Running waist belts are not a new idea or technology, but they have certainly gotten more streamlined and usable over the past year or so. While ‘fanny packs’–or ‘bum bags’ as they are known in fell running–have long been a part of some runners’ kits, several companies have most recently adapted the idea into the functional and minimal ‘waist belt.’ These belts have really expanded on the possibilities of waist belts in functional carrying capacity and lightweight comfort, and they have become a very functional way to carry a bit of extra gear for medium-long runs and foul-weather outings.
In the last half year, I’ve tested out several belts from industry leaders, choosing them for their custom sizing, light weight, and their ability to carry poles. You see, I still haven’t found a pole-carrying option on a pack to my liking (though I haven’t yet tried the Salomon custom quiver), and being able to store poles on a belt theoretically seems like the easiest option. After a lot of testing, one belt has emerged as a piece of daily essential gear, the Ultimate Direction Utility Belt ($40).
The first thing I noticed about the Ultimate Direction Utility Belt is how lightweight (2.25 ounces) and wide it is. A size medium (28.7 to 31.8 inches) felt barely there, and once I started loading the belt it felt even more secure. The width of the belt really seemed to spread the weight of what I was carrying well and kept the belt from bunching up around my midsection. The combination of a very soft nylon/spandex mix and flat seams means that I didn’t experience any skin irritation while wearing this belt underneath my shirt and directly on my skin.
The durable stretch mesh has a simple, four-pocket pocket design with the outer lip of the belt significantly higher than the lower lip. This helps things like phones, keys, and gels stay secure, but it also makes sliding things in and out while running much easier. There are multiple pockets which can accommodate a 500-milliliter soft flask and it isn’t difficult to get the flask in or out on the run. Previously, I’d enjoyed carrying a flask in the Nathan VaporKrar WaistPak, but found it difficult at times to get a flask back into the belt after drinking. With the Utility Belt I can stuff a flask into the front or back pocket without issue.
The Utility Belt is also the first system and only belt I’ve tried that securely carries poles without any bouncing. Nothing can make you feel more like an over-geared fool than your poles flailing out of their straps. With my poles secure in the Utility Belt, I hardly noticed them while running. I tested the security of these loops while running at faster paces and down hills to see if they would bounce out, and no matter which brand of poles I used, they stayed in place. I like being able to twist the belt around my body on the run to secure the poles and then store the poles on my back so they are out of the way. Ultimate Direction seemed to nail the design on these belt loops by keeping them closer together and making them elasticized just enough to not require a great struggle to get them in and out. After about four months of use, the loops aren’t wearing out or fraying.
I do really like the concept of the waist belts as they allow us to free our backs from the burden of a pack. You have better ventilation with a belt on, and I feel like my center of gravity is better without a pack. It’s a great combination with a handheld bottle, and this is a set-up that will work well for most runners aside from their longest runs and races.
Out of the three belts I tested, the Ultimate Direction Utility Belt is the only one I can recommend. Its simplicity in design and function has made it a go-to piece of gear for me this fall and winter. Being able to throw my phone, some food, and my keys in this barely there belt keeps me from caring what shorts or pants I’m running in and whether or not they have pockets. I’m not showing any wear or tear on the belt and it seems incredibly well made and equally comfortable over or under my shirt directly on my waist. My only small request would be to put a thin, waterproof membrane on the inside of one pocket against the skin to protect electronics like a phone from sweat and grime. I typically have quite a bit of condensation on my phone and inside the case after a run, and it would be nice if this were remedied. The Utility Belt is a great piece of gear, and if I misplaced it I would certainly buy another.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you run in the Ultimate Direction Utility Belt? If so, what are your thoughts on its overall fit and feel?
- What do you think of the pockets and what you are able to comfortably carry in them?
- Do you store poles on your Utility Belt? How does this feature perform for you?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]