Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ultimate Direction Running Apparel Review: Hydrolight Series Shorts, Ultra Jacket & Pants V2

Article by Sam Winebaum, Jeff Valliere, and Hope Wilkes
Ultimate Direction is well known for its race vests and hydration systems. Not until now known for apparel this year UD launches its new Hydrolight collection of running shorts a line true to their DNA of thoroughly athlete tested functionality and carrying capacity.  UD also updates its Ultra (and ultra light) Ultra Pant and Ultra Jacket with a very high performance 30K/30K membrane which, as far as we know, is the highest rating for waterproofing and breathability available today and which exceeds the UTMB's required standards by at least 2x at very light weights.

Tester Profiles
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He runs roads and trail in New Hampshire, Utah and most recently trekked across Switzerland to test the UD apparel in this article.
Hope is in her 20’s and after several ultras is now more on the road. She has a marathon PR of 3:47. She trains about 50 miles per week with many of her runs in the (broad) 8:00-10:00/mile range. She is happy to hit 7:30 miles on tempo days.
Jeff Valliere runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's.

Ultra Pant  V2 & Ultra Jacket V2

Ultra Pant V2 ($119.95)
Pant sample weight men’s medium: 4 0 oz / 113 g
30,000 mm water entry pressure and 30,000 moisture vapor transmission rate
10D High-strength Nylon 2.5L Waterproof-Breathable

Take special note of the water entry and moisture vapor transmission rate above. It may be out there but we have yet to see an ultralight pant or shell with much above 20K/20K. And this Toyota Tsusho membrane, also in the Ultra Jacket, really performs.
As with the jacket the combination of membrane and outer nylon shell is so thin it is translucent yet so far as proved very durable.  While thin, the materials in both are quite noisy in a crinkly way, the jacket at the shoulders and the pants at the knees and ankle cuffs. Even in strong rain and wind it only eventually soaked through. but never absorbed much water weight at all, and only where fabric made contact with skin or inner layers such as on the thighs and really only in spots indicating the outer fabric does not wick moisture much across its surface, a good thing.  Other areas stayed remarkably dry with the pants absorbing very little moisture and drying quickly.

The pants have a thin webbing belt which does a fine job holding them up,and an inner pocket into which they can be stuffed which can also hold a phone, and nice long water sealed type ankle zips.

My suggestion for improvement would be to the lower legs. The lower leg openings are a bit too broad, baggy, and noisy. A bit of elastic might help perfect this ultimate hiking and running shell pant.

I have run and hiked in them in temperatures from the high teens with just shorts underneath well into the 50’s with rain and have been comfortably temperature regulated and protected  at all times. The loose fit allows lots of air circulation and never any sticking. In very strong winds and cold temps, they can get a bit chilly as a result but think of all the times when weather changed, the winds picked up after a long climb and you didn’t have any extra leg layers. These pants at a mere 4 oz should always be in your pack or stuffed into your Hydro Shorts.

Ultra Jacket V2 ($189.95)
Sample weight men’s medium: 6.34 oz /180 g
The Ultra Jacket v2 has a roomy if a bit short fit appropriate for a running focused jacket. The roominess, as with the pants, keeps the jacket off the skin allowing the outer fabric to perform longer in heavy precipitation and helping prevent sticking. There is plenty of room for layers. The jacket shares the 30K/30K membrane with the Ultra Pants.  The membrane is from Toyota Tashao from what we heard and is not the usual Gore or Pertex. Itts spec exceeds the UTMB requirements and is by spec the most breathable waterproof combined rating membrane and jacket I have tested to date.
As with pants the jacket is translucent. It has an interior non zip flapped pocket for stuffing the jacket. The pocket is also large enough to secure an iPhone Xs in case.
The hood features a stout wire brim, plenty of room for other hats and a rear draw cord adjustment.
There is an almost completely closed mitten which pulls out from the sleeves.
On a cold day, wet and below freezing, on our recent Swiss trek I used it to stay warm and still have grip on my trekking poles. Ingenious and proved useful as my only other gloves were no fingers paddling gloves.
I do wish for more pockets on the exterior for storage and extra venting but when combined with the Hydro Skin Shorts or a UD race vest storage on the go becomes a non issue. And I think pocketless is how UD intended it to reduce the jacket weight and eliminate seams.  I do think the jacket would be enhanced with better underarm ventilation.

