Nathan HPL #020 Review

Nathan SportsNathan Sports‘ HPL #020 is easily my favorite hydration pack. It’s become such an essential part of my gear over the past year that I just assumed that I had reviewed it. Not so. I fell in love with the HPL 020 when I first laid my eyes on it at the Cascade Crest 100 almost two years ago. This pack was the no-brainer choice for my free piece of kit when I joined the Montrail-Nathan team in 2007. In the year and a half since then, it’s been my go-to hydration pack and has yet to let me down. I like it so much, in fact, that I bought a second HPL 020 so that I could easily swap them out in aid stations at crewed races. Read on to find out why I like the Nathan HPL #020 so much, a few minor drawbacks, and some tips for using your HPL 020.

The Basics
This isn’t your older brother’s hydration pack. Gone are the thin, conventional arm straps that more often than not were either too narrow, causing discomfort, or too padded, leading to heat retention. With the HPL #020 the straps were widened and converted to a mesh material. Like most packs, the rear is dominated by a large zippered pocket for the bladder, which is a 2 liter bladder in the case of the 020. Describing the basics of the HPL #020 gets a bit trick at this point as the pack underwent a significant redesign this year. After pushing the iRunFar creative team’s imagination to the limit, we decided to refer to the two versions of the HPL 020 as the “old” and “new” versions.

Old Version
Nathan HPL 020 oldIn it’s first two years on the market, the “vest” aspect of the 020 was completed by a two inch mesh belt with a velcro closure. Both arm straps had chest-high, vertically-oriented mesh pockets that cinched shut with a pull cord. The chest pockets easily hold a Canon Elph camera, 3 gels, or a small vial with electrolyte pills. The right side of the belt included a larger zipper pocket that generously held a couple fist fulls of gels.

In addition to the three front pockets and rear bladder pocket, the old HPL 020 has a zipper pocket at the bottom rear of the pack. This pocket is great for some TP, a could gels or Clif Bloks if you’ll need extra fuel, a small map, a small flashlight, or some combination of those items. As a frame of reference, with the bladder full, the small rear pocket holds a couple Shot Blok packs, some meds, and TP without too much fighting.

Without the bladder, the HPL #020 comfortably holds a pair of shoes, socks, belts, undershirt and boxers when I run commute.

New Version
Nathan HPL 020 newYou should know up front, iRunFar has only inspected the new version of the Nathan HPL 020 in passing. However, the new version appears to be an evolutionary, not revolutionary step forward for the already rock-solid #020. The most significant changes include:

  • Replacement of the front belt, including the belt pocket, with a thin, clipping chest strap (this change should reduce heat retention);
  • Lowering of the chest pockets to the bottom of the arm straps;
  • Conversion of one chest pocket to a zip pocket;
  • Raising of the smaller rear pocket to the top of the pack;
  • Changing the bladder to a 2 liter bladder from Hydrapack; and
  • Addition of a bungee cord on the lower half of the pack’s rear for stashing gear.

The chest strap and front pocket placement on the new 020 appears to be similar to that of the Nathan Intensity, Nathan’s race vest designed for women.

Nathan HPL 020 old Granite CanyonMe (left) sporting the HPL # 020 above Granite Canyon in the Tetons

The Pros

  • The vest and small, close fitting pack combine for a very secure fit with minimal bouncing.
  • Extremely easy access to your most necessary gear via the front pockets.
  • The shoulder straps are wide, but still lightweight and breathable.
  • The bungees on the new 020 added cloth storage capacity with negligible weight.

The Cons

  • The vest of the old 020 could get quite warm.
  • The bladder hose was too long on the old model.
  • No key clip on old model.

Things I Did Not Know About the HPL #020

  • The sternum strap closure doubles as a drink tube clip!
  • The sternum straps adjust vertically allowing the user about 6 inches of movement up or down to have the pack fit across the chest just the way they want it.

