For the second straight year in a row, the Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L is our hands-down favorite hydration pack for running. This female-specific pack is incredibly comfortable and stretchy with excellent breathability and loads of storage. It feels like a small pack but has the largest amount of overall storage of any of the women's models we tested. Every detail of this pack has been painstakingly considered, but it comes at a high price in the checkout line. If you're looking for the best pack on the market to handle all your adventures, we think this is a worthy investment and very deserving of our Editors' Choice Award.
Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Comfortable, lots of storage, great pockets
Cons: No trekking pole attachment, expensive
Manufacturer: Nathan Sports
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We said it in 2018 and we'll say it again now: the VaporHowe 12L is the best women's running pack we've ever tested. In every metric we tested for, from weight to comfort to storage, this pack excels.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to making something comfortable (or uncomfortable). For this metric, we judge each pack's materials, stretch, fit, and breathability to give an overall picture of how pleasant it is to wear for hours on end.
The VaporHowe is one of the most comfortable running packs we've ever tested. The first thing we noticed about it is its incredible fabric. The entire vest is made with a silky smooth, super soft material that is great next to our skin. This is the only women's vest that we tested that we'd really be happy wearing just a sports bra with; others are too rough, and we'd always want to have a t-shirt on underneath them.
The build of this pack is like a hybrid between the Advanced Skin and the Nathan TrailMix. The sides have the same soft material, and while it looks like the Advanced Skin, it still has an adjustable strap like the TrailMix. We loved this blend of comfort with adjustability. The front closures are highly adjustable as well. They can be moved up and down a sliding rail, and we never had trouble finding the perfect fit.
The pack has a bit of stretch through the back which we thought was great during big athletic days. We found the fit to be accurate, with arm openings and back width that fit all of our testers regardless of their body shape. We didn't have problems with breathability either, despite the higher level of coverage on the back. We did get some feedback from runners with larger breasts that it was more difficult to find the right fit in this pack, so as always, we recommend trying this pack on before committing to a non-refundable purchase.
Running packs are complex products, so we dedicated an entire scoring metric to talking about all the little details. We'll discuss pockets and storage more a bit later, so, for now, we're focusing on all the things that make these vests great investments for runners.
The first thing we have to talk about is trekking pole storage. The new VaporHowe 2.0 does not have external trekking pole storage (the 2018 version did). We're not sure why this was changed, but it could nearly be a dealbreaker. Now, that being said, you can probably slip the trekking poles into the stretchy pocket with the bladder, but there's no way to access them without taking the pack off. If you don't normally run with poles, this may not matter much to you, but truthfully, it's the only feature that might actually prevent us from purchasing this vest.
On the flip side, there's one feature that we really liked on this pack: the magnet. The hydration system, which we'll explain in more detail below, is set up for a rear bladder. The bladder hose runs through a pocket on the top of the shoulder and down to a magnet on the chest strap. This magnet does a great job at holding the hose in place, unlike other clips we've experienced.
Every running pack is unique, and most tend to accommodate a wide range of hydration systems. For this metric, we judged each product's included system most heavily, while also making notes about their abilities to fit other systems.
One big change for the 2019 VaporHowe 2.0 is in the bladder. The newest version of this pack comes with a 1.6-liter insulated bladder. We love how much storage is in this pack, and this increased water storage is one of the things that makes this a great option for long days. We like how easily the bladder fits into and attaches to its rear pocket. Our testing team also loved the magnetic attachment that helps keep the hose in place.
In the next section, we'll describe in more detail the pockets on this hydration pack, but for now, we want to briefly discuss total storage capacity.
According to Nathan, the VaporHowe holds a whopping 12 liters of gear storage. We found it to be similar in size to the Advanced Skin which claims an 8-liter capacity. While we're not exactly sure how many liters this vest holds, we do know one thing: it can fit a lot of stuff. We had no problem packing plenty of snacks, layers, water, and even a bit of climbing equipment for big days out in the backcountry. This would easily be our first pick of all the women's models in this review for days when a large capacity is key.
Finally! Our favorite metric. Running packs are all about pockets, and we use this metric to critique their shape, size, location, and utility.
The VaporHowe 2.0 has space for just about everything we need. Upfront, there are two long stretchy pockets that do not close and two small stretchy pockets that have a small velcro closure. These are great for front bottle storage, if you decide to go without the rear bladder, or for your smartphone and a snack. The small pockets are great for energy gels and other quick bites to keep you going before you want to take off your pack.
One thing we love about this pack is the front zippered phone pocket. While we never worried that our phone would fall out of the stretchy pocket, it's nice to have the security of a zippered space right up front. The rear of this vest has a full-length pocket for the hydration bladder, a shorter stretch pocket with velcro closure, and a full-length zippered pocket. On the previous version of this pack, we really liked having a full-length rear pocket without a zipper for stuffing in bulky layers. While the 2019 version of the VaporHowe technically has the same amount of space available, we don't necessarily love the configuration quite as much.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we're always counting ounces. We put each product we test on our own scale to see how they measure up to their competitors, and running packs are no different.
The VaporHowe with its bladder weighs in at 13.2 ounces, putting it right in the middle of all the women's packs we tested. We wonder if some of its weight comes from the new-and-improved insulated bladder since last year's version of this pack was a bit lighter. We strongly suggest keeping in mind with this review that all our women's packs weigh within two ounces of one another, an essentially imperceptible amount.
Here comes the tough part. The VaporHowe is the most expensive women's model we tested. The materials are exceptional, the storage is huge, and the water system is excellent. If you're a serious distance runner looking for a long-term investment, or if you're embarking on a big challenge and need only the best equipment, we think this pack is worth the price.
The Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L from Nathan is the winner of our 2019 Editors' Choice Award for best women's running pack. We love its comfortable, adjustable build and found great use in its massive amounts of gear and water storage. Despite an expensive price tag, this pack really is the cream of the crop.
— Lauren DeLaunay