Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0 Review - One Vest for Any Run with Amazing Gear Accessibility

by Jeff Valliere

Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0.
Color: Graphite or Canyon
Sizes: SM/MD/LG
Canyon colorway (photo from UD website)


  • Volume Capacity: 702 in/ 11.5L
  • Weight: 11.55 oz. (14 oz. with bottles) / 330 g (400 g with bottles)
  • Height: 15.7 in. / 40 cm
  • Width: 11.4 in. / 29 cm
  • Depth: 7.5 in. / 19 cm
The Ultimate Direction AK (Anton Krupicka) Mountain Vest 3.0 is a versatile, top quality, mid-high capacity running/hydration vest that is equally at home on an hour run, as it is on all day mountain adventures.  The AK 3.0 has significantly increased in capacity and function over the first two versions, aligning with Anton's shift to more gear intensive, unsupported full day outings.  With a capacity of 11.5 liters, spread throughout a whopping 14 pockets, this pack gobbles up gear in a very well thought out and organized fashion.  I appreciate that 10 of those pockets are within easy reach, either on the front straps or waist belt, which allows easy access to a multitude of necessities while on the move.


The AK 3.0 comes in 3 sizes, small, medium and large.  I am 5'10"/145lbs with a 38" chest measurement and find that the medium fits me perfectly, whether I am wearing 2 layers and a running jacket, or just a tee.

Sizing at bottom ribs (Unisex):
  • SM: 24 - 33 in. / 61 - 84 cm
  • MD: 31 - 40 in. / 79 - 102 cm
  • LG: 36 - 46 in. / 91 - 117 cm
  • Measure wearing the clothes you intend to wear
  • Unisex Sizing
For further fine tuning size adjustments, there is an adjustment strap inside each of the zippered waist pockets.  I found it easiest to adjust these with the vest off, got it dialed in and then have not touched them since.


  • Sliding rail sternum straps
  • Bottle holsters tighten to carry phone or camera
  • iPhone compatible pocket
  • Unique, on-the-go trekking pole holders
  • Double ice axe loops
  • Soft and flexible 150g mono-mesh
  • External stretch pocket for organization
  • Secure lateral pockets
The zippered waist pockets on either side of the belt are large and provide secure storage for gloves, hat, a phone or a lot of extra food.  I can access these pockets pretty well while on the move with a bit of a stretch, so anything that I put here, will be items that I may want immediate access to, but not be needing to get to all that often.
The voluminous main compartment easily swallows gear, such as jackets, pants, traction, additional water bottles, food and whatever else you choose to cram in there.  Access is made easier with a clever 2nd zipper that zips from the bottom, so you can open from either end to more easily locate and extract gear while on the move.
For further organization, there is a mesh partition within the main compartment, which doubles as a sleeve for a hydration bladder.
Outside of the main compartment is a full length, stretch mesh pocket that is handy for stashing quick access items like a jacket, or for storing damp clothing.  The bungee cord that criss crosses the back provides a wide array of options for lashing more clothing or gear, or just helping to secure the load. There are also convenient bungee hooks on either side to further customize.
There are two additional generous zippered water resistant gear pockets that help keep organized or store electronics.
The top pocket has a convenient key clip.
Front pocket storage options are bountiful to say the least, as every bit of space is covered with well thought out, secure pockets and pouches.
The top pocket on the left shoulder strap is smaller and water/sweatproof, ideal for electrolyte tablets, or any other really small items you need to keep safe/organized.
The top pocket on the right shoulder strap is about the same size, but is mesh and has a slightly different velcro closure.  I typically use it for chapstick, a key or gels, but either pocket can easily fit a gel or two.
In the middle of either shoulder strap are the main soft flask/bottle pockets, as well as an additional stretch pocket that overlays the bottle pockets.  The flask pocket is the perfect width to quickly and easily slide the flask in without having to pull and stretch, which makes aid station refills much more fast and efficient.  20 or 24 ounce traditional water bottles can also be used.  To secure the flask (or bottle), there is a cinch cord at the top that is easy to use and holds tight.  The mesh pockets on the front of the flask pockets are generous in size and can easily accommodate more food, or is a great place to stuff trash.
The lowest pocket on the right side is zippered and easy to access.  It would be a perfect spot for an iPhone 5, 5s or SE.  I can just barely fit my iPhone 6 with Lifeproof case in this pocket, but it takes a bit of work.
Instead, I find it most conveniently accessible to slide my phone into the lower left open mesh pocket. It is a reasonably secure spot, but just in case, I clip my lanyard to the pack to keep it tethered.  This way I can't lose my phone, nor can I drop it when pulling it out for a photo.
Lightweight, Z style running poles can also be easily stowed while on the move.  I found this to work reasonably well with the slimmest poles (micro basket and skinny grip), but found it to be nearly impossible to stow poles with a thicker grip and large basket.
As is the case with many vests/packs, there is an emergency whistle on the upper left shoulder strap.  It is in a strategic spot for emergency access, but I often found that it would work it's way out from it's hiding spot behind the tablet pocket and bounce around.

