Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee and Hydro Short Review

In 2019, Ultimate Direction expanded their wearable-gear line to include a few really interesting products that allow the runner to reduce what he or she is carrying while not sacrificing the ability to be self-supported with fuel, fluids, and a few other assorted items. The Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee ($64.95), which we review in this article, comes in men’s and women’s styles and is the epitome of the less-is-more concept. Runners in warmer climates will certainly rejoice with the performance of this simple, ultralight, and highly breathable shirt.

In the new wearable-gear category, the Hydro Line includes the Ultimate Direction Hydro Short ($99.95 for the men’s/$84.95 for the women’s), which we review here, as well as a Hydro Skin Short for women and men, and the Hydro Skort, Hydro 3/4 Tight, and Hydro Tank for women. The principle behind the Hydro line is written clearly on the Ultimate Direction product description, “Why carry it when you can wear it?”

Let’s take a look at these two pieces of clothing in greater detail.

The Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee and Hydro Short back view. All photos: iRunFar/Kristin Zosel

Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee

Testing the new Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee during a super-hot summer and fall was rather fortuitous, and I had no qualms whatsoever giving it ample performance opportunities as it was even in the 80s Fahrenheit above treeline at times. There’s really not too much to say given the very stripped-down nature of this incredibly soft shirt. There are no bells and whistles here, just expert performance and breathability. The women’s shirt weighs in at 2.2 ounces/61 grams and the men’s at 3.0 ounces/85 grams, according to Ultimate Direction. The body-mapped polyester mesh shirt has varying pore sizes in the knit that maximize breathability and moisture wicking in the higher-sweat zones such as along the center of the back (where running packs lie) and in the upper-mid torso. While the concept of mesh may give you visions of chafing, this is the smoothest and softest fabric around with low-profile ribbed seams that just glide over the skin. There’s no clamminess or chill to the material as the temperature heats up and the sweat flows—just a soft, wicking material floating over your torso. Because it dries almost instantly, I’m enjoying wearing it under a mid-layer now that the weather up high is turning to fall. Again, there’s no moisture that gets trapped between the pack and sports bra or against my skin; it stays smooth and dry.

The neck has a slightly wider opening than some shirts which was great for fitting over my large head with or without glasses on, but I didn’t feel that it was too wide such that extra sunscreen was needed. I had no bra-strap-reveal moments in the shirt even on super-windy days. The cap sleeves provide just enough protection from the sun for the shoulders but do allow a bit of extra ventilation through the underarm area because of the slightly shorter cut. I received the small which was true to size based on their chart and fit relatively close without being too snug. But if I were to do it again, I’d order the medium just to have a bit more flow to the shirt. After a spring and summer of frequent wear under packs, there is some pilling in the rib area where packs pull snug, but I’m not one to care too much about appearance as long as the function is still there, and it’s still a favorite among my few shirts that make running in the heat somewhat bearable.

The Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee and Hydro Short front view.

Ultimate Direction Hydro Short

Having survived the 1980s fanny-pack revolution unscathed, and having tried unsuccessfully to embrace bouncing waist packs when I first started running longer in the mid-1990s, I can say I was skeptically intrigued by this new Ultimate Direction Hydro line. After a spring and summer of testing, they truly do perform as stated. Whether you like the performance really comes down to your preferences.

As mentioned above, there are several options in this line for style of wearable hydration. I tested the women’s Hydro Short, which is a two-layer short with a 5-inch-inseam, nylon, hyper-tight compression short lying beneath a 2.75-inch-inseam, ultralight, stretch-woven over-short. The men’s Hydro Short has a 9-inch compression under-short and 4.5-inch over-short. The short weighs 5.1 ounces/145 grams for women and 5.9 ounces/167 grams for men garment and is ringed with a hidden, rigid, webbing waist adjustor with a simple sliding buckle exposed at the front. The tail of this ‘belt’ easily tucks into the belt tunnel once adjusted which keeps it from flapping around. This webbing coupled with a wide, two-way, stretch-mesh waistband provides the support necessary to keep the shorts up when fully loaded with the two included 300-milliliter bottles of fluid and various other fuels and running-related items. Surprisingly, the shorts do indeed stay up while running even when fully loaded, but it does mean that a quick duck into the bushes to ‘water the flowers’ becomes a slightly longer ordeal because the waist adjuster must be loosened significantly and then readjusted.

The front of the Ultimate Direction women’s Hydro Short.

