The VaporAir retains quite a lot of the comfort from earlier designs such as the Nathan HPL #020 — which is probably why we like it so much. It is a far more refined, has far more storage, and includes many features that are annoyingly lacking from our 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 after drinking, it just attaches itself! This is a solid system.
We found the Nathan VaporAir to be comfortable, intuitive to use, and versatile. We also appreciated the deviation from the insanely popular soft flasks on the front design. Way to go Nathan, you do you.
We love the easy to adjust shoulder straps and elastic mesh side panels, which Nathan uses instead of side straps. Unlike the HPL 020, the VaporAir isn't as adjustable and we felt rode a bit too high under our arms. 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 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.
While the VaporAir is loaded down with features, they aren't overwhelming and add functionality. The intuitive nature of the fit adjustments, magnetic clamp, and the layout is fantastic. We firmly believe you should be able to get a new running vest and have it fit without hours of combing through instructions for how to make adjustments.
Amongst the packs that came with a bladder hydration system, the VaporAir ranked right at the top. 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 can 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 opening 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 holds quite a lot of equipment, food, and water. 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, but it lacks a kangaroo pouch. What we like about the pockets is that they are either water resistant (in the case of the pill pouch), or made of a 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 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 14 ounces. Considering the great storage capacity and two-liter bladder, this is pretty dang good.
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 comfortable for hiking as well.
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.
With an MSRP of $150, this is an expensive product. 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 one of the best packs on the market.