The Tips

  • To secure the hydration hose without using the sternum strap clip, slip the hose through one of the drawstrings of the front pockets.
  • Unvelcro the front of the HPL 020 on long climbs or during walk breaks to let it breathe.
  • Keep one front pocket empty to hold used gel packets.

I think I best summed up the way I feel about the Nathan HPL 020 in answering the question “I do not know how I previously survived without…” in my 2007 year end wrap up post:

I don’t know how I got along without the Nathan HPL #020. I love the vest pack. It’s awesome. It intrigued me when I first saw Mike Mason wearing it at Cascade Crest in 2006. I got one HPL 020 when I first joined the Montrail Nathan team and bought a second one a few months later. No regrets in picking up two of these. While many features of the #020 are nice, I particularly like the three front pockets. A nice size one for tons o’ gel and/or a camera on the waist and two small chest pocke
ts, one of which I use for a couple more gels and one I use for my S Caps! I highly recommend this pack!

For another perspective on this great pack, check out Altdirt’s review of the HPL 020.

You can get the Nathan HPL #020from

Who else has used the “old” Nathan HPL #020 and how did you like it? How about the new one? Any pros and cons that you’d add? How ’bout any tips for making the best use of the HPL #020 and its features?

The Future
I recently picked up another Nathan race vest, the HPL #008, as part of the Wasatch Speed Goat team. I look forward to trying the HPL 008 out over the coming months. Its slightly more open design should be more comfortable than the old HPM #020 in the DC summer heat.

You can pick the Nathan HPL #008 Race Vest at

Sporting my HPL #020 while checking out the Tetons’ Open Canyon

There are 16 comments

  1. AnthonyP

    I've been using the old version of the HPL #020 for quite some time and love it. My only beef was the bladder (which I replaced with a CamelBak bladder).

  2. Mike

    Loved your comment on keeping one of the mesh pockets open for used gel packets – I hate seeing people toss them in the woods during trail races. Annette Bednosky at her inaugural New River Trail 50K event said it perfectly, "If you're strong enough to run 31 miles, you can carry an empty gel packet to the next aid station." I don't have a Nathan vest yet, but I've had my eye on one for quite some time – your review put me over the edge.Great review – thanks

  3. Brad Mitchell

    Love the Nathan products, but, their bladders are terrible. I went through two of the "blue" bladders (pin holes on the creases) and had one of their new bladders come apart at the welded seam. This happened on the first use, 25 miles into the backcountry on a 37 mile run. Needless to say I was not happy. Use Camelbak bladders with the Nathan packs.

  4. Michael Valliant

    I picked up the #008 to use on road runs and mid-range trail runs and have been a big fan. So far no problems with the bladder (slightly smaller at 50 oz). I have also used the vest only vs. a waist pack, as it holds a camera, gels, etc., and they are easier to access.I have been eyeing the #020–great review Trail Goat. Bryce Thatcher mentioned that Nathan will be rolling out a new vest/pack in the spring with a bit more pack space, though still a race-worthy vest. Sounds like another winner.

  5. Travis

    Great review! Thanks. I've got the UD Wasp and it gets a little warm so the added mesh would be nice. Looks to me like the new #20 takes on the #28 (Krissy Vest) shape and adds a bladder. I use the #28 and like it a lot with my handhelds. I just did a review of the Inov-8 Race Pro 4 at Its a waist hydration pack, pretty cool idea and seems to be a well thought out pack. I'm glad to see there is some new inovations coming out of the gear designers!!

  6. Steve Bohrer

    I added a thin shock cord to my old version #020 using the small tabs up top and the Y attachment on the bottom and it works great. I agree, the stock bladder sucks. You'd think Nathan would have some wear testers point this out before going into production. Since we're talking Nathan, I like the thermal quickdraw holder, but I also have had leakage problems with their bottles too so I replaced them with UD, but that's another story.

