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Nathan Pinnacle 12L Review

A comfortable and capable choice for big mileage when gear accessibility is mission-critical
Nathan Pinnacle 12L
Photo: Nathan
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $200 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Amazing pockets in arm's reach, carries a lot of gear
Cons:  Some stiff materials on the chest, pole carry is hard to execute while moving
Manufacturer:   Nathan
By Jeff Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2021
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86
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 12
  • Comfort - 30% 8
  • Features - 25% 9
  • Hydration System - 15% 8
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 8
  • Pockets - 15% 10

Our Verdict

There is a newcomer among our award winners this year with the best-designed pockets for accessible storage on the go. The Nathan Pinnacle 12 outperforms every other pack in our review regarding gear organization, a trait that veteran ultra runners can appreciate. This pack excelled in every test we threw at it and is the only pack we granted a perfect score to for pockets and storage. An excellent option for the runner who enjoys being out for the entire day, this vest is versatile enough for biking, 100 milers, and adventure racers alike.

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Nathan Pinnacle 12L
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
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$160.00 at REI
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$125.96 at Backcountry
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$89.95 at REI$23.98 at Amazon
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Pros Amazing pockets in arm's reach, carries a lot of gearComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatileMinimalist, lightweight, accessible pocketsAmple storage, simple and successful design, approachable priceAffordable, carries water and gear well, simple design
Cons Some stiff materials on the chest, pole carry is hard to execute while movingExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyDoesn't carry heavy items well, some unwanted stretchLower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distancesLower chest strap isn't placed well, no front pockets, hard to secure properly
Bottom Line A comfortable and capable choice for big mileage when gear accessibility is mission-criticalA top-notch running pack, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fitThe best race vest on the market with form fitting stretch so it can store more gear comfortablyAn entry-level hydration pack for trail running with a great price and ample storageA versatile pack for lower intensity activities at a solid price point but lacking front access pockets
Rating Categories Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin 12... S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... REI Swiftland Hydro 2L Hydration Backpack
Comfort (30%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
Features (25%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
Hydration System (15%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
5.0
Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
4.0
3.0
Pockets (15%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
4.0
Specs Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin 12... S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... REI Swiftland Hydro 2L Hydration Backpack
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 13.6 oz 13.4 oz 7.9 oz 13.7 oz 14.5 oz
Carrying Capacity 12L 12L 8L 5L 2L
Included Liquid Capacity 1.6L 1L 1L 1.5L 2L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 0.88 0.90 1.01 0.37 0.14
External Storage? Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes, back pouch pocket Yes Yes, mesh storage pockets, bungee
Type of Water Storage 1.6L hourglass reservoir Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included) Two 500mL bottles 1.5L reservoir 2L reservoir
Pole Holders? Yes Yes Add on No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

There is a certain distance threshold where runners no longer want light and minimal; they want capacity and creature comforts. The Nathan Pinnacle 12 strikes a balance between form and function, with 11 pockets that are accessible while cruising on the trail and one larger storage pocket for emergency essentials. Stretch fabric offers a snug initial fit, but as gear is added and sternum straps are cinched, the pack reaches a new level of suspension, limiting bounce and feeling really… nice. Limited adjustments elsewhere on the pack are a downside, so be sure to choose the correct size. This vest shines in every category, but we are most impressed with the design and convenience of the pockets, making it a standout choice for bigger adventures and longer ultramarathons.

Performance Comparison


Highly capable and intuitively simple, does it get any better than...
Highly capable and intuitively simple, does it get any better than that?
Photo: Jeff Colt

Comfort


Nathan introduced the Pinnacle 12 as a lighter update on the previously reviewed VaporKrar and VaporHowe vests. While the Pinnacle maintains much of that DNA through the chest pockets and shoulder straps, it also has some important updates that improve fit and comfort.


The chest straps are two simply designed buckles on rigid webbing that can be vertically adjusted along pliable rails for an ideal fit. While this has never been our favorite system as the vertical rails are hard and can cause pressure alongside the sternum, it is among the easiest to adjust, and the rigid webbing straps work well with the high-stretch material used throughout the rest of the vest.

