Review: ‘Ultra Vesta’ Running Pack Fit For Mountain Trails

A full day’s essentials, packed light against your body. We tested the Ultra Vesta by Ultimate Direction in a run through the Rocky Mountains.

Ultra Vesta women's trail running vest review
Author on a September race day in Utah; photo courtesy of The North Face Endurance Challenge Series’ Park City Mountain Marathon.

The Ultra Vesta for women received a handful of stellar updates for 2016. I reviewed the initial vest design last year, and I didn’t think it could get much better.

It did.

The fresh vest has greater fluid capacity and improved organization while still weighing less. This summer and fall, the Ultra Vesta became an essential for long (and short) training runs and trail races throughout the Rocky Mountains.

Review: Ultimate Direction Women’s Ultra Vesta ($135)

The vest created with lead designer Jenny Jurek weighs just 8 ounces, but it’s well-designed and comfortably holds a lot of gear. I found with about 7 liters storage capacity, the Ultra Vesta was a good fit for all of my fuel, extra layers, rain jacket, miscellaneous items (like a headlamp and safety blanket), and water on summer and fall ultra-distance trail runs.


It was also a streamlined, light pack for races. The vest has mesh and 70D nylon ripstop fabric, so it’s durable, wicks away sweat, and has good ventilation. Plus, it feels feather-light.

The Ultra Vesta worked for me on snowy, cold winter training runs, too—when you’re most likely carrying more fuel, water, and layers. But, depending on a runner’s preference, I may suggest a larger pack size such as the Adventure Vesta, which has a capacity closer to 11 liters.

Smart Pocket Design

Ultimate Direction reshaped and enlarged the two pockets on the straps (below the holsters) to fit a standard cell phone. Unfortunately, larger phones, such as the iPhone plus, are too tall and stretch precariously above the pocket. As a result, they could flop out. Hopefully future updates of this vest will offer a pocket size to match mega-size phones.

Ultimate Direction woman's trail running vest review
Author running the famous Four Pass Loop, near Aspen, Colorado.

On the face of the pack, what was formerly one large, zipper-accessed pocket was separated into two smaller compartments. The upgrade makes organizing smaller items like gloves, snacks, headlamps, salt tabs, etc. a million times easier than fishing around in one giant cavity.

Large Water Capacity

The shoulder straps also have larger bottle holsters. The now carry two 500 ml soft bottles, versus the two hard 10-ounce bottles in the former vest. A reservoir sleeve is also in the back-most compartment, which can hold a 50- or 70-liter bladder.

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta review
A trail run up Mount Elbert, a well-known 14er outside of Leadville, Colorado; photo courtesy Runners Roost MUT team racer Kimberly Jacobs.

I was skeptical of the larger bottles at first, but ultimately preferred them for several reasons. In general, the softness makes them more comfortable to carry against the chest. Plus, they’re are compressible and lightweight. Lastly, the nozzle is spill-proof, soft, and bite-able, so you can drink on the go. (The previous hard bottles had a traditional pop-out mouth. I often experienced spillage if I didn’t fully pop the mouth back into place, or would hit my teeth when I tried to drink as I ran.)

Bungee System

One of my favorite organizational features is the compression bungee on the vest’s face. Held in place by tiny loops, the cord zigzags from one side to the other. Then, an inch or so past the loops, along the edge of the vest, are anchors—basically a plastic hook. You can use the anchors to pull the bungee cord even tighter to compress apparel—like a rain jacket—or use it to strap in trekking poles.


Beneath the bungee is an exterior mesh pocket where you can tuck wet or bulky apparel, though I didn’t use this. Instead, I strapped my rain jacket and trail running poles directly beneath the bungee.

Adjustable Size

Two sternum straps in front slide along a rail, so a woman can adjust the straps to fit her shape and to accommodate a full or empty pack. There are also adjustable side straps for a tighter or looser fit.

Ultimate Direction has been creating hydration packs since 1985. In 2013, it introduced the first-ever women’s specific line of hydration packs, called the Jenny Collection (named after designer and trail runner Jenny Jurek).

Check out Ultimate Direction to learn more.

Morgan Tilton

Staff Writer Morgan Tilton is an adventure journalist specializing in winter sports coverage, travel narratives, and outdoor industry news. A recipient of nearly a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards, when she’s not recovering from jungle expeditions or doing field research in far-out villages she’s usually trail running, mountain biking, river surfing, or splitboarding in Colorado’s San Juan and Elk Mountains, where she grew up and lives today.