Ultimate Direction FASTPACK 30 Vest/Backpack

If you’re anything like me, you will be keeping a keen eye on new product, fresh for 2015. As I plan my return to ultramarathons, having now signed up for the D33 and The Highland Fling, I am keeping an open mind with regard to which pack I will be using in training and on race day.

The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 Vest/Backpack, coming soon to www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com, may be overkill for shorter events and events with aid stations but it looks like just the ticket for multi-day events and/or long, self sufficient days in the hills.

“The UD Fastpack 30 backpack is meant for adventure. Perfect for bagging peaks, day hikes, or travel. The Ultimate direction Fastpack 30 takes inspiration from our Signature Series, with its vest like fit and front access pockets for a water bottle or storage. There is easy access to water, maps or your smart phone on the front, the stretch pockets on the sides will hold almost anything, and the huge rear stretch pocket allows gear to be quickly stowed or used as needed. The main compartment forgoes zippers in favour of a waterproof roll top closure, allowing this backpack to tightly secure everything from 20 to 31 litres.

The Fastpack 30 is water-resistant, with a reinforced bottom panel for extra durability, and the low-profile daisy chains with trekking pole and ice axe loops complete the package. Unique to the Fastpack 30 is our InfiKnit construction: the back panel and shoulder straps are made from one piece of custom-made fabric, which eliminates contact with all seams. A smooth ride, compressible storage and plenty of pockets makes the Fastpack 30 a great addition to your pack collection.”


  • Patent-pending Infiknit harness is a continuous, seamless back panel and shoulder strap system to prevent abrasion and discomfort
  • Large, main roll-top compartment expands from 20L to 31L
  • Rear stretch-mesh pocket with low-profile daisy chain system
  • Water bottle compatible front pockets also fold flat to store other items
  • Dual adjustable sternum straps and side straps for stability and fit
  • Integrated side compression Z-straps for varying load capacities
  • Removable foam back panel for comfort
  • Available in 2 sizes


Volume Capacity: 1220 – 1892 in3 / 20L – 31L

  • Weight: 24.8 oz. / 703 g
  • Height: 24.4 in. / 62 cm
  • Width: 11.4 in. / 29 cm
  • Depth: 10.4 in. / 26.5 cm

Sizing At Chest (Unisex)

  • S/M: 24 – 40 in. / 60 – 102 cm
  • M/L: 32 – 46 in. / 81 – 116 cm

Materials & Design

  • InfiKnit Harness
  • Mono Hex Mesh
  • Cool Wick Air Mesh
  • 340g Power Stretch Mesh
  • 210T Nylon Mini Rip Stop

New packs are due soon from UltrAspire, Ultimate Direction (Wasp & Wink) and Salomon, so there’s certainly plenty to look forward to.

Note that www.pixelscotland.com hopes to have reviews of the new Salomon packs in the near future.

Cairngorm Adventures

It’s hard to believe but the last time I was in The Cairngorms was back at the beginning of August. In the interim, we’ve been on numerous trips including, most recently, Gairloch and Glasgow.

I’m counting down the days to our next Cairngorm excursion and, fortunately, don’t have to wait too long as we are heading to Rothiemurchus at the end of the month for an extended weekend.

Looking back at the photos and route data from the last trip, it was definitely one of THE most packed holidays we have had in the Cairngorms in a long, long time. With a toddler who has a preference for 5 to 6am starts, there are plenty hours in the day to fill and fill them we did. I also managed to use some of the time when Harris was asleep, both through the day and at night, to complete some specific walk/run/cycle targets that I had set myself in advance of the holiday, including, amongst others, a long overdue return to The Burma Road route.

All in all, it was an excellent break, enjoyed by all, and I live in hope that one day we can all relocate there permanently. (Hopefully before I am too old to make the most of it!).

So, without any further delay, some of the routes and galleries from our last Cairngorm adventure:

Aside from the above, we did a number of routes in and around Rothiemurchus and Glenmore, taking in Loch an Eilein, Lily Pond Loch, and The Green Loch as well as general Rothiemurchus circular routes.

Torr Alvie & The Duke Of Gordon Monument, Cairngorms, August 2014

Torr Alvie & The Duke Of Gordon Monument is a relatively new walk for us and it wasn’t until June 2014 that we first ventured up Torr Alvie:

“Having long admired the Duke of Gordon’s Monument (erected in 1840 in memory of the 5th Duke of Gordon), we finally ascended Torr Alvie, passing the amazing Waterloo Cairn en route. Definitely a walk we will be doing again and well worth it for a stunning view of the Cairngorms.”

