We started out the 2019 review update looking for a budget pick, and we were immediately drawn to the Nathan TrailMix 7L - Women's. Nathan is the manufacturer of our women's Editors' Choice Award winner, the VaporHowe, so we wanted to know how their more affordable products compared. After weeks of testing in the rugged backcountry of Yosemite, we were thrilled with this pack. Its comfortable fit, super adjustable design, surplus of pockets, and modest price tag make this pack a no-brainer for our newest Best Buy Award winner.
Nathan TrailMix 7L - Women's Review
Cons: Less gear storage
Manufacturer: Nathan Sports
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Nathan TrailMix 7L - Women's
|Price||$99.93 at Amazon||$154.99 at Amazon|
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|$149.96 at Backcountry|
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|$79.99 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Affordable, breathable, lots of water storage||Comfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, very versatile||Comfortable, lots of storage, great pockets||Tons of storage, comfortable, expandable||Excellent hydration system, great storage and pockets|
|Cons||Less gear storage||Expensive, must buy hydration bladder separately||No trekking pole attachment, expensive||Bulky||Itchy material, tight fit|
|Bottom Line||With room for your basic needs and plenty of water, the TrailMix is our go-to budget option.||A comfortable fit and exceptional pockets make this model our favorite pack on the market.||No matter what the mission entails, the large, comfortable VaporHowe has you covered.||Lightweight enough to use on an afternoon run and expandable enough for ultralight fastpacking missions.||Our favorite hydration system with tons of storage, but lacking in comfort.|
|Rating Categories||Nathan TrailMix 7L - Women's||Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set||Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L||Ultimate Direction FKT||Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set|
|Hydration System (15%)|
|Storage Capacity (15%)|
|Specs||Nathan TrailMix 7L...||Salomon ADV Skin...||Nathan VaporHowe...||Ultimate Direction...||Salomon ADV Skin 8...|
|Weight (oz.)||12.2 oz||11.9 oz||13.2 oz||14.5 oz||12.0 oz|
|Carrying Capacity (liters)||7 L||12 L||12 L||18 L||8 L|
|Included Liquid Capacity||Yes, front storage pockets||1 L||Yes, front storage pockets, backpack||0.6 L||Yes, many external pockets|
|External Storage?||One 2 L bladder included||Yes, "Kangaroo Pockets"||One 1.6 L bladder||Yes, bungees, many external zip pockets||Two 0.5 L soft flasks|
|Type of water storage||2 liters||Two 0.5L soft flasks (included), plus bladder sleeve (bladder not included)||1.6 liters||One 0.6L bottle included||1 liter|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Yes, packs are designed to carry things, but when they cause irritation or chafing, we might as well leave them home. For this category, we evaluated each vest's material comfort, adjustability, fit, breathability, and stability. Spoiler alert: the TrailMix excels in all of these.
For such an affordable pack, we were instantly impressed with how soft the TrailMix was on our skin. While not the softest of the test bunch, we'd much rather have this cozy mesh against our skin than the rough mesh of models like the Salomon Advanced Skin. We found the mesh to be super breathable as well, making this a great choice for hot days.
This pack has a lot of adjustability, which is one of our favorite things about it. There are two lateral straps on each side and two across the front, giving us a ton of options for fit. The chest straps are on a sliding scale, making it easy to pick their ideal location and switch it up whenever necessary. The multitude of straps also makes this vest incredibly stable, with very little bounce no matter what type of terrain we found ourselves chugging along.
We also received feedback from some of our testers that this pack is a great option for women with larger breasts. The straps adjust in so many places that it's possible to find the perfect spot on the chest for this pack to sit, and then it's easy to cinch it down, so it stays in place.
Because we have two whole categories dedicated to pockets and amount of overall storage, the metric that we're calling "features" focuses on all the other little details that make a running pack so much more than a backpack. We're looking for things that make each product easy to use in a wide range of activities, specifically targeting the runner.
The TrailMix has easy-to-use bungee cords on the back for easy trekking pole storage. While there's no bungee to store bulky items like jackets, there is a small daisy chain on the rear of this pack. It's hard to imagine what we'd use this for, as anything attached to it would bounce around quite a bit.
