I was in danger of spending a large fraction of my Northern Traverse blog eulogising about my Ultimate Direction PB 3.0 vest. So I thought it deserved a blog of its own...
When the 3rd generation Ultimate Direction Signature Series came out I was initially disappointed in the reincarnation of the PB vest. It’s been my go-to pack for long ultras with fairly regular checkpoints/water sources for the past few years. In particular I like that my favourite Camelbak 625ml podium bottles fit comfortably in the front pockets. My 1st generation vest is beginning to show signs of wear, unsurprisingly given the number of miles it’s got on the ‘on the clock’ (500+ miles in races in 2015 alone). So I was debating whether I should get a 2nd generation vest cheap, or wait and get one of the new ones later on. While the main difference between the 1st and 2nd generation packs was a change in colour (red to blue), the 3rd generation vest is significantly different. It’s got a bigger capacity (16l v. 12l), but the big change I didn’t like on first sight is to the front bottle holders. One has been replaced by a zipped ‘burrito’ pocket and the other is now designed to accommodate a soft flask rather than a hard bottle. So I snapped up a cheap 2nd generation blue vest, ready to replace ‘old faithful’ when it finally gives up the ghost.
I started thinking about the PB 3.0 vest again though when trying to work out what pack to use for the Northern Traverse. With ~40 miles between checkpoints I wanted something with more than 12l capacity (although some other runners did happily use 12l race vests). The most suitable pack in my (embarrassingly large) collection was the OMM Adventure Light 20l, which I used for T184 and (pre the invention of race-vests) UTMB. However it only survived T184 thanks to superglue and duck tape, so I did’t want to risk using it for the Northern Traverse. The question was whether to replace it with another one or get something else. One of the things I like about race vests is the multiple, accessible pockets. I went into the Outside shop in Hathersage to take a closer look at the PB 3.0. And ended up buying one.
My biggest concern was whether a hard water bottle would fit in the front pocket (I’ve tried soft bottles and I’m really not a fan; they’re a faff to get in and out of the pockets and an even bigger pain to refill). My favourite Camelbak bottles fit, but only just. I wouldn’t want to try getting them back in when tired, and I suspect using them repeatedly would damage the pocket. I ended up using a very tall and thin OMM 500ml bottle on the Northern Traverse, which shredded my lips. I’ve since found a Nathan ‘Fire and Ice’ bottle which fits well, and is OK to use. It is possible to squeeze a small bottle in the zipped ‘burrito’ pocket, but this probably isn’t the best use of that pocket.
Talking about pockets, the PB 3.0 has lots. And I like having lots of pockets to put different things in. As with the previous editions both shoulder straps have a zipped pocket at the top. I use these for storing gels in (up to 5 each). Next comes the bottle holder and the zipped ‘burrito’ pocket, which is useful for big items which might be needed ‘on the run’ (e.g. handheld GPS, mobile phone, head torch, sunglasses, but probably not all of them at once!). Underneath the bottle holder is a zipped pocket (which takes 4 or 5 Mars bars) and underneath the zipped pocket an open stretch mesh pocket (which takes 2 packets of hula hoops). And then around on the side of the pack are another two zipped pockets (which I use for a windproof, cold pizza and more hula hoops...).
At the bottom on the pack there’s a big open mesh pocket with a compression bungy above (which I use for waterproof trousers and jacket). And behind the bungy there’s another open pocket (perfect for cheese and onion pasties and even more hula hoops!).
Behind the main zipped part of the bag is a separate zipped compartment, which fits a 2 litre bladder. A full bladder significantly reduces the capacity of the main compartment. But there’s still enough room for the standard compulsory kit (fleece, hat and gloves, survival bag).
Finally (in terms of pockets) at the top on one side there’s a small zipped pocket (which I used for valuables, e.g. cash, cards and keys in a zip lock bag).
Since the Northern Traverse alternates big climbs with long flat stretches I wanted to be able to stash my poles. There are loops on the side for doing this. It took a bit of trial and error to work out how best to arrange my poles (which are admittedly slightly chunkier than typical minimalist ultra running poles). Carrying them like this is a bit irritating, my arms would occasionally catch them, but they were a lot more secure and stable than I would have guessed. I could get them out and pack them away again without taking the pack off, however by day two I couldn’t be bothered and instead carried the poles in my hand when I didn’t need them.
I find the pack extremely comfortable. Over 3.5 days I only got back/shoulder ache once, on the side which my tracker was attached to (there’s room to attach a standard sized tracker on the shoulder strap, behind the zipped pockets). I removed some of the gels from the (probably over-full) shoulder pocket and this solved the problem. Like the earlier versions the edges of the vest are lined with soft, fleecy material, and thanks to this (and also lashings of sudocrem) I didn’t suffer any chaffing at all.
The sizing of the new vests is slightly different to previous versions, and is done by circumference at the bottom of the ribs. Small is supposed to fit 24-33 inches (and medium 31-40). I’m 30 inches and small fits me perfectly. However the straps in the side pockets couldn’t be cinched in much more, so I’m not sure it would fit someone substantially smaller (i.e. a lot of female runners) well. I’m fairly broad shouldered and flat chested (damn those farming genes...). I don’t know whether or not this pack would fit someone with a larger ribs to chest differential (i.e. bigger boobs!).
The PB 3.0 won’t replace the earlier versions as my ‘go to’ pack for long races with food/water sources every ~20 miles. I prefer to carry water in two hard bottles up front (rather than one and a bladder), and the larger capacity is overkill. However it is now my first choice for races with longer gaps between supplies (I used it for Trans Scania) and big days out (like my elephant hunt).