As the summer of 2020 winds to a close—theoretically, as it is still hot here in Colorado—I am very grateful I had the good fortune of being able to scrap and claw my way through many mind-clearing, stress-reducing mountain adventures over the past months despite the reduced opportunities available overall thanks to the global pandemic and its effects on our family and community at large. The women’s-specific Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5.0 hydration pack ($165) was a welcome facilitator to many of these adventures. Ultimate Direction is frequently retooling, refining, and reinventing aspects of their packs to address the needs of their runners and adventurers, and the 5.0 Signature Series Line has some key improvements over previous versions but a couple omissions as well.
The Mountain Vesta 5.0 is a 12.7-liter (775-cubic-inch), 228-gram (8.0-ounce) hydration pack designed for short and long day romps on and off trails or even human-powered commutes. The improved stretchiness and accessibility of pockets as well as excellent load-compression bungees ensure improved ease and comfort of use all around. In my opinion, it is essentially a more user-friendly version of the old Adventure Vesta 4.0. Ultimate Direction saw fit to redesign the Adventure Vesta as a larger-capacity (16-plus-liter) hydration vest while still offering the key 12-liter option in the Mountain Vesta, and I appreciate most of the changes made.
Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5.0 Construction and Fit
The Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5.0 is now designed with a more inclusive size range over the four different sizes for the women’s pack. The extra small/small fits as small as 21 inches around the bottom of the ribs and the large/extra large goes up to 46 inches for the same measurement location. I wear a 34A sports bra size and find the small/medium to be a perfect fit with any load and relatively easy to get the shoulder straps on and off.
Ultimate Direction has continued to whittle weight and improve breathability without sacrificing functionality or comfort with the Flex Mono Mesh (and MicroMono Mesh) lining as well as the lightweight, four-way-stretch, nylon/elastane material with subtle ripstop patterns that makes up the bulk of the pack. The improved stretchiness of fuel and bottle pockets and larger pocket openings make it much easier for my “fat fingers” to access the contents even with thin gloves. Hooray for women’s packs with functional-sized pocket openings!
The Comfort Cinch 2.0 is also a significant improvement with lighter weight, less obtrusive, and more malleable trim used for that super adjustable, conforming fit. I found the video on Ultimate Direction’s website really helpful for dialing in the fit efficiently and effectively when I first bought the pack. They advise you to load the pack first, then adjust the cinch via the easy-to-reach pull-down cords near the center low back first to get the “wings” of the Comfort Cinch 2.0 inside the tunnel behind the pack (against your back). After you feel it fitting snuggly against your back, you then adjust the chest straps’ height and tension. For people with broader backs, the wings may not get all the way inside the tunnel for your optimum fit. I found this to be the easiest way to start each run, particularly if I’d had a big load-size change from the last time I’d worn the pack. It’s easy to adjust things as the load changes over the course of a run once you have the initial fit figured out. One final key component of the improved fit and ride of the pack is to utilize the multi-purpose bungees on the outside of the pack to further enhance the compression of the load. These bungees stretch over to two hooks on either size of the back of the pack rails to keep the load compressed to your back, and then the cord lock in the upper center of the back hooks onto a loop near the top which keeps the stuff pouch “closed” and anything you have in there (puffy, rain coat, so many options) secure.
I mention the specifics and order of adjustment here because the very first time I took the pack out, I neglected to investigate or utilize any of these fabulous ride-enhancing features. It made for an amusingly irritating first portion of my run—amusing for my running partner in particular with how my turtle shell was swinging too and fro down the rocky jeep-road descent. Pleasantly, the overall ride of the Mountain Vesta pack is a bit lower than the others—reminiscent of the PB Adventure Vest 2.0 pack—which I really appreciate given the amount of gear I can pack inside. It makes for less of a top-heavy, chest-compressive feel and adds comfort and less upper-shoulder and neck stress over the long haul.
Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5.0 Storage and Hydration
The Mountain Vesta 5.0 hydration pack can store up to 2.5 liters of water easily between the two included Body Bottle II 500-milliliter bottles in the specific front pockets and the sleeve for your own 1.5-liter bladder against your back. The bottle pockets are compatible with both the standard bottle caps and the tall straw caps or can be used for other gear and fuel if you’re choosing only the bladder for your hydration needs. Although this isn’t a review of the new Body Bottle II 500 bottles, I must add that I really like the improved bottles. The cap angles away from the chest, thus softening the interaction of hard edges with the ribs and soft tissue, and the bottle collapses on itself as you drink, which eliminates sloshing and makes it easier to finish the fluids without having to invert the bottle. You do need to be more thorough, however, with mixing any powdered drinks to avoid the nasty sludge in the bottom two inches. Two helpful features of the bottle pockets are the small bungee that can cinch the tops closed and the small elastic loop that you place over the top of the bottle. These work together to ensure the bottle neither sinks to the bottom of the pocket nor pops out the top on fast, technical terrain or in the event of a fall.
