With temperatures reaching record highs this summer, we’re more than happy to do another hydration pack review, and Ultimate Direction was kind enough to oblige with their Highline pack, sending one out in Sunflower. (Blue Jewel is the other color option) This pack takes a minimalist approach when it comes to storage, instead focusing on being light on weight, and heavy on hydration. While the pack itself only offers five liters (325 cubic inches) of storage, it still manages room for the included 2.8 liter (96 ounce) reservoir. For those that are out all day, or like to mix some electrolytes in with their water, the Highline offers two very well designed water bottles pockets that allow your bottles to sit conveniently on either side of the pack. They’re positioned for easy access, without being obtrusive. For your Clif Bar, GU, or energy gel, there are generously sized pockets on the AirMesh waistbelt, which is as well-ventilated as the name implies. A phone, GPS, or compact camera easily fits in the pockets too, and the material is stretchy enough that oddly shaped items are accommodated without any trouble. With the shoulder straps and most of the back panel made up of AirMesh, you’re kept cool while the weight is minimized. Inside, there’s one large zippered pocket, with a smaller one inside at the top, to hold the things you need more frequently.
When accessing the reservoir for the first time, it doesn’t look very promising – the opening is really small. That is, until you notice the zipper which runs down one side, and then suddenly it’s fairly simple to cram it back in there, even full. Once that’s in place, it was time to load up the pack with some snacks, sunblock, all the usual odds and ends, and two water bottles. After some adjustments of the shoulder, waist, and sternum straps, it was time to hit the trail and see how the Highline performs. We tested the pack hiking and cycling along the river. (It’s actually a stream right now, due to lack of winter snowfall and spring rain) In use, the AirMesh panels certainly assist with staying cool, and the straps keep the pack from bouncing around. It’s much easier to gauge their effectiveness when cycling than when on foot, but the truth is that any pack is going to cause a few hot and sweaty spots. Good design keeps that to a minimum. The bite valve was functional and leak-free, which is all we could ask for. Of course, one of the selling points is the design of the water bottle pockets. If you’re using them just for water bottles, they are perfect. Rather than elastic, the opening has what feels like very high density foam stitched into it. This grips bottles perfectly, but if you want to store something smaller, be aware that the pockets basically have an open top. It did aid in removing and replacing the bottles on the go, but still requires a short learning curve. One thing worth mentioning is that the clear version of Specialized’s new Purist series is too soft and grippy to work well in this setup. Bottles with a smooth, hard surface work much better.
We’re giving the $99 Highline an excellent overall rating. It looks like plenty of thought went into the design, and other than the fact that the zipper for the reservoir is not mentioned in the hang tag, no details were overlooked. The bite valve can be set up for left or right side use, the compression strap clamp is integrated nicely into the back of the pack, there are deceptively durable hanging straps on the top and bottom, and there’s even a liberal amount of reflective material on the shoulder straps and back. Construction quality is good, with straight, tight stitching, and plenty of extra stitches in high-stress areas. This was our first experience with Ultimate Direction, and we came away impressed. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we’d recommend the Ultimate Direction line of hydration products to anyone looking for hydration solutions. Their product line includes water bottles, waist packs with water bottle holders, and more spacious hydration packs. See them all at UltimateDirection.com.
– Brian/Mrs. Outsider
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