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.

Conclusion:
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 Amazon.com.

Questions
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 Backcountry.com.

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