Ultimate Direction Signature Series Scott Jurek Ultra Vest Review

SJ signatureI finally got my hands on one of the 3 “Signature Series” hydration packs that Ultimate Direction released late in 2012.  They have been in high demand, and seemed even harder to find in Canada.  Ultimate Direction athletes Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, and Peter Bakwin each put their names to a unique vest that was designed for their running needs.  I tested Mr. Jurek’s pack called the SJ Ultra Vest.

Ultimate Direction's Scott Jurek Signature Series Ultra Vest has sleeves for 2 bottles up front

Ultimate Direction’s Scott Jurek Signature Series Ultra Vest has sleeves for 2 bottles up front

Jurek’s needs included having easy access to bottles, so the defining feature of this pack is the two chest mounted bottle holsters.  The SJ Ultra Vest can also accommodate a hydration bladder in the rear compartment, with ports on either side to feed a hose out to the front.  The pack ships with the two bottles, but if you’re a bladder person you’ll have to buy this separately.

This pack features a variety of unique, lightweight fabric

This pack features a variety of unique, lightweight fabric

The first thing I noticed about this pack was that it was REALLY light!  The fabrics and design were obviously selected to reduce the weight carried over longer ultra distances.  This light fabric also made the pack more breathable.  Among the unique features found on this pack was the use of something called Cuben fibre.  This stuff looked like scrunched up wax paper, but in reality is much more durable.  Apparently this is the same fabric used on sails for racing yachts, and I doubt they would use something that rips or wears out easily!  Along with this super light fabric the vest had a ton of mesh which provided great air flow and ventilation.

Ultimate Direction super light Cuben fibre

Ultimate Direction’s super light Cuben fibre

Two Ultimate Direction 20oz Kicker bottles come with the SJ Ultra Vest, and they are one of my favourite water bottle designs for running.  I use these bottles regularly – the valve is great once you get the hang of it, and I never have issues with leakage.  It’s also worth noting that if you don’t need the full 40oz of fluids, the bottle holsters can be cinched up to carry smaller bottles, or other items like a camera.

The Ultra Vest ships with two 20oz Kicker bottles

The Ultra Vest ships with two 20oz Kicker bottles

The SJ Ultra Vest had lots of great storage options up front, as well as in the rear pack section.  The bottle holsters had mesh sleeves on both sides that were great for sliding gels (and empty gel packages) into.  The upper chest straps had small mesh pockets with velcro closures that held my ipod, and car key (along with an emergency whistle that came with the pack).  Below the bottle holsters were two smaller horizontal pockets with velcro flaps closures.  One was mesh, and the other was Cuben Fibre that could carry stuff you want to keep dry(er).  Under the arms there was a large zippered pocket on each side.  I used this to carry larger items, including a camera and small tripod and didn’t even notice they were in there.  This section of the vest also had even larger velcro pockets that could be used to stuff bars, gels, a buff, or a hat for quick access.  Of course, the pack section of the vest had the main storage volume.  There were two main pockets with vertical zipper closures.  A smaller pocket was a good spot to stuff extra clothing and anything you wanted to prevent from getting wet (though I wouldn’t call it waterproof).  The larger pocket had a bungee cord lashing system inside and would be used if you carried a hydration bladder.  Because this was the part against my back, I found that perspiration definitely made its way in.  The outside of the rear pack section has a series of bungee cords and lash points to secure even more stuff including poles, and even an ice axe.

Loads of storage accessible from the front

Loads of storage accessible from the front

Overall I was really impressed with this new offering from Ultimate Direction.  They have obviously invested the time into listening to their athlete’s needs and building super functional packs for running.  A smart move when you’ve got the knowledge of guys like Jurek, Krupicka, and Bakwin to draw on.  This was the first time I had used a pack with bottles up front, and I was honestly surprised at how well it worked.  The bottles bounced, but always with me and it felt totally natural.  I expected that I would have had to cinch the vest up really tight to keep everything in place – this was not the case at all.  I could close it up so that it was comfortable, and it still stayed in place.  In the video I linked below, you can see the bottles moving, but always with my body. This is a great pack to consider if you like using bottles.  Based on how much I liked this Signature Series pack, I would definitely recommend checking out the others as well if they are more suited to your needs.  Ultimate Direction has done their homework with these packs, and it really shows in how the SJ Ultra Vest performed.


10 responses to “Ultimate Direction Signature Series Scott Jurek Ultra Vest Review

  1. I see that you’ve done a review on the Nathan VaporWrap vest also. Of this one, SJ Ultra Vest, or the Nathan VaporWrap, which did you like better? I’m looking at one of these two vest/packs and haven’t been able to find someone yet who has done a comparison of the two.

    Thank you

    • They are two great, yet very different packs. The UD jurek vest is definitely geared to someone who uses bottles and wants them up front, and it does a great job of this. The Nathan VW will also carry bottles up front but is designed for a bladder in the back with its great suspension system. The Nathan pack also has more storage pocket capacity up front.

      I would say it comes down to whether you prefer bottles in front or a reservoir with a drinking hose. I honestly use them both depending the type of run I’m doing. Hope this helps a bit and if you have more questions let me know.

      • Thank you. I currently use a belt with one bottle in the back and really like the convenience of a bottle vs a bladder, but I’m not too happy with the belt.

        Thanks for the great reviews.

  2. Great review on both packs. Quick question though, since both can accommodate bottles up front and bladders in the back, do you have a preference if you had to use both? I’m considering long, solo event where I’ll need both bottles and bladder.

    As a part of this question, have you tried a bladder with your SJ yet? How’d it work out? Thanks for your help.

      • KK, that’s correct. I am considering either the Nathan VaporWrap or the UD SJ Ultra Vest. I might have to use both bladder and bottles and wanted to get an opinion if you had one on it. As mentioned previously, I realize the Nathan is set up for a bladder with the capability of bottles and the UD is the opposite, but wondering which one can do them both the best.

        As a side note, while the Nathan has more storage up front, the UD SJ has more overall storage I believe. It looks like the zippered pocket on the back of the Nathan is a fairly small opening.
        Best wishes,


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