Ultimate Direction Stinger Hydration Vest

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A streamlined and compact hydration backpack, the Stinger (new for this year) will suit lots of fancies -- from smaller-built people whose backs can't handle large-size hydration packs, to any size person who is out for a 2-3-hour outing, as well as anybody who will have access to refilling at aid stations or faucets on even longer jaunts.

We love the compact fit of this system, but still opted to up-size the 32-ounce bladder it comes with as standard fare (hint: the larger bladder will fit with a little coaxing and allows a wearer to carry 40-50+ ounces of water quite comfortably, rather than the rather measly 30-32 ounces). It's 15.5 ounces total with the standard bladder.

What else did we like? The readily accessible pocket system, with one on each front strap big enough to carry a gel flask or a few gel packets or 1-2 energy bars, as well as a small tube of Chapstick, Vaseline, Kleenex, or a few other small supplies. We used it while training for and running in a 50K trail race, refilling at the aid stations and still able to carry enough sport gels and miscellaneous gear and first aid for in-between stations. We've also used it on long training runs, as well as mountain biking. We liked the stretch cords to attach a spare vest or jacket, the key fob inside the pocket, and the mesh lining that eliminated sweaty backs.

The harness system adjusts for torso length and distributes the weight well -- even on some one who isn't keen on feeling like a camel. The sternum strap kept it in place, and the waist belt system allows the user to shift the front straps and pockets slightly off-center so they don't get in the way when biking.

A couple of quibbles, all of which Ultimate says it will address in the Stinger 2003 product, and all of which are just small suggestions for even more comfort or utility:

>> One front stash pocket has a Velcro-closure flap, which is fine (the other has a small zipper), except the flap has a bean-shape that could get in the way of an arm swing.

>> The flat pocket on the back of the Stinger is streamlined, as promised, but if the mesh just had a couple of small pleats, it could hold something that wasn't just flat. Wouldn't add enough bulk to matter. Just a thought.

>> The torso adjustment may not go quite short enough for some shorter-waisted folks.

>> The zipper at the top for accessing the bladder is rather short on both sides. Just a tad more length would make our lives easier on early mornings as the coffee is just kicking in before the day's outing.

SNEWS Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection.)

Suggested Retail: $65

For more information: www.ultimatedirection.com, 800-426-7229

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