One of my keys to running long distances is to make sure I have what I need close at hand. There are many ways to accomplish this task from handheld water bottles to vests and backpacks. I have several half marathons and full marathons coming up over the next couple months, and I will be using the Ultimate Direction Marathon Vest to make sure I have hydration and calories close at hand. Read on for my initial thoughts on the Marathon vest.
Ultimate Direction was founded in 1985 when they created their first waist pack and bottle combination and have continued to make hydration vests and packs for runners since then. They have multiple hydration combinations for runners of all distances including women specific hydration packs and vests. Their website is well laid out and has a ton of information on their products and their history.
The Marathon Vest (vest from here out) is a new addition to Ultimate Direction’s Runner Collection. The vest features two front pockets that can hold either their 20 oz hard sided bottles or 18 oz soft sided bottles. The vest also features a zippered front pocket that will hold an iPhone 6, according to Ultimate Direction. The front of the vest also features two stretchy pockets that can hold smaller items like Gels, chews and other similar sized items. The back of the pack has a 2L hydration bladder pocket that is opened and closed by 2 small hooks and elastic loops. The back of the vest also features a larger stretchy pocket that could hold a small jacket or additional small items. The vest is a bright red color with a large, white Ultimate Direction symbol on the back and some small grey screened graphics. The majority of the vest is constructed of proprietary MonoRip mesh fabric. All edges of the vest feature Velvetex Edge Binding, a soft fabric that has a microfleece like feel. The front of the vest features two small clips to secure the vest in place. The front and back sides of the vest are connected by a small strap on each side that allows the user to tighten or loosen the vest to dial in the fit. Ultimate Direction claims that the vest weighs in at 4.94 oz and has a gear capacity of 248 cubic inches. The vest retails for $69.95.
As soon as the vest arrived, I put it on and immediately thought I ordered the wrong size because I could not connect the front of the vest it was too tight. I then realized that the side straps were tightened all the way down and wrapped up for shipping. My daughter got a kick out of it being too small. Once I loosened the side straps, the vest fit well and I was able dial in the fit between the front buckles and side straps. My chest size is 42” and I have a bit of a paunch for a runner and the medium size seems to fit as advertised
I feel like it rides a little higher on my chest and back than other Ultimate Direction vests I have used, but doesn’t seem to be significant at this point. The front stretchy pockets and zipper pocket seem to be easy to use. I don’t have an iPhone 6 but my iPhone 4 in an otterbox fits easily in the zippered pocket. I like the red color of the vest because it stands out among other vests. The vest features a few reflective strips, but with the darkness of winter coming and early morning and late evening training runs in my future, I would have liked to see more reflective strips or tape.
I generally look for the following characteristics while reviewing vests – comfort, durability, and practicality. Comfort is my first key, and in some ways the most important to me. I expect that the vest will become one with my body and I really shouldn’t notice it. Additionally, does it chafe anywhere? Do the buckles or straps pinch? Durability is a second key. Do the buckles and straps survive miles and hours of running? How does the fabric hold up to gear and off trail excursions? Finally, I look for practicality. Can I easily stash water and calories close at hand? Does the vest hold items securely or do they bounce around (which generally leads to chaffing)? Can I reach all the pockets, especially the back pocket? It is a marathon vest which means about half a day of running for me – can I stretch the vest to accommodate longer runs? Is it perfect for marathons or shorter runs? I will consider these questions and any others that may come up as I am on the trails and pavement.
Overall, I am excited to use the Ultimate Direction Marathon Vest and am pleased with my initial review of the pack. However, the only way to get a good feel for the vest is to run.
Update January 16, 2017
I have used the Ultimate Direction Marathon in 2 half marathons, 1 marathon, and numerous training runs putting in over 110 miles while wearing the vest. Comfort has been great with no areas of chaffing or rubbing. Durability has been good with no busted buckles or worn straps and practicality is also good with easy access to bottles and food. I still notice that it rides a little high compared to other packs and this can be a minor annoyance and I do feel like heavier items in the pack cause it to bounce more than other packs I have used. Read on for my full update.
I had a good series of runs in November and December that really allowed me to put the vest to the test. I ran the Dr. Strange 10k and Marvel Superheroes Half Marathon at Disneyland in November, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon in early December and the Ole Man River Half Marathon in late December. I also used the vest on training runs on the Mississippi River Levy and at the Woodlands Conservancy trails. Temperatures were all over the place from the 80s in Southern California and in Louisiana to the low 40s in Mississippi for the marathon. Humidity was all over the place too – low in California and high back here in the South. The only thing I didn’t encounter was precipitation.
As I mentioned in my initial thoughts I evaluate running vests on three criteria – comfort, durability and practicality. Comfort has been amazing with the vest. I have not chafed anywhere while wearing the vest. This is important to me, as nothing can turn a race into a nightmare quicker than chafing. I sweat a lot so I usually put body glide anywhere that I expect to rub, but I didn’t with the vest in training, so I took a chance during the first half and didn’t lube up where the pack rides, and was pleasantly surprised that I did not have any issues. I also am happy to report that I didn’t have any issues during the marathon even without lube. However, I did not run with a hydration bladder and previous experience tells me that the sloshing from a hydration bladder leads to chafing, so I will definitely use lube when I run with a hydration bladder for the next part of my review.
