History of Race Vests

Written by Bryce Thatcher-

Developing of the first race vest. Though this category seems so mainstream, in the early days very few utilized the advantage of a race vest.


I had yet another magical day running in the Tushar Mountain’s located near Beaver Utah, which has become a regular training ground for me. Though more remote, and not as well known as the Wasatch and Uintah ranges (except by those who have ridden in the “Crusher Tusher”), the Tushar’s are a mountain runner’s mecca offering beautiful vistas, several summits, optimal training conditions including altitude, and fairly easy access from I-15 in Southern Utah.

Bryce Thatcher training in the Ultraspire Zygos.  The latest in race vest technology.

Bryce Thatcher training in the Ultraspire Zygos. The latest in race vest technology.

This particular day was even better than usual, because, not only was I running one of my favorite mountain ranges, but my daughter, Hannah “Nanny Goat” Thatcher (nicknamed by her younger brothers) was running with me, along with my long time friend, training and racing buddy, Dana “Mud n’ Guts” Miller. (So nicknamed by awe-inspired fellow ultra-runners).

Dana Miller and Hannah Thatcher on the Summit

Dana Miller and Hannah Thatcher on the Summit

Hannah and I were finishing up the final stages of our training for the 2014 Speedgoat 50K, an epic Karl Meltzer designed race, legendary for its level of difficulty. Dana was testing himself to see if he could be prepared to toe the line for his 20th Wasatch 100 race scheduled for September 5th, and 6th, 2014.

Dana has worked hard to recover from a completely detached Glute sustained while trying to get a glimpse into an eagle’s eyrie high on a Mesa almost two years ago. In keeping with his nickname, Dana has refused to let his injuries keep him from obtaining his goals. Dana earned the moniker “Mud n’ Guts” through his perseverance and ability to cross the finish line, sometimes against all odds, overcoming many obstacles, adversities and setbacks along the way. He is also a five-time winner of the Wasatch 100 who held the course record for many years until that infamous and incomparable Karl Meltzer (an extraordinary UltrAspire athlete) took the record away from him!

Over a ridge we encountered a herd of real life mountain goats, including the little ones who nimbly raced and jumped over the steep cliffs. All three of us were feeling pretty great wearing our favorite “Race Vests” comprised of the latest and greatest hydration delivery systems developed by UltrAspire. I found myself contemplating how “Race Vests” have become so popular and how comfortable, efficient and practical they are for such a wide range of adventures. As these thoughts were spinning around in my head I recalled an interesting story of how the absolute very FIRST “Race Vest” was created many years ago:

Watching how fluid and nimble the Goats are on the mountains, help me reflect on the history of the First Race Vest.

Watching how fluid and nimble the Goats are on the mountains, help me reflect on the history of the First Race Vest.

I would guess around 1990, while I still owned Ultimate Direction, Dana and I regularly ran together and spent a lot of time Cross Country Skiing and Snow Shoeing.  Ultimate Direction’s Headquarters were then located in Rexburg, Idaho. Those who have spent time there often refer to Rexburg as “Iceberg”, Idaho. This is because of the extreme winters that last 8 or 9 months and even after it warms up, suddenly another winter storm notoriously hits! Being die-hards, as many Ultra-athletes are, Dana and I continued regular training routines throughout the long winters. (Incidentally, Hannah “Nanny Goat” is famous for running hip-dip in snow while wearing shorts.)

Every day we donned simple packs with shoulder straps and a hydration bladder, which we had developed and tested ourselves. At the time, these packs represented the best the market had to offer and the cutting edge of the technology. Ultimate Direction was famous for these running packs. They were great packs, but they had one persistent problem. Whenever we went outside to train in “Iceberg”, after only a very short while, the hydration hose was frozen stiff making it impossible to access any fluids.

This problem became a fun but frustrating challenge for me as an inventor and designer. I attacked the problem from all angles, experimenting with many things from insulated hoses and valves to battery-heated hoses with insulation. I even cut up some old army socks with wired heating coils in them and wrapped them around the hose to prevent the hose from freezing. But, nothing seemed to work well and all the solutions seemed fussy and cumbersome.

Finally, since nothing had worked so far, I started wearing a thin running vest over the top of my hydration pack, tucking the valve into the neck of the vest and then retrieving it just long enough to drink. I soon found that when the hose was inside the vest, body heat worked so well that we no longer had a problem with our hoses freezing.

This simple solution suddenly triggered the thought to build a pack right into a lightweight fleece vest! Once constructed, the hoses were routed inside while pockets remained outside for easy access to all things needed while racing.

The main thing that we instantly noticed when we put on this “Vest” was how comfortable it felt and how well it road on the body and carried the weight. We told early customers that it was more like a “gentle bear hug”, without any pressure points. This product became the Ultimate Direction Arctica “Race Vest”.

A few months later when the weather finally warmed up, we found we did not want to give up the comfort of our Arctica.   But, it was too hot so we built a lighter summer version—the FIRST true lightweight and minimal “Race Vest” in the industry for trail and Ultra running! Though design and materials have further evolved since that time, the most valuable principal has remained constant: Keep everything at your fingertips, and distribute and balance weight evenly between the front and the back.

As I reminisced on this story, a broad smile spread across my face. What a great feeling to realize how the creative process has worked so reliably over the past 30 years as I have designed packs. The process is always the same: a problem is discovered; a resolution is made to solve it. Brainstorming and concept testing then follows in an attempt to come up with a solution. Suddenly, sometimes after many frustrating attempts, something clicks and the answer presents itself! The first prototype always feels like a newborn baby. Finally, further testing and perfecting occurs to bring the innovation to the marketplace. There is nothing so exhilarating to me, as bringing something new to the sports I am so passionate about and that further each individual athlete’s performance in them.

Resting after the long climb.  Many options for Race Vests Available now.

Resting after the long climb. Many options for Race Vests Available now.

I feel pretty lucky that I am able to do what I love and continue to help many athletes world wide by helping them solve problems and perform better in their own diverse adventures.

Bryce Thatcher, known in the outdoor industry as the “father of hydration”, is a legendary inventor, innovator, and designer with a thirty-year history of product design and creation, pioneer of mountain running who has set many records and FKT’s and still participates competitively in the sports he loves and which inspire his innovation.

Bryce Thatcher- legendary designer/ mountain runner

Bryce Thatcher- legendary designer/ mountain runner


Dana Miller is a veteran ultra-runner who continues to inspire and mentor others around him who ran a “double Wasatch” (back and forth for 200 miles on Utah’s most rugged 100 mile trail race course) in 1991 to celebrate his 40th birthday. During that run it rained eight inches during the second hundred turning the clay to slime. His feet slipped out from under him, and his head struck a rock as he fell. This did not prevent him from finishing. Other than when he was too injured to begin, Miller has run the Wasatch almost every year since.

Hannah "Nanny Goat" Thatcher testing modern vest the Astral from Ultraspire.

Hannah “Nanny Goat” Thatcher testing modern vest the Astral from Ultraspire.

Hannah Thatcher is a river and climbing guide, ski instructor, Para-glider, runner and mountaineer who recently ascended to the highest point in the continental US and visited the lowest point in the US on the same day running Mt. Whitney. She has been running mountains with her father since she was very young. The Speedgoat 50K, 2014 was her Ultra competitive debut, which she finished in just over 9 hours.


What was your first Race Vest?

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