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Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential Belt – Trail Running Gear Review

jtaylor_articleI love lightweight minimal construction equipment. I’ve always been a pack junkie, I think it started when I began adventure racing back a decade ago, and had a connection at REI so attaining gear for minimal cost wasn’t too much of a problem. Since then I’ve been through dozens of packs, heavyweight for long backpacking trips to waist packs designed for bottles, gear, jackets, you name it, I’ve carried it.

Well….within reason.

So trying out the new Jurek Essential by Ultimate Direction was a joy. My previous pack review, the Amphipod Airflow Endurance is still the one I use for all my day to day 4- 12 mile runs unless I need to carry something more substantial than a bottle. But it’s wearing out and over the countless miles I’ve found things about it that I wish were different so knowing I needed to start looking for a new waist pack, this one was sure to be a great fit.

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At first glance the Essential looks to be a perfect blend of techno construction and well thoughtout usability and its looks are NOT deceiving. It has a simple snap closure, a water resistant pill pocket with a fabric divider so you can actually split up two types of pills and keep them separate if you want. It then has two larger pockets, one water resistant and one not, both with simple to grab zipper pulls. Each pocket is large enough to carry a phone or food (I do not own a Samsung Galaxy and not sure the pocket is large enough for that). But the features don’t end there. Ultimate Direction also made the Essential extremely lightweight, only 2 ounces, and added adjustable race bib clips so that you don’t have to a) wear two waist bands during shorter races and/or b) don’t have to use safety pins and can avoid sticking yourself inadvertently…like that’s never happened before.

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Pill Pockets

Pill Pocket Top

Side view of the Pill Pocket

Side view of the Pill Pocket

Waterproof Pocket

Water Resistant Pocket

Non Waterproof Pocket

Non Water Resistant Pocket

Race Bib Clip

Race Bib Clip

The materials used are a hex mesh, breathable and strong; a silnylon, which is silicone impregnated nylon for lightweightness and waterproofness. (Notice above, I used the terms water resistant. Until I use this thing on a long, long run in the rain and it holds up 100% I’m not willing to say it’s fully waterproof, but on all the 5-10 mile runs in the cool autumn air it’s done great keeping my phone dry.) And finally, the velvetex edge binding that surrounds the outer edges of everything except the waist belt itself is soft and comfortable, just like the website says.

Finally, the waist pack is pretty inexpensive. The Ultimate Direction website has it priced to the consumer at $29.95, not bad considering all the bells and whistles.

Now, that all being said, after having run six or seven times with it, I’ve put together a fairly lengthy list of opportunities. And to keep things organized I’m going to start with the most minimal complaints and proceed down the list to the deal killer (for me).

1.  Reflectivity – I run a lot in the dark and am always looking for the safety consciousness in the products I purchase, especially during this time of the year. There are a couple of small 1 cm in length reflective tape bands on this waist pack but I think Ultimate Direction could easily have added more substantial reflective markers.

2. Abrasive Stitching – Seams Where the 3/4″ bands attach to the waist portion of the pack, there is a great deal of stitching. I found that there were sharp points in these stitches that rubbed against my waist throughout runs. I usually wear my waist pack under my shirts, unless, as can be seen in the photos, I tuck my shirt in and wear a jacket over. Although relatively minor, it’s the small things that make a product extra great.

3.  Extra fabric in the belt – This has also been a complaint in a few reviews for the Essential that I read online. There is a tremendous amount of left-over material in the belt after it’s cinched. Ultimate Direction did provide a nifty stretchy band that will hold the excess belt but this just leaves a ball of fabric that bounces against your groin abdomen throughout the run. I have a 31″ waist at belly button level and 36.25″ circumference at the widest part of my hips. When I cinch the waist pack down tight, there is nearly 15 inches of extra length leftover. As much attention as they paid to keeping this pack lightweight I’m shocked that they allowed for so much extra and unnecessary belt. I do understand that not everyone has a 31″ waist, but I also know that few runners have 45″ waists. Somewhere in the middle might have been nice, or going short, and then providing a “size appropriate” band that can be added if needed.

