I’m not sure I’ve ever known a running vest to come from the problem-solving creativity of backcountry motorcycling buddies, but that’s exactly the lineage of the USWE Pace 2 Running Vest ($140).
The company USWE was born in Sweden in 2007 from the desire to make bounce-free “action backpacks” that are worn on the back, not just carried. They have specific designs for motorsports, cycling, winter mountain sports, running, self-powered commuting, and adventure racing too.
The common theme for all their packs and vests is the founders’ dedication to the concept of what they call the No Dancing Monkey Vest system. I chuckled at the tagline, but when you consider how many packs do the multidirectional bounce with moderate to full loads while we run, the thought of a monkey dancing around with glee isn’t that far off.
Having reviewed packs and running gear for many years now, there’s always an expectation that everything becomes lighter, faster, stronger, or more breathable, occasionally at the expense of durability. What surprised me about this vest is the presence of features that undoubtedly add weight for limited use, yet don’t seem to bother me once the pack is on.
It’s still relatively lightweight at an advertised weight of 6.7 ounces (192 grams) without the two included 500-milliliter Ultraflasks, but if USWE wanted to streamline this pack, many grams could be saved, and I think the pack would be even more enticing, especially the two-liter racing model.
The unisex USWE Pace Running Vest comes in two models, the two-liter version reviewed here, and the eight-liter USWE Pace 8 Running Vest ($160). The two models have nearly identical designs with the exception of a large pocket on the back of the eight-liter pack, which allows for the extra carrying capacity.Shop the USWE Pace 2 Running Vest
USWE Pace 2 Running Vest Construction and Fit
I tested the USWE Pace 2 Running Vest for the past six months in every type of weather, from frigid to stifling and from dry to sideways snow. I’ve had my own multisport adventure days in it as well, including technical and non-technical trail running, mountain and fat biking, and a bit of paddleboarding for good measure, just to see how the vest would perform.
I’ll give their No Dancing Monkey Vest system design full credit — the vest does not move around if properly sized, and it’s far more comfortable than I expected.
The unisex size guide on the website focuses on a single measurement around the chest at the armpit. The S-M size fits 31.5 to 36 inches (80 to 92 centimeters), the M-L size fits 34 to 38.5 inches (86 to 98 centimeters), and the L-XL size fits 36 to 41 inches (92 to 104 centimeters).
If anything, the pack seems to run big. I am a 34A sports bra size and was able to try both the S-M and M-L sizes on. The M-L size was far too big, and the S-M required me to cinch down the pack to its smallest size.
The pack only has one point of adjustment on either side of the ribcage in the back, so all customization occurs by tightening or loosening the mid-lower ribs via two laced bungees and their toggles. The upside is you only have two points of adjustment to dial in the fit. The downside is the lack of accommodation potential through the front of the chest, especially for women.
While I didn’t feel like my rib cage was overly restricted with deep breaths, I remained conscious of the squeeze sensation with big breaths on steep climbs and with faster running, particularly with a single shirt on when I need to cinch the pack tighter. Once you have the fit as you prefer, the bungees stay put.
To loosen, push the center of the small toggle and pull the laced portions apart. I have to take the pack off to do this, which makes it a bit more challenging if a running adventure involves multiple layers and affecting the desired fit. Lastly, with the bungees tightened, there’s quite a length of cord flopping around. When I took a few extra moments with the pack off to stuff the cords into the small front pocket hole, I was able to eliminate the annoyance.
All in all, this whole fit adjustment mechanism is very effective, yet feels rather overbuilt on a two-liter running pack. I believe there is an opportunity here to trim it up a bit to lighten the overall feel through the ribs, without sacrificing the secure fit.
The running vest is constructed of very breathable, large hexagon mesh that air and moisture pass right through. The mesh feels somewhat abrasive to the bare skin, but given I always have a short-sleeved shirt on at a minimum, I had no issues with chafing, even across the ribs. The pockets are made from soft, stretchy technical fabric, which conform to the contents therein.
Soft ribbing lines the edges of the pack, eliminating potential irritation points. Wisely, the pack material is treated with Polygiene, so if the only time your pack gets washed is in a heavy downpour, no one will be the wiser.
The single buckle closure in the front is one of those features that seems very large and out of place on a running pack. It is exceptionally easy to attach and detach, even in the worst weather and with thick gloves on. Once I’m running or biking, I never think of it or feel it again.
The buckle also swivels when closed, which assists with pack fit and breathing comfort. So from a cold-weather or late-race dexterity perspective, this type of closure is pretty handy. Though, from a weight-savings opportunity lens, this could definitely be an area of focus.
