I finally decided my participation in the 2014 Barkley Marathons was a go just 2 short weeks before race day. Having never attempted anything quite like the Barkley, I was now in a full fledged gear panic. I’m somewhat of a gear junkie and I have a solid collection of hydration packs and race vests from various companies including Ultimate Direction, Salomon, Nathan and Inov8. I’m not a fan of hydration bladders and prefer a couple of bottles which can easily be refilled on the go to a cumbersome bag of water on my back. Looking for clues as to what works best “out there” in the hills of Tennessee I’d been keen on seeking out what worked for past Barkers. There were a lot of Inov8 packs used in the past as well as various assortments of other backpacks and waist packs.
I’d become a believer in the new Ultimate Direction signature series packs this past season after using the AK Race Vest 1.0 on many training runs and ultimately all of the Hardrock 100 and Angeles Crest 100. The pack fit well, held 2 bottles up front and had enough capacity for a 100 mile race. I knew I would need more capacity (a lot more) for Barkely since I would be heading out on 25+ mile unsupported loops where I would need to carry water, all my nutrition, maps, rain gear, layers and lighting. With each loop lasting anywhere from 9 to 16 hours, having a comfortable way to carry everything would be critical.
Ultimate Direction recently came out with version 2.0 of it’s popular packs and I settled on the PB Adventure Vest 2.0 as my pack of choice (it is the largest capacity race vest they currently make). I was drawn to the large number of pockets hidden all over the pack. I like to have a spot for each thing I am carrying (it helps to keep food, maps, page bag, lighting and rain gear all separate) for ease of use while speeding around the course on race day. I wanted to be able to focus on route finding and navigation without having to worry about where I put some piece of gear.
My local running store iRun only carried the version 1.0 vest and I was already sold on the improvements of the 2.0 pack. Mainly, they replaced the cubin fiber fabric with Silnylon for better seam strength, added a third zipper to the back compartment for easy access to the hydration bladder pocket, side adjustment straps for a better custom fit and an upgraded Power Mesh for durability. I ordered the vest from my buddy Sean Meissner at iRunFar.com last minute and he hand delivered it to my brother in Phoenix at a race so I would get it in time. Great service. Price = $160.00
I was immediately stoked when I received the pack and quickly checked out all of the different compartments. I was already thinking about how I would utilize each pocket, nook and cranny to store each type of gear I would need for the race. The pack was well built, looked sharp and the fit was perfect. I could reach back an access the side zipper compartments on the pack without taking it off (something that frustrates me about the AK Race Vest 1.0). My favorite new features of this pack (compared to the AK Race Vest) were the two zippered GPS/phone pockets on the shoulder straps and the gel/bar pouches on the sides of the bottle holders. I was able to secure my map in one shoulder pocket and my pages bag (critical in Barkley) in the other for easy and secure access.
I packed all my gear into the vest the night before the race and I loved all of the pockets and compartments I had to work with. Lifting the vest up, it felt quite heavy, but once on my body it sat well and distributed the weight evenly. I’ve tried on other vests that become unbalanced, but this one just worked.
I wore this pack for my entire fun run finish of the Barkley Marathons, almost 40 hours of straight running through some of the nastiest terrain in ulra running and it held up flawlessly. There is barely a scratch on the pack and everything held up great. The Power Mesh held up to me scramble and crawling through brush and briars, rain, sleet and even snow.
Although this likely isn’t the pack for your local 50K trail race, I’d highly recommend this pack for self supported long runs, fast packs and other endurance adventures. I likely won’t use this for my 100 mile races this year that feature full aid stations, but plan on using it for longer training runs in the mountains, for long heat runs training in Arizona and for my Nolan’s 14 attempt in August.
Ultimate Direction has really nailed it with this pack in my opinion. For an event like Barkley it really had everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t.