Well recommended for a walk that’s off the beaten path and affords excellent views over the surrounding Strathspey area, it’s also an excellent short but hilly (430 feet of elevation according to my watch stats) run if you happen to be staying at the Dalraddy Holiday Park.

Just watch out for ticks. I found myself having to remove 10 from various locations on my legs after scrambling about in the ferns that surround the monument.

walkhighlands.co.uk has an excellent map of the route:

Rothiemurchus, Cairngorms, August 2014

Described on www.rothiemurchus.net as “a special place at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, near Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands”, Rothiemurchus is, more often than not, our base when in The Cairngorms.

It also happens to be where Team Mac aim to one day move, finances permitting, the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned! There’s nowhere better for mountains, lochs and forests, all well served with a variety of paths, from B roads, to landrover track, to gnarly singletrack, perfect for trail running and biking.

The photos above were taken at various points throughout our August 2014 Cairngorm break, when running, walking or biking on the numerous tracks on offer.

I even enjoyed some evening runs & cycles, making the most of the training opportunities on offer thanks to the excellent Petzl Nao headtorch which ably lit up the path before me.

With so many paths, many leading to other paths, it’s easy to cover considerable distances in and around Rothiemurchus without even heaving to go near a road. It’s taken me a few years to see the bigger picture of interconnected paths, facilitated by a desire to explore and the need to train for various ultramarathon events.

In June 2014, we stayed at the Spey Lodge, just off the B970 Aviemore to Insh road. With a ‘back garden’ that led straight into the forest, onto some excellent trails, I soon discovered another ‘piece of the puzzle’, linking up paths that had, until that point, had no connection that I was aware of.

Rothiemurchus is also home to the Inshriach Nursery & Potting Shed Tearoom, described by The Observer’s Dan Lepard as “one of Britain’s best cake shops”, where the choice of quality, home-baked cake is something to behold. Once you have your coffee and cake, you can enjoy it whilst watching hundreds of birds and, more often than not, a squirrel or two, as they feed on the provided nuts, seeds and fat-balls.

Having taken a wrong turn while out on a training run on one of the many paths a couple of years back, I ended up finally popping out of the forest close to Loch Insh Watersports Centre, quite some distance from my intended destination. Fortunately, the Inshriach Nursery & Potting Shed Tearoom just so happened to be on my route home and, fuelled with cake, I finished what ended up being a 20+ mile run.

Note that the final picture in the gallery above shows the sorry state of affairs when my bike came a cropper on an early morning cycle, thankfully no more than 1 to 1.5 miles from our accommodation. Bothy Bikes in Aviemore saved the day, as they had done earlier in the week when one of my pedals came apart. My trusty 2007 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp is starting to show its age!

Meall a’ Bhuachaille, Cairngorms, August 2014

This is one of the few occasions that I didn’t make it to the top of Meall a’ Bhuachaille. Normally I am of the mentality that I must get to the top but a combination of the weather, atrocious conditions underfoot, and the scattered debris of a path that appears to be in the making, saw me quit my ascent ever so close to the top.

It’s an exposed climb at the best of times and, having started from Rothiemurchus, making use of the Old Logging Way path for the approach, I was more than happy that I had already benefited from the run on what were already very tired, unresponsive legs!

It’s a route with numerous options, approaching, as I did, along the Old Logging Way, for an up and back, or with the option to do an up and over, descending down towards Ryvoan Bothy. I have to say, however, that recent work on the path hasn’t made the descent down to the bothy very runnable and, last time I took this route, I found myself clipping my heels on narrow steps. Perhaps I need to throw caution to the wind and adopt the wilder, more ‘controlled tumbling’ approach of some runners!

There’s also an option to approach and/or extend your run making use of paths off to the left, taking in Creagan Gorm & Craiggowrie.

It’s also possible to adopt a more direct approach, parking at the Forestry Commission Building in Glenmore and heading up the back of the building towards the summit.

Over the years there have been a number of excellent Cafés housed in the Forestry Commission Building (and one not so good one, thankfully now gone!) and this makes for an excellent post run/walk treat as a reward for your efforts! On this particular occasion, I enjoyed a fine full cooked breakfast from the current café provider, Cobbs.

Glen Feshie, Towards Carn Ban Mor, Cairngorms, August 2014

An area that we have yet to explore, our route took us up towards Carn Ban Mor before branching off to a waterfall. It’s a walk we have done before but, in the past, we’ve opted for a lower path. However, with me carrying Harris in a sling, we opted for the higher route this time around; far less tricky underfoot, wider and considerably easier to negotiate!

