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.

Conclusion

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.