Following the end of a five-year relationship, eager for a healthy distraction, I began ultrarunning. The moment my mileage crossed into double digits, I visited my local gear shop to pick up a vest large enough to carry water, layers, and Spam musubi (still my trail fuel of choice to this day). Not sure what I was really looking for, I tried on a handful of packs and went with the one that fit my long torso and narrow shoulders the best: the women-specific Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta ($140). That was almost four years ago, and though I upgraded from the 3.0 Adventure Vesta to the slightly larger 4.0 Ultra Vesta model in 2018—and that one was discontinued for the 5.0—I will always swear by Vestas.
With a capacity of 12.4 liters, the Vesta 4.0 is big enough to fit snacks, an extra outer layer, sunscreen, and a nearly full two-liter CamelBak bladder. (The 5.0, which I haven’t tried yet, has a 10.3-liter volume, which means I’d need a smaller bladder.) But even when it’s stuffed to the brim for an all-day adventure in the mountains, its sternum straps keep my load secure and ward off chafing. The stretchy nylon-elastane mesh that lines the pack reduces back sweat, and padded edges on high-friction areas, like where the material meets my arms, keeps rubbing at bay. This was vital for an especially rainy 50K in Wyoming, when any kind of recurring movement would definitely have resulted in blisters. This pack just feels good and stays put.
It’s also a Type A runner’s dream. I can reach five pockets of varying sizes without taking it off. I use them to stash gels, lip balm, my phone, sunglasses, and dog treats—basically anything I may need to grab on the go. In back, a large zippered pocket holds my extra layers, and my bladder gets its own designated compartment. A bungee system straps down any sweat- or rain-soaked layers that need to air out. I don’t run with poles, so I rely on the upper trekking-pole loops to keep my bladder tube in place for easy access. At an especially hot Arizona 100K, when temperatures hit 90 degrees and the only shade came from skinny cacti, I used the lower pole loops to hang a neck gaiter that I refilled with ice at every aid station. (It didn’t save me—I DNFed after 67K.)
I have yet to try the Ultra Vesta 5.0, which comes with a more minimalist sternum strap and a weather-resistant pocket. But after running over 2,000 miles in ten different states with the Adventure Vesta 3.0 and Ultra Vesta 4.0, I’ve added the newest version to my must-try list. I don’t think I’ll ever run with a different brand of vest again.