the pocket. However, I didn’t find this to be a problem.
A smaller zippered pocket is on the back of the pack, which you can not really access while running. It could be a tad larger so that you can carry more gear. With that said, the Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 is a very light vest, and with only 211g, it’s one of the best packs on the market when it comes to storage to weight ratio.
What Do I Like About The Ultimate Direction?
Overall I am pleased with the Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 Vest. It fits snug and tight, no matter how much load I carry.
It also is more durable than it looks. I was afraid the super-breathable mesh would not be very durable. However, I have run a lot through single-trail forests and undergrowth with it, and it doesn’t show any signs of breakage yet.
This brings me to my next point: the material is super lightweight, and the mesh on the back of the pack allows for a lot of airflow. I sweat much less than I do when I wear other running vests. I also like that you can carry up to 3l of water, which is nice on a longer run without refilling opportunities.
What Could Be Improved?
While the Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 is the best running vest I have found for me so far, there are two areas where there’s some room for improvement.
First of all, the pockets. I would like to have two zippered pockets on the sides instead of only one because I feel that it is more secure for carrying things when you go over rugged terrain. Also, the front pockets designed to hold the soft flasks are a tad too small. The flasks don’t fit properly, which is a bit annoying. You can fit them in, but you have to spend a little extra time to get them appropriately secured. And lastly, the size of at least one of the pockets should be increased to carry a larger smartphone.
The second issue I have is the soft flasks – or, better to say, their durability. Both of them are already showing signs of wear just after 4 weeks of use. One bottle already broke. After some research, it seems to be a common problem for these bottles. I am undecided if I will buy new ones or just stick to using a water bladder instead. I have tried fitting flasks from other manufacturers, but I have yet to find some that work well enough. You can, however, carry a small dose of cola zero in those pockets😉
Despite these few negatives, I found the Ultimate Direction Women’s Race 5.0 to be a very comfortable and light vest. It is an excellent choice for training runs and ultra-races where you have to carry moderate amounts of nutrition and gear.