Other than that, this pack is pretty simple. There are zippered pockets for important storage (which we'll describe more below), but no key clip or whistle. There's no ice axe loop or much in terms of alpine-specific accessories like those found on the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta, either. All of that being said, this pack was clearly designed to be lightweight and affordable. Our reviewers agreed that this pack has everything you need for the average run. If you're looking for something with all the bells and whistles, you'll have to spend more cash.
In this category, we reviewed each product's included hydration system while also making a note of their capabilities to include other systems. The TrailMix comes with a 2-liter bladder and hose and does not easily fit front bottle storage.
The 2-liter bladder included with this pack is one of the largest hydration storage systems in this review. It helps drive home our conclusion that this pack is designed with hydration in mind more than anything else. There's a convenient hole for the bladder hose to slip through, with a small holster on either side so you can pick and choose which side works best for you. On the side of the TrailMix is a plastic hook for the hose. While this did hold the hose in place, it's a bit too big, allowing the hose to slip through. Unless the hose is stuffed back above your shoulder, it's inevitable that it will start to bounce, as gravity pulls the hose through the hook.
There are two small stretchy pockets in the front of this pack that could, in theory, hold bottles. These pockets are not large enough for the awesome bottles included with the Salomon Advanced Skin, and we had trouble finding compatible bottles.
Below, we'll describe more about the shapes and sizes of the storage in each pack, but for now, we're talking about total storage capacity. The TrailMix has 7 liters of gear storage and 2 liters of included water storage, making it a unique blend of great hydration system with smaller gear storage.
To compare, the Nathan VaporHowe has a whopping 12 liters of gear storage, but only comes with a 1-liter bladder. Interestingly, the Salomon Advanced Skin has just 8 liters of gear storage but feels much roomier than the TrailMix. The stretchiness of the Advanced Skin's pockets may increase the supposed volume; the rear pockets on the TrailMix are not stretchy and cannot be maxed out nearly as much.
Finally, we've arrived at our all-time favorite metric. Running packs are all about pockets, and for this category, we wanted to know everything: where the pockets are located, what size and shape they are, what type of closures they have, and what we can fit in them.
While the TrailMix doesn't have nearly as many pockets as some of its larger competitors, it is thoughtfully designed with a designated space for all our essentials. On the front of the pack, there are three pockets. Both sides have a long, stretchy mesh pocket with no closure, and the right side has an additional smaller stretch pocket. These are perfect for storing the few things we want quick access to, like our smartphone and small snacks. We can easily fit a phone in these front pockets and never felt like it would bounce away despite the lack of closure.
The outermost pocket on the rear of this vest is a long, zippered area. The opening is narrow, but this would be a great place to store important items like keys and a headlamp that we want to be locked away behind a zipper. Behind this pocket is a full-length area that encompasses the bladder sleeve. Here we can fit a small layer or two. While this pack doesn't have room for tons of extras, it does have plenty of space for the things we'd need on shorter runs or races. Some of our testers appreciate the lack of space, because having extra space often means packing unnecessary items, just because we can.
As with most things we review here at OutdoorGearLab, we try to find the sweet spot between examining a product's weight without going overboard. All the packs in the women's portion of this review range from 12-14 ounces, making the difference nearly imperceptible. That being said, we want to give credit where credit is due.
The TrailMix weighs in as one of the lighter packs in this review at just 12.2 ounces. More importantly, it has one of the largest bladders that we tested; without the hydration system, this vest weighs less than 8 ounces.
The TrailMix 7 is a great deal. Other models cost twice as much, and all you really get out of that is increased storage, features you might not even need, and a boost in comfort. Compared to the other more affordable packs in this review, this is hands-down our favorite.
The TrailMix's smaller size and 2-liter bladder make it the perfect choice for runners looking for a hydration pack more than anything else. It has just enough room for the bare necessities and never compromises on comfort. This pack was a no-brainer for our Best Buy Award, and we can't wait to see where it takes you!
— Lauren DeLaunay