Written by Tim Lambert - http://fromsofatoultra.com
In many respects, I am no Anton Krupicka or Jared Campbell. I am not a racer, I am a plodder, but more importantly I simply don’t live in an environment like they do.
Seeing videos and images of Anton and Joe Grant running and climbing around the Flatirons of Boulder makes me long for that sort of life and is what spurs me to train to take on challenges in the States and Europe.
Yet, I am not fast, I live in a somewhat hilly part of a pretty flat country and most of my day to day running is not free soloing in the mountains but to and from work, with a longer trek at weekends.
So when I was offered the chance to review the new Fastpack 20 by Ultimate Direction, it was pretty obvious that the loop for the ice axe wouldn’t get a huge amount of use. So is this bag of use still for someone like me, who will mainly use it for the run commute or the odd lighter weekend jaunt?
The answer is, unquestionably, yes.
I love UD products and have both the Scott Jurek pack from the first generation and the updated and larger 2.0 Peter Bakwin pack which I use when I need more kit. The PB is a pack I would use for winter races or when I need to carry more kit, but in all honesty is typically used for my day to day run commute. However, it does have limited capacity and sometimes I have ended up with a bulky standard backpack for my run which is cumbersome and swings all over the place.
Often I need more capacity and a race vest just hasn’t been created until now that fits a runner but has the capacity for a hiker or someone who has either a lot of kit or kit that isn’t soft and doesn’t squash down. For example, a pack of documents or a folder.
Now, this isn’t why the Fastpack 20 was created, but run commuting is growing in popularity not just in the UK but around the world and it is only appropriate I review this pack for how I will use it. You can see loads of reviews of this pack in action in the mountains, like on this YouTube video, but how does it work for the day to day runner or weekend warrior?
If you have used any of the Signature Series packs, you will know they have an excellent and snug fit, whilst flexing to your body as you breath deeper when running. This is the first backpack on the market that is still being marketed as a ‘vest’ as opposed to a pack. The fit is just like the race vests but with the added benefit of one huge pocket on the rear and a second flexible pocket that expands and is easy access.
The pockets on the front are a little different to the race vests and here I have found one of my only two criticisms with the whole design- which isn’t bad with such a bold design. The pockets hold two water bottles if you wish (although they aren’t included, unlike the Signature Series vests). One is open and has a draw cord and the other is expanded using a zip to the side. My wish is that this zip didn’t just cover the side, but came up across the top as well to seal the pocket. This would then be ideal for items like a wallet or phone, which on this pack I can only store in the big back compartment to keep them safe. Consequently, access for secure items isn’t possible upfront. There is one small zip pocket and this is ideal for a set of keys as an example, but nothing more.
The back pocket is vast and I can just about squeeze in a sleeping bag and my The North Face Talus 2 tent as well as using the expandable pocket for clothes, so you could use this for multi day treks, just. In the summer if you just wanted the sleeping bag there would be a lot more capacity for food, extra clothes and a camping stove etc without the tent in there.
The main back pocket has a small section cut into the rear where you could keep clean clothes away from dirty ones etc, or have easy to access items such as food away from the main pocket. The main pocket itself is vast and the pack itself opens up way above the shoulder line so you can either fit a large or small load depending on what you are doing.
The Z shaped drawstrings on the sides allow you to tighten or loosen the fit so that whatever you are carrying is snug and doesn’t swing or bounce in the pack. One of my pet hates with running packs, that you don’t get with the Signature Series, is loose straps annoyingly brushing your arms or sides as you run. Here they do swing a little sadly, unless you get in the habit of tucking them into the side pockets. Again, this is only my second criticism and a design flaw that could be managed easily with some clips or webbing straps to tuck excess drawstrings into.
To either side of the pack you have two large pockets that are again expandable, in the same way as on the Peter Bakwin race vest. This allows water bottles to be carried on the sides so the front pockets can be used for food or maps etc. I would have liked to have seen one of these zipped as well to allow more secure storage and this would be easy to incorporate on a second version and would only enhance the variability of the pack.
There are also loops for poles and the aforementioned ice axe, if required.
Finally, with this pack you will likely be carrying heavier gear than you are used to on a run and when I have done this with other backpacks I have developed chafing sometimes on my shoulders and underarms. Here because it fits like a race vest and the material is seamless from the rear to the front, it cannot rub or catch which makes it very unique and comfortable.
Overall this is a cracking addition to the Ultimate Direction line you can buy them in the UK here. I have been using this daily for a couple of weeks now and also took it to Venice last weekend and it was perfect as a weekend bag with its huge capacity. An excellent piece of kit for run commuting, short camping trips or multi-day races where you need to carry a lot of kit, like the MDS or Dragons Back.