The sternum straps are secure, very easy to operate and slide up and down on a slide rail for optimum positioning. The straps are static vs. elastic as some other vest use.  I very much prefer an easy to adjust static sternum strap such as these, as I find them to be much more secure.  When on a long climb, I loosen them just enough for deep breathing, then on the descents can crank them down a little more for maximum security.

The material that lies against your back is quite porous and breathable.

Dual ice axe loops
The waterproof nylon that comprises the outer shell of the main compartment however is not very breathable.  It never bothers me while running, but after a run, I'll notice quite a bit of condensation will build up on the inside.  This build up of moisture can in turn somewhat dampen any clothing in the main compartment, but perhaps makes no significant difference over normal amount of soak through due to perspiration that you would find in most breathable running vests.  If I am truly determined to keep any clothing or electronics dry, I use ziplock bags regardless of the running vest I am using anyways.
The 17oz. (500ml) Hydrapak flasks are BPA and PVC free.  They feel quite durable.
I appreciate the wider mouth that can more easily accommodate slim ice cubes and powdered drink mix.   The plastic rim around the top, just below the threaded mouth helps to give the flask structure when filling and manipulating.  I did however find the edges to be a bit pronounced as the flasks drained, but learned to angle the top of the flask strategically so they would not irritate.
The wide mouth is also great for properly cleaning out any funk if you frequently use sticky drink mixes.

The AK 3.0 Mountain Vest is made of the highest quality, most durable materials I have seen in a running vest. This might add a little bit of weight, but the AK 3.0 is still remarkably light and when wearing, it is hardly noticeable or obtrusive. I regularly stuff this pack to the brink, but it holds tight, zippers and seams are rock solid, stretch mesh is resilient and bounces back into place.  I have also scraped and scuffed it on rocks, trees and branches, but can see no evidence of it after the fact.
From the UD site:

  • 150g Knit Mono Mesh: New 150gsm harness conforms to your body for absolute comfort and superior load carrying
  • 180g Darlington Power Mesh: Lightweight strength with differential stretch in the x and y axis for enhanced load management
  • SilNylon/66: Silicone-Impregnated 30D nylon with a polyurethane face creates a permanently waterproof fabric, and substantially increases seam and tear strength
The AK Mountain Vest 3.0 is a real workhorse of a vest that I found to be extremely versatile.  Since I was testing, and most of my runs are 60-90 minutes, I wore this vest on all of my daily runs for over a month, where I was most likely to only be carrying my phone, a gel, windbreaker, hat, gloves and maybe Microspikes.  While it might have been more capacity than I needed, the vest is light and comfortable enough that I never felt like the extra space was a liability in the least.  I also wore the AK 3.0 vest on multiple 3.5 - 4.5 hour runs where I needed to add extra food, water, clothing, jackets, various other gear and this vest handled it all with ease.  Even with heavier loads, I hardly noticed the weight and there was no bounce in the front or back, everything stays stable and compact.
The thing that I appreciate most about the AK Mountain Vest 3.0 is the well thought out attention to detail, that manifests itself in ease of accessibility.  It is important to me to have fast and easy access to plenty of food, water, tablets, phone, etc... and have places to stash a pair of gloves, arm warmers or a beanie, without having to remove the pack, slow down or break concentration.  Having 10 pockets of various size, within easy reach, all of which are secure, really helps to stay organized and make a long run that much easier and more efficient.  It is this accessibility and attention to detail that defines this vest and sets it apart above the competition.
Recommended Uses:

If I were making a suggestion for anybody looking to own just one high quality vest, versatile enough for short runs, racing or all day adventures in the mountains, the AK Mountain Vest 3.0 would hands down be my first recommendation.

Top: Ultimate Direction  AK 3.0  Left: Ultraspire Zygos 2.0, Right: Instinct Evolution
UD AK Mountain Vest 3.0 vs. Ultraspire Zygos 2.0 (my RTR review here):  Both are very high quality, comfortable, versatile and carry enough gear for all day adventures, ultra races or work well on shorter runs.  The AK 3.0 has 2 additional liters of capacity, yet weighs nearly an ounce less when I weighed them side by side on my scale.  The Zygos 2.0 comes with a 2 liter bladder, while the AK 3.0 comes with two 17 ounce soft flasks.  Both vests can accommodate either soft flasks/bottles or bladders (or both) depending on preference.  The AK 3.0 is far superior in regards to easy access of a multitude of pockets in the front, where I feel the Ultraspire could use improvement.  Both vests come in small, medium and large for a more tailored fit, yet the AK 3.0 can be more closely fine tuned to the individual with the waist adjustment straps that are cleverly stowed in the hip belt pockets. The O2 sternum straps on the Zygos 2.0 are elastic and somewhat difficult to adjust, whereas the AK 3.0 sternum straps are more secure and very easy to adjust on the fly.  The ease of sliding bottles or other gear in/out of the Zygos 2.0 pockets is hampered by several cinch/pull tab bungees that are awkwardly positioned at the opening of the pockets.  Use of the bottle pockets on the AK 3.0 is very easy, with nothing to get in the way.  The AK 3.0 is also $5 less expensive.

