Hands-on Gear Review

La Sportiva Vapor Nano Review

Super light powder slaying machine. Great for low angle wiggling.
By: Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 29, 2016
Price:  $1,299 List  |  $779.37 at Backcountry - 40% Off
Pros:  Ultralight!
Cons:  Get pushed around in chunky and poor snow, wobbly at speed
Manufacturer:   La Sportiva
69
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 8
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Stability at Speed - 15% 3
  • Firm Snow - 20% 7
  • Powder - 20% 8
  • Crud and Poor Snow - 20% 6
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  • 2
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Our Verdict

Early reports on the Vapor Nano suggested that it was an ultralight tool that could compete in the general purpose ski touring category. We selected it for our all-around backcountry review as a known near-outlier and tested it with the same indiscriminate terrain and conditions selection. We used it on the steep, firm, choppy, side-country days just as much as the huge and high-energy days of perfect powder. In the end, we found that it served well enough all around, but is really a specialized powder touring device. Other skis in our review are more versatile. You may very well love the La Sportiva Vapor Nano, especially if you ski tons of good powder, but we also encourage you to check out our more versatile Editors' Choice winner, the Volkl V-Werks BMT 90, which is nearly as light, in the grand scheme of things. In the powder touring category, Salt Lake City-based DPS is now selling their venerable Wailer 99 shape in an ultralight "Tour1" construction. In our testing we found the Tour1 Wailer to be the best powder hunting ski we've ever used. The Nano is a little wider and lighter, but the Tour1 is excellent.

Product Update Since Testing
La Sportiva updates their Vapor Nano this year, and the result is pictured above. Read on below the table for a side-by-side comparison of the newcomer and its predecessor.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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The 2018 Vapor Nano vs. the 2016 Version


La Sportiva fine-tuned these sticks for the 2018 season, releasing the latest Vapor Nano with a larger radius, slightly wider waist, and less rock in tip and tail. The price jumped $99 as well. Check out the side-by-side photos below, with the new version on the left, followed by a detailed list of the updates.

  • Dimensions — The waist increased by two millimeters in the new iteration. The dimensions are now 130/105/120mm.
  • Radius — The radius of the new model increased from 20.7m to 24m.
  • Less Rocker — The tip and tail rocker is reduced. The new model has a tip rocker of 320mm and tail of 290mm, while the predecessor's measurements were 392mm and 375mm, respectively.
  • Available Lengths — The 2018 Vapor Nano is offered 168cm, 179cm, and 190cm lengths.
  • Skin Attachment — The older model had holes in the tail and tip for skin attachment. The new model doesn't have those same holes. La Sportiva makes specific skins for the Vapor Nano, which no longer require said holes.
  • Price — The price jumps from $1200 to $1299 this year.

As we have not laid the latest Vapor Nano's to snow yet ourselves, the review below reflects the 2016-2017 Vapor Nano.

Hands-On Review of the 2016 Vapor Nano


Miles and miles of travel on the Wapta Traverse. Generally  for something like this  we like even narrower skis. But the super light construction of the Vapor Nano make it workable.
Miles and miles of travel on the Wapta Traverse. Generally, for something like this, we like even narrower skis. But the super light construction of the Vapor Nano make it workable.

Weight


Weight, as a scoring category, is the most powerful single category in our matrix. The sum of downhill scoring categories is more important than the weight and uphill performance to us, but no one category is as valued as highly as weight. In this way, the La Sportiva Vapor gets an early head start in overall ratings. Not only is the Vapor the lightest in absolute terms, but it is also quite wide. The calculated weight/surface area leads the pack, and by other accounts leads the entire industry.

Finally, further enhancing the weight score is the fact that the top sheet is essentially pure white. In sunny, soft, and dry snow conditions, the top of skis gets warmed by the sun. This warm top melts some snow. The liquid water thus formed collects dry snow which can then refreeze in place. Depending on the width of the ski and the exact temperature and snow conditions, this can add considerable mass to the ski. Light colored skis (the K2 Wayback 104 are also at least mostly light-colored) collect less snow and therefore stay closer to their manufactured mass in actual usage.

Lead test editor and IFMGA certified guide Jed Porter on the La Sportiva Vapor Nano in Alberta  Canada.
Lead test editor and IFMGA certified guide Jed Porter on the La Sportiva Vapor Nano in Alberta, Canada.

The powder touring specialist Vapor Nano wouldn't necessarily be everyone's first choice for glaciated slog mountaineering  but we tested it there anyway. The wide profile and rockered tip handled the funky snow well enough  and we were thankful for the lightweight construction over the miles and miles. Wapta Traverse  BC/Alberta  Canada.
The powder touring specialist Vapor Nano wouldn't necessarily be everyone's first choice for glaciated slog mountaineering, but we tested it there anyway. The wide profile and rockered tip handled the funky snow well enough, and we were thankful for the lightweight construction over the miles and miles. Wapta Traverse, BC/Alberta, Canada.