I does have fairly short mesh flapped (top and bottom) vents under the arms but as the flaps more than cover the vents they don't ventilate as well as a full pit zip do or if UD split the flap down the middle sewing top and bottom.

As with the pants I have tested the Ultra Jacket V2 in conditions from the teens to 50’s Fahrenheit.  I did find in cold conditions, at high altitude with lots of sun, the jacket was warmer than I expected, maybe due to the dark color absorbing heat, but certainly still very breathable and comfortable. In the lower 50’s with wind and rain it was wonderfully temperature regulating. I clearly felt that wind removed heat and humidity in these conditions. One can really sense the 30K breathability here, clearly superior to most jackets at 20K or so with a more distinct sensation of heat and moisture being evacuated.

Combine the Ultra Jacket and Pant and you will have the lightest (at a total of 292 g / 10. 3 oz  and most weather protective and breathable outfit by spec at 30K/30K we have seen to date.
At $189.95 the Ultra Jacket V2 is a very good value for its quality construction and leading waterproof breathable performance when compared to offerings from "name" brands 

Men’s Hydro Skin Short ($89.95)
Weight: 6.7 oz / 189 g
9 in / 22.86 cm inseam
UD says:
  • Comes with 2 custom 300ml bottles for a total of 600ml capacity
  • Custom bottles fit into secure bottle pockets for a bounce free water carry system that doesn't ride up
  • Center back pocket fits extra items such as keys, phone, gels or small jacketSelf-bound seams give superior durability
  • 2 thigh pockets capable of holding up to an iPhone 8
  • Hidden, rigid waist adjuster and 2 way stretch mesh provide stability and comfort
  • Gusset for chafe free fit

The Hydro Skin short packs a lot into a “short”. Essentially, I have found its bounce free giant thigh pockets, dual 300 ml hip bottle pockets, and rear jacket & incidentals pocket carries everything you need for a few hours run or can serve as additional capacity with a race vest.
The gray fabric is a somewhat stretchy dense jersey like material which is lightly compressive. I have found it absorbs very little moisture and is comfortable over a very broad range of temperatures from well below freezing up into the upper 60’s, the warmest temperatures I have tested it in to date.
The upper waist and back area's darker material is a somewhat stretchy thinner mesh with plenty of breathability. Holding everything up is an ½ inch wide webbing belt. Fully loaded the shorts stay up and the load is bounce free but I wish for a bit more lower back rise, maybe an additional wide stretch waistband or more room at the upper thighs so the short could ride higher as it sits fairly low on the hips.
The specs say the thigh pockets will hold an iPhone 8. They will hold yet bigger phones, gloves, hats, etc.. with ease and security. During our Swiss trek I put my phone and trekking gloves in the thigh pockets for easy access.  You can also easily stuff and carry the UD Ultra Pants in one of the front pockets.
The hip pockets hold two 300 ml bottles which can be covered with stretch mesh. If you don’t use the pockets you can use them for storage. They also easily hold the UD Ultra Pants if you don’t need the water capacity.  

The stretch rear center pocket easily holds the UD Ultra Jacket V2 or other incidentals. I found it wasn’t the best place to hold a phone as there was some bounce. Use the easier access thigh pockets for the phone.
You will have a prominent rear “bump” with the UD jacket on board but everything is secure.

The bottom line here is that the Hydro Skin Short is one of the most versatile pieces of kit I have used in many years. Load carrying shorts, compression shorts, or short tight I have worn them as is with no underwear with no chafing issues, as a base layer under the Ultra Pant, for long and short runs and daily during our Swiss Trek. Given their comfort, carry capacity, and included bottles they are a very good value given their performance and versatility and are highly recommended.