Ultimate Direction kept the collapsible pole-carriage option on the front shoulder straps, which I find extremely easy to use, and made the two elastic pole straps/loops with a bit more elasticity and slightly larger diameter, which keeps the poles just as secure but makes it much easier to get them in and out while on the move as terrain and preferences dictate. I feel like Ultimate Direction dialed in this pole placement and through their refinement, it continues to be my favorite for ease of use and comfort.
The chest straps are now attached to upgraded reinforced rails along the inner edge of the front straps that sit on top of the padded, fleecy edge of the shoulder straps themselves. The buckle receiver itself slides along the rail and can be maneuvered with one hand, but stays secure in its placement. The strap itself is a non-stretching dense webbing which also slides on a plastic attachment to its own rail. Due to the non-stretch nature of this webbing, the straps are incredibly secure but do not accommodate huge changes in rib cage expansion on large uphills without loosening them up a bit. I realize elasticized straps come with their own set of issues, but this is one more small thing that could be improved to make the pack just that much closer to perfect.
The front shoulder straps continue to be well designed in the shape and size of the straps. They allow for excellent protected routing of the bladder hose from the back sleeve over either the right or left shoulder and behind either side’s small velcro-closure upper pockets—good for pills, lip balm, or maybe a small gel. This eliminates any neck chafing from a protruding hose. Strangely, the designers eliminated the little hose loop on either side of the chest rails where I usually secured the nozzle for ease of drinking. This is an unfortunate omission as now the hose end either dangles down along my abdomen or flaps around strangely near my arm. I’ve taken to stuffing it under the chest strap, but it’s a suboptimal placement.
On the upper left shoulder strap just above the small pocket is a decently effective safety whistle—I absolutely love that these are included with each pack. The whistle rides discretely behind the little pocket which keeps it from bouncing around but is easily reached with a finger and is in perfect placement for quick use.
Below the small pockets sit the bottle pockets which are overlaid with two vertical stretch pockets on each side. Why designers chose to make two small pockets instead of one large pocket here, I’m not sure. I’d much prefer a large pocket so I can cram and jam my fuel instead of fitting things in like a Tetris puzzle. To that end, I can get one or two gels on one side of the divider and a small bar on the other. But waffles and larger calorie bars must go elsewhere. In the event I have these pockets stuffed full, it is a bit more challenging to get a recently filled water bottle back in the bottle pocket without unloading the overlying pockets.
My favorite improvement in the front pockets overall are the lower rib pockets. As I mentioned earlier, they are big enough and stretchy enough to carry what I desire and the openings are wonderfully large. The left side rib pocket is about two of my vertical hands wide with half of that space open and half protected by a top seam. Waffles, tortilla sandwiches, gloves, buffs, fuel bars, and other soft things fit easily here. I’ve also used it as a trash location in later stages of a long outing. On the right side, the rib pocket is completely secure with a zipper. It fits my iPhone X easily though my propensity for superwoman falls means I keep soft and compressible things in this pocket as well and store my phone in the back of the pack. But again, even with the zipper, the material is stretchy and the opening is large, so it’s a very functional and easy to use pocket (even in cold temperatures).
While the bladder sleeve lies directly against your back (and has the snap-closure webbing to suspend the bladder), the bulk of the pack is a large clamshell main pocket with the U-shaped double zipper running along at least three quarters of the pocket. This makes loading, unloading, and finding exactly what you need in the pack a breeze. A small zip-closure pocket sits high within this large pouch and has a key clip to keep your important items (and even a folded emergency blanket) easy to locate and access. None of these pockets and pouches are waterproof, so do pack accordingly.
Overlying the large pouch is a stretchy full-length stuff pocket I’ve used for rain layers and headlamp detachable battery pouches, but you could put about anything inside because the external gear bungees serve the secondary purpose of compressing the entire back of the pack, and as I mentioned earlier, the cord lock at the top keeps the pouch opening closed when utilized.
Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5.0 Overall Impressions
Ultimate Direction has made the Mountain Vesta 5.0 into a really fantastic pack for women desiring to head out for any distance a 12.7-liter pack might facilitate. The compression bungees and Comfort Cinch 2.0 improve the ride significantly as the load varies and allow the pack to be just as comfortable at 25% full as it is when it’s maxed out. The stretchy pockets and larger openings have enhanced functionality, don’t require shoulder contortions to access, and made the pack much more pleasant to use for those of us with larger hands or a tendency to pack pockets full. In the grand scheme of things, and as an aside, what I also really appreciate about the Mountain Vesta is that it fills the 12-liter pack size role well while allowing Ultimate Direction to offer an even larger women’s-specific pack in the Adventure Vesta. Thanks for seeing us all-day adventure type women, Ultimate Direction!
Call for Comments
- Are you wearing the Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5.0?
- If so, what are your thoughts on the fit and function of the pack overall?
- And what do you think about its various storage options?
[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!]