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Ultimate Direction Jenny Collection Trail Gear Review: Ultra Vesta Pack and Body Bottle

I got the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta Jenny Collection pack on Thursday in February, literally a day prior my departure to North Carolina for a 40M trail race. I figured, what the heck, might as well give it a real try right away! That said, a fair warning – the bottles inside the front pockets are tied up with a plastic tie! Thankfully, a nice man had a knife, and I was able to set them free minutes before the race start. It would not have been good if that didn’t happen.

When I ran that 40 miler, since I never even tried to run with such small bottles before, I carried my usual hand-held and had one of the UD 10 ounce bottles in a pocket with a mixed calorie drink, while other pocket was occupied with my camera and gels (the race was self-sufficient, and I needed lots of gels). That worked perfectly, but didn’t reflect fully the intention of the pack, so I ran a number of 12-15 mile runs with it, testing the UD 10 ounce bottles, as well as a new collapsible bottles from UD, the Body Bottle. Thus the reason I am rolling two reviews in one.

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Let’s go to the specs.

UD Ultra Vesta Specs (from UD)

**Following close on the heels of the highly popular Scott Jurek-designed SJ Ultra Vest, the women’s Ultra Vesta is a next generation hydration solution designed by Scott’s wife Jenny Jurek and a collective of notable female ultrarunners. Twin, 10-ounce water bottles are placed higher on the front for maximum female comfort and easy-access convenience.  Bottle pockets are collapsible while a 4-liter main compartment provides room for apparel, food, hydration reservoir, and other trail essentials.  Smaller front pockets keep gels and other small items handy and accessible on the fly. For outstanding comfort on short or long runs, the Ultra Vesta’s wide, breathable shoulder straps eliminate hot-spots and dry quickly. Designed for seamless comfort, this vest disperses weight efficiently for no-bounce performance that will go unnoticed on any length run.  Available in XS/SM and M/L sizes, the Ultra Vesta weighs 11-ounces with bottles.  $124

Sizing:

Take the average measurement of your chest girth (directly over the nipples) and your natural waste (where you bend, it’s the smallest part of your waist) and refer to the following.

XS/SM- 20-38”

MD/LG- 24-40”

Time to Play

Now, to the testing and stuff…I tested out the Scott Jurek UD pack, and pretty much disliked it and wrote about it. While the idea of having hands-free runs was great, the vest was not good at adjusting straps, didn’t sit right with the pockets that carried bottles, and taking bottles in and out was a pain. Jenny’s pack had a lot more improvements So much so, that overall, I am in love.

General fit and view of the Ultra Vesta – perfect!

That would be “feels like I was born in it”. The mesh is totally breathable, the straps are soft, and the front of the straps have some cord in it for form-stability. It is also very sturdy (not easily tears up), has a whistle attached for wild animals (or bad people). The pack has some reflective strips sewed in which show up with a headlamp light (or car lights).

Sizing

I didn’t measure, but I am 36-B in chest and ordered a small. With adjustable straps you can go up or down easily, and even my husband Larry (a rather not small guy) was able to put it on (but refused to lengthen the side straps).

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The straps are extremely easy to adjust to the width desired. Straps are located on front AND both sides and it’s a double-strap, so you can tighten the upper corners but not the lower and the other way around.

Bottles

The bottles seem to be in the right space, not in your face (and with adjustable width, you can move them in and out of your center of the chest depending on chest size and likability). The placement of the adjustable strips also was thoughtful in terms of people with sensitive stomachs. Below I am entertaining the fit variety.

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Pockets

The side pockets (unlike SJ and PB packs) sit in the position that is easily reached, but not in the way of hand movement (photos below showcase a general view, as well as a view once you’re trying to get a gel/other items from the pockets on the run).

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The total number of pockets is five: two front upper pockets for bottles (or items of choice of a larger caliber), two side lower pockets for gels and similar (one is Velcro, one is zipper), and one tiny smaller pocket inside the zippered pocket where you can stash your salt pills or a key. I was able to fit five regular-size gels into each side pocket.

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Capacity

When somebody talks to me about liters or cubic whatever, it doesn’t tell me any info, so let me translate things for you into general matter.

