Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ultimate Direction Signature AK Vest, v2.0 - initial thoughts

I anticipation for next month's Zumbro Midnight 50 and June's Kettle 100, I added a new race vest to the family: Ultimate Direction's Signature AK Vest, v. 2.0

Why'd I buy this specific vest for these specific races?

I do not like carrying hand bottles during races. Long training runs, even on trails, OK, but during races with the frequent eating (formerly, gels every 30 minutes, now Clif blocks every 10 minutes /w gels every 30) meant that I only had a hand-and-a-half to do so, and gels in particular require two hands. 

And my current race vest, the venerable and trail-tested Nathan #020, isn't well suited to races where aid is so close together and I may need to carry much of my own gear. Yes, I can carry plenty in the pack, but because all of the weight is on the back - and 70-plus oz of water is nothing to sneeze at weight-wise - the pack can pull on you, expending extra energy. 

Hence the AK (now 2.0) comes into play. Bottles and some storage in front, gear in back. Simple.

Here's my initial thoughts after trying it on in-store and running on a treadmill with the pack empty, but bottles in, a 6.3 mi training run on roads, and a 17-plus mile trip around Afton. 

First, the bottles are surprisingly not in my way for running. They did not interfere with my arm swings while testing, but my left arm did occasionally strike the bottom of the left bottle when running on the short test run. I did not have this same problem while running at Afton. 

Second, the vest's hex mesh is surprisingly stiff - much stiffer than the hex-type mesh that is used on my Nathan #020. 

Third, the vest is very hard to initially size by yourself because the two side ladder lock buckles are small, the loose end points backward (meaning you need to chicken-wing your arm to pull it, and even then the stiffness of the strap doesn't feed smoothly at all. This is one feature that needs to be improved on if 3.0 arrives. It could fixed if the strap set was rotated so that the loose end points forward - just as it does on hip belts for hiking backpacks. It's simple to pull forward, very difficult to pull backward. 

This feature concerns because of the item number next. 

Fourth, the pack fits better and tighter when the backpack is fully loaded. It feels snug and less likely to bounce around. Whether the side buckles will require adjustment dependent on how full the backpack is will wait to be seen. If it doesn't, the issue with the buckles becomes a non-issue - one simply dials in the size initially and rarely if necessary, and goes from there. 

As the volume of water decreases, there is less weight in the vest to help keep it firmly on your chest. I could feel the vest getting looser as I ran - maybe that is just natural slippage - which was no issue on my 17 mile test run. But the bottles carry fantastically and firmly against my chest. They held solid in the pack, something that is unlike bladders. On a 50K, 50 miler, or 100 miler, we'll see if this becomes an issue. 

Fifth, I will need to adjust how I accustomed to carrying everything I need during a race. I really missed at Afton not having a pocket large enough to hold my Body Glide. On my Nathan #020, it say in a zippered pocket on the left. There is nothing on the front of the best which is large enough -  that also doesn't obstruct the bottles - to hold the BG. I guess I'll need to carry it in my shorts, or high in my pack so I can reach it. 

I can reach things that are high in my pack, for the most part. This is a pleasant surprise, as I needed to take off the #020 if I wanted to get anything from the back. I'll still need to take off the pack to get something that slips down, but hey, I'll take it. 

I also need to figure out where I am going to put empty gels. I normally put them on the outside of a mesh pocket on the front left of the #020, and I'm not there is a comparable pocket on the AK. Perhaps a pocket in my shorts? Not sure what to do here. 


Who knows if I'll use this pack at Superior. I'm a little concerned that its 40-oz capacity is too small for the several lengthy (and traditionally hot) sections of the trail, and I have consumed all of that 70 oz capacity on a couple of occasions through some of those longer sections. Who knows - maybe I'll be fast enough this year that 40 oz to take me from Crosby to Sugarloaf is sufficient.