When a former Appalachian Trail record holder helps design a piece of ultrarunning gear, you can usually bet that it’ll be well thought-out for runners. That’s exactly the case with Ultimate Direction’s new North Roll ($80), a gear organizer created with Jenny Jurek, who crewed her husband, Scott, to a speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2015.
The idea first came to Jenny in 2015, when she spent hours driving between trailheads to care for Scott on his journey from Georgia to Maine. While Scott ran, Jenny drove their van to meet him at trailheads, where he would refuel, rest, change, and address any medical issues. “Our van was basically a roving aid station that I was also living in,” she says. “At the trailheads, I would lay out all the food and gear that I thought he might need.” With all the food and gear covering the floor of the van, there wasn’t much room for Scott to sit, so he’d wind up sitting on a rock or on the edge of the van door.
“I always thought it would be great if I had something I could hang on the back of the passenger chair to keep the floor space free,” Jenny says. “I also wanted something that was portable so I could hike in supplies when the trail wasn’t close to the parking area.” Jenny, who is a freelance product designer, began mulling over how she’d want such a gear bag to look and function. Ultimately, she drew inspiration from their camp kitchen set, which included a pouch to roll up the utensils. The same concept would make a pretty good gear tote, Jenny thought.
She was right. Down to the details, the North Roll is a shining example of thoughtful, innovative, sport-specific design. Ideal for on-the-go gear toting, it lays out flat (or hangs over the back of a car seat) for easy access to all the various pouches and pockets. It then rolls up yoga-mat style and slings over your shoulder. When you arrive at an aid station (or back at your car, hangry after a long run), your gear and food is already organized, so you can skip digging through duffel bags and save time.
As far as organization goes, the North Roll is far from your typical, cookie-cutter gym bag. The pockets come in every imaginable shape and configuration: rectangular, square, snapped, zippered, small and tubular, big and roomy. Several of the pouches are actually removable—they attach to the Roll via Velcro strips—so you can easily refill them or take them on the go. A row of smaller pouches in the middle are made from plastic, so they’re easy to clean—ideal for bars, gels, drink mixes, and other food items, which tend to get messy. Two mesh pockets up top are a perfect fit for water bottles. The bottom mesh pouch has snaps down the middle, so you can separate it into two smaller pouches or open it up into one mondo pouch. The mesh fabric is stretchy, too, so you can stuff it to your heart’s content.
Of course, while the North Roll was designed by and for ultrarunners, it’s useful in plenty of other scenarios. My car is a virtual gear locker—the back seat and trunk are perpetually filled with an array of climbing shoes, running shoes, and all manner of athletic apparel. The Roll eliminates that clutter. I hang it off the back of my driver-side seat, allowing me to see and access the gear I need and making the post-work transition from office to trail that much faster. I put dirty running clothes in one of those Velcro pouches so I can bring them inside to wash without packing up the entire Roll. It’s worth noting that even with the strap adjusted to its smallest setting, the 30-inch-long organizer drags on the floor in my Subaru Outback. In vans or other taller vehicles, that likely won’t be a problem. The only other thing that would make this product better? A phone/key pocket on the outside for stashing small essentials when the bag is rolled up.
Despite those minor annoyances, I can see the North Roll quickly becoming one of those pieces of gear I use on a daily basis. In fact, after just a week, I’m starting to wonder how I functioned without it.