Coming on the scene for 2017 is the Nathan VaporHowe, and we couldn't be any more impressed. Designed by legendary runner Stephanie Howe and marketed to the female adventure athlete, we were blown away by this pack in every single category. Its minuscule weight, soft materials, and perfectly placed pockets made it an overwhelmingly obvious choice for our Editors' Choice Award. We never wanted to take this vest off and found ourselves grabbing it for everything from long training runs to mountain scrambles and light hikes close to town. We loved the comfortable fit and easy-to-access hydration system. This pack excelled in every way, from the smallest of details, like the magnetic clip and hidden whistle pocket, to the significant structural features. While it tipped the scales at a whopping $180, we think this vest is worth every penny for those looking to toil away the long hours on the trails.
Nathan VaporHowe 12L ReviewPrice: $180 List | $128.53 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Comfortable, lots of storage, great pockets
Bottom line: Comfortable and packed with great features, the VaporHowe is the perfect companion for any adventure.
Carrying Capacity (liters): 12
External Storage?: Yes, multiple stash pockets
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Running Hydration Packs of 2018
Our Analysis and Test Results
The VaporHowe wins our Editors' Choice Award because it scored high marks in every single category we tested. From superior comfort to functional pockets and excellently designed details, we would recommend this product to anyone unwilling to compromise on quality. Whether you're training for your first ultra, are a seasoned race veteran, or simply want to enjoy long days in remote places, you won't be disappointed.
For this metric, we looked at a wide variety of details but were also concerned with the overall fit and feel of each product. The VaporHowe impressed us immediately with its soft material that made it a great choice for hot, shirtless workouts. It was easy to adjust, didn't chafe or rub, and was both stable and breathable.
The VaporHowe struck us right away as a unique design that we couldn't wait to try on. As opposed to the mesh of the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta or Osprey Dyna, the VaporHowe is made of a thin, stretchy, and incredibly soft material. There are small holes along the back panel, and while we were skeptical that this would provide enough ventilation, we're happy to report that this pack kept us cool even during the hottest summer workouts. Because of the stretchy materials that conform elegantly to the body, we could strap this pack on and go without needing to make tons of adjustments. Pleased with its performance on the trails, we took the VaporHowe to the mountains to see how far we could push it. It never bounced or jostled on our backs, even when scrambling on the rocky peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Our lead female tester felt like this pack was an extension of her own body, and never wanted to take it off.
This pack, like the other two women's models in this review, has adjustable straps on both sides, under the arms. We found the VaporHowe's exceptionally easy to use, especially compared to the stretchy strap of the Dyna that is hard to pull. We found this strap simple to both tighten and loosen and appreciated its elastic band for holding the strap from bouncing around too much.
The chest pockets, while we'll talk more about in the "Pockets" section below, are symmetrical, which we found to be crucial. The dual sternum straps allow for great versatility, and they are both comfortable and easy to use. They feature the same soft yet inflexible material as the side straps, and also include the elastic band to limit annoying strap bouncing. The straps are on a sliding rail for infinite adjustability. While there are only two buckles, each strap is adjustable in three places for an even more customized fit than the standard design found on the Ultra Vesta.
Our only qualm with the fit of this vest was in the placement of the trekking pole straps. We found the poles to dig into our shoulder blades a little and wished that that they were placed slightly more to the outside like the ones found on the Ultra Vesta. However, we think you may be able to shift your supplies around to compensate for this, and we discovered that the rest of the excellent design on this pack substantially outweighed this one small feature.
Features & Design
Because pockets earned their own scoring metric, this category looks to all the other features of each product. We looked at capacity, bulky items attachment points, any bonus features to help us get a sense of what purpose each vest holds. We were so impressed with the storage on the VaporHowe and loved its attention to small details, both of which helped earn this vest a 9/10 in this category.
While we'll talk more about pockets below, for this class, we looked at bulky item storage. While the Ultra Vesta features a durable bungee on the back, the VaporHowe utilizes a large variety of pockets, including one giant stretchy one. We had no problem shoving a rain jacket, climbing shoes, and an extra layer in this pocket and felt that it was a solid competitor to the Ultimate Direction's bungee which, though large enough for most bulky items, left us feeling worried that we might unknowingly drop something.
This vest, like the Dyna has an awesome magnet on the sternum straps to keep the hydration hose in place. We thought this was surprisingly reliable and very user-friendly. While the Ultra Vesta does not have this feature, it was also designed primarily to be used with soft flask bottles, not a bladder.
All three women's vests include an emergency whistle, and they all try to find a solution to the whistle bouncing. We like the hidden pocket for the whistle on the VaporHowe, but it is located inside a zippered pocket, making it potentially harder to access in case of an actual emergency. The Ultra Vesta, by comparison, has a small pocket to hold the whistle, but we found that it fell out occasionally and was prone to more annoying bouncing; it is, however, easier to access. Our favorite of these was that of the Dyna, whose whistle lays inside a larger pocket and is easy to access.
Lastly, we loved how easy it was to access our trekking poles. The VaporHowe features a simple design of dual elastic straps. This system strikes the perfect balance and is both secure yet easy to use. We did feel that our poles sat a little uncomfortably on our shoulder blades, but overall we thought this was a great system that let us get to our poles easily without slowing us down. We could not, however, put the poles in and out without removing the vest, one of the great new features Ultimate Direction has included on the men's version of the Ultra Vest.
Besides being extremely stylish, running packs mostly serve to hydrate. For runs or adventures that require more than a handheld water bottle or hydration belt can handle, running vests allow for at least a liter of water storage. While most models are setup to accommodate both front bottles and rear bladders, we chose to only judge them on the hydration system that they came with. For the VaporHowe, that was a 1.8-liter bladder. We loved the simple setup and found that the specific bladder pocket limited jostling and bouncing.