The best thing about the pack was the addition of a bungee cord behind to fit in extra clothes (like a windbreaker, jacket, pants, or even a small roll of a sleeping pad). You also have two loops for collapsible hiking poles and one loop for an ice axe. Talking about adventure running!

The pack comes without the bladder, but you can put one inside.

It has a separate pocket on the top of the pack that one can access without fiddling lots of things inside – though you’d still need to take the pack off (unless you have inside-out bendy arms). The pocket is water-resistant, so you can carry your cell phone, musical devices and whatever else needs protection in there.

There are two length-wise big pockets on the back of the pack. Left zipper opens more superficial pocket for clothing and whatnot. Right is a deeper (and bigger) pocket closer to the body, and you can put a bladder in there (50oz seems to find its fit), or more stuff you decide to carry (say, for the night part of the run to come).

The only thing about a bladder is that the hose is not truly hooked into anything and can hang and rub a little. I tried to entertain myself and put a 20 oz “normal” UD bottle in the pocket, but while it fit in, the location of the tall bottle to my face was not the ideal to say the least. However, the regular store-bought 16oz water bottle was perfect inside (FYI, can be carried as extra).

What fits inside is truly remarkable.

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The Run Test

The pack stays put regardless of how fast and whether it is uphill or downhill, no bounce at all. As I mentioned, reaching into pockets was easy, although I have to honestly add, in one of the runs I forgot to zip the zipper on the right-side pocket, and two gels that were there both fell out somewhere without my noticing.

I did find one small negative, which is definitely a very personal thing depending on the arm swing: my left wrist, where I wear the Garmin watch, kept rubbing onto the left side pocket when it was full of gels (but once empty, it was fine) (below – not a good photo).

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The UD 10 ounce bottles (that also come with the Handy 10 Handheld), though…are a whole different story.

I really don’t have much positive to say about the 10 ounce bottles besides the fact that they fit well into the pockets and don’t bother the face or arm movement.

First of all – who runs with 20 oz water and a pack?

If you only need that little (one hour run?) – bring a hand-held, no reason to wear extra gear and strap a pack on your body. If you run more than one hour, you totally need more water, especially once summer is around (or you live in Texas, when you always need more water).

Taking those bottles out of the pockets to drink requires memory (just like in SJ pack, you have to remember bottles are there for the reason, not to be fancy), extra arm movement (and energy loss) and some fiddling (they stay put inside, alright, but it means they don’t just slide out of the pocket opening). The tie around the pocket is designed to keep them in place (or keep other items safe).

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I found there is no easy way to open the nose of this bottle for drinking – unlike the “soft nipples” of more regular UD bottles. If I pull it with my teeth, I break my breathing and risk my teeth being broken. I need to utilize my hands – both hands now – to pull and then hit hard back with the whole palm to close. Maybe with time that nose will get looser – but then it might mean leaking danger.

Same negative remarks on the drinking front.

Because the plastic is so hard, if I run hard, I find I may accidentally hit my lips with the bottle top. I have to take a pause in my breathing to both tilt the bottle and squeeze it and suck on it – and again, as hard as this particular plastic is, squeezing is not a small effort.

As a once-a-month volunteer at trail races, let me tell you, if you come to my aid station to refill these bottles, I’ll have you do it yourself! Just kidding, but the opening is so tiny small, the jug/carafe volunteers are using will be spilling water all over you and the tight cap is not easy to open/close with sweaty, slimy, and often sticky sweet hands (not like regular bottles you can grab on the rubbed top or hook).

Washing the bottles can be a pain in the rear if you put any kind of mix in there besides pure water. Also, the water sloshes as the bottle gets drained, and the sound may be irritating to some.

I tried to carry bottles in my hands for a few minutes at a time – they are ergonomically designed to fit in your hand – but unless you have a hand-held mesh strap, it is not comfortable to carry as is.

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One more test I had to put the pack through – rubbing on the body without a shirt!

I ran up to one hour and it felt actually pretty good, despite various points of potential closeness to the pointy parts – the mesh felt comfy and soft enough, and the hard “wired” parts did not touch anything that would induce rubbing, and the morning was quite humid.

