"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review of Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest

Like a lot of my ultrarunning friends, I am a sucker for anything Anton related.  Something about that guy just oozes cool.  So when I saw that he was designing a race vest I knew that I would end up buying it.  I ordered it wayyy back in December, the second I saw it was available, which is lucky because it sold out FAST.  I think you can find them now, or at least pre-order them.  As spring approaches and the weather heats up, it will be time to start thinking about carrying bottles again, and the Ultimate Direction AK signature vest certainly offers up an alternative method for carrying two 20oz bottles.

Making it look cool

I think the main utility of this vest is the opportunity to use bottles, but not have to carry them in your hands.   I've definitely run into problems carrying handhelds during races before; lack of dexterity is MY major issue during a race.  Other problems include falling down and not having free hands to catch myself, sweaty sweaty sweaty hands glued to bottles, and tired shoulders and arms after 12 hours of carrying bottles.  So why not wear a pack?  Well I have also been at races, rather exhausted and pulled off my hydration pack, been unable to get it open myself, or handed it to a volunteer to be filled, not realizing they had no idea how to open it, fill it, or close it (not their fault, its just confusing sometimes). 
UD stock photo

So when I saw the AK vest, I was very intrigued, the Eurostyle bottles in the front definitely has application for us Americans, but you generally see US runners carrying bottles or wearing hydration packs with bladders.  

I was very excited when I first opened up the package and put on my size S/M vest.  It fits very well.  Super snug, incredibly lightweight, and it didn't seem to rub me in any strange places.  And then I put the bottles in - Sweet!  This is going to be a great piece of gear for race day.  One problem, the bottles weren't filled with water yet.

Filling the bottles with water soon revealed that it was not as comfortable as I initially thought.  There was quite a bit of bouncing.  I tried to adjust the pack in multiple different fashion, and eventually settled on a fit that seemed to work out OK.  The one thing I quickly realized is that the front of my pack (and thus the bottles) looked to ride quite a bit lower on my chest than it did when Krupicka is wearing it in pictures. 

I went for an 18 mile run in the winter with 2 filled bottles, more to test out the pack rather than actually needing the water.  Besides the slightly annoying bouncing and sloshing noises, it seemed to work ok.  Then towards the end of the run, I noticed myself getting more and more sore across my chest.  My man boobs were really not liking having full water bottles strapped across them for miles and miles.  I quickly drank down the bottles, and once they were empty, I wasn't bothered anymore. 

I feel like this chick is about to be in a world of chest pain
I ended up with some bruises on my ribcage/pectoral area, and haven't tried to run with full 20oz UD bottles in the pack since then.  Maybe its my running form, maybe its my build, maybe its the fact that its sold as a S/M size, rather than allowing for someone who needs a small to get a small, but I just can't get it to fit quite right.  I dunno why, but its a serious flaw and drawback.
Back view

What I have used the pack for is to carry stuff (camera, gels, jacket, etc.) because it is so light and fits great.  Further experiment has lead me to conclude that I can get away with either small 10oz nutrition flasks in the chest pockets, Salomon softflasks, and I have heard other people (who have had similar bruises as mine) mention that the Amphipod style bottles seem to work.

Notice the lack of bottles
Stuff anything you dont want into the back sleeve

In the end I am kinda disappointed, If I'm stuck using two 10oz bottles, that's not really enough water to get between aid stations that are spread out.  Perhaps it will suffice as a training tool.  The vest has nice pockets, including 2 zipper pockets in the back and Velcro pocket in the front.  There are also two sleeve-like pockets that can be found in the shoulder area.   These are great for stuffing gel into.  Be warned using the Velcro pocket, car keys can fall out!  The back of the pack also features one giant pocket, which is what I generally stick things in if I know I don't need them for a while.  Part of me is considering putting a 1.5L hydration bladder in it, and using that, combined with two 10oz bottles up front, could provide ample hydration for long outings and also allowing me to customize fuels in the front bottles.


  1. Thanks for the review! Question: what's your chest size? I'm a 35-36 and looking at the S/M size, which UD suggests goes to 34. But I wonder if it'd be a better fit for me than the M/L.

    1. I think you could get away with the S/M size. I have a 36 inch chest and the S/M fits me well. Hope this helps!

  2. Just an FYI, I have the same problem with the AK vest. However, while it doesn't make sense, I do not have an issue with the SJ

    1. Thanks for your input Michelle, I'm kind of kicking myself for not buying the Jurek vest... I have since returned my AK vest to UD for repairs, its just too wimpy for me I guess.

  3. I just completed the Superior 50k in Northern Minnesota, and ran with my Scott Jurek vest with the bottles. I can not touch the right side of my ribs where the bottle was pounding through the miles. It has been 4 days now. I believe my problem was not drinking from both bottles. The right side stayed full pretty much the whole time. Glad I was able to find other with this problem.

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  5. Maybe the OrangeMud HydraQuiver would be an alternative for you guys.

  6. Love this review. I have the Ultimate Direction Wink pack for women but I was really intrigued by the AK vest. I bought it and it's DEFINITELY not made for women. Sent it back and am still looking for another hydration vest/pack. Thought about getting the AK vest again with a bladder in the back. Thanks for your input on the pack! Guess I gotta keep looking.

    1. Thanks Becca, I saw quite a few ppl wearing AK vests with bladders at Leadville this year - so maybe thats a good solution. I'd be interested to hear what you end up deciding to use.


  7. Glad my purchase of the AK vest led me to this blog. Looks like lots of interesting stuff here to explore.

    First run today in the vest, which I purchased for the upcoming Grindstone 100. Not having the fit problems mentioned here, but this was just a 3 hour run on the rocks. We'll see how it goes after 20 hours.

    My biggest issue today was learning the "kicker valve." Didn't understand this until I came home & checked out some photos on irunfar.