Gear Review: Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0
Carrying your own hydration during a long training run or ultramarathon can be a necessity. Whether you prefer a hydration pack or a handheld, the Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0 might be a good fit for you.
The UD AK Race Vest originally caught my eye because, unlike many packs that use a bladder, it offered two, 20 oz bottles. It also offers several pockets for food, gels and maybe even a small jacket. As an added bonus, it’s made to handle a 70 oz bladder too. The possibilities are extensive, yet the vest remains small and lightweight. Despite (or perhaps, because of) its minimalist design, the UD AK vest seemed to be a very versatile and functional pack that can be used for anything from a long training run to a 100-mile ultramarathon.
Features and What’s New
The UD AK Race Vest 2.0. is very similar to its predecessor, the UD AK Race Vest (minus the “2.0”). There are a few updates and improvements worth mentioning, including cosmetic changes, improved durability, a couple less pockets, and a bigger price tag.
A minor, but very noticeable change is that the 2.0 is now blue and gray, instead of the original red and gray. This change seems to be part of a total re-branding that Ultimate Direction recently underwent. A more significant change, but perhaps less noticeable to the naked eye, is the improved durability, or rather higher quality materials it is made of. The trade-off is a little more weight; the new 2.0 vest weighs about 1.5 ounces more (7 oz) than the original (5.5 oz). That’s almost a 30% increase in weight, but I still can’t imagine 1.5 ounces causing a noticeable difference on the trail.
There are a couple things that Ultimate Direction changed that I’m not as excited about. First, there are less pockets in the 2.0. Apparently, the two rear pockets in the original vest were difficult to access, so in the 2.0 they simply removed them. This might make the vest more functional, but they didn’t make up for the lost storage anywhere else. Leaving 4L of storage volume in the 2.0, compared to what was 4.5L of storage volume in the original vest. The new 2.0 vest also has a steeper price tag at $99. While this still seems to be a reasonable price, who likes to see prices go up?
If you have the original UD AK Vest, should you upgrade? Not necessarily. While the updates seem to make the 2.0 a higher quality vest, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to upgrade unless you are having issues with durability.
What I like About the 2.0
After using the 2.0 for about a month and taking it on several long runs, the vest seems to do the trick for me. Here are a few things in particular that I like about the UD AK 2.0:
- I really like the 2 water bottle setup. It gives me the ease of using and refilling water bottles, but leaves my hands free. I usually fill one with water and the other with an electrolyte drink.
- It wears well without obstructing my natural movement or bouncing around while I run.
- It’s easy to adjust while running.
- There are 4, easy to access front pockets that are a perfect size for gels and bars. 2 of the pockets are a little smaller (big enough for one gel) and the two above the water bottles can fit a little more (even my iPhone!)
- The pockets above the water bottles fit my iPhone, but just barely. My phone sticks out the top of the pocket an inch or two, but it has stayed secure while running.
- It has the option to add a 70 oz bladder. The downside is you must purchase the bladder for an additional $32.99. I haven’t bought a bladder for it yet, but I’m thinking I might get one to have on my longer training runs.
- Storage in the back is perfect for a small jacket, some extra food and whatever other small misc. items I might want or need.
- It’s easy to take off and put back on quickly for those times you need to get something out of the large storage pocket in back.
What I don’t like about the 2.0
While I really like the vest, there are a few minor things that I’m not particularly fond of.
- It lacks mid-size pockets (It’s too bad they removed the rear pockets that were on the original version. That might’ve been what I’m looking for).
- Bottles in the front result in some sloshing. The vest doesn’t seem to bounce around at all, but the sloshing can be bothersome at times. I’ve considered trying the new UD Body Bottles to fix this, but I’m not really sure it bugs me enough to spend $20 (each) for body bottles that hold less liquids
- The two 20 oz bottles don’t seem to cut it for long training runs with no place to refill. I learned this the hard way when I was out for a 20 mile training run in the Santa Monica Mountains a few weeks ago. The sun was getting hot and my water bottles were empty. Luckily I came a across a biker that was packing up to leave one of the trailheads and was nice enough to fill me up. I could solve this problem by adding the 70 oz bladder, but that also means I have to spend another $32.95 on the bladder.
- If I ever add a bladder, my large storage pocket becomes occupied, which leaves me with only a few small pockets up front for gels and bars.
Overall, the new UD AK 2.0 Race Vest seems to be made of high-quality materials, wears comfortably and is very functional. The price could get pretty steep with the optional add-ons (i.e. 70 oz bladder for $32.99 and Body Bottles for $18.99 each), but by itself the $99 price tag seems reasonable. Storage is limited, but the UD AK vest is “designed by the champion of minimalism,” (i.e. Anton Krupicka) so it should be to no surprise.
This vest might not be for everyone, but don’t rule it out too quick. Ultimate Direction seems to achieve a design that is minimalist yet provides enough versatility to appease many different types of runners, not just the uber-minimalist, Anton Krupicka style runners. I haven’t taken the vest out for anything longer than 20 miles yet, but I imagine, with the right configuration it could provide the support needed for just about any distance, supported or not. I plan to use this for all of my long training runs and races this year, from 50k to 100 miles, so I sure hope it’s as durable as they say. If you can’t decide between a handheld or a pack, or you’re just looking for a small, lightweight hydration vest that is versatile; this is it.
Check out more specs and details on the Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 Race Vest on Ultimate Direction’s website.