Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 Backpack Review

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 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

Specs:

  • 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 provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a Fastpack 20 for testing and review. 

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