Farleitter Crag & Uath Lochans, Cairngorms, August 2014

The Uath Lochans are a grouping of four small lochs and are a favourite walk of ours. There’s a mix of boardwalk, forest path and land rover track, offering a number of routes around the lochans.

The short climb up Farleitter Crag extends the walk and offers excellent view over the lochans, the forests of Glen Feshie,  and Loch Insh. This adds just under 280 feet of elevation, according to my own watch stats.

A Summer In Columbia

I’d love to tell you about a summer spent trekking in the Andes mountain range, or in the Amazon rainforest. However, the slight deviation in spelling, ‘Columbia’ rather than ‘Colombia’, may already have given it away.

The Columbia that I am referring to is, of course, the outerwear and sportswear company, who were kind enough to kit me out at the start of the summer with the Zero Rules Short Sleeve ShirtSilver Ridge Convertible trousers (shorts/trousers), Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt, and Conspiracy II OutDry shoes.

My summer was spent firmly in the UK and, it has to be said, it was excellent. Most importantly, I got to spend loads of time with my son Harris (quickly approaching his second birthday) and wife Leanne, with an added bonus being that we spent a good portion of our time in the Cairngorms, my favourite Scottish location.

Back in mid 2013, I was sent a Columbia Omni Freeze t-shirt for review and, to quote myself, “was blown away at just how well it helped me maintain a desirable body temperature, from the extremes of keeping me cool while running on a treadmill in our sun house in 30°C+ temperatures, through to keeping me from freezing while being buffeted by winds at altitude while out on a trail run high in the Cairngorm mountains.”

I had high hopes for the gear on the basis of my previous experience and, to cut a long story short, I wasn’t disappointed.

Now I would be lying if I was to say that I had spent all day, every day in the provided Columbia gear, but the truth of it is that I have actually spent the majority of summer and autumn dressed in Columbia.

Last year I described my Columbia Omni Freeze t-shirt as “without a doubt, one of the stand-out items of kit for me this past year” and, it has to be said, that same t-shirt still is.

It has, however, now been joined in the clothing rotation by the Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt that Columbia sent me and this garment has also gone down a storm, to the extent that I have purchased a further two Zero Rules t-shirts.  That alone should speak volumes with regard to how I rate the garment.

I will admit to having worn the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers as trousers on only a handful of occasions but have worn them as shorts on an almost daily basis.

This was always likely to be the case as I am firmly a shorts & t-shirt kind of guy, through pretty much most weather conditions. People actually do pass comment on the rare occasions that they see me in long trousers, either in person or in photographs!

On the occasions that I have attached the handy zip-off legs to the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers, the additional protection afforded has been most welcome, most notably in the face of continued ‘tick attack’ whilst walking amidst ferns in the Cairngorms.

Coming back from one particular walk, a thoroughly recommended trek up Torr Alvie and the Duke of Gordon Monument, I removed no less than 10 ticks of varying size. This was enough to make me reconsider my preference for shorts, especially given the potential for Lyme disease. As such, I made sure to carry and attach the lower leg portion of the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers whenever I ventured into potential tick hotspots. Thanks to the mild winter of 2013/14, the tick population has apparently thrived.

The versatility of quickly and easily being able to swap between trousers and shorts is a bonus, with obvious implications for travelling and packing light.

As a fan of minimalist shoes, I was initially slightly unsure about the Conspiracy II OutDry shoes, with considerably more cushioning than my normal shoes. However, putting the shoes on for the first time, it soon became apparent that they offered a supremely comfortable fit, with a spacious toe-box that was roomy even for my wide feet. Aesthetically, the grey/orange colourscheme is a real winner, that also works well for casual wear.

Superior traction meets waterproof-breathable construction for an ultra-lightweight shoe that will keep you nimble, comfortable and dry during all kinds of outdoor activities. The mesh upper is fortified with a protective rubber screen-print to maximize durability while the Fluidframe midsole provides ideal underfoot support for a lively, responsive ride.” (http://www.columbia.com/mens-conspiracy-ii-outdry-BM2580.html)

After a good few months of considerable use both the upper and the sole are in as new condition, other than accumulated dirt. I’ve used the shoe mostly for walking/hiking, especially where I anticipated spending long days on my feet, but have also used them for both trail and treadmill running.

