Review: Ultimate Direction A.K. Mountain Vest 3.0

If you’re looking for a fast and light bag that won’t cramp your trail flow—one that carries everything you need and nothing you don’t—then look no further.  The Ultimate Direction A.K. Mountain Vest 3.0 is nearly perfect.  A big reason for that is because this is the signature series of bags by Anton Krupicka, who is a total BA.  So big thanks to Anton for charging harder than most and providing the insights that helped the UD team crush this design.

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Thanks for the picture, Anton! Sorry for fanboying you so hard at ORSM.

The first trip I took with the bag was a doozy through The Enchantments. Roughly 20 miles over 8.5 hours with 5k feet of gain.  I used my body bottles for electrolyte tabs and carried 3L in the back along with plenty of calories, a map, compass, phone, keys, and a GoPro.

The first trip I took with the bag was a doozy through The Enchantments. Roughly 20 miles over 8.5 hours with 5k feet of gain.  I used my body bottles for electrolyte tabs and carried 3L in the back along with plenty of calories, a map, compass, phone, keys, and a GoPro.  I opted not to take a wind layer even though I had the space and that was a ballsy call but it worked out okay. This is my go to for any kind of trip where I’ll be moving fast and light: all the I-90 hikes, anytime I have an opportunity to open my stride downhill, and pretty much anything else so long as I won’t need heavy layers or major camera equipment.


 Here’s the skinny

Specs
Weight: 11.55 oz. (14 oz. with bottles) / 330 g (400 g with bottles)
Material: 30D Silnylon, and a really awesome 180g power stretch mesh pockets
Dimensions: (HWD) 15.7 x 11.4 x 7.5 in / 40 x 29 x 19 cm

Features
Pockets: There are 14 different compartments (including the large main compartment) 15 if you include the bladder sleeve.  That’s nuts.

Compression: The Mountain Vest 3.0 cleverly uses hooks for you to route the shock cord through to compress the main compartment.  That same shock cord also holds a jacket and poles if need be.

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Hooks pictured along the grey piping closest to the back panel and can be used to route the shock cord as compression and tool attachment.

Suspension: The 150g Knit Mono Mesh back panel is nice, but provides very little support or comfort from the hard plastic on whatever reservoir your carrying, so pack carefully.  I’ve ran into mild discomfort on only two occasions. More on that farther down. In regard to size and fit: There are two micro adjustment straps hidden inside the stretch mesh pockets (pictured above with the UD print) that fine tune the fit of the bag around your lower ribs.  I had good success with these as I purchased a size large on deep discount from Geartrade when I technically fit a medium.

Other: The main compartment has two zipper pulls on a large J-zip, so you can access the bottom or the top.  This is actually a big deal because the silnylon body is floppy—if it only had one zip or a traditional clamshell opening, all your stuff would tumble out any time you opened the bag.


What’s good?

Nearly everything.  11L volume with the option to hang a jacket in the shock cord is excellent.  It’s got 14 pockets.  Have I told you how much that means to me?  The trail vibes are high with this one. I really enjoy wearing this and it’s made my day long adventures easier for a couple reasons.

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Body bottles up front and phone/camera easily accessible for “whoa” moments on the trial.

1.) I like the having access to a bunch of stuff up front. I can access my phone, GoPro, bars, gels, more substantial snacks, gloves, poles, and water/electrolyte tabs all without removing the bag. If I’m solo, that’s a huge help.  If I’m with a partner, that’s still less work my partner has to do and that gives us more time crushing it.

2.) It’s comfortable. All that storage upfront counter-balances whatever is in the main compartment and gives you a better ride. Fully loaded you can easily carry 15 pounds (if not more) no problem.  It’s also not constrictive in any way.  Other bags I’ve worn have either impeded breathing, fatigued my shoulders, or negatively impacted my performance somehow.  The A.K. 3.0 doesn’t do that.  That’s huge.

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A little down hill goodness.  Photo: Casey Winkler

3.) You can carry all your water or very little water. I’ve carried 4L of water—2 half-liter body bottles up front and a 3L bladder in the back.  That’s 8.8 pounds of water for an all-day adventure. Or you can use that space for other stuff. Leave the bladder empty and use the half liter bottles with a Sawyer Mini and carry an ultralight overnight kit for epic out and backs. (I’m working up the kit to take an overnight with this. 11L is pretty scant, but I’ll keep you posted.)

What’s not so good?

The plastic part of whatever bladder I use sits right between my shoulder blades.  Some reviewers on Ultimate Direction’s website have claimed to have the same problem…

1.) The plastic part of whatever bladder I use sits right between my shoulder blades.  Some reviewers on Ultimate Direction’s website have claimed to have the same problem and some have not, so I definitely think this is a personal fit issue rather than a design flaw.  I’ve packed carefully and moved some insulation higher and closer to my back and wrapped the sleeves of a fleece around the hard plastic parts to make it work for me, but it’s still something you need to consider while packing.

2.) The pole attachment points aren’t the best. The pole attachment loops up front are designed for Z-poles and my B.D. Alpine Carbon Cork poles are too long when they are compressed, so I’m still carrying my poles like Leonardo of TMNT down the back panel and through the shock cord.  It works, but it’s not the greatest, so really this is a good thing and a bad thing.  *silver lining: you can carry poles multiple ways*


Stop less. Crush more. This layout of the pockets makes self-supported adventures more convenient and in general, is a better way to carry the things I need…

How does this improve my experience?

Stop less. Crush more. This layout of the pockets makes self-supported adventures more convenient and in general, is a better way to carry the things I need faster and more comfortably.

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Enjoying the view after 2k feet of gain. Photo: Casey Winkler

2 thoughts on “Review: Ultimate Direction A.K. Mountain Vest 3.0

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