Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 review

I was looking for a new day pack that also would work for one-night trips. There are options aplenty when it comes to packs in the 25L-and-below capacity range, but there were a few aspects that made me go with the UD Fastpack over other day packs.

The pack seems to me like it is a good foray into a larger-capacity pack/vest born from their ultra vests, but don't expect it to feel like a grownup of the Signature Series line.

Fastpack 20 in Gothic Basin; Ethan's photo
NOTES: I have not tried running more than about 50 yards with the pack, using it three times on day hikes ranging from 12 miles to 32 miles all in the North Cascades. iRunFar and Ultrarunnerpodcast both have posted lengthier reviews. I'm posting my dislikes first as those are the things I always read first in a review so I know the drawbacks before I look at the positives.

  • Infiknit. This is one of the selling points UD is pushing, but for me, it's the thing I dislike most! The infiknit presents two layers of fabric on the entire back panel and the straps. I notice this most on the straps, especially around the shoulders, where it is much different than ultra vests or day packs that have a normal padded strap. I'm not sure if it helps with security and load distribution, but it does bunch up significantly on my shoulders (see images below). I don't find any benefits on the rear of it since every other pack or vest I've used has had padding or seams and they've never bothered me. I wish they threw a stitch down the middle of the straps over the shoulders to anchor the material and prevent bunching.   
  • Width around shoulder blades. The first time I wore it I was really confused why it felt like I had chaffing on my shoulder blades, something that has never happened to me with other backpacks I own (Deuter, CiloGear, Dana Designs). The way it sits with the rear back pad in, which is removable, it can create a weird pressure point there. As the iRunFar review points out, this makes it very important to pack it correctly since it's just one large space. I measure the back panel on mine at ~10", compared to the 7" width of my Salomon 12L vest that sits in between my shoulder blades.
  • Zippered/collapsible front pocket on right strap. Not sure what the point of this one is? While it's zipped up you can use the little outside pocket only since there is so much material zipped into the big one it makes it awkward to use. When unzipped "open" it is an odd shape (three-sided pyramid?). I would prefer symmetrical pockets (open mesh with a drawcord on top); simpler and would weigh less, no fiddling with zippers.     
  • Nope, it's not going to feel like a running vest. Nature of the game, don't expect it to fit or feel like other running vests and packs. Maybe not a real dislike, just be aware.
  • Price. $150 retail is about 25% higher than the majority of day or technical packs of a similar size. Yes, with online coupons you can get it down to ~$125, but that's still pretty steep.   

  • Good pockets on the straps (most of them). Probably the main reason I got the pack was for the pockets on the straps. Just like the UD signature vest I have, and my Salomon 12L, I love being able to carry a lot up front without having pockets on a waist belt. On my hikes I'll carry all of the following on the straps: point-and-shoot camera, 3-4 bars, some chews and/or candy, water treatment tabs, salt pills, map and still have room for more. 
  • No waist belt. I only do about one outing a year that requires me to wear a harness, but I appreciate not having a waist belt so there's no overlap. 
  • Roll top. Good for versatility when carrying a lot, or a little.
  • Ice axe / pole loops and daisy chain. Again, good functionality and versatility. Excellent draw cords on the top of the daisy.  
  • Pockets on sides that are easily accessible. This is my preferred way to carry water, one bottle in each rear-side pocket that I can take in and out while wearing the pack. I added some elastic as I felt like the UD one was too short to easily fit over my bottles (image below). 
  • Large rear mesh pocket. I have pretty flexible arms/shoulders, but I still can't reach my poles without removing the pack when I put them in the mesh pocket; a little more contortion practice is needed. Good utility pocket, though.
  • Side security/waterproof pocket. Perfect for valuables, keys, phone, etc.
Note material bunching, especially on right strap
Running to make the self timer for a photo with Sir-Hikes
Salomon S Lab 12L 2013 vs Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20; infiknit looks very loose, back panel width difference quite noticeable
Elastic I added to the yellow UD loop
Crop from a selfie to highlight funny material bunching/folding
Same bunching there as well in left shoulder strap; odd-shaped right strap pocket with zipper


  1. Thanks for the detailed review. I'm still on the lookout for that perfect overnight pack that I can "run" in. Love all the pockets up front though. Salomon needs to release a 20+ liter "running" pack. I think I would be in heaven.

    1. Amen, Will. Their "Agile" series is more of a traditional pack than a vest like we both have. I think I could do an overnight set up with my 12L vest, but I'd have to go very ultralight :)

  2. Thanks Luke for the review. Since this review, Salomon has now come out with a few vest packs with larger volumes like the Peak 20, Peak 30, and S-Lab Peak 20. The latter really seems like it has a lot of packing space on the front full vest. Any thoughts on these?

    1. You're welcome! I've seen the new Salomon ones but haven't tried them on. The S-Lab one does look pretty nifty, but I recently got the new UD Bakwin v3 vest which is 17L or so and I'm not sure I can fill it, even for an unsupported 100-miler! It's definitely larger than the S-Lab 12L from 2013 that I still love. I'm still using the UD 20 for day trips as well and it works fine. Not my favorite, but doesn't need replacing. Please let me know if you try the new Salomon ones!