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Gear review: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta

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Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta

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It wasn’t until I hired a coach and started training for a marathon that I learned about the biomechanics of running (and that I've been doing it wrong all these years). It’s the most boring topic in the world, really, but it makes sense.

Specifically, good running form starts with a set of relaxed hands and shoulders.

When one arm is holding something (water bottle, iPod, keys, whatever), that arm will have less motion than the other and cause one stride to be shorter than the other. This asymmetry in your running stride can cause one side of your body to fatigue sooner than the other. Fatigue and muscle imbalance could lead to injury in the long term.

Running vests, and even smaller belts with single or dual water bottles like the Camelbak Delaney, are designed to keep you symmetrical when you run and to hold your water, iPod, keys and whatever.

The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta ($124) is one such vest.

Let me make it clear that I’m not an ultra-endurance runner. I don’t have one of those campy oval 100.3 stickers on my car. But when I’m out on my long weekend training runs, the Ultra Vesta has this to offer me:

Storage: On the back, there are two vertical zippered pockets. The larger one held my arm sleeves and my little Adventure Medical Kits .3 just in case my run included a run-in with a bee, a fall, a blister or chilly summer breeze. I stuffed a Buff in the smaller pocket.

My 50-ounce Hydrapak bladder fit pretty well in the bladder compartment. I experimented with an Osprey and a Camelbak bladder but it didn’t go over so well. Both are too wide and the Osprey has too much structure.

The Hydrapak bladder worked well because it’s narrow, has zero structure and is very pliable. If you have one of these lying around, perfect. If not, you can always buy an Ultimate Direction bladder.

On the front, two strap-mounted holders hold a pair of 10-ounce water bottles. Two medium-sized mesh pockets (one zippered, one Velcro) below the water bottles held my phone and keys.

Warning! The more stuff you stuff in the Ultra Vesta’s zippered pockets, the tighter and smaller it gets (fit-wise).

Fit and comfort: I have a small torso and the side adjustment straps made the vest feel snug and comfortable. No boobies or underarms were pinched or chafed in the testing of this vest.

Movement when running: None. Between the two side adjustment straps and the two sternum straps, the Ultra Vesta fit like a...well, a vest. <<< I almost wrote "glove".

When I added a full 50-ounce Hydrapak bladder, it added weight and some movement but nothing substantial. The weight of the bladder seemed pretty well distributed and stabilized.

As I depleted the water bladder, the water sloshed some. If the sound of sloshing water annoys you, either turn up the volume on you iPod or stop and tighten the inner bungee straps.

Breathability: The part of the pack that touches the body is made of Cool Wick Air Mesh. Whenever I got back to my car, the pack was soaked from my sweat so it did a decent job of moisture transfer. Obviously, no pack is going to vent 100 percent.

Functionality: What is nice about the bottles is that if you’re on an ultra-long run, you can fill them easily at water stops.

Warning! The caps on the bottles are a little tough to open and close one-handed. Using my teeth worked but now the caps are peppered with my bite marks.

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