Extra waist strap

Extra waist strap

4.  Only one pocket was waterproof – I’m grateful that Ultimate Direction did provide one waterproof pocket but why not just make all of them waterproof? This morning I took my phone and a small camera to get the shots for this article and my camera was soaked by sweat in just a 70 minute run and it was 32 degrees out. I can’t imagine how wet my camera would have been if it had been summer conditions. Even if the whole pocket isn’t waterproof, the backing along the body should definitely been made of the silnylon as well.

5.  Fit by far this is my biggest gripe and the deal killer for me on this pack – To me the fit is more important than anything. I’ve had a hard time finding waist packs that fit well. If you read my review of the Amphipod Airflow Endurance you’ll note that the fit was really one of my favorite parts. And though the elastic bands have started to wear out their stretchiness, they continue to hold the pack in place both at the level of my waist I put it, and rotationally; meaning that the pack doesn’t rotate around my waist while I run gradually moving to the right or left. Today with the Jurek Essential, I ran with a phone in one pocket, my camera in the other and I tried the pack on both my skin and over my shirt. I continue to have fit problems. It’s not so much that I can’t cinch it down, but it eventually rides up my waist until it’s at the level of my rib cage, and inch are so above the level of my belly button. Additionally today, because the pack was weighted differently with a phone in one pocket and a camera in the other, it continually drifted rotationally around my waist because it wasn’t weighted evenly.

Now here’s my disclaimer and the reason that I included firm measurements on my waist and hips earlier. I know not everyone is built the same. I like to have my waist back right at the level of my iliac crests, or the top of my hip bones. Because my waist gets just a fraction narrower above that point, if the band isn’t elastic, it’ll ride up on me. So this might not be a deal killer for anyone else. It is for me though. I like the pack and all the other four items listed above aren’t enough to keep me from making this my go-to daily run pack, but I have to find a solution to the movement of the pack during the run if I’m going to use it regularly. My suggestion to Ultimate Direction is to use the same sticky material found on the inside band of bike shorts. To keep bike shorts from riding up on your skin, they use a very thin band of slightly sticky rubber or silicone and it does the trick. I can’t see why Ultimate Direction couldn’t add several strips of this along the backside of the belt and waist pack body. Another solution might be to just make the band elastic. That has done the trick for the Amphipod waist pack I use.

So there’s my review.

Bottom line: This is a well thought out, well designed, lightweight pack with enough room for a phone, food, and a 3-4 hour run with tons of little extras built in with the ultra runner in mind. However, if you are concerned at all about the pack moving while you run and becoming a major distraction, be prepared to do some finagling to come up with a fix at home.

– Jason Taylor


Talk Jurek Essential

  • For those that have worn the Jurek Essential, what has your experience been like with this waist pack? Any fit issues?

If you are interested in the Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential waist pack, you can purchase one at Running Warehouse (Shoes, Packs, Clothes, Lights, and more…plus 2-day free shipping!).

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[The Jurek Essential was a review sample provided by Ultimate Direction. The review is completely our own. This article contains links that may support the growth of Endurance Buzz.]

About the author

Jason Taylor Jason Taylor reawakened his love of running in 2008 and continues to pursue longer ultra adventures. Jason’s life goal is to inspire, influence and transform others through his love for running and his passion for life. For more information on Jason, check out the About page.

One Response to “Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential Belt – Trail Running Gear Review”

  1. on 13 Dec 2013 at 5:11 pm Buzz

    Good job on the Review!

    A note on belt length: Complaints come if the strap is too short or too long! Fortunately the solution is easy: make it long enough so larger people can wear it, and if too long for others, scissors work real well. Tip: singe the cut edge with a lighter flame to prevent fraying. Tip2: You can also cut it long enough to sew in a fold to make it easier to grab.

    A note on elastic belts: Also controversial. Elastic won’t ride up as much which some people like, but can’t be cranked down to prevent bouncing which other people don’t like. The Essential as you note, has an elastic strip attempting the happy medium.