Running hydration vest: Ultimate Direction SJ vs Salomon Hydro 5L

As the distance of my runs increased I have been looking for better running packs/vests and/or hydration systems that would allow bringing with me the mandatory kits for most of 50/100 miles ultra runs.

I ended up trying two of the best vests on the market: the Ultimate Direction SJ 2.0 and the Salomon S-Lab Hydro 5L.

A few months back I decided to invest some money in one of the top brands for running packs/vests and after some research on the Internet I opted for the Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Vest 2.0

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This vest ticked all the boxes for my requirements:

  • 7 litre storage capacity (+ bungee cord for some extra)
  • 2 front 500ml bottles
  • lots of front pockets
  • it looks cool

Ordered it online following the size guide on the official website: I’m 176cm with a 95 chest so I got a MD.   I ran 4 or 5 long runs with it before taking it on a 50mile run, this is what I had in it:


After this run I decided it wasn’t the vest for me as I had several issues with it:

  • It just didn’t fit well on me: although the size should have been right it did have a little side movement no matter how tight I would regulate it. The side straps just didn’t do the trick. Perhaps the two front straps could have been elasticated to provide a better fit?
  • Pockets: it does have loads of front pockets but only the two top ones are truly usable as the ones on the side of the bottles are really tight. I always bring my iPhone on my runs and it doesn’t fit in the top front pockets so it had to go in one of the side pockets. Luckily I’m quite flexible and was able of reaching the side pockets on the run, but it’s not an easy operation.
  • Front bottles: The two bottles (which I really liked, especially the teat system) rested right on my ribs and this caused a good amount of discomfort resulting in continuous adjustment while running and bruising after 50miles.
  • Condensation: running in a hot day would create condensation drops in the bag causing clothing to get damp.

I was able to return the Ultimate Direction vest as one of the bottles was leaking and decided to try something else in the same price range.

This time I opted for the Salomon S-Lab Advance Skin Hydro 5L Set.

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Again I ran several long runs with it before bringing it on a 100mile run


and so far this has proven to be the best vest I’ve tried.

I bought a XS/S size deciding that I preferred a tight fit. The vest completely adapts to my back as it’s mainly made of stretchy material, including the two 500ml soft flasks in the front.

My phone found its place in one of the side pockets, easily accessible while on the run.

The front lacing system works well and provides good adjustment allowing me to quickly tighten or loosen the vest in case I need to wear a jacket or some other warm layer.

The vest also has a bottom compartment in the back which I am able to reach while running, where I can store a jacket or similar.

It doesn’t have any waterproof or water resistant compartments, thus if you expect rain you need to bag your warm clothing in some plastic bags.

To sum up my comparison between the two vests:


VestUltimate Direction SJSalomon Adv Skin 5
Storage7 litres + external bungee in the back: 1 main compartment divided in two by a bungee cord + 1 large pocket, all closed with zippers. 2 bigger pockets and 6 smaller in the front (one waterproof), 2 pockets on the side5 litres (stretchable mesh, feels like more than 5L) + loops for bungee but not cord in the back. Main compartment is divided in two by a mesh separation; all is accessible from the top and only closes with a little latch.

4 good size pockets in the front

2 zipped pockets on the side

FitBoth are vests and promote a snug fit, but the Salomon definitely contours more to the shape of your body and rests better without any movement when running. The elasticated front lacing of the Salomon allows the vest to expand when breathing
MaterialWaterproof or water resistant main compartment which unfortunately causes condensation as the part resting on your back is meshStretchy mesh, very resistant but no water resistance
Hydration500ml Rigid bottles with a very good teat system (you really have to put the teat down your mouth). The rigid transparent bottles allow you to see how much liquid you have left.

The bottles rested on my ribs and were uncomfortable.

500ml Soft flasks. Really nice as they adapt to the body while in the front pockets. If you reach with your mouth you can drink from them without taking them out. They are a little annoying to take out from the pocket when almost empty as they tend to slip to the bottom of the pocket
ExtraOne of the small front pockets is waterproof for salts?Comes with emergency blanket and an insulated sleeve for bladder.

Pole holding system

Overall the Salomon is definitely a better choice for me:

  • Better fit
  • Better bottles/flasks
  • More functional pockets
  • Zips on side pockets
  • Back bottom big compartment reachable while running
  • Elasticated front lacing promoting stretch while breathing

2 thoughts on “Running hydration vest: Ultimate Direction SJ vs Salomon Hydro 5L

  1. Wish I’d read this before investing in a UD PB race vest on Saturday! I used it for the first time on the Longman yesterday. I found it very comfortable (or, at least, more comfortable than the old Salomon I’ve been using) and the bottles on the front were fine (something I’d been wary about in buying one of these new style sacks). But they are quite difficult to drink from, and I may have to try the soft flasks, or Raidlight bottles with straws – my problem yesterday was completely overheating and blowing up at around 20mls, while still having 2 nearly full bottles acting as ballast on the front of the pack. Being able to drink without taking the bottle out might make it easier to keep sipping.

    I’m not sure which size PB I got – impulse purchase when I saw it in the shop – but it was a snug fit across the chest, and I’m not sure that I’d get the chest straps done up over many more layers. I’m going to order a Nathan sack, and try that next weekend on the Birmingham Canal Canter which will be my last long run before the Cotswold Way 100.

    Well done, yesterday – you look as though you were feeling a lot fresher than me at the finish! I didn’t feel as tired as I was yesterday after I finished the SDW 100.

    1. Well done Fiona on the longman, what a lovely day for running it was.
      The trick for drinking comfortably from the UD water bottles is to put the red teat deep in your mouth and press it with your tongue against your palate. Once you get it right it comes quite naturally.
      Wish you a good day on the Cotswold way 🙂

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