The Nathan HPL 020 is an excellent running vest. It might not have the capacity to contain everything you need for an all-day adventure, but it is an exceptionally well designed, comfortable, and durable running vest. Ultimately, our testing boils down to the critical question, "would you recommend this to a friend?" and the answer for the HPL is a resounding, "Yes." Its wide range of fit adjustments, ample two-liter water reservoir, and variety of pockets make this a functional and extremely comfortable vest.
Nathan HPL #020 Review
Cons: No added water capacity
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Nathan HPL comes from a long line of comfortable and functional running vests. This thoroughbred pedigree was evident throughout the testing process. While the HPL 20 isn't new to the scene, as some version of it has been for sale quite a while, there is no questioning why the design has endured. The combination of adjustability, breathability, and storage make an incredibly functional running vest.
While many designs are moving towards form-fitting mesh comprising the entire vest, the HPL retained its crisscrossing adjustable side straps. This is a good thing. Combined with the adjustability of the sternum straps, this vest can accommodate males and females of nearly all sizes. Our lead gear tester is 6', 175lbs and his partner a 5'3", 120lbs and both could wear the HPL comfortably without any adverse effects. This is the most adjustable vest we tested. In addition to the vast adjustability, the perforated shoulder and back straps are effective for both comfort and breathing.
Throughout our testing process, we noticed some vests could be quite comfortable loaded down while we were standing or walking, the bounce while running was the true test of comfort. While every vest has some bounce, it would have to defy the laws of physics to remain perfectly in step with your body, the Nathan performed exceptionally well. We have chalked it up to the opposing pull side straps as one set would keep the vest from bouncing up and the other keeping it from sliding down. Whatever it is, perhaps some new form of wizardry, it remained stable and comfortable. Also, notably, if you're running shirtless, the fabric of the shoulder and back straps is quite soft and wards off the evil chafe for quite some time, though we wouldn't run all day sans shirt.
Features and Design
While the HPL isn't overwhelmed with features, what it does have adds to the functionality of the vest. Notably, the front two pockets are asymmetrical. The right pouch allows for food storage or added water capacity with a soft flask, as the left pouch is a secured zipper pouch with storage for empties on the outside. If you're looking for extras such as pole storage, whistle, pockets designed for specific proprietary items, the HPL doesn't have it.
The included two-liter hydration bladder worked quite well despite our frustration with the Nathan Bite-Me on/off valve. Since there is no on/off valve in the system and even a light amount of pressure allows water to flow, the odds of leakage on the drive to the trailhead are quite high.
On the plus side, the two-liter reservoir slides easily into the HPL as the pouch holding the bladder has more structure than most running vests. Also, while inside, there is a Velcro loop holding it from above, and pressure from the adjustable side straps holding it securely from below. This creates an environment where the water bladder stays secure as you run and as it drains. The chest strap has a simple clip to hold the tube in place as you run, it is both easy to operate with one hand and secure as it never let the tube escape by accident.
Storage Capacity and Pockets
With the two-liter bladder filled, the HPL has a claimed 4.4 liters of gear and food storage remaining. We found that this was adequate for up to 4 or 5 hours of movement. Pushing longer days with this vest meant not having adequate food water or equipment unless we had a resupply option.
During those 5 hour days, we were able to cram about 1000 calories comfortably and an extra .5 liter soft flask in the vest to get us through. Also, there is an elastic strap on the back that adequately held onto our running vest, effectively adding some storage to the cramped pack.
The 14.2 ounces aren't crazy light, but there is padding and comfort that come along with it. The Nathan hydration bladder also has a very good weight to water carrying ratio giving you a two liter capacity at a low weight cost.
Marathons, afternoon runs in the mountains, or even a little extra storage while out on your mountain bike. This is a versatile and functional running vest for all runners. If you have resupply options it could be ideal for long mountain running events.
The HPL is great value. If you're hunting for a vest loaded with features, expect to shell out quite a bit more cash. This is a great vest, adequate for most running endeavors and relatively affordable to boot!
It's comfortable, affordable, and by far the most adjustable vest we tested. If you aren't looking for something extremely specific and just need a running vest, this is a great choice!
— Brian Martin