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Bottom line on the original Jenny Collection Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta pack – love, love, love the Vest(a)! Especially once I got to try the UD Collapsible 14oz Body Bottles!

Ultimate Direction Body Bottle

UD Body Bottle Specs (From UD)

**New for Spring 2014: Soft and pliable to conform to your body and take up less space, the Ultimate Direction Body Bottle represents the evolution of the water bottle. As you drink, the soft-sided Body Bottle collapses, getting smaller as liquid is consumed to reduce sloshing, bouncing, and rubbing. For fast, efficient hydration, a high flow bite valve delivers liquid quickly and easily. Ideal for use with any of the Ultimate Direction hydration vests, the Body Bottle fits easily into chest-mounted pockets. Weighing in at 30 grams (1.08 ounces), this bottle holds 420 ml (14.2 ounces) of liquid. Made with TPU, the Body Bottle is dishwasher safe and is BPA and PVC free. $18.95

And thus enter UD collapsible bottles – and why I decided to write both reviews in one article?

First of all – they come in 14 oz size! That is already better than 10 oz, enough for a good hour and half of hot and humid running! They fit perfect into the same pockets as the 10 ounce bottles on the pack, and the nozzle, while sticks out a bit higher, is not obtrusive.

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The Body Bottle is much easier to take out and put back into the pocket when you need to sip from them – and (don’t laugh) you can sip from them, when they are full or close to full, without taking them out!

The valve is a bite valve, so you need to squeeze your teeth around it.

Positives:

  • The water won’t leak out no matter how much you squeeze.
  • You can suck on the bottle even without squeezing in hand.

Negatives:

  • You can’t just turn the bottle upside-down and squeeze to receive water.
  • You need to interrupt your controlled breathing. I find it not easy to do when running hard or working the uphill.

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Unlike the 10 ounce bottles, the Body Bottle doesn’t have an option to have a hand-held device to carry them, so one can only run either wearing a pack, or some may make do with tacking them into shorts (behind) once they are slightly empty. You could also also just carry them in hands (not as bad as I imagined it could be).

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There are few more things to discuss.

You can freeze this bottle with your water, and it stays frozen for about 15 minutes before it begins to thaw in the vest (sooner in the hand) – that can be used as a cooling device. (p.s. if you’re a female, you can also put this soft thing inside your sports bra to cool off).

As the water level gets lower, the top begins to collapse. There is a point at which it does seem annoying – and a short period when it is empty enough for the top to hang down but not enough to tuck it into the pocket. Then the top just flops around with every step. But sip one more – and you can stash the top inside and hide it! So, a minor detail.

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Big fat bad things I find unattractive (and are even worse than the 10 ounce bottles):

  • The top screwing off and on with sweaty hands is hard.
  • Refilling this bottle at the aid station is slow, painful and annoying.
  • Putting any kind of mixed powder for your fueling/electrolyte pleasure is hard (and I served just recently at an aid station trying to help a few do so), you spill a lot, mixing inside is not easy as well (too little liquid).

Washing – by far the worst idea!

Drying by just laying outside is out of the question, you need a rack needle and it takes longer than regular plastic bottle.

Final Thoughts on Ultra Vesta and Body Bottle

Use your race pack ladies!!!

As far as either bottle is concerned (and my clear choice is the Body Bottle, not the 10 ounce bottles), use one or two if you want to carry extra fluids (on top of a bladder or hand-held), liquid calories, or if you’re a top fast runner who has a crew at the aid stations and can simply switch these bottles for you for the new ones (not trying to refill while you wait).

At least that’s my plan!

– Olga King


If you are interested in any of the Ultimate Direction Jenny Collection, you can purchase them at Running Warehouse (Shoes, Packs, Clothes, Lights, and more…plus 2-day free shipping!).


[The Utimate Direction test gear was provided by Ultimate Direction. The honest review was completely our own. This article contains links that may help support this site.]

About the author

Olga King Olga King (Varlamova) has picked up a second wind of running at the beginning of her fourth decade. With the success of being a self-proclaimed “freight train that never stops”, she has finished over 100 races at distances from the marathon and beyond. For more information on Olga, check out the About page where you can see some of her health and coaching related projects.

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