In the same way that many hikers and backpackers have adopted trail running shoes as the de facto best choice for most three season hiking, trail running vests and backpacks are starting to gain mass adoption as well. Much like the switch from boot to trail shoe, a switch from a structured backpack to a running vest provides added comfort, improved fit, and better functionality for fast and long days on the trail.
The main issue with most trail running vests is that they don’t usually come with more than 15 liters of storage volume. A few years ago, Ultimate Direction changed that by combining running vest comfort with backpacking capacity for their Fastpack 20 and 30. Ultimate Direction is best know for their running vests and hydration products that are used by some of the world’s elite ultra runners. This year, Ultimate Direction has released a revamped lineup of packs they’re calling the Trail Collection. This includes the Fastpack 15, 25, 35, and 45. For this review, I’ll be taking a look at the 35 and 45.
The Fastpack 35 and Fastpack 45 differ in volume and color only. The function, features, and performance have proven to be identical in my field tests, which is why I’m reviewing them together. I’ve used the Fastpack 35 for almost every hike I’ve been on in the last few months, and I’ve used the Fastpack 45 on a few overnight outings. Long story short, these packs are phenomenal and have moved to the top of my recommendation list. I do have one or two nit-picks though. I’ll get into all of that and more in the following review.
The Fastpack 35 retails for $184.95 and the Fastpack 45 retails for $199.95.
Build, Design, And Functionality
Storage, Size, Materials, And Weight
The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35 and 45 are listed at 35 liters and 45 liters, respectively. I have both packs in a size M/L, which makes the actual pack volume a few liters more than the listed amount. The Fastpacks use a roll top closure which makes them feel even more spacious. The size M/L is made to fit a 30-50in chest. I have a 42in chest and a 30in waist, and the Fastpacks feel like they were made custom for my frame. There is lots of strap room in both directions though, so I’m sure they will fit a wide range of bodies. The Fastpack 35 comes in at just over 26oz and the 45 weighs about an once more.
The Fastpacks do not have a frame, but they do have a foam back pad that provides structure and comfort. The back pad is removable. Just lift up the Velcro tabs above the internal hydration sleeve and the pad can be pulled out.
For day trips and overnight backpacking outings, I’ve had no trouble fitting all of my essentials. For trips requiring a bear canister, things can be a bit tricky, as the Garcia and BV500 will only fit vertically. Longer tent poles can also be an issue if you’re used to a pack that an carry them on the inside. I always carry my poles on the outsole, and have done the same with the Fastpack 45. Family outings with my Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 have been a joy.
The pack dimensions are 27.6″ x 11″ x 11″. I’m 5’11”, and the Fastacks sit comfortably on my hips without any sag or chaffing on my glutes. The bodies of the Fastpacks are made out of 100D Robic Triple-Ripstop nylon that has proven to be very durable and water resistant. The pockets and back panel are made of a “Power Span Stretch Mesh”, and the shoulder straps are made of a “MonoRip Mesh”. I’ll get into this more in the Pockets and Shoulder Straps sections below.
The straps and customization options on the Fastpacks are pretty minimal, but functional. The roll top closure buckle connects with the side compression straps that run under the side pockets. With only two straps, you’re able to both vertically and horizontal compress the Fastpacks. This is what makes the Fastpack 35 so versatile for hiking. I can go super light with just water, or I can throw in a bunch of layers and nutrition without have to work hard to dial things in. Whether the pack is empty or full, it always seems to ride evenly and without a lot of shake or wobble. The one exception to this is when I have 1L bottles in the side pockets with an empty pack. Since the base of the pack has no frame or structure, the bottles can jump around quite a bit while running or moving fast.
The Fastpack 35 and 45 have a hydration sleeve in the pack for those that like to carry a bladder within the pack. There is a dual button clip to keep the bladder from bunching at the bottom of the sleeve. There is a central split port to pull the bladder tube through to the front of the pack.
*You can see a Velcro tab just above the blue line in the photo below. If you pull up on this, you can access the foam back pad.