Women’s Hydro Skin Short ($89.95)
Hope: My pair is very different from Sam’s — they’re a LOT shorter! I didn’t risk my iPhone 6S+ in the thigh pockets.
A gel could probably be stored securely, but not much else. I appreciated how the shorts didn’t much ride up or roll up at the thighs since the elastic was so strong. I would’ve appreciated a similarly strong elastic waistband — asking the thin web belt to do it all (and keep everything still) is too much. I think the waist hold would be improved by stretch-to-fit elastic that’s enhanced by the waist belt, not totally reliant on it. For reference, I almost always run in Nike Tempo or Aeroswift shorts (both have built-in briefs), so I’m used to a looser fit, longer length, and no meaningful storage capacity (house key only, really). These are clearly of high quality, but the fit may tricky so I would recommend trying on in your local gear shop of choice. UD is onto something here, so I’m keen to keep trying their apparel line.
Men’s Hydro Short ($99.95)
Jeff: Similar to the Hydro Skin Short at 9” length,, but with an attached 4.5”,  thin outer short (for those not keen on the bike short look), tbut with no thigh pockets, as found on the Hydro Skin.

The 9” short is very much reminiscent of a bike short without the chamois.
The leg cuffs, while not sticky, have enough elasticity to hold onto my thigh without riding up, something that I find very bothersome in other similar style liner shorts, but not at all here with the Hydro Short, even on steep trails with large step ups.
The seams are smooth and unobtrusive, going essentially unnoticed.  Wearing without underwear, I have had no issues with chafing and find the liner contains everything well, without feeling constricting or allowing excess movement.
The pocketing system is reminiscent of the now discontinued Pearl Izumi Ultra shorts, with one main center rear pocket and two smaller pockets on either side, all sewn into the liner to reduce bounce.  The center pocket easily fits my iPhone 8 in protective case with no issues putting it in, or taking it out on the fly.

The pocket secures with a velcro tab, that I am sometimes unsure if I have secured it properly on the fly, but thus far have had no issues.  I would however feel better with a zipper here. Unlike Sam, I have not experienced any bouncing of my phone in that center pocket, even on very fast and technical downhills, which could entirely be dependent upon variances in body shape.
The side pockets are designed to fit two 300 ml plastic bottles (included).  I found the bottles, especially when full, to be a bit much for those pockets, at least for my preference, but is nice to have that option.  For my preferred use, if bringing along water, I prefer to carry water in a vest with soft flasks, then utilize the pockets for phone (quick assess) and the smaller pockets for keeping smaller items handy.  Or, for the majority of my daily 60-90 minute mountain runs, I use the shorts’ pockets for phone, car key, perhaps a gel or minimal wind shell, which can easily fit in any of the 3 pockets. The side pockets each have a foldover envelope style elasticized flap over the opening, so does a great job keeping even a car key confidently contained.  Bottom line, it all comes down to personal preference and these shorts open up your options.

The waist belt/draw cord does a great job keeping the shorts up, even when loaded with water and phone.  Any excess belt conveniently tucks into a dedicated sleeve at the front of the hem.

The The materials are thin, breathe well and dry fast, but I did find that when the temps even rise into the 70’s, the long bike short style liner can feel a bit warm.  The added material of the liner however is very welcome on cooler days and in the high mountains when you’ll be travelling through a range of climates, having that added draft protection is welcome.
Overall I really like the Hydro Short and it has become a favorite piece of running gear for the comfort and ability to securely carry a decent amount of gear in the shorts’ pockets for shorter runs, or to neatly organize smaller items when coupled with a hydration vest.

Women’s Hydro Short ($84.95)
Hope: I struggled with the overall more relaxed fit of the Hydro Short. The waistband bounced wildly with full bottles, half full, bottles, even empty bottles. I love the materials and the quality, but the loose waistband cinched down by a belt wasn’t secure enough to hold water, let alone water plus gear. A more precise fit might have made these more enjoyable. I’d love to see briefs instead of bike shorts and a zipper stash pocket for small items. Getting the bottles out is easy enough (wouldn’t want it to be too easy or else they’d fall out), but I’m nervous about storing something else back there in the same area where it could get jostled out when I’m fiddling around trying to pull a bottle out or put one back. Again, this probably comes down to personal preference. Being able to carry water on board obviates the need for a handheld or pack in some cases — a very cool thing.
Read our reviewers' full run bios here
Sam's Ultra Jacket and Hydro Skin shorts were a personal purchase. All other products reviewed were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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