Simple and adjustable, the signature Nathan sternum straps work...
Simple and adjustable, the signature Nathan sternum straps work, although they are the only adjustable part of this vest. An additional peak inside one of two waterproof pockets.
Photo: Jeff Colt

While some vests sit high on the back, forcing you to contort to reach the flank/rear pockets, the Pinnacle 12 extends lower down the back, distributing weight evenly and boosting the utility of its accessible storage. The more layers you stuff into the vast pockets, the more supportive it fits. If you do really overstuff the three back pockets, the hydration bladder pressures the top of the back, creating some discomfort. Though most every run we loved the fit and feel of this vest, it doesn't have the same adjustability as many other hydration packs we reviewed, so trying it on for size is a good idea.

The Pinnacle uses stretch material for a hug snug fit, popular with...
The Pinnacle uses stretch material for a hug snug fit, popular with many performance ultra vests.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Features


Features are only as excellent as they are intuitive. Nathan streamlined some features while adding versatility to others. Basics like a storm whistle, reflective banding, and multiple options for food, water, and gear storage are well designed.


Akin to most packs, you still have to remove the Pinnacle 12 in order to store trekking poles. Technically you could draw your trekking poles while on the move, as the vertical kangaroo pocket designed to store them does have a second point of access on the right flank. We preferred to use this pocket for additional layers, gloves, or food as the flank access has a small piece of velcro holding contents in; regardless, we love this feature. We preferred to store the trekking poles in the larger diagonal zip pocket, but this was just a user preference.

The Pinnacle 12 has features and storage that work well for a...
The Pinnacle 12 has features and storage that work well for a smaller outings, but could likely go as far as any human can run.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Behind the front pouch pockets on each shoulder strap are waterproof zippered pockets that can fit an oversized phone; the right one contains a pill pouch and a storm whistle. Additionally, the Pinnacle incorporates two different materials on the back panel; one where the hydration bladder sits against the back and a different, more breathable mesh along the sides of the back. Whether you choose to use soft flasks or the included 1.6L bladder, the pocket design paired with the feature set can comfortably carry enough water and gear for a 100-mile race.

Two waterproof pockets behind the front pouch pockets keep important...
Two waterproof pockets behind the front pouch pockets keep important items dry, without having to necessarily whip out your rain shell.
Photo: Jeff ColtJeff Colt

Hydration System


Included with the vest is an insulated, hourglass-shaped 1.6L bladder and hose with a magnetic clip for management. Two large pockets on the chest are compatible with soft flasks, but our policy is to test each pack with the system that is included upon purchase.


Fortunately, the Pinnacle 12 showcases a premium bladder and hose system that is lightweight, can be filled with one hand, and never leaked on us. The clever hourglass shape of the bladder worked well with the longer vest design and prevented unwanted sloshing. Routing between fabric layers over the shoulder and under a loop provides comfortable hose management, and a magnetic clip keeps the hose stowed instead of flapping about. We still tucked the hose into the left lower pouch pocket for further security.

The hourglass-shaped 1.6-liter reservoir prevents unwanted movement...
The hourglass-shaped 1.6-liter reservoir prevents unwanted movement. This is a big improvement from traditional rectangular or oval-shaped bladders.
Photo: Jeff Colt

A small velcro tab at the top of the vest keeps the bladder upright and in place against the back. The quick-release feature on the bottom of the bladder releases the hose for easy refilling, while a high-flow bite valve delivers high-quality H2O.

The magnetic stow clip on the hose finds the metal button on the...
The magnetic stow clip on the hose finds the metal button on the sternum strap every time, but we found that tucking the bite valve into the lower pouch pocket provided additional security.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Volume to Weight Ratio


At 13.6 ounces, the Pinnacle 12 can almost carry 1 liter of gear for each ounce of material. This vest can be made lighter if you substitute the bladder system for soft flasks, but we loved the pack as we tested it. Worth considering, though, as there is so much storage across the back that having a bit more water weight up front should provide better balance.


This category favors packs that can carry more gear, but we preferred the vests built with elastic materials that perform well when close to empty and fit snugly when loaded down. We found that we could comfortably stuff this vest with layer-on-layers, snacks, and accessories, but when we placed a Nalgene in it while walking around town, there wasn't the necessary pack structure to carry such a heavy item effectively.

