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Ultimate Direction Month: What IS a Running Vest?


Traditionally, hikers  would travel for prolongued periods while carrying all of the equipment necessary to cope with eating and drinking on the move, sheltering from the elements and covering distances over varied terrain.  The job was made easier through the use of a rucksac, or backpack.

Loaded for Bear. Your home from home, conveniently stored on your back. Happy trails….


As people more commonly opted to run the same distances without so many overnight stops, the need to carry quite the same volume of kit decreased (unless you were in the military) and so too did the size of the pack.

Hence, people began running with a scaled down version of the hiking pack, for running in.

The OMM pack was, in its day, an impressive step toward lightweight efficiency on the move & still works very well for larger items or overnighters.  A more traditional solution to carrying plenty of kit.




Key differences were the waist belt, now no longer employed to support the weight around the hips, was a mere strap to keep the bag from leaping and swinging from side to side, or up and down.  The materials were a little lighter weight and therefore a little less durable, but the kit being carried was lighter in weight too, so things seemed fairly fit for purpose.

The feature which made a massive impact and made a running pack successful, was the inclusion of an external, front mounted bottle holder which allowed the runner to drink as they went, without having to stop and undo the bag altogether.

And guess who pioneered that feature…..

Ultimate Direction.

So the packs gradually accrued various additional features, but always with the same issues.  The movement of the pack would cause your body to destabilise.  Back and forth, the weight of the bag swinging about would throw your movement and cause more work, or less forward progress.  The same movement would also chafe the skin over a prologued period.

Add the vertical movement and you often found that your shirt was worked up your back until you were forced to keep pulling it back down.  Irritating.

Then along came the vest.  Worn like a boyancy aid.  Firmly fixed about the ribcage, away from soft tissue and stable as anything once properly sized and fitted.  Hydration could still be mounted at the front, but in a way that was a lot more stable than ever before.  Gone was the need for the waist belt altogether.  So there was nothing pressing tightly against your guts, or your bladder.

The fit – well, amazing the difference.  You feel more as if you’re ‘wearing’ a running vest, as opposed to carrying one.  It simply doesn’t shift.  Your contents stay still inside the vest, while the vest stays against your body.  The elastic nature of some models keeps things from flapping around when not filled to capacity, while others feature compression straps which draw the pack closely against your back in the same way, but with a measure of adjustment rather than a default fit.

Gone are the grumbles and gripes.  Gone is the feeling that your pack is fighting you every step of the way.  Gone is the need to stop – at all, on even the longest of runs, with everything you want within easy reach and available on the fly.  It really is a game changer.

The ‘waistcoat’ style design of running vests, with their place for everything & everything in its place.  Easy to reach & completely stable.  Your pack acts like it’s one with you.


There are still lots of very different shapes and sizes out there, with all manner of options in terms of materials, features, custom accessories and exclusive gimmicks within the vest arena, but for what it’s worth, Ultimate Direction’s strength lies in their efforts to develop the same core products, having them evolve over time, with every new version tweaking what was already successful and simply improving a time honoured design.  The straps and buckles allow for the vests to be tightened indefinitely, where some entirely elsticated products reveal how much they’re lost their hold after a couple of years use.  Sure there’s justification in replacing something that’s been used to death, but there’s a value in seeing that the only reason to replace a UD vest appears to be that a more desirable version has hit the shelves.

With in-built pole holders, front mounted bottle pockets for upto 600ml flasks (included with the Signature series), overlaying pockets for gels or small accessories, etc and secure zippered pockets in stretch fabrics, for stowing food, batteries, money, mobile phones, hat/gloves, map/compass and so on.  The potential is endless and the running is better than ever.  Some even have an in-built synch fit sstem for adjustment of the fit while active.  They really have thought of everything.

For anyone training and wishing to remain self sufficient, the solution is right in front of you.  Even on race day, if you’re settled on a system that works so well in practice, the need to compromise on food and drink at aid stations is a thing of the past.  Aside perhaps from plain old water, there’s very little need to gamble on the random sports drink, or nutrition on offer, when upon your person you can carry everything that’s tested and approved and maintain a rhythm, while avoiding unforeseen complications of any kind.

Running vests have been nothing short of a revolution.

Click here to view the Ultimate Direction equipment range.


About Guest Blogger

Special Guests who love to run and have something to say. Running, kit and gear, racing and adventures... anything goes, thank goodness!

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