I will admit to initially being slightly sceptical of the waterproof and breathable claims but have to admit that the Conspiracy II OutDry actually does pass both claims with flying colours. If you have any doubts, stick them on and stand in flowing water. It’s quite remarkable just how dry your feet remain. Obviously, as is always the case with footwear, once water levels are sufficiently high, any water will be up and over, seeping into your shoe around the ankle. However, I’ve found that the shoe soon dries.

Further, I’ve found in the past that waterproof shoes generally aren’t breathable but, even on the hottest days I have had no problems with the Conspiracy II OutDry and my feet have remained sweat free.

Of all the items, the Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt has received the least wear. As mentioned previously, I’m a shorts & t-shirt kind of guy and, thankfully, we were blessed with a pretty good summer, which looked favourably on my preferred clothing choice. However, as the temperatures continue to drop, I do expect to get more use out of this garment.

All of the items provided were generously sized and extremely comfortable. I did find that the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers were slightly long for me when used as trousers and, as a result, they did tend to ‘collect’ water on wet days. However, they are used as shorts rather than trousers approx 90% of the time so this rarely has any effect.

With regard to the items of clothing, I’ve found that everything washes well and dries quickly, facilitating a quick turnaround. As anyone with a toddler will tell you, this is a godsend, but, on a more serious note, it’s also perfect for travelling light and packing minimally.

Thanks to Columbia for providing me with the opportunity to test out their product, which I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending to others. I’m certain that I will still be wearing these items for many months to come.

Product Details

Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt

£25, Available at Blacks

A super-cooling tech tee with stretch and sun protection, this soft and lightweight men’s shirt sports Columbia’s industry-leading cooling technology, which reacts with your sweat to lower the material’s temperature and keep you cool during dynamic aerobic activity in the heat.


  • Omni-Freeze ZERO™ sweat-activated super cooling
  • Omni-Wick™
  • Omni-Shade™ UPF 30 sun protection
  • Modern Classic Fit
  • Comfort stretch
  • Antimicrobial treatment protects this product from bacteria growth


  • 100% polyester ZERO interlock

Silver Ridge Convertible Pant

£55, Available at Blacks

These durable, quick-wicking pants feature built-in sun protection and plentiful storage making them the perfect choice for active days in warm weather.


  • Omni-Wick
  • Omni-Shade UPF 50 sun protection
  • Partial elastic at waist
  • Gusset detail
  • Pockets with hook and loop closure
  • Zip-closed security pocket
  • Mesh pocket bags


  • Omni-Shade Main Body
    100% nylon Silver Ridge ripstop
  • Omni-Wick Mesh Panels
    57% recycled polyester/43% polyester mesh

Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt

£50, Available at Snow+Rock

This versatile button up features Insect Blocker™ technology to ward off bugs, UPF 30 wards off harsh UV rays, and Omni-Wick™ advanced evaporation keeps you cool and dry during dynamic activity.


  • Insect Blocker
  • Omni-Wick technology actively breathes and pulls sweat away from your body to keep you dry and cool
  • Omni-Shade UPF 30 provides premium protection from the sun
  • Pocket with hook and loop closure
  • Mesh pocket bags
  • Rollup sleeves with tab holders
  • Sun protection collar
  • Vented


  • Omni-Wick, Omni-Shade 100% Insect Blocker nylon basketweave

Conspiracy II OutDry

£80, Available at Blacks

Superior traction meets waterproof-breathable construction for an ultra-lightweight shoe that will keep you nimble, comfortable and dry during all kinds of outdoor activities. The mesh upper is fortified with a protective rubber screen-print to maximise durability while the Fluidframe midsole provides ideal underfoot support for a lively, responsive ride.


  • Upper
    • Protective rubber screenprint over mesh
    • OutDry waterproof, breathable construction
    • Synthetic toecap
  • Midsole
    • Techlite™ lightweight midsole, superior cushion, high energy return
    • FluidFrame™ multidensity underfoot support
  • Outsole
    • Omni-Grip™ high traction non-marking rubber
  • Weight: US size 9, ½ pair = 10.3 oz/294 g

Ultimate Direction FASTPACK 20 Vest/Backpack Now Available

The latest offering from Ultimate Direction, the Fastpack 20 Vest/Backpack, is now available from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com.

“Providing all the features and capacity you need and nothing more, the Fastpack 20 is a streamlined pack that will get you there and get it done. Perfect for day hikes, peak bagging, or a quick weekend, the Fastpack takes inspiration from our Signature Series vests, with its super stable and comfortable fit.” (http://ultimatedirection.com/p-633-fastpack-20.aspx?category=hydration-packs)

I did a full product preview back at the end of August, which includes considerably more details. One for the Christmas wish list!