Nathan is a hydration company on the move this year, with products and lines superseding everything they’ve previously released by leaps and bounds. In the past, I was never really impressed their packs, and I have owned plenty. My very first ultramarathon was completed wearing the original HPL #020 Hydration Vest, which is still very popular. However, while other companies, namely Salomon and Ultimate Direction, made huge developments every year in pack design, materials, and fit, Nathan’s packs seemed to stagnate. While packs such as the VaporAir and Fireball were certainly durable and well made, they just seemed clunky and heavy next to the body-hugging state-of-the-art packs made by other brands over the last few years.
That has all changed now, though, and the Nathan VaporKrar 4L Race Vest ($150) is my pick for pack of the year. While I’m sure that input from the man, Rob Krar, was very helpful in the design of the vest, the entire line looks and feels amazing.
While I tested the four-liter version, a 12-liter vest is also available, the Nathan VaporKrar 12L Race Vest. Also in Nathan’s latest generation of packs are those in the VaporHowe line (with design input from Stephanie Howe Violett) and the soon-to-be released VaporZach line (of Zach Miller fame). The materials are second to none and all these packs check all the right boxes with being lightweight, durable, sized well, and with lots of storage options.
Also included in this article is a review of the Nathan VaporKrar WaistPack ($60), which stands as the only waist pack I’ve ever liked. Enough said.
Nathan VaporKrar 4L Pack Storage
Four liters of storage doesn’t seem like a lot, but I found this pack to have more than efficient storage during the entire 2017 Bighorn Trail Run 100 Mile, during which I carried a lot of extra clothes and a backup headlamp all in the stretchy and cavernous back pocket. While Nathan does outfit this pack to accept up to a 1.8-liter bladder, I haven’t given it a try. At first I was concerned that the two included Exoshot 12-ounce soft flasks wouldn’t provide enough hydration, but I loved the ease of drinking on the run through the extended straw tubes. I ultimately used a separate Nathan 18-ounce soft flask in the lumbar pocket, which offered me 42 ounces total and I was able to put different fluids in different flasks. This tactic also seemed to be a well-balanced load and I experienced absolutely zero bouncing.
The two zippered shoulder pockets were large enough to hold my iPhone 6 and five gels at a time. Additional nutrition can be stored in the dump pockets right below the soft-flask holsters on the chest, and I appreciated that a velcro tab keeps everything secure. I found it much harder to use the side pockets that run along the ribcage due to the adjustment straps that essentially run over them. I would gamble on putting a gel in each pocket, but they never felt that secure to me.
Nathan VaporKrar 4L Pack Fit
The most remarkable aspect of the VaporKrar is the fit and I was lucky enough to have several sizes in stock at my local specialty-running store to dial things in. Luckily, Nathan’s sizing recommendations are pretty spot on, and the size medium worked well with my 38-inch chest. The materials on their vest are soft and extremely stretchy, very similar to what Salomon has been using in their vests. Where Nathan diverges is through the use of a more rigid piping where the sternum straps attach. This gives the vest a bit more of a secure fit and structure as the wearer is able to slide the sternum straps up and down to avoid discomfort and really dial things in. This feature is oddly reminiscent of the Salomon Advanced Skin packs from several years ago, and it works great.
While I don’t usually like side straps for fear that they will dig into my ribcage, the adjustable-on-the-fly side straps on the VaporKrar 4L Race Vest stay put and are very easily loosened or tightened as needed, depending on the load you’re carrying. The only disappointment I have with this pack is that the side straps do make it very difficult to access the side compartments, but frankly I didn’t miss them in this race-oriented pack.
I did have some issues with sore spots, more like early bruising rather than rubbing, around my lower ribs, where the soft flasks terminate when fully inserted. I found this was due to construction of the flasks rather than the vests, and it was important for me to make sure that the plastic spine of the Nathan soft flask pointed out rather than riding against my chest.
Nathan VaporKrar WaistPak Review
I hate waist packs. I have tried over half a dozen, and every time I come away with hot spots or a sore lumbar region. With the unfortunate combination of narrow hips and some dadbod paunch if I’m not careful, waist packs have never been my friend. Enter the VaporKrar Waistpak with its soft, stretchy, one-piece construction complimented by fully adjustable side straps that can be dialed in for a no-bounce experience. The VaporKrar Waistpak has a zippered pocket up front which will accommodate an iPhone 7 Plus as well as several pockets with various closures into which you can shove a ton of nutrition.
The back of the running belt features a large lumbar pocket designed to hold a soft flask, and Nathan includes their 18-ounce soft flask with the belt. It did take a bit of practice learning how to put the soft flask back in on the run, but I liked the freedom of using this belt rather than a pack, especially on hot days when I didn’t want the extra layer of a pack. An added bonus is that this waist belt can be adjusted to be worn higher over a shirt or lower at the hips on top of running shorts. This allowed me to avoid hotspots on longer runs which were entirely caused by the hard internal spine of the Nathan soft flasks. When used with a spineless soft flask, I never had any issues.
For more of our current favorite running belts and waist packs, take a look at our best running belts guide.
Nathan is on the cutting edge of hydration systems currently, and after looking at their fall catalog, I don’t think they’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Both of these products have been incredibly durable this spring and summer, and they are both very lightweight with the VaporKrar 4L Race Vest weighing in at 6.4 ounces without flasks, and the VaporKrar WaistPak weighing a featherweight 2.1 ounces unloaded. Comparably, the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set weighs in at around 4 ounces, but it bounces a bit more and feels less durable than the VaporKrar.
While having straws on bottles is nothing new, I really liked the ease of drinking out of straws on the Exoshot 12-ounce soft flasks. However, my biggest gripe with the VaporKrar products has nothing to do with the vest or the belt, but rather the construction of the soft flasks that originally shipped with the packs. I found it very difficult for both myself and race volunteers to get the tops on without any leakage. Essentially, I had to learn to gingerly handle these flasks as to not compress the top opening in any way while putting the cap on. Additionally, while I like the idea of some rigidity in a soft flask, the internal plastic spine is overkill and just creates hotspots if you aren’t careful when using them in both the vest and the waist pack.
But I have some good news, Nathan has recently updated the caps on the Exoshot flasks to have a bit more threading. All current VaporKrar 4L Race Vests ship with the updated flasks. The result is a completely leak-free flask that is easy to fill and cap. If your flasks have grey tops, then you have the original version. If your flasks have black tops, then you have the updated flasks. A big thank you to Rob Krar, who I ran into while pacing Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, for investing his time to make sure that Nathan sent me the updated flasks.
If you’ve been searching for the perfect vest or waist pack, I would highly recommend checking these VaporKrar products out. I purchased them both in the midst of a gear panic prior to this year’s ‘A race,’ and I was pleasantly surprised by their form, fit, and function. It may take a while for any other product to unseat them as my favorites. Of course, they can also be worn in combo to provide a ton of storage options for longer days on the trail.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you been running in any of the packs in the Nathan VaporKrar line? What are your overall impressions of the products you are using?
- What are your thoughts on the storage capacity and pocket options of the Nathan VaporKrar 4L Race Vest and/or the Nathan VaporKrar WaistPak?
- And how about the fit and ride of either this vest or waist pack?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand that produces packs, please share that relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]