Pearl Izumi Ultra Apparel Review

Pearl Izumi (PI) has been moving their way from cycling-first apparel to providing not just run-specific outerwear, but also innovative run-specific outerwear.  I have worn various garments from PI over the last several years and always felt they were just about there and think that their new Ultra line may have swung them to arrived.

The Ultra line is new for 2013 and seems to be aimed directly at (as the name would suggest) the ultrarunning crowd. It makes sense that this line would evolve with such a large roster of talented ultrarunners on the PI Ultrarunning Team. What makes these bottoms and tops ultra-specific? There are a lot of features made for carrying extra stuff and smart use of fabrics that grip, give extra coverage and allow for greater ventilation.

I have been wearing the Ultra Inside-Out Zip Long Sleeve Shirt ($75) and Ultra Split Short ($70) routinely in my training over the last several months. Let’s take a look at each garment individually and see what they are all about.

Pearl Izumi Ultra Inside-Out Long Sleeve Shirt

Pearl Izumi Ultra Inside-Out Long Sleeve Shirt

The PI Ultra Inside-Out Long Sleeve Shirt

The name is a mouthful as is the amount of features this top has. This top is semi-form fitting. It has enough movement to be comfortable, but is slim enough that a t-shirt or tank is about all you would be able to layer underneath it. The coverage is average length with the bottom hem hitting just below the waistline in the front and, to my liking, there is not a huge drop hem in the back, which PI seemed to use in the past. A long drop hem is fine for cycling, but it just ends up wrapping around my rear and not fitting right when running so I was glad to see that option excluded.

One of my favorite parts of this shirt is the 10” zipper. I love having a shirt with a zipper that goes down to my sternum. A lot of heat can build up in your chest so being able to get that out while keeping the shirt on really adds to the versatility of this top. Also to help with heat is the placement of different panels in the shirt. The main body of the shirt is standard technical fabric, lightweight and smooth. Under the arms is a thinner more open-weave fabric that helps vent.

Pearl Izumi Ultra Inside-Out Long Sleeve Shirt - long zipper

The shirt’s long zipper.

Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s talk about some of the ultrarunner-specific features of this top.

Along the shoulders is a odd pattern of rubbery feeling “bird heads.” At first glance I thought “why would you want this on here, that is a weird aesthetic?” Then I realized, it is to add grip for your hydration pack. [Editor’s Note: They should also add durability for frequent pack wearers.] These “bird heads” create friction with the straps of your pack and hold it inplace better. Does it work? It seems to but I never really had a problem with packs slipping around on shirts as much as I do jackets, but I like the idea.

Pearl Izumi Ultra Inside-Out Long Sleeve Shirt - shoulder overlay

A closer look at the “bird heads” shoulder overlay.

Next up, instead of having thumb holes for monkey sleeves this has a inward facing pocket built into the sleeve. When your hands get cold, just slide your hand back into the sleeve then push your fingers into the pocket. Presto, warmer hands!


Pearl Izumi Ultra Inside-Out Long Sleeve Shirt - built-in mittens

The shirt’s built-in mittens.

Lastly comes where the garment gets it name from. All of the seams on this shirt are inside-out. This method is very apparent along the 10” chest zipper. In fact, before I read the tag on the shirt I thought it was shipped to me inside out. Moving all the extra fabric and thread to the outside of the shirt means that it is super-smooth on the inside and lowers the chance of chafing in those areas where a seam is needed.

I’ll also note that the colors for the model I tested are not traditional. Teal, tan, and black definitely makes this item stand out.

Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts

Finding the right shorts is a big deal for me. I like a four-to-five-inch inseam and multiple pockets, that is about it. Turns out that for whatever reason, in most cases, these two do not exist together. I was very excited last year to find the Pearl Izumi Fly Ultra shorts which met both criteria. I wore the heck out of them and even used them for the Ozark Trail 100 last November. Needless to say, I had lots of time in the Fly Ultras. The Ultra Split Shorts are an update to the Fly Ultra and I was anxious to see how they performed.

