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Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L Review

A super comfortable and brilliantly designed hydration pack for long days on your feet
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Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L Review
Credit: Nathan
Price:  $200 List
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Manufacturer:   Nathan Sports
By Ally Arcuri ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 20, 2021
  • Comfort - 30% 9.0
  • Features - 25% 8.0
  • Hydration System - 15% 7.0
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 9.0
  • Pockets - 15% 9.0

Our Verdict

We love the apparel-like fit and smooth texture of the Nathan VaporHowe 2.0. Its internal compression system, ample storage capacity, and user-friendly pocket structures make for an excellent running companion. With a slightly more palatable price tag than some of its competitors and pinpointed pocket locales, we chose this hydration vest as our Top Pick for Race Day. Nathan offers specific sizing in addition to underarm and chest strap flexibility, making it a versatile choice for long days with or without extra clothing layers. We think that anyone looking for a comfortable vest to wear on super long runs or challenging race days will fall for the VaporHowe 2.0.
Ultra comfortable
Simple yet precise pockets
No trekking pole attachment
Slight sloshing

Our Analysis and Test Results

The VaporHowe 2.0 12L was designed with input from an elite ultramarathoner. The expertise of the structure shines through with its easily accessible pockets, sleek profile, and light weight. Each pocket is placed with precision, making for easy access to nutrition and other items when your pace matters most.

Performance Comparison

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - long days in the soft and snug vaporhowe are our favorite days.
Long days in the soft and snug VaporHowe are our favorite days.
Credit: Ally Meller


Nathan has a history of making some of the most comfortable vests we've ever had the pleasure of running in, and the VaporHowe 2.0 is no exception. This hydration system falls into the “vest” category as opposed to the “pack-style” category.

This frameless vest was built with an internal compression system to aid in keeping the bulk of the weight snug to your back. This design offers great weight distribution, even when the pack is fully loaded with up to 12L of gear, water included. The nylon and polyester body is breathable and even includes laser-poked pinholes to increase airflow. After each run, we noticed significant evidence of sweat on the fabric of the pack, but we never felt swampy or like the pack was trapping moisture to our backs.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - there are definitely sweat stains surrounding the breathable holes...
There are definitely sweat stains surrounding the breathable holes in the fabric but we never felt soaked with this breezy pack attached to our backs.
Credit: Ally Meller

The chest straps are vertically movable along boning to ensure that the pressure hits you in your sweet spot. The addition of the V-shaped lower chest strap aids in properly distributing the pressure of the vest. Overall, the VaporHowe is one of the most comfortable vests we have gotten to test, and we think you'll love its sleek fit too.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - the clips move up and down on the ribbing so you can place the...
The clips move up and down on the ribbing so you can place the V-straps exactly where you want them.
Credit: Ally Meller


Yet another thing to love about the VaporHowe 2.0 is its functional features. We have tested a lot of gear, and we sometimes find that the amount of features weighs you down instead of providing aid in the backcountry. Not so with this savvy pack.

This more minimally-minded running hydration pack only provides the most necessary features. The breast pockets are water-resistant, a feature we never knew we needed but grew to love. The right shoulder has a minute pill pocket with an included safety whistle. We also love the addition of the magnetic hydration hose securer; this feature truly helps your hose stay in place no matter how technical the terrain.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - the magnetic hose securer is one of our favorite features by nathan.
The magnetic hose securer is one of our favorite features by Nathan.
Credit: Ally Meller

The only feature we are missing with the VaporHowe is the addition of external pole holders. We were able to get by collapsing our trekking poles and stuffing them into the front soft-flask intended pocket or by stowing them in the main compartment on the pack. We think the addition of some pole-specific bungees would have upped the ante here by a lot. However, this remains one of only two complaints we have about this pack, so it still comes highly recommended by our team.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - we stowed our water, extra layers, snacks, and maybe even a can of...
We stowed our water, extra layers, snacks, and maybe even a can of sparkling wine for our long day in the woods.
Credit: Ally Meller

Hydration System

The VaporHowe 2.0 comes equipped with a 1.6L insulated bladder with a contoured, hourglass shape. There is a Velcro loop, bilateral shoulder loops, and breast loops to secure the hydration hose on whichever side you prefer. Additionally, there is a magnetic hose clip to secure the hose to the side of the chest ribbing.

