Nathan has an incredible lineup of hydration packs and I feel sometimes like they fall off the radar when it comes to high end gear as they’re very consumer-centric. This sometimes makes people think they don’t make high-end gear and this is totally false. In actuality the majority of the packs they have this year are some of the best we’ve seen anywhere. Additionally, their lineup is so broad that they hit the hydration market across multiple categories. On the higher end, they offer numerous choices for backpack hydration for longer runs. On the mid-level, they offer two multiple styled hydration belts, and then of course they have a plethora of single bottle options as well. In this article, we will touch on a few of these with a particular focus on the high-end.
So I have tested a bunch of these now and I will give you a quick little insight on the three main packs in their lineup, but my go to has become the VaporAir. I seriously can’t say enough good things about it. Mine has now got a lot of miles on it as well as some blood sweat and tears and it’s it up to the task really well. I’ll use their insulated TrailMix Plus hydration belt for shorter runs and on hotter days and for even shorter runs on hot days I’ll also grab a single shot model like the Exoshot or SpeedDraw, but for long road or trail runs I always then to reach for my VaporAir. The bottom line is this all reinforces that Nathan is a true consumer company and that they are offering something for everyone.
Pockets, Pockets, etc
The most pleasing part of the VaporAir for me is the sheer amount of storage opportunities. It’s probably overkill for a lot of people, but the best part for me is that you can make use of as much or as little as you like. Upfront you have about seven different pocket opportunities including larger drawstring pulls on each side of the chest which can hold a bottle as well, hidden zippers on the left upper strap, small quick access areas on the lower portion of the chest pockets. On the sides, just below your underarm, you have two horizontally running zipper pockets that are roomier than you expect. Then on the back, you have your reservoir pocket as well as an additional zipper storage and then the exterior drawstring ready for quick storage of things like jackets.
This sounds like a ton of options, but I have found that I now have a nice routine for where I store certain pieces of equipment because of this layout. For example, the right and left larger chest pockets can handle extra water bottles, but I also find them to be perfect for phone storage, GoPro, etc. The drawstrings work well to keep all these things tightly in place. Additionally, the extra water isn’t really necessary for me on the front because I run a 70oz on the back. I don’t typically run a full bladder, given the extra weight and length of run, but it’s always an option which I value. My Gus, Blox, edibles, etc find their way into the upper zip pocket, or under the arms. When my headlamp is no longer needed, I can quickly store it in an under arm zip or throw it into the back and its out of the way.
Obviously, every Nathan system is like a Mercedes with all the options and the VaporAir is no exception The opportunity for multiple locations of liquid storage is very high. The back water department holds a fully engaged 70 ounce reservoir with zero problems. The two front chest pockets can take on at a minimum to 12 ounce bottles and I even tried a 16 ounce bottle while messing around which was handled easily as well. What this means is that you can effectively carry over 100 ounces of liquid on a run and while I understand this is totally unnecessary, it speaks to the flexibility of the unit in general.
The handling of the straw which seems like such a simple thing is done very well in that it snakes through fabric o-rings down your left or right side depending on preference and then via magnet hooks to the center strap across the middle of your chest. What this means is that mid-run you can quickly get the straw from your chest to mouth and back again with almost no effort. This allows you to focus more on your run and less on fumbling with your straw.
Running with a hydration pack for me is more about fit than anything else. Have a great storage options is a given, but for me fit means not even knowing it’s there. I took the medium/large version of the VaporAir and while I skew to the smaller end of that, I found their range and adjustment system to be so flexible, that I can easily find a sweet spot.
In terms of the in-run experience, the majority of the time I don’t even remember I have it on. That being said, the only problem I can point to is the underarm zipper. Sure it’s a good storage option, but you really don’t want to put anything too bulky in there because it will inevitably interfere with natural motion during your run. It’s a very minor point though because I have loaded it up, so it also varies run to run.
There are are lots of hydration options out there, but for me the VaporAir is definitely one of the strongest right now. Weighing in at other 10oz with numerous storage opportunities and a retail price of $149, it’s pretty solid although price point could drop a bit to be more in line with competitors (~$125 range). For every pack, the fit is paramount so try them on and make sure you buy from a place where you can return them after you run in them. The VaporAir for me is a solid balance of features and fit.
Other Choices in the Lineup
The two other options I didn’t cover here are the VaporCloud and Fireball. The VaporCloud is the VaporAir on steroids. It is really designed for ultras and I will probably switch to this the the time comes. For now, I don’t need the extra 10oz of weight that comes with it, because the expandable storage and insulated reservoir compartment are overkill. That being said, its pretty killer to have these features and if you are going 50+ or even multi-day, then you should be looking here. The storage area can take a small ultra-compressed sleeping bag plus more, so you can move between times of day, climates, etc with minimal downtime. The VaporCloud retails for $199 which is a little high as well given where the competitors are for a similar pack, so I could see this coming down a bit.
The Fireball is a tough one for me honestly. It’s heavier than the VaporAir by almost 4oz, but has significantly less storage options and holds a smaller bladder. It’s geared towards the minimalist however so if simplicity is what you are looking for, then this might be a perfect fit. I found the perfect combo here to be running it with no bladder and instead using the two SureShot bottles included. You can then use the back as needed for clothing, etc. A great example is going to a half or full marathon, wanting some personal hydration, and also needing some storage for a jacket or additional. Many times big runs start early so you go in cold and start peeling layers, this is a solid solution for that. The Fireball is available for $99.