Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Product Review : Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (2.0)

My friend and running buddy Jacob 'Jake' Dinardi ( and I were talking the other day and thought it would be rad to do some sort of collaborative post since both of us are blogging nuts. We put our heads together and came up with the idea to talk about some hydration vests. BOOM! I'm going to talk about the Orange Mud HydraQuiver Single Barrel and the Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka (“AK”) Race Vest; whereas, Jake will be covering the Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin (“PB”) Adventure Vest, and the Nathan HPL 020 Hydration Vest. There are a lot of hydra-vests on the market of course, but this small group covers the bases pretty well from the most minimal all the way up to something an adventure racer would reach for. In this installment we'll review Ultimate Direction's AK Race Vest (version 2). Check it out and let us know what your favorite vest is!

Overview of The Hydra Vests in this Roundup

  • Orange Mud Single Barrel: A minimalist vest that offers an alternative to carrying a handheld. (Read more at Dirty Trail Shoes)
  • Nathan HPL 020:A small vest that carries a 70 oz hydration bladder and provides just enough room for some snacks or small items. (Read more at Hike It Like It!)
  • Ultimate Direction AK 2.0: A small vest with the ability to carry two 20 oz bottles AND up to a 70 oz hydration bladder, or other gear.
  • Ultimate Direction PB 2.0: A large vest with the ability to carry two 20 oz bottles, up to a 70 oz hydration bladder, AND room for clothing/other gear. (Read more at Hike It Like It!)


Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (2.0)

The "AK" is Anton Krupicka's signature vest. For those wondering "who is Anton Krupicka", he's an ultra runner / mountain runner who has won many over the worlds toughest ultra races including but not limited to: Leadville 100, Miwok 100k, and Rocky Raccoon 100. He's also featured in the film, Indulgence: 1000 Miles Under The Colorado Sky, and of course an Ultimate Direction sponsored athlete. You can read more about Anton here if you're interested, as our segment is less about him and more about the AK vest.
Northface Endurance Challenge SF 50K #NFEC


Specs at a glance

The AK is the lightest of Ultimate Direction's signature series hydration vests, weighing in at 7 ounces (12.5 with supplied hard bottles) and claimed 4 liters of storage capacity. As running vests go, this is pretty light and is suggestively called a ’race’ vest. 


I didn’t own the first version of the vest but from what I read of the manufacturer’s website the only functional difference is two rear zipper pockets. I’ve only ever used the race vest with the optional 70oz bladder and the look is very minimalist.  I tried running with the two front bottles but no matter how I orientated the vest the bottoms of the bottles would always leave wear spots on my chest. I finally ended up buying 8 oz soft flasks by Salomon.  

Soft vs Hard flasks
 I have not tried the much larger 14 oz Body Bottle but the 12 oz Salomon flasks would sometimes fall out.  The chest pockets are sometimes hard to get things out because of the Velcro and angular size but manageable.  The hose loops allow for right or left handed runners which is nice but I would like to see magnetic clamps like some of the higher-end race vests.


The PB comes in two size offerings: S/M (23 - 36 in. / 58 - 91 cm ) and M/ (32 - 44 in. / 81 - 112 cm). I am average height and thin (5'-10”, 153 lbs) and chose the S/M. When it's all said and done, the vest rides very close to my body with minimal bounce and the fit works well for me, however there are some specifics you should be aware of.
The adjustment system consists of a double sternum strap up front and one side adjustment strap on each side. If you use the supplied hard bottles you have to be very careful to orientate the bottles high and off to the side – otherwise the bottles may bounce on your rib cage.  There are no shoulder adjustments on the AK.
Stock Photos of AK Race Vest from UD

After adding the 70 oz bladder to the back there isn’t much room in the back but you can put some emergency supplied like TP, lightweight wind breaker, etc.

70oz bladder half full with top view after inserting to pack


Craftsmanship is very good overall. All body-contact areas are a large mesh with decent breathability, and the storage compartments are made of a stretch material and/or Silnylon in areas that don't need to stretch much. I did find one issue... Where the vest contacts my shoulder blade area, there were seam on both sides that could result in hot spots.  When I wear technical shirts I generally have no issues but if you are bare-chested I could see problems. [I wonder how AK handles this who is famous for running shirtless!]  

Seam under shoulder

A change from the "1.0" designs is the lack of Cuben Fiber in all 2.0 models. Cuben is a very light and waterproof material, but it's tricky to work with and thus is uncommon in many "mainstream" retail products. Hats off to UD for picking up on the ultralight nature of Cuben Fiber and taking a shot at it, but the vests had issues with tearing at the stitches and so has been replaced with Silnylon. For this application, Silnylon is the way to go, the difference will be negligible in almost all respects but the vests will benefit from greater durability. 

The shoulder pockets are angular and Velcro, which is secure but sometimes a pain to dig things out of.

Shoulder pouch


The AK is a minimalist pack so don’t expect too many ‘bells and whistles’.
Up front there are of course 2 pockets for your bottles. These have 2 small vertical pockets along each side which are handy for stuffing energy bars, shot blocks, or gels into. Below each bottle there is yet another small (horizontal) pocket which are handy for things like chapstick, medicines, etc. There are no rear zipped pockets like its big brothers : Scott Jurek (SJ), Peter Bakwin PB).  There’s a net on the back to tie down a jacket, etc but if you add a bladder (and that is kinda the point) there are no internal pockets and not much extra space so you have to get creative to store any extra items.  I like to put extra TP etc into ziplock backs and simply use a safety pin to secure to the side wall.

Wish List

The three hose loops to secure the bladder hose do work but can be a bit awkward sometimes to keep the bite valve (Hypervalve) right where you want it.  As an option I’d like to see a magnetic lock that you find on some higher end race vests (like Salomon).
I’d also like to see the two rear zippered compartments come back from V1 so I don’t have to wear my optional Scott Jurek Essentials RunBelt.

Final Thoughts on the Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (2.0)

It's a nice race vest. This is my ‘go to’ vest for all self-supported training runs and 50+k races where there could be many miles between AS.  The 70 oz bladder fits well but doesn’t leave much space for anything else in the ‘cargo area’.  Zippered rear pockets and magnet holders for the Hypervalve. If you use the supplied hard bottles make sure you position them carefully to minimize bounce on your rib cage. As an alternative use soft flasks.

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