January 10, 2018 4 min read

Taking on your first ultra marathon can be a daunting task, I remember prior to my first 50 miler in 2014 that one thing played on my mind. Yes I was worried that I had trained enough or that the food I would eat was enough to carry me across 50 very hilly miles but also I was principally concerned that I had all the right gear to help me along the way. I must have tried 3 or 4 race vests in training to work out which one I needed, was it comfy? Was it the correct size? Well if you have those similar questions hopefully this blog post will help you choose before buying.

I will be using the kit list needed for the Lakeland 50 as the example of what fits in to each pack. The list for the Lakeland 50 is in keeping with a lot of ultras so will give you a good idea as to what fits in each UD pack .

Ultimate Direction offer 4 vests/packs in their signature series, each varying in the capacity of what they can carry.

Starting with smallest capacity, the Timothy Olson (TO) vest is a 5ltr vest and is meant for runs where you wont need to carry too much equipment but do require water or nutrition.

Perfect for a short run in the summer but not really appropriate for an ultra so I will not be packing this one.

The next size up is the Scott Jurek (SJ) vest, this vest has an 8.5ltr litre capacity with two 500ml bottles.

The Anton Kuprica (AK) is probably the most versatile of all the vests with 11.5ltr capacity and again with two 500ml bottles this vest is ideal for longer runs as most race manidtory kit will fit in the back.

The largest capacity pack the Peter Balkin (PB) Adventure Vest this has a massive 16ltr capacity but only comes with 1 x 500ml bottle however, you can fit another bottle up front if you wish.

Whilst it is obvious that as each pack gets larger in capacity the more you can fit in to the pack… what can you actually fit in to each pack and still keep the same amazing comfort and fit you get with the Ultimate Direction Signature series?

Only one way to find out!

The lakeland 50 Kit List:

  • First aid kit to include: blister plasters / sterile pad dressing / bandage or tape to secure dressing as a minimum requirement.
  • Full WATERPROOF body cover, top and bottom 
  • Spare base layer *top and bottom - must be full length bottoms & long sleeve top. 
  • Head torch / spare batteries if required
  • Mobile phone
  • Whistle
  • Hat and gloves (BUFF or similar acceptable as hat)

  • Emergency foil blanket or bivi bag, large enough to cover whole body. Blanket or bag must not be cut to minimise size. 

  • Emergency food equivalent to 400kcal e.g. 2 mars bars (additional to your general nutrition i.e. not to be eaten during event, should be in your bag at the finish)
  • Map (supplied, waterproof and pre-marked) 1:40,000
  • Road book (supplied on waterproof paper)
  • Compass (you must know how to orientate a map using a compass and take a simple bearing to provide direction)
  • Plastic cup

NOTE: The only items not pictured are the compass and plastic cup. The compass fits in any pack and the cup can easily be tied to the outside of any pack.

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0

So did I manage to fit the entire kit list in this pack? Well, no. This very has very few pockets and mainly consists of the two bottles up front and a large full length pouch at the back.

Whilst I managed to get all the large pieces of clothing in the back I struggled to fit any of the small items in such as the head torch, mobile phone and first aid kit in.

Does this mean that this isnt a good pack? Hell no, this vest would be ideal for shorter runs or races in the summer months that didn’t need you to require as much safety equipment.

Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0

I was more than hopeful of being able to fit everything I needed in the AK vest, this pack has a lot more smaller pockets on the front and sides of the pack which allow you to add food, gloves etc leaving the back of the pack free to hold all the extra clothing needed.

Did I manage to fit everything I need in this pack? Yes and No. Whilst I did get everything in it was maxed out. For the faster runners this would be ideal, always remember that kit lists are the MINIMUM of what you should carry, a fast or elite runner can get away with this as they will hit each checkpoint more quickly and not need any additional food etc.

Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0

As I managed to fit everything need in the AK vest that I needed it is more than obvious that everything would fit in the largest capacity vest but that doesnt mean that the AK vest is the obvious purchase.

I EASILY fitted the kit in to the PB and then some, I purposely left the front left pouch empty so I could fit a second soft flask in and still had tons of room for extra food, spare hat, spare t-shirt etc.

This vest for me is the ideal choice for the mid paced runner, somebody who likes to carry that extra snack bar, a change of socks or T-shirt. This pack has so many pockets that are accessible whilst running you don’t even need to take the pack off unless you want to grab the larger pieces of clothing stored in the back.

Summary

So, which pack would I buy if I was running a 50 mile ultra? Well it comes down to either the AK or PB and what type of runner you are.

Faster runner... then go with the AK, mid pack runner… go with the PB.

All three packs tested are incredible but each has their own place when it comes to ultra running.

You can purchase any of the above vests from us at RunFreaks here