Gear review: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20l

For the past couple of years I’ve been using either the first generation Salomon S-Lab 12 litre or the Ultimate Direction PB for non-multi-day ultras. They feel less cumbersome than traditional packs and the multiple pockets make organising gear easier. And the smaller capacity helps reign in my ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ packing tendencies. So, as a bit of a gear junkie, I was looking forward to the Fastpack becoming available in the UK (Ultimate Direction did a good job of creating online buzz...). In particular I thought it might be good for the T184. In the end it didn’t hit the shops here until October. 24 hours later (thanks to the ULTRAmarathonRunning Store’s speedy dispatch and delivery) I had one sat on my doorstep.

So far I’ve tested it out on two runs. A half-day (carrying waterproof jacket & trousers, fleece, hat & gloves, survival bag, head-torch, water and snacks) and an overnight trip (all of the above plus bivy bag, sleeping bag & mat and more food). I also tried a quick run around the block with a winter weight sleeping bag and mat.

For the half-day outing, the Fastpack felt a bit like driving a blingy 4 by 4 to the corner-shop (thankfully I didn’t encounter any hard-core fell-runners). With a 36 inch chest (thanks to a large rib-cage...) I’m towards the upper-end of the advertised size range for S/M (24-40 inches). However even with the straps tightened almost completely the top of the pack moved around a fair bit. Fiddling around with the level of the chest straps reduced the movement, but didn’t eliminate it completely. It was a bit irritating and I’d worry about chafing over a full day. Fit when part-loaded is likely to be an issue for anyone smaller built than me (which is most female runners, and some men too). This run probably wasn’t a fair test for the pack; it’s not what it’s designed for. But, on the other hand, an OMM 20l sack, for instance, would handle a ‘part-load’ far better.

The Fastpack came into its own on the overnight trip. The seamless back is really comfy, no chafing and it sat evenly across my back, regardless of how I stuffed things into it. This wasn’t a long enough outing to really put comfort levels to the test, but (even without sudocrem...) there was no chafing and the wide shoulder straps spread the weight, avoiding a sore collar bone.

I used the stretch side pockets for two 750ml water bottles. Side pockets are my preferred place for carrying water bottles (it’s even where I put them in my S-Lab). These ones are secure and easy to access, and would even hold bigger bottles. My waterproofs went in the stretch back pocket. Good for keeping them separate from other gear, and far more secure then stuffing them in a rear bungy. Car keys went in the small zip pocket on the front straps and snacks into the larger pockets. For any trip which needs 20l total capacity, I’ll usually have a fair amount of stuff (mobile phone, sunglasses, head-torch,...) which I want close to hand. Usually it goes in either a front pack or the lid pocket, but with the Fastpack it had to go in the main compartment with everything else. The larger front pockets were big enough to hold some of this stuff, but in the absence of zips I didn’t trust them.

Thanks to the roll down top, it is possible to get a lot more than 20l of kit in (possibly closer to 30). I’ve managed to fit Winter weekend camping gear in, including a heavier weight sleeping bag and mat. However then it was very top heavy and it felt like I was at risk of toppling over backwards.

In summary: a good piece of kit for multi-day trips outside Winter, but not as adaptable as other similar size packs. It has some really nice features (the large stretch back pocket is great for storing waterproofs) but the lack of secure small pockets is annoying. Fit when part-loaded may be an issue if you’re slim built. It’s worth considering if you like (and can afford...) to have kit for all occasions. But an OMM 20 or 25l sack, or similar, with a front pack will do the same job cheaper, and is more adaptable.