As late spring storms made their final stand before giving way to the long sunny days of June, I took the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 ($150) out for some long days on mountain trails that had only just emerged from winter’s lingering snow. In July, I took this hydration pack to the San Juan Mountains surrounding Silverton, Colorado — to run, camp, and work remotely alongside friends who were making their final preparations for the 2023 Hardrock 100 on July 14.
When I arrived in Colorado during the first week of July, I was technically still recovering from running Western States 100 and therefore “taking it easy.” However, I can’t resist a steep switchbacking trail, endless ridgelines, meadows of wildflowers and burbling alpine streams, and the lure of expansive high-country views. Soon, I found myself loading up my Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 each day with a handful of snacks, water and electrolytes, a water filter and lightweight jacket, then grabbing a pair of trekking poles and heading out for a few hours to run, explore, and take in the magic of these mountains alongside friends and my dog, Firnspiegel.
The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 is lightweight, and it has approximately 10 liters of storage capacity. Each of the soft flasks holds 500 milliliters of hydration. This hydration pack has multiple storage pockets on the front and back, including some with waterproof fabric and a zippered closure; plus bungee cords, loops, and hooks for attaching trekking poles and other gear to the outside of the pack. I found that this pack holds plenty for a half day or longer on the trail — depending on weather and how much you need to carry. It’s also one of the more breathable packs I’ve worn, and it’s comfortable — though the fit adjustment isn’t the easiest. I’m not a fan of all the cords hanging off the outside of the pack, but otherwise I think this is a great pack for long training runs and mountain adventures.Shop the Women's Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 Construction and Fit
The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 is available in sizes small through extra large, and according to Ultimate Direction’s size guide, this size range fits ribs cages measuring from 21 to 46 inches around (53 to 118 centimeters). I measure 28 inches around the rib cage and tested a size small. When I wore this hydration pack, I cinched down the front two sternum straps as tight as they could go. The lower webbing strap dug uncomfortably into the base of my ribs when it was fully tightened, so I loosened it just enough to alleviate that pressure. The sternum straps can be moved vertically up or down, but it takes some finagling, and since it wasn’t a simple process, I decided not to mess with it.
With the two front straps fully tightened, I found that the vest still bounced, especially early in a run when the water bottles were full. That said, once I sipped from the water bottles and they were no longer full, I stopped noticing the bouncing and it ceased to be an issue. This hydration pack can also be tightened via Ultimate Direction’s Comfort Cinch 3.0 system, which involves tugging on two cords at the back base of the pack. This helps secure the pack’s fit and keep it from bouncing, but it’s not easy to loosen on the go.
While testing this pack, I really liked how the Ultra Vesta 6.0 fit on my upper back and hugged my ribcage, rather than hanging off my shoulders or sagging against my low back. I also appreciated the ultralight and soft materials, including the thin mesh layer along the inside, fleece-like trim over the front and back panel seams, and stretchy quick-drying fabric used for the pocket construction on the front and back. All of these materials felt soft to the touch, high quality and durable, breathable, and comfortable. I did not experience any chafing while wearing this hydration pack and noticed that it breathed much better than other hydration packs I’ve worn.
One thing I don’t love about this pack is the abundance of elastic cords, loops, and other bits and bobs hanging off it. I appreciate Ultimate Direction’s intention to make this pack versatile in its carrying capacity, and I imagine using these bungees helps save weight, but the number of dangling cords and elastic feels overkill. Functionally, when I was wearing the pack and trying to access various pockets, I ended up tugging on all sorts of strings and tabs that were not what I was looking for, and it got annoying. This may simply be a matter of personal preference, since I know that I like a cleaner and simpler design aesthetic, but it seemed to me that the pack is a little overbuilt with these details. I will likely end up cutting off the extra cords and dangling bits of elastic.