The included hydration system for the VaporHowe is impressive for its simplicity. There is a rear pocket devoted especially to the bladder which helps limit jostling and aids in organization. The Velcro tab at the top of the pocket keeps the bladder in place without fanfare. The hose slides easily through a series of elastic and stretchy loops to connect via magnet to the front sternum straps. We love that the hose doesn't jostle around, and we found it to be both easy to connect and disconnect when necessary. We were skeptical that the magnet would be strong enough to withstand our various arm bumps on uneven terrain, but we were pleasantly surprised that it stayed in place. Simple yet effective is exactly what we're looking for in our running packs and the VaporHowe is both.
The bladder's hose is easy to use, and we like that the valve is opened just by biting. There is no locking mechanism, but we found this to be advantageous for fast-moving activities. For runners that prefer front bottle storage, the VaporHowe holds two 22-ounce bottles, which would free up the bladder pocket in the back for even more bulky layers or snacks.
If we had to pick one category where the VaporHowe excelled, we'd be hard pressed not to pick this one. We were shocked at how much we could carry with us in this pack and find it to be the best pick for long adventure races with a long mandatory gear list. Without delving too much into the "pockets" metric, this metric focuses more on the rear storage of the vest.
Of the three women's-specific packs we tested, the VaporHowe had the biggest storage capacity. We easily packed multiple layers as well as some lightweight climbing equipment for a light and fast mission in the mountains; no matter the objective, we never had to worry if we'd have enough room to bring what we needed. While the Ultra Vesta has an impressive capacity as well, it paled in comparison to this award-winner. We loved the diverse sizes and shapes of the pockets, which we'll describe in more detail below, but the standout feature for this metric was the large rear stretchy pocket. The more we stuffed into it, the more it expanded, and we were challenged to find its limits. The pockets are large, yes, but what seemed to make them, so award-worthy was the stretchy material. Compared to the small capacity of the Dyna, the VaporHowe was in a league of its own. And while the Ultra Vesta probably has enough room for most ultra races with aid stations or shorter training runs, nothing beats the VaporHowe for long adventures.
Pockets, pockets, pockets! Being able to comfortably organize all the things you'll need for your running adventure is crucial to success in both races and in the mountains. The pockets on these packs come in a variety of sizes, from gaping holes to stuff your layers into, to teeny tiny gel or electrolyte holders. We loved the shape, sizes, and variety of pockets on the VaporHowe that let us intentionally keep our belongings organized and secure.
All of the pockets on the VaporHowe are made of the stretchy material that we love, which we find makes them able to hold more than it may appear. Most of the pockets also have either Velcro closures or zippers, and we appreciated knowing that gear was secure. The pockets on this vest are in a variety of sizes yet symmetrically placed for a balanced fit.
On the front of the model, there are three layers of pockets. The external ones are small with Velcro closures and can fit gels, electrolyte tablets, or a small music player. Behind these are longer pockets, also with Velcro, that are ideal for bars, snacks, and even a large phone. On the right side, the uppermost pocket is small, does not have a closure, and could be the perfect place to store a music player. On the left, there is a zippered pocket that includes a hidden whistle pocket.
The back of the VaporHowe has a zippered pocket with an internal mesh phone pocket. Our testers loved this pocket for sunglasses, headlamps, first aid supplies, and other gadgets that we might need to carry. For a race like the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, with an infamously long list of required gear, the VaporHowe excels. Moving outward is the massive stretchy pocket that is perfect for bulky layers like rain jackets, hats, and pants. We were also able to fit our climbing shoes and chalk bag in here, making this pack a great choice for mountain scrambles. The Velcro closure left us feeling confident that we wouldn't accidentally drop any of our precious supplies. Up top are the bladder pocket and a smaller pocket, great for a headlamp, wallet, or additional snacks.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we're in the business of trusting no one; we took our measurements to see how the manufacturer's claimed weight stood up to the truth. The VaporHowe shocked us when we first picked it up, and its place as the lightest vest in this review — men's or women's — earned it a perfect 10/10 in the category.
While we wouldn't want to compromise durability, size, or comfort for weight, our testers do appreciate a lightweight vest that doesn't hold us back. At 12.6 ounces with the bladder, or an impressive 8.2 ounces without, the VaporHowe is remarkably light without sacrificing any of the other qualities we find so important.
Because of the VaporHowe's huge storage capacity and great variety of pockets, we are first inclined to recommend this vest as the obvious choice for long days in the mountains, ultra marathons with fewer aid stations, or for races with a long list of obligatory gear, like the infamous Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. And while all this is true, its superior comfort also make it an excellent choice for shorter training runs or, really, just about anything. We started taking this pack with us just about everywhere and found it to be a great companion for High Sierra scrambles and in-town runs alike.
Topping the charts at $180, we can't help but feel that you truly get what you pay for in this category. For avid runners, distance travelers, or mountain adventurers, we believe the VaporHowe is a justified investment piece. However, we understand that the price tag is a bit intimidating. In this case, the Ultra Vesta, at $135, may be a little easier to swallow and is still a solid choice for most purposes.
As our clear Editors' Choice Award winner for women's specific packs, we can't recommend the VaporHowe highly enough. From amazing storage to first-rate comfort, this is a pack that can keep up with whatever you might throw at it. From scrambling to racing, training runs to hikes, this new product from Nathan is sure to make all your buddies jealous. This product is a true all-arounder with high marks in every single category. Frankly, we couldn't think of a single way to improve upon it. If you're a hardcore adventurer who needs the best of the best, look no further than the Nathan VaporHowe.
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Most recent review: September 14, 2017
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