I do a have a couple of things to nitpick with comfort though – the vest rides a little high and it bounces significantly when I have heavier items in the front pockets such as my phone or water bottles. I want a vest to become part of me and not notice it while I am running. The vest rides high enough that it doesn’t really become part of me and I notice that it is riding high. I generally go through periods where I forget about it but when I go to grab a gel from a pocket or a water bottle I notice that it rides high. I think this also plays into how much the vest bounces. It only has one side strap on each side and the two small straps up front and I have not been able to dial in the fit so that the vest won’t bounce with heavy items. I try to make sure I have balance when using the front pockets and this seems to minimize the bounce. Again these are not significant issues but enough that I notice them.
Durability with the vest has been great. No issues with webbing, buckles or the fabric of the vest itself. The buckles on the front straps are pretty tiny and I anticipated that I might have some issues with them since they are so small, but so far they have worked well. Overall, I am pleased with the durability aspect of the vest.
The final characteristic is practicality and the vest delivers. I use Bluetooth headphones while running, so I keep my phone in the zip up pocket on the left side, and it stays in place, but contributes to the bouncing I mentioned earlier. I like to keep a water bottle in the right side elastic pocket, and this works well. I have not had any issues getting my bottle into or out of this pocket while on the move. I have used both a 20 oz hard sided Ultimate Direction bottle and a 20 oz Gatorade bottle and both slide in and out easily. I also keep food in this pocket if I am using a hand bottle instead of keeping one in the pack. The elastic drawstring at the top does a good job of keeping food and gels from bouncing out. However, the smaller pockets on the front of the vest are a bit more problematic. They hold gels well, but I have had gels bounce out especially if I have to bend over for anything. I like the stretchy pocket on the back of the vest. It holds items well. At the end of the Disney races they give the runners a box full of food. I was able to place this box in the stretchy pocket while I walked back to my hotel after the race. I can also fit a windshirt or small waterproof jacket without it interfering with my running. My only challenge is that I can’t quite reach the pocket by myself, so I usually have to take off the vest to retrieve items in this pocket. I have not placed anything in the hydration compartment yet, but my plan is to use it over the next month as I continue my review.
My race schedule for 2017 is shaping up. I have the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon in early February and a potential 50k in late February. I plan on using the vest in both of these races as well as my training runs before posting my final update. Please check back in a month or so for my final thoughts.
Final Update March 30, 2017
I have continued to use the Ultimate Direction Marathon vest while racing and training and put over 150 miles on the vest. It is a solid vest that provides all day comfort, easy access to nutrition and features durable fabrics that UD is known for.
I used the Ultimate Direction Marathon vest several more time since my last update. I ran the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon on a hot and humid day in the city; a scorching hot 12 mile training run at the Woodlands Conservancy; and on a 6 mile recovery hike the day after the Mississippi 50k. The temperatures this winter have not been winter like with temperatures routinely pushing into the low 80s and humidity remaining high throughout the winter. I experienced no precipitation over the last few weeks while using the vest, unless you count my sweat.
As I mentioned my main three characteristics that I evaluated the vest on are – comfort, durability and practicality. Comfort has been pretty good. I never achieved nirvana where the pack became one with my body. It felt fine and I never had any chafing issues, I just couldn’t get the fit dialed in. By riding what I felt like was a little high, I always noticed the vest when running. Other than this one issue the pack was super comfy. The Velvetex Edge Binding was amazingly soft and has stayed that way. I did learn a new way for the vest to provide comfort during the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon – as an ice trap. The front chest closure trapped the ice I poured down my shirt late in the race to cool down This made a huge difference over the last six miles of the race and greatly contributed to the smile on my face at the end.
Durability with the vest was superb. The vest looks brand new, even with shoving water bottles in and out of the pockets and zipping and unzipping the pocket hundreds of time to get to my phone during training and racing. The elastic pockets on the front and back are still stretchy and return to shape as intended. Even the MonoRip mesh fabric has come through unscathed, which is unheard of. I usually only have to look at a piece of gear for something to break.
The practicality of the vest is great as well. During Rock and Roll New Orleans, I was pacing my sister and some of her friends and the vest allowed me to carry my nutrition as well as some of the essentials that my group of runners needed. The pockets easily hold multiple gels or Honey Stinger Waffles and are easy to get to while on the move. I really like the slimmed down front pockets that allow me to carry my nutrition and not have to rely on what the aid stations provide. On my recovery hike after the Mississippi 50k, I was able to place snacks and a 10 oz bottle of Gatorade in the pockets for easy access as I stretched out my sore muscles from the day before. The back stretchy pocket is also nice for carrying extra nutrition or layers, though it will bounce around if too much is placed in the pocket. The only area that I did not like with the vest is while using it with a hydration bladder. I took a standard 2 liter hydration bladder filled ¾ of the way with water and then sucked out the air as I normally would to reduce sloshing and placed it in the back panel of the vest and went for a run. I immediately didn’t like the way the bladder rode or the sloshing motion it made. I persevered and thought I would get used to it, but I didn’t. After half a mile of running, I returned home and removed the bladder from the vest and went back to running.
Overall, I am pleased with the Ultimate Direction Marathon Vest. It is a superbly comfortable and durable vest that has just enough features for the runner who is looking to finish their first or 100th marathon. I would encourage folks to try the vest on prior to purchase to make sure that the fit can be dialed in.
Thanks to 4alloutdoors.org and Ultimate Direction for providing the vest for this review.