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 Storage and Hydration
The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 comes with two soft flasks that hold 500 milliliters of hydration each and fit securely in two front pockets. The front hydration pockets have elastic cords that cinch around the water bottles to help keep them in place. The bottles are similar to other soft flasks, and like most, are made by HydraPak. However, these bottles have a relatively hard plastic lid and a unique mouthpiece. The hard lid felt slightly uncomfortable against my chest when the bottles were less than full, but this structured design also made the bottle easier to refill while holding it with one hand.
The mouthpiece is great. When it’s pressed down, it’s sealed and won’t leak. To drink, simply bite on the mouthpiece and give it a tug, and it unlocks. I really like this system because I’ve had bottles leak in other hydration packs, especially when the pack is in my car, and it tips over en route to the trailhead. This hydration pack is also capable of carrying a bladder holding up to two liters. Note, the bladder is not included — Ultimate Direction sells 1.5- and 2-liter bladders for $35 and $40, respectively, though any brand of bladder should work just fine with this pack.
Aside from hydration storage, this hydration pack has a variety of pockets on the front and back for holding ultrarunning necessities. On the front, below the two water bottle pockets are two smaller pockets for holding fuel, chapstick, and possibly a phone. Initially, I was disappointed in the size and shape of these two pockets — they seemed small and shallow. However, I discovered that the stretchy mesh holds more than I expected. While I can’t fit enough food for an entire day out, I can fit several gels, waffles, and packs of chews into the two pockets, which is more than enough to get me through a few hours of running. I can also fit my iPhone in this pocket, though there’s also an easy-to-miss waterproof zippered phone pocket behind one of the water bottle pockets — I would opt for this pocket in inclement weather, though the zipper itself does not appear to be waterproof, only the fabric. Finally, near the left shoulder, there is a small stash pocket with a flap hood that’s about the width and depth of two fingers, so it’d be good for storing a chapstick or tin of anti-chafe, or something similarly small.
On the back, two zippered pockets — one on each side — securely hold additional food, though these aren’t the easiest pockets to access on the go. I have pretty flexible shoulders, and I still struggled to reach the zipper and tug it open — and I tended to grab any number of cords and pulls while trying to get to the zipper. Additionally, a mesh sleeve on the back can hold a jacket or similar, and a zippered waterproof pocket (but without a waterproof zipper) can store gloves, a water filter, more snacks, a first aid kit, headlamp, and similar items you’d need for a full-day mountain adventure. The hydration sleeve rounds out the back storage, and if you’re not using it for hydration, you could store additional items in that pocket.
Finally, there is a bungee cord on the back and multiple options for attaching trekking poles, but I did not (and personally, would not) use cords to attach things to the outside of my hydration pack — I think this leads to too much bouncing and not secure enough storage. However, others might appreciate these additional carry systems.
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 Overall Impressions
Overall, the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 is a comfortable, very lightweight, and breathable hydration pack that holds plenty of water, fuel, and layers for a half- to full-day of mountain adventure running. Pockets on the front and back, including some with waterproof fabric and a zippered closure, provide a multitude of storage options that, for the most part, are easy to access. It is built with high quality fabrics that have held up on trail miles in Oregon and Colorado. The included soft flasks can feel a little uncomfortable when they’re not full, but they’re lightweight, easy to refill, and they don’t leak. This pack can also hold a hydration bladder up to two liters, but a bladder is not included.
The fit is not the easiest to adjust, but once you get it dialed in, it feels secure. I especially like how it sits higher on my back and hugs my torso rather than hanging off my shoulders. This pack has tons of cords, elastic loops, and plastic hooks hanging off it for attaching trekking poles or other gear. I don’t particularly like all these dangles, but others may use and appreciate them more.
To explore other packs, see our guide to the Best Hydration Packs for Running.Shop the Women's Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0
Call for Comments
- Do you use a hydration pack for running? What is your favorite brand or style?
- Have you tried the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 6.0 ? What do you think?
- Have you used prior versions of this pack? How do you feel about the updates to this edition?