Wednesday, 22 August 2018 11:58

Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 reviewed

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Ultimate Direction have a strong reputation for the design and development of innovative packs, vests and waist belts for trail and ultra running. I have been a massive fan of their packs for a number of years and even went so far as to declare the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 “... as close to the perfect running vest I’ve found so far”, when I reviewed it back in 2016.

I was therefore excited and a little anxious to hear that Ultimate Direction had further evolved the design, with the launch of the Adventure Vest 4.0. Could they fix the minor concerns I had about fit and make the absolute perfect running vest? Would any changes alter the positive features or heaven forbid, make them worse? I was curious to find out more, so reached out to Ultimate Direction, who were kind enough to send me a vest to review and I set about putting it through its paces.
With Lakeland 100 on the horizon I had the perfect environment to put the Adventure Vest 4.0 to the test. I did a few local test runs to make sure there weren’t any hidden surprises, which I was happy to find there were not and so I loaded it up with my mandatory kit for the race and headed north to The Lake District.

Before we get into how it faired in the race itself, lets first take a look at what has changed between this and its older brother.
First up, the fabrics with the dark grey gone and blue now the dominant colour. Ultimate Direction have used new lighter, thinner and stretchier materials throughout the vest, with technical terms being banded around such as Flex Mono and Micro Mono mesh and dissolved thread to increase breathability. Holding the pack in your hands you could definitely feel that it was lighter.

Comfort Cinch Technology 02
They have also updated the fit system, including a new Comfort Cinch™ technology, which allows you to adjust the tension at the back of the vest as you run to give a snugger or looser fit, perfect as the load changes during your race. The adjustable straps on the front have also been updated and all this, combined with the newer materials, meant that I was definitely able to get an even closer and more comfortable fit. The choice of three different chest sizes when purchasing also ensures a better fit as well, although buyers must ensure they measure around their lower rib cage to get the most accurate size for them. 

Adjusting the Comfort Cinch Technology 02


Comfort Cinch Technology 01

Tick one then to Ultimate Direction, in that they had fully addressed my minor concerns with the previous vest, in terms of fit and adjustment.
Other changes include the addition of a secure pocket aimed specifically at carrying a tracking device, something we are increasingly seeing at longer races. They also updated the pole carrying loops on the harness, so they can be clipped out of the way when not in use. In practice, these were much easier to use than on the previous version of this vest, where the concept was first introduced. I found I could get a more secure fit for my folding Leki poles, without the need to resort to additional webbing to hold them together. That said, with poles and full bottles on your harness, you do still have quite a wide load on your chest, which depending on how you use your arms as you run, can feel a little restrictive at first.

The pocket configuration is almost identical to the previous version, with two large stretch mesh pockets on the outside of the back of the pack, a large main internal compartment plus smaller zipped pocket for valuables or items you want to access quickly. There is also a dedicated pocket and access point against your back for a two litre hydration bladder, if that is your preference. The bladder must be purchased separately and will of course reduce the internal load capacity of the vest if used.

Comparison of Lateral Pockets on V3 bottom and V4 top

Comparison of Lateral Pockets on V3 bottom and V4 top.

On the side, under each arm, there are still the really useful zipped mesh pockets, which are super stretchy. On this version they are however slightly smaller than before and also with shorter zips, to accommodate the Comfort Cinch™ technology. More on that later.
Up front you have two smaller zipped pockets at the shoulders, one the afore mentioned tracker pocket. Below that you have a single bottle pocket on your right, which holds the 500ml body bottle soft flask included with the vest. This pocket includes a cinch cord around the top, so you can securely hold the flask regardless of how much fluid is in it.

