The Nathan VaporAir reminds us of one of the earliest running vests on the market — the Nathan HPL 020 — which is probably why we like it so much. However, it is a far more refined version that is much more comfortable, has far more storage, and includes many features that were annoyingly lacking from our first HPL 020. We love how easy it is to access the top of the bladder for quick on-the-go refills, and also love that Nathan continues to incorporate Hydrapak bladders in their hydration packs. These bladders, which fold over on top and have a slide-on clamp, are some of the quickest and easiest to refill to the brim. The incredibly easy to use magnetic hose clamp easily bonds the hose to the chest, meaning you don't have to fumble around or even look down for where to clamp your hose after drinking, it just attaches itself! These features and more easily seal the deal for winning our Top Pick for Bladder Hydration System.
We love the VaporAir's bungee set-up for attaching additional layers to the outside of the pack. This enables the pack to stay sleek and small, while still carrying everything you need.
We awarded the Nathan VaporAir 9 out of 10 points for comfort. We loved the easy to adjust shoulder straps and elastic mesh side panels, which Nathan uses instead of side straps. The pack does not bounce around while running, and the adjustable sternum straps make it easy to crank down the tightness as the bladder empties. Overall we have nothing to complain about, except that it wasn't as form fitting as the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set, and so we couldn't rate it as the very best.
Not only did we appreciate the side pockets for holding extra food, we loved how the sides of this pack are constructed of stretchy mesh that hugs the body snuggly while running and still provides the most comfort.
Features & Design
The Nathan VaporAir has an incredible set of features, basically everything you would need or expect from a top rated hydration pack. Besides the magnetic hose clip which we have already gushed about, it has external bungee cords for attaching extra clothing, pole straps that are intuitive to use, reflective tape for night running, a breathable mesh back, and an attached whistle.
We loved the magnetic hose clamp on the Nathan pack. No need to look or fumble around to unclasp or re-clasp the hose. The moment they were close to each other the hose would attach itself magnetically. A cool innovative feature.
Pole straps that hold the poles securely out of the way when not in use. The only downside of this setup is that you must remove the pack to rig up the poles.
Amongst the three packs that came with a bladder hydration system, the Nathan VaporAir was far superior to the Patagonia Fore Runner Vest 10L. The included Hydrapak bladder holds two liters of liquid and is easily accessed through an open bladder pouch. The hose detaches easily from the bladder for ease of cleaning, and you are able to thread the hose through either the top for over the shoulder access or the bottom if you prefer it to run under your armpit. The magnetic hose attachment point is a huge plus. Although not specifically designed for such use, the chest pockets are big enough for bottles should you prefer that method.
The bladder in this pack is accessible through an open at the top pouch, meaning you can just reach in for easy filling without removing it from the pack.
This pack is not huge, but it still works. It has only two pouches on the back, one of which is filled by the bladder. The other main pocket is a single zippered pocket that is plenty large enough for all your accessories or one piece of clothing. To account for the lack of internal space, Nathan has added external bungees which allow you to strap on any extra clothes you might want to bring. While it's not perfectly ideal, it is versatile.
The pocket set-up on the VaporAir is almost as good as the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set, however, since it lacks a kangaroo pouch, we gave it 9 out of 10. What we really liked about the pockets was that they are either water resistant (in the case of the pill pouch), or made of slick material that is easy to wipe clean. When the remnants of a race's worth of GU packets are stuck inside your chest pockets, the ability to easily wipe them clean is a very welcome addition to any pack. It has two huge breast pockets for food and accessories, two additional gel pockets, one expandable zippered pocket for a phone, one small Velcro pill pocket, and two side zippered pockets for food that are easy to reach.
The breast pockets on this pack are big enough for use with water bottles or soft flasks if you prefer that hydration method or just want to carry extra water.
The pockets on this pack are plentiful and huge! We also liked that they are easy to clean material. Notice the hose coming over the shoulder. We were forced to make a modification by adding a loop of duct tape to keep the hose from flapping around while we ran.
With an empty bladder this pack weighs an even 14 ounces, making it the second lightest one in our review.
This is an amazing hydration pack for running for anyone who prefers a bladder and hose hydration system over chest mounted bottles or flasks. It is ideally suited for ultra races or long wilderness runs, and would be really comfortable for hiking as well.
With an MSRP of $150, this is the second most expensive product in our review. But simply put, you get a lot of useful features and comfort for your money here that you won't get with the more affordable options. We think it is a great value.
The Nathan VaporAir is a hydration pack in the old-school style but refined with added comfort, pockets, and a feature set that make it state-of-the-art. For those who prefer a bladder on their back, this is the best pack on the market, and for that reason we awarded it our Top Pick for Bladder Hydration System.
Another day of testing packs at a long ultra race. This is about a quarter of the way into the Bighorn Mountain 100 mile in Wyoming. Our Top Pick Award winner worked fantastic.