Ultra runner Scott Jurek helped redesign this pack during his 43-day run on the Appalachian Trail. The new design is built with softer, stretchier fabrics that breathe better, and feel like silk. Straps allow stowing trekking poles while still on the move. With their third iteration of this pack UD has found a brilliant middle ground between comfort and function. A stiff competitor to the Salomon S/LAB Sense Ultra 5, this is a fantastic hydration pack that just keeps getting better.
The Ultimate Direction SJ 3.0 uses its construction to hold everything onboard tightly in place. Stretchy fabric on the exterior hugs whatever is stored in the pockets against the body, so nothing bounces around when running. Two chest straps attach to the shoulders via T-hooks. They’re easy to move around for a customized fit.
Set up as a serious runner’s vest the design leans toward flask lovers. Two soft flasks are included and ready to go in their holstered position in the shoulder strap pockets. A hydration pocket sits in the back but a bladder is not included. The pack can carry a 2-liter bladder and two 500 ml flasks up front for a total of 3 liters or 102 ounces.
The pocket-rich design makes it easy to stay organized and keep everything you need handy. The only pocket we couldn’t reach while moving was the one for the bladder and the elastic cords on the back, where we’d store a jacket. No big deal since we’d take off the pack to deal with either anyway. There’s not a ton of storage, but there’s room for everything needed for most ultra running events and what you’d take on an all-day run.
As a snug fitting, brightly colored piece of clothing the options for using this for anything but running are limited. This is a purpose built tool and we found it worked best relegated for the task of running.
The fabric that rides next to skin on the SJ vest, a knit mono-mesh, is not as soft to the touch as some of the other packs we tested. However, the slick material and attention to lining all seams and joints, meant this was the most comfortable pack to wear. Its fabrics seemed to suck sweat off the skin, make it disappear and never irritated even when we wore it bare chested.
Ryan Stuart is freelance writer and jack of all sports—trail running, mountain biking, whitewater paddling, surfing, climbing, skiing and mountaineering—based on Vancouver Island. Follow his testing on Google+.