The compression short provides just the amount of compression I like in my shorts that keeps my quads and glutes a bit happier as the miles tick along. I do wish they were about 2 inches longer since they tend to ride up more into that 3-inch zone that gets a little too short for my personal preferences. I know I might be a bit of an exception given the way so many women’s shorts keep shrinking, but I do like the support to extend to at least my mid-thigh and stay there. This keeps my quads happy on long descents and the amount of ‘exposure’ within my own personal comfort zone—and no chafing either. I’m not sure what the purpose of the overlaying shorts are since at least with mine, they’re so snug against the compression shorts that they’re mostly invisible. Perhaps this is the type of garment it’s best to go up a size with? I received the size appropriate for my measurements and they weren’t restrictive while running, but I do think the next larger size might have given me more of the fit pictured on the website where the outer shorts hang more loosely against the base layer.

The two 300mL bottles included with the shorts have a very easy-to-drink-from lid/nozzle and fit snuggly into a pocket on either side of your glutes where an overlying ‘hood’ of fabric keeps them securely in place. While I didn’t have any issues getting the bottles out of their pockets, there’s definitely a learning curve to getting them back in on the run, particularly while wearing gloves. Though I did get proficient with the process, it was challenging enough on some days that it was easier just to walk a few steps to ensure the bottles were in securely and not coming back out. The beauty of these two pockets is if you choose not to use the water bottles, they also hold an iPhone X or smaller, various larger fuel items, maps, trash, and about anything else you can think of. In the center of the back is another large pocket with a velcro overlay that easily holds a bar, chews, gels, or keys.

The back view of the Ultimate Direction women’s Hydro Short.

The Hydro Short, for me, performed best in the cooler spring and fall temperatures as they are definitely not the coolest or most breathable shorts around when the temperatures sit above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I didn’t mind wearing them on hotter days and runs where 600mL fluid was enough because it kept my upper body so much cooler without a pack that I could forget about a little more heat around my upper legs and hips. If I were to change one thing with the Hydro line, it would be to add a longer compression short to the women’s line. The Hydro Skin Short has a 3-inch inseam in the women’s version whereas the men’s version is 9 inches. I’d love to see a women’s version at 7 inches to allow us similar support.

Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee and Hydro Short Overall Impressions

Overall, I love the Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee for all temperatures, but I’m particularly keen on it in the hottest weather. I don’t wear tank tops for running, and I almost always have a running pack on, so I appreciate the super soft but highly breathable feel and protection of this simple, lightweight running shirt.

I think the Ultimate Direction Hydro Short concept is brilliant if your goal is to ditch the pack and transfer the load to your hips. They ride securely and bounce-free at the waist even when fully loaded and don’t require highly flexible shoulders to reach the various items you’ve stashed. I don’t love the inseam length or the snugness of the over-short, but by changing the size or switching to the skirt, perhaps these concerns would resolve. I can’t honestly say I’m a convert to the Hydro Short just yet since I’m not that bothered by packs with where I live in Colorado, but I guarantee if I lived in a warmer or more humid place, I’d be testing out the other varieties of the Hydro line to find my best option since a pack in such climates might feel unbearable in the summer.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in either the Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee or Hydro Short?
  • If so, what do you think of these pieces of clothing conceptually? And how do their features actually work for you?
  • Have you run in any of the other pieces of clothing in the Hydro line? Can you share some thoughts?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

A close-up view of the webbing belt on the Ultimate Direction Hydro Short.

Kristin Zosel

is a mom, wife, ultrarunner, physical therapist (on sabbatical), and transcriptionist for iRunFar.com. Her love of steep uphills, high mountain environments, and Swiss “lovely cows” keep alpine visions dancing in her head and strong cappuccinos in her mug.

There are 7 comments

  1. karenontherun

    I was so excited for this line, but the sizing on the skort I ordered was ridiculously far off. The large was a typical medium at best, and of course there is no XL. The sizing chart says 32-34 inches waist measurement for the large, which is ludicrous. Very disappointing.

  2. SMB

    Nice review, but no comments on the price? I know this is still a bit of a niche sport, but $99 for a pair of shorts seems pretty steep. (Don’t get me started on the prices for running vests, but at least you can wear those multiple days in a row.)

  3. SMB

    “There’s no rule against wearing running shorts multiple days in a row.”

    True… I have to admit I just wore a pair of Salomons for 7 days in a row while backpacking. But I definitely doubled-up on the Body Glide. And I would have changed if I’d been sharing my tent with anybody else.

  4. Chris

    Looking for the Courtney-length shorts. But it seems there’s little interest in making them, so I make them out of old tech stuff.

    1. Heather

      @chris, if you’re looking for Courtney length shorts, you might want to give the la sportiva medal short. They are pert-near knee length and the outer short feels like a lightweight basketball short. The inner shirt is basically an unsupportive boxer brief. I really like them except for the inner brief definitely rides up…but I was graced with thighs . Still, they are great shorts.

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