The Ultra Split shorts have a 5” inseam, one very large back center zipper pocket (easily fit five gels), two hip pockets (could hold a 5-oz flask), and a leg split that runs approximately half the outseam.

Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts - side views

Both sides views of the Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts.

The shorts are made up of a smooth, tightly woven polyester in a strange silt color that closely resembles a skin tone. Right now, it works because my legs are white as ghosts due to the winter months. However, as soon as my skin tans up it will look like I am nude from a distance. I can already hear an aid-station worker say, “we saw you coming and thought you didn’t have anything on.” The good news for folks with my skin tone is they also come in black.

The other odd look of these shorts is how the pockets are integrated into the waistband/brief. These use a float liner for the brief. A float liner means that the brief is not just a separate piece, but is instead starts at the top of the waistband for fewer seams and a more supportive fit. The pockets are then anchored to the brief to keep the bouncing of items in the pockets down. Here is where things get interesting. Instead of having the pockets sewn on to the polyester shell, the polyester part of the shorts stop “mid-butt” and a tight stretchy fabric is used. Essentially, you have two layers of brief in this section.  It is almost like you have on a hybrid short that is traditional shorts at the bottom and compression shorts on the top. The result is different feeling, but ultimately functional. Not only does this design lend itself well to carrying lots of gels and even flasks relatively bounce-free, it also allows heat to escape.

Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts - floating liner - anchored pockets

A look at the floating liner with anchored pockets.

The last two major points here are aimed at one thing, keeping seams at a minimum. There are no seams on the inside of the leg. The only seam is a vertical one which runs from center front to center back and will never touch your skin directly because of the brief. Lastly, the seams around the shorts themselves are welded instead of stitched to reduce weight and to cut down on seams.

Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts - rear pocket

The PI Ultra Split Shorts rear pocket.


I am very excited by the Ultra line from Pearl Izumi. It shows a specific focus on our sport that involves needing to carry extra calories and being able to respond to different conditions as the day progresses. This coupled with taking a unique spin on shorts as well as a kitchen-sink approach to a shirt that, to me, totally pays off. I reach for these two items more than any others currently in the closet.

Pearl Izumi Ultra - full kit

The author rocking the full PI Ultra kit.

Travis Liles

resides in Portland, Oregon where he is a husband, father, and a technical specialist for a software company. In his spare time, he is exploring his new home in the Pacific Northwest, getting more vertical but still not living in the thin air, while producing "Trail Trials with Travis Liles" video gear reviews for iRunFar.

There are 23 comments

  1. mylesmyles

    I have both the ultra fly short and the ultra split and they are by far the best multi pockety shorts I have owned. The fact that the pockets are sewn into the brief makes so much sense I'm amazed other companies don't do it. It is so effective that I rigged my TNF ultra shorts the same way to eliminate the bounce (by sewing the external pockets into the brief). I really wish more companies would do this. Till then I'll continue to stock up on these.

    1. KenZ

      Quick question: I have several pairs of the NF Better Than Naked shorts(I assuming this is what you mean by the ultra shorts)and they are my favorite shorts by far. How do the PI shorts compare in terms of weight, fit, and feel? My NF shorts are just… better… than all my other shorts, and I use them exclusively for races. How would you compare the fit and form of the PI shorts?

      1. Travis Liles


        I have TNF better than naked shorts also. The brief fit is very similar since both use the floating brief. To me where these differ from TNF is the pockets can carry more and are more secure. The upside for the TNF shorts is they use a lighter material for the main body of the shorts. Both work well for long distance. I also just like the length of the PI's better, but that is a personal preference.

  2. Erik@runningwarehous

    I received a pair of the Ultra Split shorts last year and was able to use them for a 16 hour adventure run last year and a 100 miler earlier this year along with various shorter 3-4 hour outings. The welded seems on the shorts and the nice waistband helped with absolutely no chafing (even when forgetting to apply BodyGlide), the liner was the most comfortable and supportive I've tried yet, and the construction of the pockets into the short had no bounce when loaded. Even in very wet conditions (sweat or rain) the material did not become heavy and cause problems. In short I fully agree with the review. I love these shorts.

