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Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 Backpack Review

Day hiking with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 on Iron Mountain, NH

The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 is a streamlined, low capacity backpack designed with runners in mind more than hikers. Lacking a hip belt and sporting vest-like shoulder pads, it’s not a bad day hiking backpack for carrying lighter loads, with plenty of internal storage for extra layers, and external attachment points for carrying awkwardly size items like hiking poles or ice axes.

The Fastpack 20 is secured using a sternum strap and rib straps so that all of the weight is carried by your shoulders and none by your hips.
The Fastpack 20 is secured using a sternum strap and rib strap so that all of the weight is carried by your shoulders and none by your hips.

If you’re used to more conventional backpacks that have hipbelts, hiking with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 is going to take some adjustment since the pack weight rests entirely on your shoulders and not your hips. While sewn wide to help distribute loads, the shoulder straps don’t have any padding in them, so that the pack wears more like a form-fitting vest garment festooned with pockets than a conventional backpack.

That’s the point of this pack really, which is that you store all of the gear you need during the day in the pockets built into the shoulder straps so you don’t have to stop and get it out of the main compartment. It’s a clever concept and one that’s sure to appeal to hikers who wish they had more chest accessible storage for gadgets and gizmos than most conventional daypacks or backpacks provide today. However, the Fastpack 20 is limited in its carrying capability (about 15 pounds) and capacity (20 liters) making it more suitable for day hikes or hut-to-hut overnights where you don’t need to carry a lot of gear, water, or food.

Fishing Slippery Brook (NH) with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20
Fishing Slippery Brook (NH) with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20

While the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 is too small for me to use in the mountainous terrain where I hike, I have found it to be an excellent fishing pack of all things, when my fishing sessions are more localized forays to streams and rivers with roadside access. I’m sure that was an unintended consequence of the vest-like design of the Fastpack 20, but the pack makes for a handy fishing vest-style pack. with all of its shoulder strap pockets and attachment points.

I clip my nippers and hemostat (for removing hooks) to a front attachment point, stow my fly box in one of the front stretch pockets, camera in the other, and tippet and leader into one of the small front zippered pockets, along with lunch and a few extra layers in the main compartment. It’s as simple as that: the Fastpack 20 works perfectly for the low-gear, minimalist, Tenkara fly fishing I like to do.

Fastpack 20 Schematic
Fastpack 20 Schematic

I imagine that the Fastpack 20 pack would work quite well for bird watching and nature viewing, geocaching, outdoor photography, and even mountain biking as well.

Z-style compression strap can interfere with placement of taller water bottles
Z-style compression strap can interfere with the placement of taller water bottles

Need to Know

There are some things about the Fastpack 20 that you should know about. While I’ve had this backpack for about a year, it was too small to comfortably fit around my chest until I lost some weight  I’m a 46 chest, which I consider at the high-end of the fit range for this pack. If your chest and worn clothing are larger than that, the Fastpack 20 won’t fit.

The two side water bottle pockets are also a bit too low-cut for carrying 1 liter (Aqua Fina) water bottles and the z-style side compression straps interfere with putting bottles back into the side pockets when the pack is worn. This won’t be an issue if you opt to use the pack’s hydration sleeve or use the 20 ounce bicycle style water bottles that Ultimate Direction sells for trail runners.

The Bottom Line

While primarily designed for trail runners,  the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 solves a problem with most other backpacks today, the lack of built-in front pockets that provide easy access to myriad gadgets, gizmos, and tools. While the jury is out on whether non-runners will find a vest style harness system comfortable as pack loads increase, there’s no denying that the Fastpack 20 is an excellent utility pack for day hiking and multi-sport activities where a lightweight and form-fitting pack is required.

Sizing at Chest (Unisex):

  • S/M: 24″ – 40″ / 60 cm – 102 cm
  • M/L: 32″ – 46″ / 81 cm – 116 cm (model reviewed)
  • Note: A pack full of gear will fit smaller


  • Capacity: 15L – 23L / 915 – 1403 cubic inches
  • Weight: 1 lb 3 oz / 535g
  • Dimensions: 20″ x 11.75″ x 9.5″ / 51 cm x 30 cm x 24 cm

Disclosure: Ultimate Direction donated a pack for this review.

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  1. Did you try using the front pockets for water bottle carry as they are designed for?

    Two Gatorade bottles or UD bottles in the front are extremely handy – they help distribute the load, settle the pack, and are extremely convenient. Also worthwhile to utilize in winter since the bottles are closer to body (heat) and keep front freezing much longer.

    I wish more mfg and larger packs would incorporate front bottle carry –
    I’ve basically slid a sock (sleeve) on to the shoulder straps of my larger packs, cutting holes in the bottom and side for the lower strap and sternum strap and can carry bottles up front. Extremely convenient for day hikes.

  2. The large Logo on the back of the pack is hidious. Who wants to be a walking billboard?

  3. I have this pack and have used it on many day hikes and weekend adventures ( when I do not need much in the way of food and clothing)
    I have used in the southwest (Utah, base camp with dayhikes, and MN, day or weekend hikes)
    I agree that the soft bottles don’t work as well as i’d like. I just put a bladder in the sleeve and/or a smart bottle in one or both side pockets. I like having water on the front of the straps, but they are a bit small and take some getting used to drinking from them. I put my phone in one of them and a water bottle in the other. The pack hold more than you think it would. With this light of a load I never wanted a hipbelt. I wish the color was better. I’d like something with a little more flash :)

  4. I day hike and I’ve been looking for front pocket packs for years. I’ve settled for the Mammut MTR 201 7L. It’s very light (215gms) and well made, but the design is more like the Poor Man’s running pack- pockets on shoulder straps are too small/narrow. I can only just fit my mobile into the “bottle pocket”.

    The UD Fastpack 20 and 30 sound like the best design, but the cost…..the cost……my Mammut only cost USD$49.90.

    IS it really that expsnsive to sew front pockets and use a softer backing fabric?

    Thanks for your review.Cheers!


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