Stability at Speed


In our experience, stability at speed and in high-energy steep skiing is a function of weight, length, and stiffness/integrity of construction. Heavier, longer, and stiffer skis are more stable. The Vapor is not heavy and its rockered tips and tails make for an effectively shorter ski. The one thing it seems to have in its favor is the carbon construction. Indeed, as long as the snow is smooth or predictable, the ski seems to handle just fine with more energy. When it gets chunky, however, the Vapor gets pushed around and wobbles until the user reigns in the speed. Something like the slightly heavier Dynastar Mythic or even the K2 Wayback 96 offers greater stability. At the extreme opposite end, stability wise, is the Top Pick Dynafit Chugach. The huge and heavy Chugach charges through anything, while the Vapor Nano requires a slow dance.

Firm Snow Performance


It is a testament to La Sportiva's carbon construction that they can make such a light, wide ski survive so well in firm conditions. On a lift-served, side-country avalanche course on Vail Mountain, our lead tester skied miles of groomed and scratchy snow. The Vapor is far from a race stock carver, but it does surprisingly well. As compared to close competitor, and Top Pick winner, DPS Wailer Tour, the Vapor is far better on the firm stuff. If your powder skiing regimen occasionally requires some hard stuff, the La Sportiva will get you through. If your ski habits regularly take you to the steep and hard as their own objective, something narrower (like the Hannibal) or beefier and even narrower will serve you better than these lightweight powder harvesters.

The Vapor Nanos  not to mention the ski testers  grab a break in the middle of a one-day push on Canada's classic Wapta Traverse.
The Vapor Nanos, not to mention the ski testers, grab a break in the middle of a one-day push on Canada's classic Wapta Traverse.

Powder Performance


All of our tested skis slayed the powder. It is in perfect snow that weight seems to matter the least. When it is firm or chopped up or poor snow, more mass rewards. In perfect dry powder snow, light skis' liabilities are less. We had a great time in the dry and light on the Vapor Nano.

Crud/Poor Snow Performance


Initial snap judgements of the Vapor Nano confused our anticipation of its performance right off the bat. We expect light skis to get pushed around by poor snow. We expect wide and rockered skis to do better. The La Sportiva is 103mm underfoot, with a ton of both tip and tail rocker, but it is the lightest ski we tested. In actual usage, we found the poor snow performance to sit near the bottom of the middle of the pack.

Basically, in assessing poor snow performance, we can lump skis into three categories. There are those that make bad snow fun, there are those with which we can make normal, though not fun, turns in all but the worst conditions, and there are those that require resorting to survival turns as soon as the snow gets weird. The Vapor Nano is in the middle category. We were never able to fully relax when the snow was sloppy or breakable, but we could also stay on top of them to make proper parallel turns. With snow at its worst, with tired legs, or under newer backcountry skiers, the Vapor Nano required we step back, almost literally, into survival skiing and step turns.

Best Applications


The Vapor Nano is one of the most specialized skis in our test. Its ultralight, mid-fat profile is perfectly suited for miles and miles of powder ski touring. If you ski Teton Pass or anywhere in British Columbia outside of the steeper zones of Rogers Pass and the Whistler Coast, you could be stoked with this powder specialist. Of course, as part of a quiver, the Nano has its place too.

Value


This is by far the most expensive ski in our test. It is almost twice the cost of the Best Buy Fischer Hannibal. You have to really want it to be willing to pay that much.

While we had nothing other than cosmetic issues with the durability of the Vapor, that featherweight design sure makes one skeptical. On our very first touring steps, literally, the topsheet began to flake off. It never progressed beyond cosmetic, but it did suggest issues.

The very first steps on the Vapor Nano resulted in minor chipping of the top paint  as shown here near the tip. This chipping continued at a slower rate with ongoing use  but never affected performance.
The very first steps on the Vapor Nano resulted in minor chipping of the top paint, as shown here near the tip. This chipping continued at a slower rate with ongoing use, but never affected performance.

Conclusion


Backcountry skiers who can count on skiing mainly excellent, cold powder and ski lots of it on any given day, can really appreciate and employ the Vapor Nano.

Recommended Pairings


Like most backcountry ski companies, La Sportiva sells climbing skins for use with its skis. In our comprehensive Climbing Skin Review we tested the skins they recommend for use with the Vapor Nano. These skins are branded by La Sportiva, manufactured by a company called Pomoca, and use K2 tip and tail connection. Regardless of the mess of corporate agreements (and it doesn't stop with skins. The Italian company La Sportiva, contracts with an American carbon ski manufacturer, Goode, to make the Vapor Nano), we found the La Sportiva skins to be excellent. While we do not always do so, with the La Sportiva skis, we recommend pairing with the La Sportiva LS Tour Skin.

As for bindings and boots, these deserve the absolute lightest. Mount them with race bindings and ski them with some sort of two buckle boot from our backcountry ski boot review.

Jediah Porter

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Most recent review: October 29, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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4 star: 100%  (1)
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