So after searching all over the internet and reading what felt like hundreds of different reviews, I finally decided on going with the Nathan Sport Vapor Wrap for my hydration vest.
As all of you know, competing in OCR races and navigating some of the obstacles is tough enough to do with just yourself, never mind having some bulky bag on your back moving all around on you and hanging you up.
Specs of the Nathan Vapor Wrap:
- UTMB-capable with expandable cargo space
- Bladder Control System keeps water and gear close to the body for maximum no-bounce comfort
- Secret center back pocket holds ice pack for added body cooling
- Strategically-placed Shock Cords with one-pull tension lock offer customizable trekking pole configurations
- Weight: 23oz
- Storage Capacity: 8.19 L / 500 cu in without bladder, 6.55 L / 400 cu in with bladder
- Bladder Volume: 2 Liters
I have used many different packs now over the years and this was my first experience using a vest vs a bag. I bought this vest to take with me on the beast course in VT and it turned out to be A okay.
First off the pros of the bag. I was looking for a hydration system that would stay close to my body during racing and not have much bounce to it while I was running. This vest delivered both of those things and in a very positive way. This vest has 6 different point of adjustment that seem to all work together in keeping the bag close to the body even when the water starts to diminish. 2 straps on the chest, 2 at the waist, and 2 down along the front sides, all squeeze the vest itself and the bladder tighter and tighter as you continue to drink the water volume. One great advantage to this system is that you can easily adjust this on the fly and don’t need to waste time stopping to fiddle with it.
Another huge bonus was the amount of storage this bag had and how easy it was to get to everything I needed on the go. For starters, you have two separate storage compartments one on each side of your waist that are attached to the waist strap. I was able to store 10 gel packs (5 in each side) and could have pushed a couple more into each side if I wanted to but figured that 10 would be enough for what I needed and a couple extra left over just in case of an emergency.
Besides the two side pouches on the waist, this vest also has a detachable Velcro pocket, two front storage pockets that were made to hold 20 oz water bottles, a left side upper chest zippered pocket, a very little pocket under the Velcro one (not really sure what you can fit in there), a top zippered pocket on the rear of the pack, and a larger storage area on the back of vest as well that serves as a larger compartment for items that are not needed on the go. Also has multiple points of contact for trekking poles if you were to ever use them, and a bungee system that would hold some xtra layers if this vest was being used for just running and not OCR racing.
So besides my gels, I packed 3 packs of chews along for the ride which sat in one of the front pockets made for a bottle. I also carried a 20 oz water bottle with Amino Acids in it for the beginning of the race as well as 2 cliff bars in the detachable velcro pocket. I also had my head lamp and 2 glow sticks in the rear outside compartment of the vest just in case.
The hydration bladder included with this vest is pretty decent. It is not a snap in bottom like camel-backs are, but all in all it did the job. One thing I really did appreciate was how easy this bladder was to fill. Instead of the typical circle opening most have, this bladder opened from the top and has a almost ziplock type opening and closing. This made things extremely easy when I did stop to refill and only took me honestly what felt like seconds vs minutes. I know for a fact there were pple filling before me and I also know they were still there playing around with their packs while I was on my way running again. +++points for this one!
The vest itself is made of super soft stretchy material and it seemed to literally not hold any unwanted water what so ever. The positioning of the front water bottle pockets are great and are placed in such a way that there is zero interference with your natural arm swing while running. +++ points once again!
Now with all good things, there of course has to be some negatives. Although I would recommend this bag to others and I myself was very happy with it, there are certainly a few spots Nathan left for improvements.
For starters, the vest itself needs to be able to open and expand a little more than it does. I am 5’8″ 190 lbs with a 43 1/2 inch chest. I don’t consider myself a huge guy, but I am def not tiny in any way at all. For this articles sake, I do have an athletic build and my shoulder and upper back area are much wider than normal “runners” who typically have smaller frames. Keeping in mind this bag was probably made for them, seeing that I ordered a L/XL, I would have thought there would be a little more play room. I had this bag out to the limits and it just kinda came around me pretty close to the way it should have . Next time they should not pre-judge and label endurance runners to tiny frames (especially now in the days of Sparta :)).
Although the side pockets are great and do hold plenty of stuff, for some weird reason they have the zippers going from front to back vs back to front. They also could be moved up just a little bit more closer to the front of the runner. Typically on the run, you would open from back to front to make things easy. Although I was still able to access these and didn’t have much trouble, it would have made much more since to face the zippers the opposite way and make life easier. Not to mention, if you get caught up on some brush, you don’t want your stuff to come flying out. If zippers are facing back to front, the brush would close your pocket for you not open it wide up for stuff to go flying out. Thank GOD this did not happen to me, but I did read of it happening to a couple others when I was reading reviews.
The hydration bladder is a tricky one. Like i mentioned above, the ease of opening and filling this bladder on the go was a pure joy. They do have a small cheap plastic pc at the top that is supposed to lock your bladder into the loop at the back of the pack. Apparently this is supposed to hold the bladder in place and not let it fall down into your pack squishing up against your lower back. I didn’t really have an issue with the bladder falling down, but it definitely did not stay “locked” in place like it said it would.
The hose of the bladder is way to long in my opinion and kinda gets in the way. I landed up cutting mine down to the size I wanted and just shoved the mouth piece back inside. They do have a handy magnetic clip on the hose that does hold it in place on the chest strap, but like mentioned, this create a loop at the bottom of the tube and if left alone would be slapping into you every step you took. The bite valve on this system was okay and does also have a locking system to prevent water leakage. +++ points for this again.
One of the last things to point out, is back to the material. While it did dry and drain water very quickly, it seems that it is almost to thin of material. My pack already does have a couple tears in it, and some of the reflective tape on the back along with some of the Nathan logo are already starting to fall off. Trying to keep in mind that I did run Spartans toughest race of the year with this best, they could put a little more effort into the material to make it a little stronger. It is great for no chafe and draining, but a little more durable would make this guy happy to not have to keep buying new bags every year.
Overall, I was pretty happy with this purchase and found mine on Amazon for around 30 bucks cheaper than anywhere else which also made me a happier guy. I gave it a 4 out of 5 due to the couple of fixes that I personally think they should have nailed, especially with them saying that they talked to and worked with some of the top ultra runners in the world to bring this bag together. I would myself buy another Nathan Product but I am also interested in checking into Saloman racing vests as well as I do have a pair of their trail running shoes and I would not want to race in anything else.