Jurek FKT Hydration Vest by Ultimate Direction
The new Ultimate Direction Jurek FKT Vest is a nod to Scott Jurek’s epic 2015 FKT across the Appalachian Trail – a feat he accomplished in a blistering 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. (Jurek’s record was broken one year later by Karl Meltzer, who shaved about 10 hours off of Jurek’s time). The vest – henceforth known as “the FKT” – was clearly built with that achievement in mind. It’s light enough to wear for a quick 10k out on the trail, yet expansible and versatile enough for longer through-hikes and ultra-runs. Let’s dive in.
Looks and Features
The FKT comes in two colors: a white-and-green number and a grey version that Ultimate Direction has dubbed “Obsidian.” I went with white/green because that’s just how I roll, and it also matched my sneakers.
The first thing that struck me about the FKT was the fun mountain range patterns on the chest straps of the vest — clearly a tribute to Jurek’s Georgia-to-Maine achievement. I also noticed that it features Scott Jurek’s name, which, by default must make me faster.
But it also highlights Ultimate Direction’s attention to detail. The FKT features two water bottle holders on the main chest straps, and comes with two 600ml FlexForm bottles (more on these later). Each water bottle pocket has its own smaller stash pocket layered on in front – a pocket on your pocket? what will they think of next? a center for ants? – as well as a Velcro pocket and a zipper pocket on the upper-chest parts of the main straps. There are thoughtfully-placed holders for trekking poles, and guiding loops for a routing a reservoir hose from the rear bladder pocket over to the front of the body. There are color-contrasted zip pockets on each of the lateral straps (the ones that run along your ribs), and two large pockets in the back: the aforementioned reservoir pocket, and a large, main compartment that is ribbed by adjustable, crossed bungee cord to reduce its size.
With that wrapped up, let’s talk a bit more about the functionality: The included FlexForm bottles fit perfectly into their pockets, each of which has its own adjustable cord that allows you to tighten the top of the pocket and keep the water bottle a bit more stable. I see this feature as being useful for trail runs that involve climbing, or other jerky up-and-down motions that might otherwise knock a bottle out of its holder. The pockets that are located on the front of the water bottle holders are perfect for CLIF bars or gels.
In Ultimate Direction’s promo video (below), Scott Jurek himself tucks his iPhone into the zipper pocket – leaving the non-zip pocket for snacks or sunglasses. But I actually fell slightly in love with the non-zip pocket, in particular: It’s easy to access, and is the perfect size for an iPhone 6 or 7 (I didn’t test it with a Plus-sized phone, but my hunch is that it wouldn’t fit). And if you’re running trails, there’s a good chance you’ll want your phone handy – for GPS, pictures, etc – in a way that the easy-access pocket just makes really convenient.
The lateral pockets are also really convenient – I stashed my sunglasses there when an afternoon run slowly morphed into an evening run – but they are actually surprisingly big, and could easily be used for something you’d periodically want access to: maps, a headlamp, snacks, etc.
The back pockets are plenty big, and I’ve read several reviews online where runners mentioned keeping rain jackets and extra socks in the pockets.
The FlexForm bottles are, as their name would suggest, pretty flexible and the grooved sides make them easy to hold as you scramble up or down mountains. One quibble here: it was complicated to initially figure out how to open the Kicker Caps, which is what Ultimate Direction calls the tops of the bottles.”I’m not an idiot,” I told my wife, as I desperately yanked at them. She nodded sympathetically before trying her luck. I eventually consulted UD’s website, which provides an answer at the very top of their FAQ.
Another, more important, bottle-related issue I ran into here: the front bottle pockets have flexible, plastic, discs stitched into the bottoms to keep the bottles upright and prevent them from sloshing. In my testing, the sides of these little plastic discs pressed uncomfortably into the bottom of my rib cage, in a way that actually hurt. There is an additional stitched liner at the bottom of the holder, on the inside of the vest, that seems to have been made to mitigate this, but I still found it very uncomfortable to deal with on longer runs. However, I’ve read many reviews across a number of other sites, and am yet to see anyone mention that kind of problem, and so for now I assume that the problem may be in my choice of sizing or how I’ve adjusted it. (For reference, I’m 5″8, on the slim side, and am wearing the medium). But I would strongly suggest taking this vest for a few laps around whatever store you’re in, or making sure that your online retailer of choice has a simple return policy.
Weight and Durability
The Ultimate Direction Jurek FKT Vest is remarkably light, weighing in at just under a pound, including the bottles, and about 11oz without them. The FKT is comfortable, and even kind of supportive, in a way, for long periods of time. With both water bottles filled up, you will find that there is some sloshing around in front, but that’s pretty true of most vests with bottles on the front. Plus, you can easily limit the slosh by simply tightening the vest, so as to limit the movement of the bottles as you run. It’s very easy to tighten the vest – using either the “t-hooks” that go across the chest, or the lateral straps that run across the lower ribs.
I did find that my back would get pretty sweaty wherever it had been in contact with the rear panel, although that kind of thing is unavoidable as we trudge our way through summer. I’ve seen some other packs – an old High Sierra model comes to mind – that uses a light metal frame to “push” the pack itself off your back and increase airflow around your shoulder blades, but that unit was easily twice the weight of the FKT, so what you gain in coolness you lose (or gain 😉) in weight. Since the vest has only been around for a few months, it’s hard to come down with an exact verdict on durability, however, Ultimate Direction is well-respected, well-worn brand that many runners swear by. Nearly every other review of the FKT is positive, and those who have had negative experiences don’t predicate their complaints on the pack’s durability.
Overall, I am really impressed with just how versatile the Ultimate Direction Jurek FKT Vest is. It’s light enough for quick runs and perfect for 50k+ adventures. You can easily store a day’s worth of food and drink here, and also stash important extras like a rain jacket, phone charger, and GPS unit in any of the myriad pockets and compartments on the front or sides. The word that kept coming to my mind as I wrote this review was expansible: the FKT doesn’t feel like overkill for a hot, five-mile scramble along technical trail, but it’s also the pack I’d use for a 50k ultra in later this year or for whenever I decide it’s my time to take a crack at thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. It really just depends whether you add a reservoir to the back, or if you use the handy hiking pole holders. At $140, the FKT weighs in on the higher end of hydration vest pricing, but it’s still a good price for a versatile vest. Just be sure to try before you buy.
Really convenient pocket placement and sizing
Easy to adjust, based on desired activity
Price: Ultimate Direction sells the FKT for $140, which is a few bucks more than equivalent models from Camelbak, Nathan, and Osprey.
Plastic discs at bottom may press into your ribs (YMMV)
Be prepared to get sweaty!
Buy, but be sure to try first.
Finishers Club received this pack from Ultimate Direction. However, that did not shape our review, which we conducted over the course of several weeks and many, many sweaty miles. We may collect a referral commission on purchases you make on this page, which helps keep the lights on and our beer steins full.