UD AK Mountain Vest 3.0 vs. Instinct Evolution (my RTR review here):  This is almost an unfair comparison, as the Evolution has 4 less liters capacity, but Instinct is looking to compete, so I figured it fitting to compare/contrast as appropriate.  The Evolution is high quality, very comfortable and when filled to capacity, rides securely, with little bounce and no discomfort.  It is light and race ready. Capacity aside, it is immediately obvious that the AK 3.0 is much more well thought out and field tested. The primary issue that I had with the Evolution was that very few of the pockets were secure enough that I felt comfortable about not losing gear.  Instinct backs up their stance to not add zippers or secure closures with claims of quicker access to gear, but I find that difference to be inconsequential, as I would much rather have the gear there to access, then risk losing it on the trail. Other reasons Instinct declines to add zippers to the Evolution is that they are looking to maintain flexibility of the pack and they assert that zippers interfere with flexibility and confomity, but Ultimate Direction, Ultraspire, Salomon and other vest manufacturers have proven otherwise.  Lastly, Instinct claims that they are able to offer their vest at a much more competitive price of $100, however, they do not include bottles or soft flasks with their vest.  The Evolution's chest bottle pockets require a very specific Hydrapak soft flask, which will cost an additional $40, thus bringing the price to within $15 or $20 difference between AK 3.0 and Zygos 2.0 respectively.  Given those concerns, I think that Instinct has a ways to go before they can legitimately compete in the market.
Top: Ultimate Direction  AK 3.0  Left: Ultraspire Zygos 2.0, Right: Instinct Evolution
Jeff's Score:  9.8/10

- 0.1 for condensation build up on the inside of the main compartment
-0.1 for pole bungees, it would be nice to see them more adjustable for easier use and a wider range of pole carrying options.

Jeff Valliere's Run Bio
Jeff is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 6 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

The UD AK was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

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Jeff Valliere said...


Brad said...

I owned an original AK race vast (v1) but eventually got rid of it due to the complete inability to use the original UD 20-oz (hard) bottles in the front chest locations. I tried to adjust the fit and tightness of the vest a ton of different ways, and no matter what I did; the bottles always shook around like crazy on my runs and usually I ended up with some bad neck chaffing from the vest. I realize you did most of your testing this winter, but what is your take on the "lack of shaking" of the bottles with this new AK vest?

I eventually purchased an Inov-8 Race Ultra vest and I love it because it places the water bottles low and to the sides (almost on the sides of your ribs). Combining the placement along with the fact that Inov-8 uses hard bottles that are "flat", I have never had a shaking and chaffing problem with that vest. Thanks!

Brad said...

Oh, one more question for you. How easy (or hard) is it to slide the soft bottles in and out of the pockets when they are only half full of fluid?

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey Brad, I have the v1 also, it was a great vest at the time I thought (I still wear it from time to time), but the 3.0 versions have improved a lot. The soft flasks are much more comfortable and less obvious. I did not have a problem with them bouncing around when using the v1 vest so long as the sternum straps were snug, but I did not care for the sloshing. We had some very warm days here during my test period for the 3.0, so can compare evenly when wearing summer attire. The materials of the 3.0 are softer and more compliant than v1, particularly around the edges, so I did not get any chaffing even on my longest 4.5 hour run. Bottles positioning is middle of the road, high enough for drinking convenience, but not annoyingly high. The soft flasks slide in/out of the pockets quite easily (easier when full, but still easy when half full), then cinch securely with the pull cord around the pocket opening.

Jeff Valliere said...

Should clarify, I too was using hard bottles with the v1, which I had no real problem with, other than the sloshing being slightly annoying.

Brad said...

Thanks for the response, Jeff, that's very helpful!!

Kurt Perham said... hearing lots of concern on sizing on these. im 5'10" and 150 with about 34 across the bottom rib. Medium or small?

Jeff Valliere said...

Hi Kurt, I am also 5'10" and weigh 145, but my chest is 38" (not sure exactly how that correlates with your lower rib measurement so you may want to measure your chest for comparison). The medium fits me perfect.

Kurt Perham said...

thanks Jeff, I might need to order both and return one.