  7. Trail Goat

    I actually didn't have any problems with the old bladder for a long time, except for the hose being too long. It now leaks a very small amount as I've removed the hose and nozzle a bunch of times for drying. Perhaps cutting down the hose a bit will give me a better seal AND make the hose more usable. I don't like the nozzle on the Hydrapak bladders that Nathan is now using as much as the nozzles on the old bladders. Other than that, the new bladders seem a bit improved.Atayne Mike,One thing I've been super surprised about is the lack of spent gel packs along the trail in trail ultras. That might not be the case in shorter trail races though. I would guess that almost without fail those gel packets you see are accidental drops… the issue then becomes making sure one's spent gel packets don't fall.Valliant Mike,Thanks for the scoop on the new Nathan vest. I'll check that out.Steve,You, I, and many runners that I know use the Nathan Quickdraw bottle holders with the Ultimate Direction bottles. If anyone wants any part of the dozen Nathan water bottles I have (most have never been used), let me know and I'll send them to you! Really!

  8. Anonymous

    I love my HPL 020 (old style). But, I've had two bladders spring a leak in the same, upper corner. I have emailed Nathan 3 times and gotten NO response. The second bladder, I paid for myself. Very disappointing to get no response. Their gear seems to be very good. But, their customer service needs some help.

  9. Hoyawolf

    santa is brining me one based upon your review. i plan on putting it through its first real competition at the bel monte endurance run.

  10. Tom Sperduto

    I have searched and searched for the older version and I can't find one anywhere.I love the front pocket for a camera. Any of the old version #020 sold anywhere?

  11. Trail Goat

    Tom,You might want to set up a recurring search on eBay. Also, you could consider putting a note out on the ultralist that you are looking to buy one. I didn't see an old style one at or Sierra Trading Post.

  12. Tom Sperduto

    I found one of the old models at Runjunk.comAt least I hope it's the older model. The pic in the ad was the older model and i really hope they don't mail me a new one as I have two already. We shall see!

  13. Tom Sperduto

    Well … the old version of the HPL #020 doesn't exist anywhere and I have searched near and far.If anyone has an OLD version of the HPL #020 I will be happy to purchase and ship a brand NEW HPL#020 in exchange. I will pay shipping for both.The front pocket is a MUST for me as it's perfect for my PS camera.

  14. jeremy11

    I recently got the new version HPL 020, and it is amazing. Should have gotten it sooner, but oh well.So, the Hydrapack bite valve is kinda weird, so I took it off and managed to squeeze on an extra Platypus bite valve that I had! It was a tight fit, but it works well.

  15. Jerry Cagle

    I concur with the bladder assessments. The bladder is worthless. It bounces around like a monkey making love to a football. If you need to replace the bladder the newest generation has a clip to suspend inside the compartment, which might help, but if you have an older model you're SOL…

    I replaced the bladder with a new Platypus 1.8L. It's difficult to find a bladder with that will fit (most of the new ones are taller/thinner). When I ran a marathon with it last weekend, I thought I'd drained the bladder only to discover when I returned home that it was still half full. Apparently the bladder got "pinched" off somehow, and gave the impression of being empty when I dried to drink from it…

    I have also contacted Nathan on two separate occasions using their online form, but gotten ZERO response.

    I just purchased an Ultimate Direction Wasp (like an hour ago), but haven't taken it out for a test drive yet. It has many similar features, but I don't think it's the Holy Grail yet either.

  16. Max

    I have 2 of the old versions. The first is retired after I replaced almost every mesh panel with fabric from wear, the vest is now a memorial. My second new one is awesome, I hope it stays that way. I cut and sewed all the straps to my size, so now that vest is a one size fits me.

  17. Kevin Schraer

    I need a hydration pack but I’m so conflicted! I’m considering the Camelbak XCT, Nathan HPL 020, or possibly waiting for the Salomon XT Advanced Skin 5 S-Lab out early next year. I need at least 70 ounces for extra long, hot runs. Does anyone have any thoughts or suggestions? Any other packs I should check out? Right now the Nathan is the cheapest, followed by the XCT. The Salomon will be pricey, somewhere around $180.

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