Cross the UK: Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0 Review
Overall Rating: 4/5
This is a recent addition to the ever growing trail running kit we are accumulating but it is certainly a welcome one. The American brand, Ultimate Direction, is huge in the trail running world but this is my first UD pack. First thing to note is that the 3.0 in the name has nothing to do with its capacity; this is actually an 11.5L pack so it’s great for longer days out on the trails.
The pack is well designed with colourful options and some interesting features. It weighs in at just over 400g, with the two soft flasks included. There is a lot of mesh used to keep the weight down and this has both advantages and disadvantages. It allows a great level of breathability which in warmer conditions or for those of you who sweat a lot is great but, and it’s a decent sized but, this obviously means that any rain and unfortunately any sweat can easily find its way into your pack. The outer fabric is 30D SilNylon which is a decent thickness by outdoor kit standards and will be pretty strong and durable. It’s also waterproof so this should mean less worry about your kit getting soaked. However, the zips aren’t waterproof and the amount of mesh used means that much of the bag is nowhere near waterproof so don’t think that you can just throw your phone in and it’ll be fine. The SilNylon has a shiny look and slippery feel and it is great as an outer fabric but it can sound a bit like plastic when you’re moving and this might be an annoyance to some.
The main issue I found with this pack was the adjustment. I understand that you should spend some time setting a pack up so that it feels and fits well, but sometimes you don’t know what is right until you’re actually running in it. The straps to pull the vest in and get that close fit are cleverly concealed in the pockets of the hip strap. I say ‘clever’ as it keeps them out of the way and means that you don’t think about them once set up and sorted. However, it also means that it’s next to impossible to alter them without taking the whole pack off! I nearly broke a finger trying to fiddle around and get hold of the strap to tighten it so I changed approaches and nearly put my shoulder out trying to do it this way. So I stopped. I took the pack off completely and stood on the trail to get it sorted. This took several attempts to put it on, feel if that was right then, repeat. I was annoyed to say the least. Once I’d got it sorted the pack fit like a vest and was amazingly comfortable. The front, chest straps are on a sliding rail so they can be quickly and easily moved to suit you depending on the conditions and pack load. Running in genuine storm force winds for the first outing the pack fit so well that it never caught the wind, never felt heavy or cumbersome and there was no bounce whatsoever. I loved the feel of this and despite high winds and squally showers it was super comfortable and despite the initial annoyance from trying to adjust it I was now converted.
There are enough pockets, stash pouches and gear lash points on this pack to keep you organised and entertained/frustrated. With two good sized zip pockets capable of holding a mobile (depending on size) or GPS on both hip belts, a stretch mesh pocket over the soft flask holder and another pocket above that on both sides 8 pockets and 2 soft flask holders should be enough to satisfy even the biggest snack fans. The two soft flasks are small, simple but effective, each with a 500ml capacity and bite valve top. It does mean you’re doing a lot of removing and replacing if you drink little and often which can be frustrating at times but longer flexible straw versions of the bottles are available if you want them but in honesty these were good enough for me. In addition, the main compartment of the pack has an up and round zip that provides great access and improves the ease of use massively. There are another two external zip pockets which are quite water resistant and a very usable and adjustable bungee compression strapping system that allows you to expand and move the placement of the strapping to suit your need while still using the compression aspect of it. There are ‘on-the-go’ poles holders which run from the front of the shoulder straps diagonally down to where the hip belt joins the strap. I’m personally unconvinced by a few aspect of this; the durability of the design; how easy it is to attach and remove poles while running and; the comfort of it. It will suit some people but it wasn’t for me. A lot of companies claim to have nailed the pole carrying system but there is only one pack that I think actually has, and it’s not this one.
Overall, I couldn’t mark this pack any lower, even with the issues identified because it fit so well. My running mate also wore this for a day and he is a completely different build to me but he was still really happy with the fit after it had been adjusted. I have heard and read a decent number of people saying that the sizing is terrible with too big a difference between the sizes stated. I am always a comfortable medium but my build would fit a small rather than large whereas my running mate is the other way, (he is always squeezing into mediums in denial of his size) so the fact that this medium sized pack worked for us both perfectly contradicts some of the other reviews. Essentially there is huge potential with this vest and I know that the spring 2018 overhaul will see some of these issues ironed out. Particularly the adjustments, which have been completely redesigned and worked much better on the test pack I got to play with. For longer single day trail, fell and ultra runs when the weather isn’t too bad (constant or heavy rain), this is now my go to pack thanks to its capacity and comfort.