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Field Tested: Ultimate Direction Wasp (New Version) Pack Review

The long winded story about my hunt for the perfect pack.

As a hiker turned newbie trail runner, more and more of my gear has started to seem heavy, cumbersome, and not well suited for the task. One of the most obvious pieces of gear is my day pack.  It was time to fix that problem. After much research and buying/returning I landed on the Ultimate Direction Wasp (New Version). I noticed there’s barely any reviews or information about this pack online so I figured I would write a review myself in hopes that I can help someone else in search for the right pack.

The new Ultimate Direction Wasp on the left, and my old EMS day pack on the right.

Previously, my day pack consisted of an old EMS frameless 20 Liter pack that’s no longer made  and designed for mountain biking. The pack has tons of storage, a bladder pocket, a big thick waist belt and straps galore. This pack worked well for the most part while hiking. I considered it somewhat light and it was big enough to cart around my layers, food, water for a long day in the woods.

The front of both packs, this is where the Ultimate Direction Wasp really differs.

After transitioning into a mixture of running and hiking on most of my trips. It immediately became obvious that my old day pack would not work for me. First, the waist belt was digging into my hips and preventing me from moving freely. The contents inside the pack were sloshing around from side to side on every stride. There was way too much volume within the pack for the items I’d be carrying. And I noticed the pack started to chafe my shoulders and under my arms due to all the movement.

With my birthday approaching I asked my wife to get me an Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0. This seemed like it might be the right tool for the job. However, after trying the vest on it was awkward and uncomfortable. The rear pack space was too small to fit everything I’d need for a long unsupported day. When fully loaded the pack felt like it was pulling me backwards.

So, I tried the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure vest. The largest of the “signature series” vests. This vest was better, but again felt uncomfortable when it was fully packed. It also felt very “strappy” and complicated. It had tons of pockets but I didn’t really fully utilize them, I’d rather just have one large space.

This is what brought me to the Ultimate Direction Wasp.

Design:

As part of Ultimate Directions “Trail Series” this pack mostly resembled a typical hiking pack, but with a few key features that differentiated it. First, there is no waist belt. Instead it utilizes two sternum straps which cinch down on your chest. The shoulder straps are wide and made from very breathable mesh. This allows the load to be distributed without requiring a waist strap. The front of the straps offer convenient storage options for runners.

Gel storage pocket in the left abdomen strap is made of a stretchy mesh.

Storage pocket on right abdomen strap is made of ripstop nylon and much larger then opposing pocket. I was able to store several granola bars in here.

Features:

  • Small top pocket for valuables
  • Open stretch mesh pockets on both shoulder straps
  • Stretch mesh zippered pocket on left abdomen strap
  • Ripstop nylon bellowed pocket on right abdomen strap
  • Loops for hydration hose on both shoulder straps
  • Hydration bladder sleeve with included 2L Hydrapak bladder
  • Large 8.9 liter main compartment that can carry everything you need for a long day
  • Smaller side zip compartment for quick access items
  • Large stretch mesh open pocket on rear of pack with elastic shock cord cinch

Weight:

On my scale the pack weighs 16.5 ounces including the 2L Hydrapak reservoir. Which is odd, because I contacted ultimate direction to ask about the weight and they told me 16.25 ounces WITHOUT the reservoir. Oh well, pleasant surprise I guess.

In the field:

My first trip out with this pack was a doozy. I took it for my first 32.5 mile unsupported run/hike around the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire (also known as the Pemi Loop).

My loaded Ultimate Direction Wasp on top of Mt. Bondcliff, New Hampshire White Mountains

I think this is the perfect style pack for this type of activity. I almost forgot I was wearing it most of the time. Received a lot of “hey what kind of pack is that?” type comments from passing hikers. Everything felt secure, fairly durable, and comfortable.

Wearing the Wasp on Mt. Lafayette

The wasp felt far more breathable than its Signature Series brothers the SJ Ultra Vest and PB Adventure Vest. This is due to the sides/under arm areas being wide open with no fabric covering your skin.

The pack was plenty large to carry everything I needed for the 13 hour trip. There was plenty of extra space available in the main compartment for additional layers in the colder months. Of course you need to learn how to pack lean and only bring what you need when you’re wearing a 9 liter pack… but I had no problem with the volume, it was great. The pack also has a small top pocket that’s ideal for storing money, car keys, and other small items.

My skin out packing list for the day

The large side zip stash pocket is ideal for keeping a wind breaker or extra layer that can be accessed quickly

Patagonia Houdini jacket stored in side zip stash pocket

The large stretch mesh pocket on the back of the pack can store just about anything. I was able to fit a flattened 1 gallon plastic jug back there. I could also see fitting a pair of trail runners or sandals here. Some people would store a jacket here… myself? I’ve lost a jacket out of an open pocket, so it stays zipped in!

Next to the big stretch mesh pocket you’ll find an ice tool / trekking pole loop and cinch cord. While I haven’t used this, it looks like it would do the job just fine.

Having storage on the shoulder straps is absolutely incredible! Previously I would have had to take my entire pack off to retrieve snacks and gels ,or my mixed electrolyte drink. With the Wasp I had everything I needed at my fingertips . The pack would only need to come off for a layer change, to get my water filter, or emergency equipment.

