Don’t like bladders with drinking tubes for running (stopped using them and went back to bottles years ago), but don’t like handhelds either (like to keep my hands as free as possible). So I’ve been using my Nathan belts or a sack with hip-level holsters for most of my ultras and longer training/fun runs, but rarely escape from a long run without these things rubbing holes in my back. So I was already looking for something with chest-level, front bottle carriers when my interest was recently picqued by the increasingly popular Ultimate Direction Signature Series vests and, with the West Highland Way Race just weeks away, quickly found myself ordering the new version of the middle (Scott Jurek) model.
So, after receiving it through the post on Thursday and taking it for a run through the Lairig Mor to Blar a’ Chaorainn and back yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, what’s the verdict? Well, I like it. A lot! With just a light jacket in the back compartment and ‘asymmetrically’ loaded with a single bottle to one side for test purposes, it felt both stable and more like a comfortable piece of clothing than something hanging off me. And the slimmer Lucozade Sport bottle I took (as typical of straight-from-the-shop 500ml types) to try in place of those supplied by Ultimate Direction can be secured in these holders when they just bounce out of the Nathan holsters, opening up a whole new range of replenishment strategies. (The Nathan bottles also fit, so pretty sure most standard cycling bottles, 330ml soft drinks cans and even 440/500ml beer cans should too!)
Some other points maybe worth noting for prospective purchasers:
While the Scott Jurek vest has the capacity to store and carry a surprising amount of food and clothing, it’s no taller than the more minimal (4oz/112g lighter) Anton Krupicka model and still so neat I’d doubt many folk would regret taking it over that. Especially when the AK’s shallower bottle holders look more risky for some of the drinks solutions suggested above and I can’t see many phones fitting the ‘Smart Phone compatible pouches’ of either where my Samsung weatherproof brick sits comfortably in the SJ’s under-arm pockets. And the larger Peter Bakwin model, being both considerably (4″/11cm) taller as well as another 5oz/144g heavier, seems a bit more of a ‘pack’ geared to those seeking the ‘adventure’ its name implies. So, while AK ‘race’, SJ ‘ultra’ and PB ‘adventure’ seem pretty clear clues to their designers’ goals, I’d expect the mid-range SJ to be the most popular both as the easy choice for vacillating purchasers like me and the only one to come in three clear (small, medium and large) sizes where the others come in just two (small/medium and medium/large). Which brings me onto the topic of sizing, where many (but not all) reviews I’ve seen suggest that Ultimate Direction’s sizing is generous (ie bigger than quoted). To which I can only add that my large (36″ to 44″) SJ is a perfect snug fit for my 40″ chest in just T-shirt with the sternum straps pulled right in but the side adjustment straps left at their default (middle) setting. Which seems right to me because it keeps the bottles well to my front (where some might prefer a bigger gap at the middle?), so no regrets over sizing here when the medium (quoted at up to 39″) sounds a bit neat and I’ve still got room to play with either way for extra layers or the positively tight fit I’ve not yet found a need for. Might also be worth postulating that my experience (if repeated over the other sizes) suggests a snug fit at the middle of the quoted range when similarly adjusted, but can’t promise that!
It’s an expensive little bit of kit, but (on the evidence of just one run) one that really does its job. Feels (as stated above) more like a comfy piece of clothing than something hanging off you, is surely more stable as a ‘vest’ than any comparable arrangement with bottle holsters on rucksack straps and doesn’t get anywhere near the area of my back that hip belts and bottle belts rub through. So I’ve got it scoring over both bottle belts and rucksacks on definite comfort (as well as probable stability) grounds, with bottle-to-holster replaceability tying the Nathan belts (straightforward with either) but completely surpassing the OMM sack where they’re almost impossible to put back on the move (not that I could recommend OMM anyway after the Cypher Smock affair!).
Cheapest price I could find for the SJ version 2.0 was Swaledale Outdoors at £99.97, who were also impressively quick delivering (free, second class) on Thursday from an order placed Monday night. And, yes, you can still find the original model cheaper, but might want to watch Scott Jurek talking about the differences between them first!