As we found with other hourglass-shaped bladders, there is a small amount of sloshing if the pack isn't full. This is our second minor criticism of the VaporHowe. However, after spending hours on the trail with this pack, we all agree that the option to have cool water 10 miles into a run far outweighs the occasional sloshing noise. Since the fabric is so breathable, the insulated bladder can be felt against your back when you first put it on. We never mind an icy jumpstart to our long days, though!

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - this small piece of velcro secures the upper portion of the bladder...
This small piece of Velcro secures the upper portion of the bladder to ensure a technical-difficultly-free run.
Credit: Ally Meller

The deep front pockets can accommodate soft flasks if that's your style, but they are not an included part of this hydration system. Even when loaded up with a full hydration bladder and two full 500mL soft bottles, the weight stays evenly distributed across the vest. For our longest days, we definitely like the addition of the soft bottles since 1.6L isn't always enough for our thirsty selves.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - the hourglass-shaped, insulated bladder that fits seamlessly into...
The hourglass-shaped, insulated bladder that fits seamlessly into its specially-designed pocket.
Credit: Ally Meller

Volume to Weight Ratio

Out of all of the packs we tested, the VaporHowe 2.0 has the best volume to weight ratio. The total capacity of this pack, including 1.6L of water, is 12L, and it weighs in at a mere 7.1 oz (without the hydration system included).

The lower-than-average weight can be attributed to the lack of frills included in this pack. There are no external bungees or clips, which can be a detriment or an asset, depending upon your preferences. We certainly love the feeling of loading up the VaporHowe with gear but feeling free to fly down the trails without any excess weight. Additionally, the lighter the weight, the faster you'll fly on race day, further reiterating why this wins an award.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - we never felt weighed down by the nathan vaporhowe.
We never felt weighed down by the Nathan VaporHowe.
Credit: Ally Meller


With the VaporHowe 2.0, Nathan seemingly took away the emphasis on the sheer number of pockets, and it works for us. The back panel has, predictably, a good-sized pocket for the hydration bladder. The more superficial back pocket has a Velcro closure and runs about two-thirds the length of the back panel. We have definitely tested packs with bigger pockets, but we like not being able to stash too much in the superficial pockets as this can contribute to a less-snug weight distribution profile. A small tab atop this back pocket allows for easy opening, even with chilled or sweaty hands.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - plenty of space for stashing the trail essentials.
Plenty of space for stashing the trail essentials.
Credit: Ally Meller

There is a wide, bilateral kangaroo pocket that runs horizontally along the base of the pack. This is the prime location to stash an extra layer, especially on those unpredictable spring runs. The front pockets are super utilitarian and easy to access. Only the left breast panel has a vertically-zippered closure pocket; this continues to feel like the best pocket for keys. The main, bilateral breast pockets can accommodate soft bottles but are also useful for other essentials if flasks aren't your style. Atop each long breast pocket, there is a Velcro-closure pocket that's great for nutrition on the go. Overall, we find that the simple closures on the VaporHowe, in conjunction with the precise pocket placement, are expertly engineered and great for long, tough trail days.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - the spacious front pockets on this vest can hold it all!
The spacious front pockets on this vest can hold it all!
Credit: Ally Meller


The VaporHowe 2.0 is certainly pricier than average but due to its pristine comfort and lengthy durability, we believe it to be well worth the money. If comfort and a low weight are your main priorities, you'll be happy to shell out some of your hard-earned cash on this trail-worthy superstar.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - the underarm cinch straps make for a highly customizable fit- a...
The underarm cinch straps make for a highly customizable fit- a non-negotiable when it comes to something you're going to wear for entire days at a time.
Credit: Ally Meller


The Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L earned one of the top spots in our review because of its extreme comfort, sleek profile, and easily accessible pockets. If you're looking for a running hydration vest with an insulated bladder and exceptional weight distribution, look no further because this is the pack for you. Elite endurance runner, Stephanie Howe, weighed in on the design of this hydration system, and it shows. This pack might forever be our favorite for our longest days when comfort is of the utmost priority.

nathan vaporhowe 2.0 12l - even on technical trails, the vaporhowe stays in place so as not to...
Even on technical trails, the VaporHowe stays in place so as not to cause any chafing.
Credit: Ally Meller

Ally Arcuri