It’s worth noting at this point that there has also been a slight re-design to the soft flask itself, with the locking mechanism now built into the bite value itself, rather than as a separate mechanism on the lid. In use I found this far simpler to use and hopefully more robust than the older system, which I had break on me a couple of times during races. Note that as before, on the Adventure Vest, you only get a single soft flask, where others in the range include two. Worth remembering when purchasing, especially if you don’t have any additional flasks.
On the outside of the bottle pocket are two smaller stretch pockets, into which you can place a surprising number of bars or gels as required. Beneath the bottle pocket is another smaller zipped mesh pocket, which despite its size, seems to absorb whatever you stuff into it.
Finally up front, on the left harness strap, you have a large zipped burrito pocket, which can accommodate a second flask, bottle or even a phone or GPS device it you preferred. Below this is a stretch mesh pouch, without a zip this time and seemingly able to hold even more kit than its equivalent pocket on the right hand side.

Burrito Pocket with Soft Flask

So the good news is that generally all the changes that have been made are for the better. The introduction of new materials and the Comfort Cinch™ technology gives a much more comfortable fit in my experience, which is a massive plus point, especially when embarking on a long mountain adventure, which is this vests sweet spot. Once the vest is on and adjusted, it feels like it is part of you and you just forget it is there, a sure sign they have nailed the fit in my opinion.

The storage options continue to be varied and flexible. With an increased capacity of 16.4 litres, it will swallow pretty much everything you throw into it and have the capacity to cope with even the longest races. The compression system, stretch mesh and variety of pockets, allows you to happily wear the vest while carrying significantly less kit. It is this flexibility that I really love about both this vest and its predecessor, making it one vest that can handle multiple jobs and distances.
So is it the perfect vest? Well the new Comfort Cinch™ technology has introduced one issue, which I needed to find a work around for ahead of Lakeland 100. As previously mentioned, the addition of the adjustment at the back of the pack has resulted in slightly smaller lateral zipped pockets under each arm. 

Enlight4 04
In practice, this has made them slightly harder to use and reduced the range of items I could fit in them and easily remove while running. Depending on what you like to store here, this may not be such an issue for some. For me this has meant that I was no longer able to fit my mobile phone in either of these pockets, which I had been able to on the previous version. The smaller zips also made it generally harder to get other items in and out, especially when the vest is snug against your body.

The burrito pocket up front easily takes my phone and from the wording on their website, I suspect this is where Ultimate Direction expect you to place it. This is not however an option for races like Lakeland, where I need to carry two soft flasks. I am not a fan of hydration bladders, and wanting my phone readily to hand for photographs, this left me with little alternative but to wear a separate waist belt for my phone during Lakeland. Not an ideal solution but not a complete show stopper by any means.
Just for clarity, the phone I am currently using while running is an iPhone X in a LifeProof case for added protection. While this is maybe slightly larger than some, especially with the protective case on, it is not a super sized monster. Having previously managed to accommodate this in the lateral pockets on the PB adventure Vest 3.0, it was disappointing to find this was impossible on the newer version.

Enlight4 01
And so to the race itself. With the ability to carry over 16 litres of kit, many would argue this vest is overkill for Lakeland 100. However I prefer to have plenty of space in my vest when packed, to make it easier to get kit in and out when required and give me options during the race. The compression and use of stretchy mess meant that even with less kit in it, it was all still held securely in place and the vest fitted perfectly, with no bounce while running.
This years race was an interesting mix of weather conditions, with hot humid conditions to start and colder wetter conditions to finish. This meant that over the course of thirty hours I was wearing a wide range of layers and also needing to quickly add and remove jackets throughout the race.
Just like its predecessor, the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 stood up to everything both I and the environment threw at it and was a faithful companion on my hundred mile journey around the Lake District. Yes it was initially disappointing to have to also wear a waist belt to carry my phone but this actually opened up other benefits and options for carrying and accessing kit, which worked quite well in the end.

Giles Wearing Vest in Lakeland 100

So the big question is, would I still recommend this vest and with version 4.0, is this now the perfect vest for me? 

The reduced flexibility with the lateral pockets is a definite black mark against what was one of my favourite features of the previous vest. However the improved fit and comfort provided by the new materials and Comfort Cinch™ technology are a major improvement and potentially outweigh that issue. This combined with the continued variety of pockets and flexible options when it comes to packing and accessing your gear, means that yes I would still highly recommend this vest and look forward to using it on many running adventures to come.

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