Ultimate Direction Hardrocker

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Note this pack has been replaced. It was my top pick at the time it was produced but check out Best Hydration Systems for the latest packs. This pack has a great array of features, and good capacity. I found it carried my standard load with ease, and while it took some effort to cinch things down, the results were worth the effort, and the pack has good control of the load, with minimal pendulum motion or bounce. It's a pack that can certainly carry more than I intend, and it's the only pack (so far) that I tested with an increased load of 190oz/11.9Lb/5.4Kg. At that load, it's still surprisingly comfortable, though that much weight does tend to make running quite a bit harder. However, if you doing a self-supported run in a dodgy weather, and you want to be prepared for minor emergencies, then the extra capacity is great. There is loads of attachments and pockets to keep things organized, and I found the 2 collapsible water bottles on the shoulder straps help to balance out the weight in the main compartment nicely. The ability to shorten the shoulder straps a little help tweak the fit, though adjustment is a little tricky, and can't be done with the pack on.

  • 13.3oz in weight, with a claimed 13L capacity. It's a similar size to my Synergy, with room to spare when loaded with my standard gear.
  • The pack is made of moderately harsh and abrasive material, but the edges are reasonably soft.
  • The back of the pack is a transparent mesh, which might improve breathability.
  • It does not come with a hydration bladder, but there's a sleeve that UD says holds 2L and held my bladder with ease.
  • There's a stretch pocket of the back of the pack, and a bungee cord over the top. The bungee cord cinches down the pack if it's not full (clip the bungee to the top of the pack for best results.) There are hooks for the bungee further back that allows for better compression with partial loads.
  • The hip pockets held my gloves on one side and hat on the other, with a bit of room to spare.
  • There's an internal zippered pocket with a clip for keys, a good place for valuables.
  • The shoulder straps each have an open pocket for bottles, but it includes a cinch bungee to hold them in place. There's a stretchy pocket over the bottle pockets that holds a few GUs. Below the bottle pockets there's a stretch pocket on one side and a zippered pocket the other. There's also a small pocket that's so far up the shoulder straps it's actually on your back. It seems upside down when you look at the pack, but makes sense when it's on.
  • The pack includes two 500ml collapsible bottles (mini-bladders) that fit with the pack nicely. I swapped the two bottles for Ensure bottles for my standard load. In practice, I would probably have put the contents of the ensure into one of the included bottles and some of the water from the bladder into the other, but I wanted to stick with the standard load for this test. The included soft bottles would work better, as the hard ensure bottle were noticeable on the shoulder straps, digging in a little.
  • There are two sternum straps to spread the load. The four ends of the straps slide up and down easily over a wide range.
  • An iPhone/iPhone plus will fit in the lower shoulder strap stretch pocket, and the iPhone will fit in the larger zippered pocket.
  • There's no attachment for a hydration hose, though there are loops on the shoulder straps.
  • There's a small black whistle, which I wish it was a brighter color, but is a great touch.
  • There are no side straps to pull the pack in closer to the shoulder straps, but the ends of the shoulder straps have a length adjustment at the bottom of the pack. This is the first time I've seen this approach, but in practice it seemed to help with the fit.
    • Update: the plastic on the adjustment can rub against your back, and I had to install a square of closed cell foam (from a cheap sleep mat) to prevent skin abrasion.
  • The thermal top, rain coat, light, hat, gloves, and bladder went in the main compartment with ample room to spare. I put the Ensure in the front pockets and the GUs in the smaller front pockets. I still had plenty of pockets empty, which is really nice.
  • I got the medium, which should be 30-39 inches, but I was close to the limit on how tight it would go with my 36 -inch chest.
  • The pack sits fairly low on the back, and isn't as stable as some smaller packs. The Patagonia Fore Runner is a similar size, but more stable. I struggled to get it adjusted quite right, and there was still a bit of pendulum movement, but not too much bounce.
  • The Hardrock logo on the pack might put some people off. I would wear a race T-shirt to a race I'd never done, but I think for this pack it's innocuous enough that I'd feel comfortable.