Packed up shoulder straps. My headlamp slung through the hydration tubes conveniently for storage after the sun came up. Ziplock bag for my phone in the right open pocket, 12 oz Gatorade in the left. Both lower zippered pockets stuffed with nutrition.

That being said… the “open pockets” of the shoulder straps are in a nice location. But they lack the ability to cinch them closed. What I mean is… if you keep a small item in there like a car key, gel pack, or small cell phone it could potentially “jump out” while you’re running. I really don’t understand why Ultimate Direction didn’t include a shock cord here to cinch the pockets closed. They also look a little funny when they’re empty as they just kind of hang open. These pockets are not designed to hold bottles but I found a 12 oz Gatorade bottle fit perfectly and was secure enough that it didn’t fall out even when upside down. While I did keep my phone in one of these pockets, i was constantly checking to make sure I didn’t lose it. I’ll probably try to modify this pocket myself to add some closure mechanism with velcro or a cord.

On the move with the Ultimate Direction Wasp

The included 2 Liter Hydrapak Bladder worked great. I really like Hydrapak bladders because they’re easy to fill and clean. The transparent reservoir has started to show slight discoloration from using filtered stream water, this is considered “normal” per ultimate direction. The packs included “bladder hanging loop” uses velcro  to secure the Hydrapak and felt like it will likely fail over time. Admittedly, the Velcro did fine on this trip and the bladder did not fall into the bottom of the pack.

Included 2 Liter Hydrapak bladder

The Hydrapak bladder includes a bite valve with an on/off twist lock. This included bite valve on the Hydrapak may work for some people… but I MUCH prefer the Camelbak big bite valve. It’s easy enough to swap this part out since both companies use the same size tubing… I happened to have an old retired Camelbak antidote that I stole the bite valve from.

Included bite valve on the right, my preferred Camelbak Big Bite valve on the left

The tubing from the reservoir is routed over the shoulder and through two loops on the shoulder strap. Ultimate direction indicates routing the hose across the chest and securing it to the opposing shoulder strap. I didn’t like this idea since it would allow the hose to bounce around while running. So I cut the hose back to end at the loops, but left it long enough to still be able to drink from easily.

Shoulder strap mod to prevent the tube from chafing my neck.

The only thing I didn’t like about the hose routing was that it was constantly rubbing on the back of my neck. The only loops that secure the hose are on the front of the strap and the hose exits the pack in the center. This became annoying enough that I ended up tying some cord around the shoulder strap to keep the tube from moving. Still… pretty annoying, how much does adding an extra loop cost!

The fit of the pack was decent. I’m a pretty short guy at around 5’7″ so the pack did hang lower than I wanted. There’s no adjustment to shorten the shoulder straps so it’s something I’ll have to live with.  If the pack road a little higher I think there would be less movement, but it wasn’t terrible. The chest and side adjustment straps require constant adjusting depending on how much water you have left in your reservoir, this became routine and wasn’t too annoying but I think this could have been avoided by using elastic straps instead of static webbing.

On Mt. Galehead

The under arm adjustment straps have a clever elastic loop that keeps the loose strap rolled up into a ball so it doesn’t bounce around wildly. I really like these and they worked great in the field. This pack felt minimalist and spare material and flapping straps were kept to a minimum… this scores high in my book.

What I like:

  • Front shoulder strap storage is ample and easily accessible
  • The pack is very comfortable even fully loaded
  • Pack breathes well
  • Lots of adjustment points for personalized fit
  • Enough storage for extended summer day trips in the mountains
  • Included hydration bladder is of high quality
  • Large stretch mesh pocket is large, durable and versatile
  • Light weight
  • Lots of organization pockets on the rear
  • Side zip stash pocket held my Patagonia Houdini perfectly with room to spare
  • Loose strap management elastics are handy and work well

What I don’t Like

  • I’m not crazy about the navy blue / bright orange color scheme. I would have preferred something in line with the signature series gray/blue combo. But hey… function over form right?
  • Open shoulder strap pockets have no way of securing contents. Things can just fall out! I would have loved to see a shock cinch cord here like the signature series.
  • Open shoulder strap pockets are not large enough to hold a 20 oz hard sided bottle, only fit a 12 oz Gatorade bottle
  • Hydration hose rubs back of neck and causes chafing, need additional attachement point on shoulder strap
  • Pack sits low, I wish there was a way to shorten the shoulder straps
  • Pack can slosh around if not tightly secured
  • Adjustable sternum straps are static webbing and not elastic, which means you’re constantly adjusting the fit while on the move.

Who is it for?

This pack is ideally suited for day hikers and mountain trail runners in the back country. Anyone looking to move fast and light with a low profile high volume pack. I plan to use this pack for all future day hikes and long mountain runs. This pack is not really designed for road running, marathons or Ultras as it is a bit too bulky. If you’re looking to race, I’d check out the Ultimate Direction Signature Series AK or SJ vests.

Final Verdict

Despite the few complaints I have about the front stretch open shoulder pockets, hydration hose routing, color, and fit I find this pack to fit my needs perfectly. It’s a great balance between full blown hiker backpack and ultra runner vest. There’s very few packs available on the market that fit this niche and I hope Ultimate Direction continues to improve the design in the future.

This pack is typically available for around $119


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