With this pocket layout, we could access over 10L of storage in the...
With this pocket layout, we could access over 10L of storage in the 12L pack, which makes us shirk at any pack that scored better in volume to weight ratio, cause no other pack has that much accessible volume.
Photo: Jeff Colt

We know that you can stuff more than 12 liters of gear in this pack, but advise against it — the materials are made to stretch, but if overstuffed, they risk stretching out. We were able to pack all of our kit essentials and a whole lot more without impacting comfort. While fast and light is the saying that gets thrown around, runners will want some creature comforts 24 hours into a race. With the Pinnacle 12, you get a great fit the more you pack into it.

The Pinnacle 12 and the ADV Skin 12 have similar weights and...
The Pinnacle 12 and the ADV Skin 12 have similar weights and carrying capacities. We position both of these vests as ultramarathon distance vests, they can go as far as you can go, but the high stretch fabric won't carry camp gear effectively for multi-day fast packing.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Pockets


Can we drool over these pockets now? Bravo Nathan, Bravo. We have dreamt of a hydration pack for running that can carry lots of gear, have all of it accessible on the go, and be easy to resupply at aid stations. Nathan's Pinnacle 12 is the closest we've seen to this dream realized.


Front pockets first. Nathan positioned two waterproof zippered pockets behind the soft flask pockets, large enough for an oversized phone, map, or other gear that is flat or soft. We found these pockets add to the vest's comfort, and we prefer them to the positioning of zippered pockets over the collarbone. By positioning them behind the soft flask pockets, there is less interference if you are taking out your phone for a quick photo or refilling your bottle. The right one even includes a small internal pouch for electrolyte tabs or ibuprofen. Below the hydration pocket on each side is a smaller nutrition pocket with a hook and loop closure.

Just like Santa's pack, we could stuff endless gear and gadgets in...
Just like Santa's pack, we could stuff endless gear and gadgets in the Pinnacle 12.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Flank pockets. Two small flank pockets can accommodate gloves, a buff, or more snacks and rely on the vest's stretch material to keep supplies in place. Positioned just behind these flank pockets are hook and loop closures that permit easy access to larger back storage compartments without letting gear fall out. The left kangaroo pocket can store loads of gear but doesn't have a secondary access point as the right side does.

A larger side-access kangaroo pocket, vertical back pocket with side...
A larger side-access kangaroo pocket, vertical back pocket with side access, and a shallow pocket at the top of the back put the majority of this pack's storage within an arm's reach. It's crazy.
Photo: Jeff Colt

And finally, the back pockets come through, providing ample storage, fast resupply, and remain accessible while wearing the vest. How, you might ask? The outermost rear pocket has a velcro closure at the top, and the vast compartment extends down to an access point at the right flank with another closure. To the left of this compartment is a long diagonal zipper that accesses the only pocket reserved for emergency inaccessible gear. Below this pocket is the large left flank kangaroo pocket. Behind these outermost back pockets is a simple pouch that is only 6" deep, so a rain layer remains accessible over the shoulder while moving.

Value


This is the most expensive vest we tested. It also happens to be the highest performing. While you will get close to comparable performance from the other top pick packs, we are enthused by the features and pockets of this vest and stand by our evaluation. For the passionate runner looking to get a pack that will help them reach new distances, take a closer look at the Pinnacle 12. We are very familiar with the competitors in this review and think that Nathan did a great job improving on their packs and borrowing some great elements from other successful running vests out there.

Conclusion


Looking for a larger pack for bigger days? For your first hundred? For your fiftieth hundred? From seasoned veterans of ultramarathons to any runner looking to get their feet wet, legs muddy, or elbows bloody in the full-day race scene, checking out this vest should be high on your priority list. We love the feel, can reach everything we need when we need it, and don't finish epic days with sore collarbones and chaffed lower back. We strongly recommend the Nathan Pinnacle 12 for the ultramarathon enthusiast.

At the end of the day, this hydration pack is a tool that got us out...
At the end of the day, this hydration pack is a tool that got us out on the trail more confidently and comfortably.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt