Ultimate Direction Wink Review
Hydration systems take on many different shapes and sizes. There are waist belts, vests, standard backpacks, handhelds, and packs that straddle across more than one category. There are also various sizes available to allow you to select a pack for each and every distance or duration you may want to go. Typically, packs are not gender specific and take on a one-size fits all approach. Sometimes the color scheme is a little different for a women’s pack, but it is more or less the same as the men’s pack. Fortunately, companies like Ultimate Direction realized that adventurous women need products to meet their needs, just as much as their male counterparts. Ultimate Direction makes a hydration vest known as the Wasp, for men, and rolled out the Wink for women.
To me, the most important thing in a hydration pack is the fit. Let’s face it, if you are not comfortable with it on, all the other bells and whistles in the world will not make the pack worth your while. The pack features Ultimate Directions’ SportVest shoulder harness system, which is one of the most comfortable strap systems I have ever worn. For starters, the shoulder straps have 3D AirMesh that offer some nice padding and some breathability. As stated above, this pack is women’s specific and I agree with this statement as I am about average as far as shoulder widths go and didn’t experience any chaffing or cutting into my neck while wearing the pack. There are two front adjustment straps, one over the sternum area and a second over the xiphoid process (where your rib cage start to flare out). The placement of the straps is ideal and didn’t interfere with my breathing or motion. The straps are easy to adjust and you can either cut off the extra fabric if you would like or keep it looped up in the elastic band at the end of each strap. If you have zeroed in on the sizing, clipping the ends might not be a bad idea. The adjustment strap along your sides adjusts the length of the shoulder straps depending on your preference as well.
Once the Wink pack is on, one thing that I really noticed is that the pack doesn’t move or bounce around, no matter the loads, including the water you are carrying. The weight that you carry is positioned over the middle of your shoulders. I also found that I didn’t need to re-adjust the pack as I went through my reservoir or if carrying less or more in terms of gear. This is kind of nice, because you can simply throw the pack on without a lot of time spent adjusting at the trailhead.
Okay, the Wink is comfortable to wear, but what about capacity and storage. The Wink features 375 in3 / 6.15L of internal storage space. The Wink has vertical side zip compartment that runs the entire length of the pack with enough room for items you would like to keep dry-hat, gloves, extra layers and/or food. The water reservoir has a separate compartment, which is nice because you don’t have any obstacles to reach around when you are looking for a key item- the large zip also makes it easy to fish around inside the pack. Just don’t forget to zip it up because you can lose the entire contents due to its’ vertical nature. There is also a small zip compartment at the top of the pack that can hold small items such as sunscreen, cell-phone, race passport, etc. The Wink also features two zippered mesh compartments on the shoulder straps- positioned just above your ribcage; the positioning of the pocket is perfect because it is easy to unzip each pocket with the opposite hand, ie left pocket with right hand, which is easy to do on the go. The space is large enough for energy bars, gels, phone, small camera, etc. The only think that didn’t fit wonderfully was my Cliff shot blocks due to their long tubular packaging, but that’s an easy fix. Above the zippered pockets are two mesh compartments that are held shut with a strip of elastic-these pockets are on each side.
As you can see, in the photo below, there is also a mesh external rear pocket and a bungee system for any larger items or something you want to be able to get quickly, such as a wind or rain protective layer. There are also trekking pole loops, which I have yet to use due to the folding nature of my newest poles. There is an abundance of storage, a feature I really appreciated during my longer testing runs of 20-30 miles, especially when training in the spring when conditions can change quickly and one needs to be prepared.
The Wink comes with its’ very own 64 oz/1.9L reservoir system. The included reservoir features a roll top design that I found really easy to use. Sometimes my hands get so cold that I have a hard time unscrewing the tops of reservoirs by Camelback and The North Face. The roll top keeps a great seal and is held shut by a thick strip of velcro-making it easy to open and close. The opening, or mouth of the roll top is tapered in comparison to the width of the reservoir, however its’ size is generous enough that it is easy to fill at home and by the race volunteers at my most recent race. My only concern with the Velcro closure is longevity—I will do my best to keep the Velcro clear of debris and dirt, as this could take its’ toll on the seal in the future. The reservoir features a loop from which to hang from and sits in its’ own compartment within the pack-which is easily accessed with a full top zip.
Below is a schematic of all the bells and whistles included in the reservoir, including the easy to use and good flow bite valve, which I loved.
As for the hydrating tubing, I felt that it was a bit long. I piped it through the securing devices on the right side but felt that I had about 2-4 inches of added length that I didn’t know what to do with because I didn’t like having the tube clipped to the side because it wasn’t as easy. I simply looped the tube under the sternum strap so it wasn’t flopping about as much and would slip it out from under the strap when I needed a drink. This wasn’t a big problem for me, but something worth mentioning.
I’ve been wearing the Wink pack for about 2 months straight now and am in love with the features and its’ design. For those of you that are very weight conscious when it comes to your hydration pack, yes, the Wink does weigh 1 lb 4 oz (or 567g), more than some of its’ competitors. However, when wearing the pack it does not feel heavy, bulky, cumbersome, etc. I would rather have some of the features of the Wink and carry a few more ounces than have a stripped down version in the name of saving weight. Once again, that is my opinion. However, I do think that the Wink is a pack to consider for longer training runs or races, when you need to be self sufficient and prepared for the elements.