The right bag
Some of you may know that I like running really, really far. In order to do this, I need to carry a small cornershop’s worth of snacks, a large amount of warm dry kit for pub stops and, most of the time, hundreds and hundreds of dog poo bags (for the dog, not me, although there have been times… but that’s another story).
This requires the right bag, and finding that bag can be a complete nightmare. There are currently a million bags on the market (fact) and more come out each week. Some are brilliant, most are awful. When I first started running, I bought a cheap reflective boy from Sports Direct and it was OK. It was reflective and I could carry a laptop and a coat in it, but when I tried to stuff a load of emergency kit and warm clothes in it for an actual race, the zip spectacularly burst. I was halfway through a trail marathon on Snowdon. It was then I started to think that cheap bags may well be false economy.
After taking advice from a load of people who know better than me, I invested in my first Ultimate Direction (UD) pack – the Fastback 25. Yes, it cost me a lot of money, but I still have it five years later. UD is an American company that basically founded the hydration pack. A lot of their kit is designed by athletes (Scott and Jenny Jurek have their names all over this stuff) and it shows. Its kit is hard-wearing, often waterproof, and lasts pretty much a lifetime.
Recently, I was sent the newest of their mid-range packs to try – the ridiculously named FKT vest. What does FKT stand for? Well, I came up with a whole host of hilarious things, but this is a family website so we will stick with what it actually stands for: Fastest Known Time. Naturally I assumed this pack was for wannabe fast runners, and so should reflect that. And in some ways it does. But it’s a curious little beast. Let’s get down to it.
What it says it is:
“With an 18L volume and a roll top closure, Ultimate Direction’s FKT Vest expands and contracts to comfortably house a range of carrying capacities with easy access stretch mesh pockets for stashing a waterproof or cold weather kit. A separate front compartment stores trail essentials such as water, phones, maps and energy foods; all easily accessible without having to rummage through the main bag compartment. For stability, the unique T-Hook fit system adjusts to torso length and width while a T-HOOK sternum strap keeps the pack close when heading over challenging terrains.”
What it actually is:
Well, first off it’s yellow and white – that means it’s gonna get dirty, friends. One of the things about washing UD bags is if you wash them too hot, the branding comes off – fail for marketing, but also the branding is often reflective, so mega useful for night running and road running. From the moment I got it out, I felt like this was a ‘summer’ pack. Maybe because it’s yellow and feels like it’s made out of crepe paper?
My pack is a small, but it actually looks quite big. It has really wide front straps, five built-in pockets and two clip-on, zipped removable pockets on the front. When I put it on it, it actually felt bulky, but this whole ‘T-Hook’ thing is actually brilliant, and once you have adjusted the straps to fit, it feels a lot smaller. The T-Hook means you can take the toggle clips on the front straps off and reposition them. This is great, especially for the ladies, as it means you don’t have straps all over your chesticles and it makes the bag super comfy.
The main adjustment straps it comes with are RIDICULOUSLY long, and that’s slightly annoying. Once you have it adjusted you can snip and burn them, but is it really necessary to have such long straps in the first place? No. No, it is not.
The FKT’s capacity means that you can either roll it down really small for shorter distance runs, or smash it full of stuff, taking it to full capacity and not changing the way it feels on your back. That, my friends, is a glorious thing. I tested this bag out at the White Star Running Larmer Tree Races weekend. I did the 10-mile dog race with it on Saturday and the 27 mile ‘marathon’ with it on Sunday.
On shorter races
On the Saturday, my priority was the dog. Sadly I couldn’t fit the dog in the bag without her wriggling, so opted to just run with her instead. The race wasn’t far, and so all I had in it was a first-aid kit and my waterproof jacket. In the front pockets I stashed dog poo bags, doggo treats, human treats and, of course, my water. The water flask is a total pain in the arse. For some reason they have gone with a hard flask with a bite valve. It’s annoying to get in and out of the pocket, and you pretty much need a wrench to get the bite valve up. Not ideal when you’re trying to set an FKT, right? I got so annoyed with the flask, that I swapped it out the next day for one of my old soft flasks. They take pretty much the same amount of water, and are much easier to drink from.
Throughout the run I barely knew the pack was there – classic UD comfort. It’s very light (345g) and because you can tighten it right up, it doesn’t move as you run. I had easy access to snacks and poo bags at the front, and overall it was a massive win. I could even have stashed my dog lead in there if I’d needed to. Looking at the pictures from that day, it does look big. It didn’t feel it.
A longer test
The following day was marathon day. It was cold and mega windy, and threatening to rain, so I packed it with a dry bag full of extra kit, first-aid pouch and food. It was heavier, but again it’s easy to adjust the straps (which are made of cord for some reason – elasticated straps would work so much better) to make it fit tight to your body.
It was hella windy out on the trails, but it didn’t flap or bounce and, again, I hardly noticed I had it on. I was worried it would rain, and it did a bit, but everything stayed dry. The front pockets were great for storing the things I needed most. I stuck my phone in the zip up ‘waterproof’ pocket on the front, my caffeine bullets, painkillers and shot blocks in another top pocket and an extra buff in the elasticated bottom pocket. I even managed to stuff a Cliff bar in there. I didn’t have to take it off at all and even when I took off my jacket, I could easily get my buddy to stuff it into the elasticated ‘kangaroo pouch’ on the back instead of taking the whole thing off and having to put it on again. The kangaroo pouch also clips onto the main bag at the top preventing stuff getting wet in a shower. Genuis.
In my experience, when you’re running a long race and get a bit sweaty, taking a pack off and putting it on again can make you cold, but this one has a breathable mesh on the back that prevents that from happening. The multiple front pockets make admin really, really easy – you know where stuff is – and if you’re not a pocket guy, you can just take them off.
One of the very few annoying things about this pack is it doesn’t have the elasticated loops on the front for trekking poles. It does have loops for poles, but they extend over the front pockets, which means it’s either poles or pocket access, but not both. The bigger UD packs all have front-facing loops that don’t cover the pockets – one of the main reasons ultra-long distance types like them. I reckon this is something that would ever-so slightly improve this bag.
So yes, well done UD. This is a brilliant entry-level trail marathon/ultra bag. It’s cheap for the brand (RRP is £85) and it’s made to fit really well, whatever shape you are. I reckon it will go the distance for anyone looking to do one day spring/summer ultras and, trust me, it will last you for years.
It doesn’t sell itself as waterproof, where as a lot of the bigger packs do, but it’s definitely shower proof. I wouldn’t trust it in a lake, and I have trusted my Fastpacks in lakes many, many times.
The bungees on the front and extra loops at the bottom mean that you can go above and beyond the 18L capacity if you see fit, but as the name suggests, I see this is a smaller pack for faster, one-day runners. You can take all the extras off if you don’t want them to super streamline it.
The downsides are the flask, which won’t let you drink out of it without a fight, and the lack of loops for poles. When it comes to aesthetic, it’s still yellow. It will always be yellow. But you can’t have everything can you?
Available to buy from Lets Run.