USWE Pace 2 Running Vest Storage and Hydration Options
The entire top half of the back of the USWE Pace 2 Running Vest is open mesh, which makes the pack ideal for hot weather running. The mesh doesn’t retain much moisture, so runners facing the extra blessing of humidity will be particularly interested in this pack. A single webbing loop at the neck allows for a quick hang-up storage post-run.
The bottom third of the back hosts a single large and stretchy zip pocket running horizontally, which holds a wallet, key, light jacket, gloves, and a small headlamp away from skin. Even maxed out, there’s no bounce, and the location of the pocket further down the pack balances out the front of the pack well with no strain on the neck and shoulders.
Someone with at least moderate flexibility can open the left-side zipper to retrieve and store gear easily. Without flexible shoulders, it may be easier just to take the pack off quickly.
On the front of the pack are somewhat diagonal pockets for two Hydrapak 500-milliliter soft flasks with straw tops, what USWE calls its Ultraflasks. Short straws keep my face happy — no jousting! — but require that I pull the flask or pack up to drink. It’s a worthy tradeoff. The very narrow mouth of the flask also mandates any powdered drinks to be pre-mixed in other bottles to ensure quick and easy transfer.
Each straw stays close to the vest thanks to a small cord near the opening and strip of wide, reflective webbing on each side of the vest. The included flasks have relatively hard upper portions, which can be somewhat uncomfortable for the soft tissue of the chest, depending on how full the flasks are. Because the bottles sit a bit lower in the diagonal pockets, it sometimes takes repeated finagling to reduce the impact.
The right side flask pocket is the location for a safety whistle, which tends to bounce around unless tucked inside beneath the edge of the flask. For a reason unknown to me, a very dense, heavy strip of stretchy fabric sits a few inches above the webbing on the right side only, displaying the No Dancing Monkey Vest system mantra. While it’s a great talking point at an aid station, some extra grams could be reduced here.
Overlaying the flask pouches are diagonal stuff pockets extending to the side of the ribs with an envelope flap to assist with containment. A large phone, fuel, headlamp, wallet, gloves, and other things fit here comfortably, and the full-width openings mean you don’t need dainty fingers to get things in and out.
I’m pleasantly surprised by these completely dialed diagonal pockets — contents stay in, and nothing bounces, even cruising a bumpy downhill on a bike. Full flasks are easiest to fit in the pouches if the overlying pockets are empty or the pack is unhooked.
The final two pockets on the vest sit right at or below the shoulders on the front of the pack. I believe these are to be used for gels or a small electrolyte pill baggie, but for some puzzling reason, they open at the bottom and have an elasticated fold to catch the contents before they succumb to gravity’s pull.
But unless the gel pack is quite small, or you feel like dancing with the danger of losing your fuel, they don’t fit well here. If the opening was flipped to the top, the problem of lost contents and lack of trust would be resolved.
The USWE Pace 2 Running Vest has one last feature to highlight with the front diagonal running pole storage option. Lying over the hydration straw path on the upper left, and angling down to the lower right, are two adjustable bungee cords with toggles for securing your poles when not in use. They cross over the central pack buckle.
It’s a very easy in and out with the poles, as the bungee cords have a lot of length to accommodate, but I did not use this feature during my runs because of my proclivity for catching a toe — central front pole storage right over a hard buckle on the sternum scares me a bit. But it is a fine option if the placement works for you and your running style.
USWE Pace 2 Running Vest Overall Impressions
The construction, fit, and storage options of the USWE Pace 2 Running Vest ensure a snug, smooth, and comfortable ride with enough capacity for the fluid, fuel, and gear to get through a well-aided fair weather trail race of up to 50 kilometers, as long as you’re comfortable using the two soft flasks given the absence of the bladder option. There’s truly no pack that is easier to get on and off with the single central buckle and ample-sized arm openings.
I find it to be an ideal pack in hot weather due to the incredible breathability of the large hexagonal pore mesh. It’s not the lightest pack out there, but the well-sized, easy-to-access pockets and the secure harness-style, bounce-free, No Dancing Monkey Vest system ride is impressive.
I look forward to seeing how this line of hydration vests evolves as the trail-ultra world takes notice and USWE responds.
Call for Comments
- Do you run in the USWE Pace 2 Running Vest? Can you share your overall thoughts on the pack for the type of running you do?
- What do you put in the various pockets and what do you think about the storage features in general?
- Have you tried any other gear from the USWE brand yet?
[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!]