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CamelBak Ultra 4 Review

Price:   $115 List | $85.73 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Affordable, big pockets, easily adjustable, good hose attachment system
Cons:  Awkward to fill bladder, small, lacking storage capacity
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   CamelBak
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Wednesday

Our Verdict

The CamelBak Ultra 4 is exactly the kind of product that you would expect from CamelBak. It is well made, sleek, good looking, and features the Quicklink bladder system, found on virtually all CamelBaks. This is a great running vest that will serve you well on your long runs, but at the same time doesn't have some of the features we loved from other hydration packs, and has minimal room for clothing storage.


RELATED REVIEW: The Race to Find the Best Hydration Pack for Running

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Weight Carrying Capacity External Storage?
92
Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN 12SET $185
Editors' Choice Award
14.6 oz 12 L Yes, "Kangaroo Pockets"
86
Nathan Vapor Air 2L $150
Top Pick Award
14 oz 7 L Yes, bungees
74
Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 $130
13.3 oz 7 L Yes, bungees
72
Patagonia Fore Runner Vest 10L $129
15.8 oz 10 L Yes, external sleeve
71
CamelBak Ultra 4 $115
19.6 oz 2 L No

Our Analysis and Test Results

While the CamelBak Ultra 4 is indeed a great hydration pack designed for running, we expected a little bit more out of a pack designed specifically with ultra running in mind. Simply put, the pack is small, and doesn't offer many of the features found on the other running vests. This pack feels like a regular old CamelBak hydration pack with some chest pockets added on, although we must say that the chest pockets are huge and versatile. This pack will work well when you don't need extra layers, but if its cold outside, then you better consider the Nathan Vapor Air 2L instead.

Performance Comparison


Hitting the trail with a hydration pack. This pack was great for short runs  but we found it to be a little small for real ultra distance outings.
Hitting the trail with a hydration pack. This pack was great for short runs, but we found it to be a little small for real ultra distance outings.

Comfort


The Ultra 4 is comfortable and highly adjustable. We liked the Velcro shoulder strap adjusters. However, they are not adjustable on the go, you must take the pack off, then put it back on to see if you like the fit, and repeat. While the side straps make for a great fit, they are not as comfortable as the elastic sides found on the Nathan Vapor Air or the Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN 12SET.

The underarm side adjustment straps. We like this rig because it meant only pulling on one strap to tighten or loosen instead of two. In general we liked the adjustability of side straps  but also felt as if they rubbed and chafed us more  making them less comfortable.
The underarm side adjustment straps. We like this rig because it meant only pulling on one strap to tighten or loosen instead of two. In general we liked the adjustability of side straps, but also felt as if they rubbed and chafed us more, making them less comfortable.
The shoulder adjustments on this hydration pack are simple velcro tabs. While this feature is nice to have  it requires taking the pack off in order to fine tune the fit  and there is no adjusting on the go.
The shoulder adjustments on this hydration pack are simple velcro tabs. While this feature is nice to have, it requires taking the pack off in order to fine tune the fit, and there is no adjusting on the go.

Features & Design


This pack has a key clip in the back pouch and some nice reflective taping, but lacks a whistle or pole holders. We found that the mesh back is not very breathable and caused a lot of sweat build-up in hot weather, and we would have loved to see some external bungees since the internal storage is so small.

Hydration System


The Ultra 4 uses a CamelBak bladder with a two liter capacity. We like how refined the hose setup is, it sits perfectly still and tight on the shoulder strap, is the perfect length, and the attachment clips work great. It is easy to access to bladder opening for refills in this pack, and the bladder itself never needs to be removed. That said, we don't love the bladder's open and closure system. We find that the oversized screw lid results in awkward filling and easy spilling, which isn't ideal for quick aid station refills.

While it is easy to access this bladder opening for quick refilling  the design that has the opening on the side of the bladder means you have to tilt it at just the right angle to get it completely full  and it is easy to spill inside the pack while trying to tighten down the lid.
While it is easy to access this bladder opening for quick refilling, the design that has the opening on the side of the bladder means you have to tilt it at just the right angle to get it completely full, and it is easy to spill inside the pack while trying to tighten down the lid.

Storage Capacity


Our biggest complaint with the Ultra 4 was its storage capacity. It is simply not big enough to hold a rain jacket and warmth layer, and doesn't have extra bungees to help with its small size. CamelBak says that the stretch mesh pockets expand to hold extra items, but that isn't true. We just need a bigger pack for running ultra distances in the mountains.

The inside of this pack has a key clip and some nice pockets to help keep items separated  but unfortunately the pockets themselves are a bit small for a variety of clothing.
The inside of this pack has a key clip and some nice pockets to help keep items separated, but unfortunately the pockets themselves are a bit small for a variety of clothing.

Pockets


The pockets on the Ultra 4 are located on the chest straps, and there are no side pockets. The configuration includes two large breast pockets big enough to hold a ton of food or accessories, and also big enough for water bottles. There is a large zippered pocket that IS big enough for an iPhone 5, and also one medium sized accessory pocket.

We loved the large pockets on this CamelBak pack. They are big enough to hold all sorts of food or bottles  and the smartphone pocket actually fits our iPhone. Also notice the hose clasps that work great for keeping the nozzle within reach and the hose from flapping about.
We loved the large pockets on this CamelBak pack. They are big enough to hold all sorts of food or bottles, and the smartphone pocket actually fits our iPhone. Also notice the hose clasps that work great for keeping the nozzle within reach and the hose from flapping about.

Weight


At 19.6 ounces, it was the heaviest hydration pack we tested. Considering it is also the smallest, we aren't sure why it is so heavy.

Best Applications


This pack is best used as a running pack where extra clothing is not necessary. It seems too small to be functional for ultra distance events. It would also make a great hiking pack.

Value


The MSRP for the Ultra 4 is $115. This makes it the most affordable pack that we tested. We believe it is a bit mis-marketed as an ultra pack, but as long as you know what you are getting we think you will be happy with the value.

Conclusion


The CamelBak Ultra 4 is a good running pack at an affordable price. It is well-made, durable, and uses CamelBak's tried and true bladder and hose system. It has large pockets and fits well, but does not have room to carry very much clothing or other ultra accessories. While we think it is a good pack, we didn't enjoy it as much as some of the others we tested.

Other Versions and Accessories


CamelBak Marathoner Vest hydration pack
CamelBak Marathoner Vest
  • Super lightweight
  • Vest meets backpack design
  • Stays put while running
  • $100

Camelbak M.U.L.E.
CamelBak M.U.L.E.
  • Editors' Choice Award Winner!
  • MULE = Medium to Ultra Long Endeavours
  • Plenty of storage
  • Lightweight, 29 oz
  • $110

Accessories


Camelback Brush Cleaning Kit
CamelBak Cleaning Brush Kit
  • For cleaning inside both reservoir and hydration hose, especially important if using hydration drink mix inside the reservoir.
  • $10

Andy Wellman
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