  3. Luke Garten

    Is there any problems with gels falling out of the pockets? I have two different Pearl Izumi shorts with side gel pockets and I have lost gels bouncing out of them. One has a velco closure and the other just has two small side gel pockets for one gel each and I will loose a gel out of them if I don't fold the gel in half, and even then they sometimes fall out. Never have any problem with the zipper pocket in the back.

    1. FastED

      Hey Luke – good question! The mesh pockets in the back hold gels, flasks, etc… firmly in place. I have never had anything fall out over the past two years while testing them. The pockets are also angled in the "sweet spot" just behind the hip bone so you don't feel anything.

  4. George Harris

    The LS shirt looks great I was wondering about the fit. I am 5'10" and weigh 142lbs and have a 41 in chest. Usually I wear a size large. This is a semi-fitted shirt and I was thinking based on that I should get a size large. So does this run pretty true to size? Thanks

    1. Marc Britten

      I have one of their jackets and it seemed pretty true to size. I'm a large who often has to buy XL due to arm length issues and I was able to use the large.

      However I can't use the hand pockets (like whats pictured in the review) but I have very long arms.

  5. Luke Garten

    I have the Pearl Izumi Infiniti LD short and it is a size medium and fits perfect. I also have the Pearl Izumi Fly Ultra short and got the medium but wished I got the size small. Does anyone know how the sizing is for the Ultra Split short?

    1. FastED

      Luke – Because of the split, it tends to flare a bit and looks a little big. I am a medium in every model of Pearl shorts. When it comes to the Ultra split short I am border line Medium-Small. I think the small on me would be a little snug so I prefer the medium so I can store more stuff and move better with all that stuff. Hope that helps

  6. Kristin Z

    awesome! I'd be happy to test some girlie PI stuff! I've loved all my older gear from them… even my very first jacket back in 1997 that I still have as a back up! :) Great reviews, Travis.

  7. Ultrawolf

    Looks like something we´d love to see in the IRunFar Shop !

    I´m in love with my Race Ready Shorts but it seems I got to try the Pearl Izumi shorts as well !

  8. Steve

    FYI, the ultra knickers run WAY small. I ordered a pair that barely fit my 11 year old. PI rep told me they'd had problems with men's and women's sizing in those tights.

  9. Travis

    Sweet review. I have been wondering about this mark. By any chance did these shorts have a boxer style brief liner or the classic underwear liner? I am on a quest to find the best running short with a boxer liner.

  10. PI REP

    Travis, the short in the review does not have a boxer liner but PI does make a short with the same pocket system that DOES have the boxer liner. It is called the Ultra Short. The cool thing is that, similar to the split short reviewed, the shell of the short does is actually integrated into the liner. This means that the liner is the only part of the short exposed between the legs. No more shell creeping up the thighs or that swish, swish sounds from the shell rubbing on the inside of the leg. I feel pretty confident that they will be your favorite pair.

  11. Travis

    Is this PI Ultra Short with the boxer liner new? Immediately after I read your response I bought the PI Fly Ultra Shorts in red and unfortunately they did not have the boxer liner. Are these the shorts you mentioned? If yes perhaps there was a revision to the design. [broken link removed]

  12. Daniel Palm

    I tried the short a couple of days ago and after a few km I felt serious chafing on my , well,privates. The reason is that the inner has a big seem in the middle! How can anyone of you miss that?

    Will try to return them and switch to Salomon instead. Really disappointed when it's so pricey and advertised as ultra and smart stitching.

    Daniel/ Sweden

  13. Bryon of iRunFar

    Posted on behalf of Jeff Mc80

    Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts:
    I learned a while back to only get black or dark navy shorts because of the unflattering "crotch sweat" that grey and lighter colors proudly display. (I live in AL; hot and humid!)
    Do the tan shorts show a lot of crotch sweat? (I actually own these shorts in black and love them. Thinking about a 2nd pair…)

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