Ultimate Direction is a focused company, and what they are focused on is making superb hydration packs for people who want to carry the minimum necessary so they can move as fast as possible. UD has also led the charge in vest-format packs, where the otherwise dead space on pack straps is used for storing frequently accessed items in an easy-to-reach location.
If you're looking for a hip-belt-less pack that combines the best of a traditional hiking daypack with vest storage options, you have to check out the UD Fastpack 30. With up to 30L of storage in the main bag, including a sleeve for your hydration bladder, you've got plenty of room for everything from high-loft insulation layers to ultralight tents and sleeping bags. The main bag closes with a simple roll-top, allowing you to cinch the load down or let it ride high, and our use proved it to be extremely water resistant.
On the outside, you've got a full-height mesh storage sleeve down the middle of the pack for your shell layers, two side pockets with forward canted openings for easily getting at water bottles, tent poles or other medium sized items, and a small, barely noticeable zippered stash pocket with key clip on the left upper side. Dual ice axe loops? Check. Grab handle? Ditto.
The mesh backpanel rolls straight into the shoulder straps – no seams! The left strap has a open top pocket with a drawcord closure, perfect for bottles, bear spray or even a small camera telephoto lens, and below that is a small credit-card-sized zip pocket. On the right strap the pockets kind of cascade over each other with a bit of overlap. The larger pocket is zipped and goes most of the way down, so you can stuff a bunch of food or small items in, or even a large screen phone with a big armored case. In front of that is an open stretchy mesh pocket, and behind it is a slot pocket, big enough for a large naked cell phone or smaller cased one.
The Fastpack 30 packs a lot of organization into an extremely light bag, just 24oz. It's durable enough if you aren't a total gear ape – you know who you are! – and it carries in a very stable way thanks to its form-fitting vest-like straps and dual sternum straps. The only possible ding on the Fastpack is that it runs a bit small, but lo and behold an XL version is now available, so scratch that. It's a fantastic pack for lighter loads, and you'll go farther faster with the Fastpack 30.