My very first hydration pack was from Ultimate Direction – this was back in the day when I had no use for a running pack that carried hydration, had lots of space for gear, and plenty of pockets for easy access to nutrition and other fun items. I still thought the pack was very cool and mainly used it to run commute in Syracuse – rolling up my “work attire” as tightly as I could to fit it into the pack.
Once I discovered my love of trail running I purchased my first handheld – the Fastdraw – and after trying different handheld options and sizes from other companies I found that I liked the Fastdraw best. It is easy to drink out of, easy to fill, and it fit my hand well without having to “hold on”. But in all honesty, I do not like handhelds. I prefer to have my hands free while training and racing. Handhelds still have their place in my gear closet for those training runs or races where a pack is too much but I still require some fluids. They had a place that is – until I got my hands on the TO Race Vest 3.0.
I was in the market for a new race vest this year and the minimalist TO 3.0 caught my eye immediately. So much utility packed into such a small vest – it was a quick and easy decision. I will review the features of the vest highlighting the pros and cons.
The upper half is open mesh which allows maximum ventilation and reduces the overall weight of the pack. The lower half consists of 2 layered pockets – both which I can unzip and access while running which typically isn’t easy with the minimum range of motion in my shoulders. One pocket has a key clip so that you don’t have to worry about your key falling out when you open the zipper.
Along with the mesh on the upper back which extends over the shoulders to the chest pockets, it’s worth mentioning the edging that runs all along this pack. It is super-soft making it comfortable against your skin. As someone whose skin is very sensitive to practically anything that touches it while running, this material is the most comfortable I have come across.
I’ll start with the 2 pockets that sit closest to the shoulders. They both have Velcro closures which is a bonus. One with a flap covering the pocket (I believe this one is waterproof) and one without.
The sternum strap clasps are easy to open and close. Sounds like a minor detail, but this is something I have struggled with on other vests/packs – especially when it’s cold and my digits aren’t functioning well. The sternum straps can easily be adjusted to multiple positions along the length of the vest with a simple t-hook.
Next in line is the bottle holsters. The fabric of these pockets make it easy to get the bottles in and out as the pocket maintains its shape – I’ve found that I can remove and replace a bottle with one hand after loosening the opening using the cord locks.
The vest comes with two 500 ml Body Bottles. Once you’ve switched to soft flasks there is no turning back. They conform to your body, shrink as you empty them, and the wide mouth makes them easy to fill & add powdered mixes on the go – you can even add ice to your drinks. The hi-flow bite valves live up to their name – I like a high volume of liquid 🙂
Below the bottle holsters are 2 more pockets. These mesh pockets are great for stashing nutrition. One issue I did have during my first race with this vest is that once the body bottles were empty these mesh pockets do not hold items in as tightly. I had to stop twice during my race to retrieve gels that came flying out. Now I stash only the nutrition that I will be using in the early miles or once I replace the fluid in the bottles. With all of the other storage options that are easy to access while running this isn’t an issue for me.
Finally, below the mesh pockets are super-convenient trekking pole holders. Although I do not have a use for these yet, someday…
I will admit that the first time I wore this vest on a long run I didn’t like it. And I was super-bummed because I wanted to love it. The location of the bottles on the chest make it uncomfortable for women (*note this is not a women-specific vest, and Ultimate Direction offers a women-specific line). The bottles were bouncing around too much making it very annoying. Since I was testing it out the weekend before my first trail 50k I realized that there was no way I could run with this for a race of that length. Feeling dejected after my run I noticed that there was room to tighten the pack on the side straps. Voila! Problem solved – no more bouncing bottles!
– lightweight – The abundance of ventilation & lightweight materials make this vest super-comfortable – like you’re not even wearing a pack. (the pack weighs in around 6 oz, just over 8 oz with bottles)
– storage – For a minimalist vest there are plenty of pocket options (6) and all are easy to access on the run.
– aesthetics – I love the color and overall look of this vest. The fact that it matches my Suunto is an added bonus, and totally coincidental 😉
– lower mesh pockets – Although I like the deep storage capacity of these pockets and the ease of getting into them, the only thing holding the items in are full body bottles. Smaller items like gels can easily fall out while running if your flasks are low or empty.
– fit – I ordered the small and every adjustable strap is as tight as it can go. For me the fit is perfect. Make sure you order the size that will work for you and spend time adjusting all 4 straps to get that snug fit. If you have any bounce the vest will not be comfortable. (*follow the sizing instructions on UD’s web site). So…not really a con, just a word of advice!