The Fastpack pockets are my favorite feature of these packs. They have proven to be functional and versatile. They’re made of “Power Span Stretch Mesh”, that allows me to fit oddly shaped items into each pocket and still provide a secure fit. As a “photography first” hiker, bringing my camera along is very important to me. This is the first pack that I’ve used that allows me to carry my camera on my chest without any additional attachments. I can even do this with my Sony 10-18mm! This is a real game changer for me. I no longer have to pick a lens based on how easy it is to carry. I also rarely miss a shot with my camera being so easy to access.
As I mentioned above, I use water bottles for hydration instead of an internal bladder. For those that like to carry the bottles on your chest, there is a stretch pocket on your right shoulder. The major gripe I have with the pockets on the Fastpacks is that the chest pockets are not symmetrical. There is no stretch pocket on the left shoulder, just a large zipper pocket with a sleeve behind it. The nice thing is that the zipper is waterproof, so you can carry a map or sensitive electronics. You can jam a bottle into that pocket if you want, too, but it’s not very comfortable. This isn’t a huge issue for me, as I prefer to cary 1L bottles in each side pocket. The side pockets are easy to reach, and this is one of the only packs where I can easily grab a bottle and put it back in without going through contortions.
A “MonoRip Mesh” is used on the shoulder straps of the Fastpacks which makes for a comfortable and pinch free ride. The flat shoulder straps sit along the shape of my traps quite nice. Ridged straps on standard backpacks have always caused me discomfort here. Not so with these vest style packs. The coolest part of the shoulder straps is that they’re part of the “lnfiKnit” mesh panel. This is essentially once piece of fabric that makes up the back panel and shoulder straps. I have experienced no chaffing, and on most days forget that I’m wearing a pack. Each vest shoulder strap has a strap that pulls back under the arm more than it pulls down. This provides a nice “hug like” fit.
There are two chest straps on guide-rails that connect with a buckle. Having the straps on guide rails really helps dial in the fit. The waist belt has a larger buckle, and the belt has not additional pockets or storage. While hiking, I usually leave the removable waist buckle undone, and only use it when I want to keep my pack from moving side to side. All three straps work very well to dial in the perfect fit.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are no load lifters on the shoulder straps of the Fastpacks. This is important if you plan on carrying a heavy load. I found that the max weight I could comfortably shoulder in these packs was around 20lbs. Anything north of 20lbs, and I would get that dull ache in my back and shoulders that every hiker and backpacker will be familiar with. These are fastpacks though, and not built with heavy loads in mind, so I can’t be too critical of a dog that can’t fly. Having said that, my Salomon hydration packs do use light load lifters that I have found to be effective on the rare days when my pack is weighed down.
As I mentioned above the “lnfiKnit” mesh panel is one piece of fabric that makes up the shoulder straps and back panel. This fabric breathes and dries very well.
The Fastpacks have trekking pole attachment bungies on the back of the pack for days when you want to move with free hands.
To me, this is the ideal use for the Fastpack series. These packs excel on peak bagging ascents, 20 mile day hikes, or monsters like Rim to Rim hikes of the Grand Canyon. I can’t really think of any day hike these packs wouldn’t be perfect for. I’ve used the Fastpack 35 on many hikes in the last few months short and long. I’m able to carry all of the water I need, food, layers, and camera gear, or go super light with just water.
As much as I love this pack for hiking, it’s name is actually “Fastpack”. Fastpacking is the combination of backpacking, fast hiking, and running. The goal is to carry only the essentials for the lightest pack possible (Sage to Summit has a nice write up on fastpacking if you’d like to read more). On top of the peak bagging and day hiking functionality of these packs, they’re also perfect for fastpacking or short backpacking trips. As I mentioned above, the only two drawbacks are the lack of load lifters and the awkward fit of a bear canister. I’ve been able to fit two quilts, a 3P tent, two sleeping pads, food, toiletries, and stuff for my dogs quite comfortably.
Likes And Dislikes
If you’re looking for a lightweight backpack that has the comfort of a running vest but with more volume, you can’t go wrong with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack Trail Collection. You can tell that these packs are designed by and for athletes that log serious miles in the mountains. I’ve put quite a few miles on my Fastpack 35 in the last few months, and it will be my go to pack for just about every summer outing.
- Comfort and fit
- Pocket versatility
- Size and compression
- Breathes and dries well
- Lack of load lifters with heavier loads
- Asymmetrical shoulder pocket design