By Jason B.
I am always looking for new ways to carry gear and stay hydrated while running. For most of my runs, a vest is overkill, but I still need something to carry my phone, a few snacks, and some water. Ultimate Direction has a new line up of running belts called the Access 600 that I think will fill this need in my running gear quiver. I will be reviewing this running belt over the next few months.
Ultimate Direction has been around since 1985 and they make all sorts of hydration and storage solutions for runners. Their website is easy to navigate. The Access 600 can be found under the Products, then Running Belts category.
The Access 600 is their latest iteration of the running belt. It features a large zippered pocket, a mesh pouch, and a flex form 600ml bottle. The bottle is held in place by a plastic cage and has a small elastic loop that fits around the neck of the bottle for extra security. The pocket and pouch have an angled shape to them. There are a ton of reflective accents on the belt – especially on the pouch area and on the plastic bottle cage. The back of the belt features cool wick mesh and a soft suede feeling backing on all the edges. The hip belt is fairly wide and has elastic loops to hold excess belt fabric from bouncing around.
Ultimate Direction claims that the zippered pocket is iPhone 7 compatible. I have an iPhone 6s with a slim fitting UAG case and it fits in the pocket but does not leave room for much else. I was able to use the belt for the Rock and Roll San Diego 5k and I think it performed well. It stayed in place nicely with very little bouncing. I was able to reach the bottle to take a drink and replace it without breaking my stride and I didn’t feel like the bottle was going to bounce out even without using the elastic loop to secure the top of the bottle in the cage.
I have several races coming up over the next few months including the Rock and Roll San Diego Marathon and the Rock and Roll Seattle Half Marathon. I plan on using the belt for these races and my normal training runs. I will evaluate the belt on comfort, usability, durability.
Final Update – September 8, 2017
I have done my best to wear the Ultimate Direction Access 600 running belt out over the last three months. I have 401 miles of use on the belt including running the RNR San Diego Marathon and 5k, the RNR Seattle Half Marathon and 5k, the Hotter than Hell, Dusk to Dawn 10 hour run, an eight hour mountain run in Juneau Alaska, and numerous training runs and hikes. I have used the belt in all conditions, hot and humid in the south, foggy and cool in San Diego, and rain, sun and snow while running in Alaska. None of the weather conditions affected the performance of the belt.
I normally review running belts on three types of criteria – comfort, usability, and durability. Comfort has been great. The wide nylon belt, cool wick air mesh and a soft suede backing on the piping were comfortable in all conditions. I was able to wear the belt comfortably with or without a shirt and experienced no chaffing, which I thought I might experience in my lower back. In addition, while wearing it continuously for 8 hours while running the Hotter than Hell 10 hour race in miserably hot and humid conditions that soaked the belt and pocket, I still had no chaffing, rub spots or soreness anywhere. The cool wick air mesh is comfortable against my back, but I can feel various items in the nylon and stretch pockets. I carry my iPhone 6s with me on all my runs and I had to make sure I had the phone properly positioned so that it did not poke me in the back. This was not a problem if I was only carrying soft sided items like snacks or tailwind. The belt pocket doesn’t bounce much and the wide nylon belt allows me to tighten the belt where it is snug but not too tight.
The second criteria is usability. The Access 600 really shines on everyday training runs and in races with shorter distances between aid stations. The 600ml Flex Form bottle holds enough liquid to last me 3-5 miles depending on the heat. I will caveat this with the fact that I drink a lot during a run. I would rather stop to urinate than to be dehydrated. I found that the pockets were generously sized for this length of run as well. One of my favorite choices for nutrition is CarboPro, a powder that when mixed with water or other liquids provides calories. When I ran Rock and Roll San Diego, I needed to carry two servings with me to use at around mile 10 and again at mile 20. I was able to easily carry two small ziplock bags of the powder with no issue. I was also able to stuff in a couple of gels for the course since I am not a big fan of the “gel” that the Rock and Roll series provides on course. As I mentioned above, I carry my personal iPhone with me everywhere like most folks, but I also carry a work iPhone with me most of the time. Too, and I found it easy to carry both with the Access 600. I could put one phone in the zipper pocket and one in the mesh pocket. It did make the pack a little heavy and bounce a little bit, but I did 3 hour training runs with both phones with no problems. I was also able to stretch the use of the belt by adding a hand bottle or adding a running vest. On long training runs, 10 or more miles, I would add a hand bottle which allowed me to have additional hydration. When it was exceptionally hot, I would add the Ultimate Direction Marathon Vest to my quiver so I could carry two 20oz bottles in addition to the Access 600ml bottle.
The third criteria I use is durability. The Access 600 is a pretty simple pack with very few parts to break so I am not surprised the durability of the belt has been great. Everything looks basically the same as it did when the belt arrived with two exceptions – the graphics on the Flex Form Bottle have almost completely worn away and the elastic band to hold the bottle neck in place is ripping through the cool wick mesh. The last issue is puzzling because I have not used the elastic holder even once so I am surprised that it is pulling through the cool wick mesh. A simple reinforcement is probably all that is needed. I have also accidentally dropped the bottle on the pavement with no ill effects when I wasn’t as coordinated as I thought I was putting the bottle away. I don’t recommend dropping the bottle, but I was glad that neither the cap nor bottle suffered any damage when I had an accident.
I do have a few nit-picks and improvements for the Access 600 belt. The first is the size of the opening for the bottle. It is too small to fit ice cubes from a standard tray. Living and running in the Southeastern United States means ice is life and it is very annoying to try and search through the ice tray for small cubes to put in the bottle. Long and skinny ice would fit fine, but normal cubes don’t fit. I would suggest making the opening the same size as the larger 20 oz. bottles.
My second suggestion is to continue to improve on the elastic bands that hold excess belt fabric. I found that I could roll the excess belt tightly and use the elastic band to secure, but as I tightened the belt as I run the belt would gain slack. This slack would then begin to sway with the rhythm of my running and eventually start swinging against the man zone which would be uncomfortable. So I would have to either try and tuck away the slack or reroll the belt to take out the slack. It might be better to have an elastic band on the belt to tuck the excess fabric into.
My final negative is that belt is not easy to clean. After 400 miles of sweaty running, you can imagine how the belt smells. I am hesitant to put the belt into the wash because of the hard plastic cage that holds the Flex Form Bottle. I have not tried spraying it with Febreze, but I think that will be my best option, but only deals with the smell instead actually cleaning the belt.
Overall, I was very skeptical that I would like the Access 600, but I am pleasantly surprised that it has become a part of my daily running kit. I anticipate that this belt will see many more miles before retiring to the running belt party in the sky.
Thanks goes to 4alloutdoors.org and Ultimate Direction for providing the Access 600 running belt for review.