Hydration system preferences are about as subjective as running shoes. In other words, every single runner has a strong feeling about what they like and don’t like, but no single product is perfect for everyone.
My philosophy with most running products, hydration systems included, is that if it works and is comfortable to you, then that’s what you should be using.
Which is why I hadn’t switched my hydration system in a long time.
For the past several years I’ve been using the Nathan HLP 008 Vest for long runs, and a simple handheld for anything under 2.5 hours. Recently I added the Ultimate Direction Jurek Essentials belt (an xmas gift from the lovely wife), which, in combination with the handheld, gives you plenty of storage space for light fuel and liquid on medium-length long runs.
But the hype around the 2012 launch of the Ultimate Direction Signature Series packs, which includes the smaller Anton Krupicka Race Vest, a slightly larger Scott Jurek Ultra Running Vest, and an even larger Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest, was so big and the packs look so sexy that I almost caved. But I didn’t, I kept running with my trusty Nathan pack.
This year, however, I knew it was time for a change. I was planning some major outings and training for a 100 miler, and needed more room to carry gear than the Nathan could offer. After a ton of research on other brands and packs, I settled on the UD Anton Krupicka Race Vest and asked for it (from my wonderful mother) for my birthday. A few weeks later it arrived and I haven’t looked back.
Now you don’t see a lot of review posts on Rock Creek Runner because I don’t like to highlight gear unless I really believe in it. I really believe in this pack.
After a few long outings, including a 30 mile run this past weekend, I feel comfortable reviewing the AK pack and throwing my support behind it.
Now for the info you’re really looking for…
The Obligatory Specs
Weight: An ultra light 7.0 oz
Capacity: 4.0 L
Fluid Capacity: The pack is designed to carry two bottles up front, and has a set-up to carry a water bladder in the back. I haven’t tested the pack with a bladder, since the bottles up front have worked so nicely.
Sizes: They offer two sizes, a S/M and a M/L. I use the S/M and it fits perfectly.
- Ultimate Direction Bottles
- Small Velcro pockets for electrolytes, valuables, or gels
- Bottle holsters with tightening cord
- “Smart Phone Compatible” pouches, too small for iPhone but perfect for small camera or MP3 player
- Main compartment with stretchable mesh outer
The Specifics You Really Want to Know
1) How does it fit?
In a word, great.
I’m not the thinnest of dudes, but opted for the S/M based on the sizing chart. I followed the fitting directions located on the website, and the pack fit like a glove. It’s low profile enough under the arms that you don’t know it is there.
2) How about the pockets?
As I mentioned above, this pack has a variety of pockets, including the two bottle pockets, two smaller pockets below the bottles, too medium sized “Smart Phone” pockets above the bottles, and the main compartment in the back.
During my most recent 30 mile run with the pack, here’s what I packed:
- Main Compartment: Long sleeve shirt, a map, trail mix, energy bar x 2, almond butter packet, Gus x 2, and an empty hand held I used for the first several miles before stashing it in the back.
- Bottle Pockets: Both UD bottles.
- Small Pockets: In one I put two gels (could have held 3), in the other I put trash.
- Medium “Smart Phone” Pockets: My iPhone does not fit in the smart phone pockets, so I wasn’t able to put it in there. Instead I stored my GoPro camera (you know, for the action selfies!) in one and left the other empty.
All in all the only complaint I have about the pockets is that the medium pockets intended for phones don’t fit my phone. The others are well placed, easy to access, and plenty large enough for an outing like the one I had.
The main compartment could have held much more than I packed in, which was unexpected.
3) What about the bouncing?
Have I mentioned how little bouncing I experienced yet? I was truly amazed. With heavy bottles up front, I felt certain I’d experience bouncing on the pack.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
The pack rides so well I often forgot it was there. There was zero bouncing caused by the gear in the main compartment, and no noticeable bouncing from the bottles. Sloshing, on the other hand, that’s a different story. But I guess that’s unavoidable.
4) Any chafing?
After 30 miles I experienced no chafing. I even purposely avoided putting on lube around the pack’s touch points so that I could see where the chafing would take place (and make sure to avoid it in the future). Amazingly, I had none.
The one issue I did notice was a bit of pressure discomfort on my chest from the bottles. I didn’t notice this at all until the last 30-45 minutes of the run, so it wasn’t really an issue, just something that should be noted.
5) How about for women?
Honestly, I don’t know. I’d imagine the bottle placement would need to be slightly adjusted, so I’d recommend trying on the pack and making any major adjustments before ripping off the tags.
Ultimate Direction has recently added a female specific line of products, designed by Scott Jurek’s wife Jenny, which includes a very similar vest called the Ultra Vesta. If I was a woman, I’d definitely check that out as an option.
A Breakdown of the Good and Bad
What I Really Like:
- The lack of bounce from both the bottles up front and whatever you have packed in the back.
- Having the bottles up front. I wasn’t sure about this at first, but such easy access turned out to be very helpful.
- The amount of space available in the back. It looks small, but I was able to pack a lot of stuff!
- The strength of the materials. Everything about this pack screams well-made, and I don’t feel like I need to be careful when it comes to ripping or over stretching.
What I Don’t Like:
- The bottles themselves. I find it difficult to get water out, which is kind of the point. Thankfully, any regular sized bottles will fit this pack.
- The lack of a dry pouch. This was something removed in this second version. It would be nice to have a small completely dry pouch for salt tablets and the like.
- The fact that the smart phone pockets don’t fit my smart phone. You can’t even fit an iPhone 4 in there, let alone a 5 or one of the larger Androids. I know phone sizes are always changing, but the iPhone size should probably be a standard.
Conclusion and Recommendation
I’m a convert.
This is an incredibly solid pack for anyone looking to carry hydration and nutrition for longer outings.
If you already have the first version, I don’t think it’s worth upgrading. The changes are small enough that I’d wait until your first one wears out before making the switch.
But if you’re in the hunt for a new pack, or looking for something a little different, the Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest gets Rock Creek Runner’s full support.
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