Let’s not beat around the bush, this vest is not your run-of-the-mill, cruise out for a 10 miler on the horse path in your local woods. The Nathan Vapor Wrap (men’s) and Shape (women’s) are the top of the line, fully UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) compliant race and adventure hydration systems on the market. At first glance you’ll feel like you need a PhD just to fit it properly, but let me promise you, once you understand its capabilities and know how to fit it you might never use another vest for another adventure ever again.
Two items of note, which have been hinted towards already. First, there are complexities with this vest, such as the reservoir thermal pocket and ice pouch that will seem pointless upon first inspection, but know that their use is optional and one of which can even be removed to save weight. Second, sizing and fit is important. Both styles wear differently than the ever-trusted HPL #020. Do the research, then read the fitting instructions. If you’ve done it right the vest will fit like a glove and even fully loaded you’ll hardly know it’s there.
We tested three Wraps and two Shapes and put them through their paces. From here we allow each tester to speak in regards to their own impression of the vest.
Pete put more than 150 miles on the Vapor Wrap before writing his review:
The Nathan Vapor Wrap is a fantastic vest with enormous carrying capacity. Despite being a larger capacity vest, the ergonomic design gives the runner a snug and comfortable fit while carrying larger volumes. The Vapor Wrap literally wraps around the runner. The most noticeable immediate feature is where it wraps around the runner’s torso, which is much higher than competitors. For me, I greatly like this fit, and find that the location of the fit lends itself well for unnoticed presence while running. It should be noted that due to the higher fit, some runners may find that the vest comes ‘closer’ to their neck lines, which is only a perceived comfort issue (I have not seen any issues with this). The combination of a 2L hydration capacity and the compression system facilitate a comfortable long run with the worry free attitude of regular hydration. On a few of my runs, I allowed the typically accepted bounce of the partially filled bladder to persist, until the brighter side of me used the easily accessed compression straps to cinch the entire pack to the unnoticeable presence on my back. As a somewhat fast and technical descender, I anticipated the normal bounce on my faster downhill sections. I am happy to report that with a full bladder (Yes 2L, WOW), 10 GUs, and other goodies, I barely noticed the weight and presence of the pack. The only two real flaws I found were the over-abundance of straps and difficulty managing the side zipper pockets.
Leslie is a triathlete turned ultra runner. She put over 300 miles on her Shape and broke it down for us in three categories:
STYLE: First impressions are important. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, thankfully the Nathan came through. At first glance I loved its look, love the tidy put together pack, and LOVE the white! I have worried about dirtying it up being a trail runner with dirt and sticky food but with more than 300 miles on it it’s held it’s ‘prettiness’ and style well.
FIT: It fits higher than I’m used to, almost like a kid that pulls his backpack straps too tight, but it’s just a different style of fit. It didn’t feel too tight or uncomfortable while running and didn’t bounce around. I never had any chafing or the annoying feeling of it falling off my shoulders and my shoulders seemed less fatigued at the end of a long run. I really liked the buckles. I was much more willing to take this pack off mid-run if needed because of its two simple buckles, unlike stiff to pull apart metal sliding buckles on other vests. While the top strap is a little tricky to adjust, the elastic straps were super comfortable and hardly noticeable. However, I found that while I was at first excited about the prospect of more storage in the side pockets, I couldn’t load them heavy or my arms would hit the pockets while running. Instead I chose to pack them with tissue, band aids or pills.
FUNCTION: Storage is good, similar to other hydration vests. An electrolyte pocket is missed though and would be a great addition. I kept my iPhone in the front zippered pocket and it fits great, but anything wider might be tight. Although I found it odd that the men and women’s packs have different storage options, the storage in the back is great. It easily and securely fits extra food or clothing layers and because it’s separate from the bladder pocket there’s less condensation transfer. The bladder itself is easy to get to for filling. I also like that the hose threads through the side and up the front of the pack. While having the hose cross the chest in a traditional pack is nice for easy access, I think I prefer the hose position in the Nathan because there’s less leakage down the pack from the mouthpiece. It’s also one less thing to undo when taking the pack off.
One of the most impressive aspects of this vest is the fit. The 3 separate strap systems allowed for me to customize where the vest fits at the shoulders, sides, and chest. I was most impressed with the zig zag strap across the chest: instead of causing havoc with sports bras for the girls, the innovative soft, stretchy strap kept the vest in place without any issues. It is much more flattering across the chest than all of the traditional two-strap models. All the ladies know what I’m talking about. I’m a short (5ft tall), “B-C” chested woman, and I was very impressed with how this vest fit my short torso but still accommodated the rest of me. I was also able to more accurately distribute weight across my entire upper body, which allowed me to avoid the dreaded mid-thoracic back pain that can accompany carrying a pack. I was often complimented on how “cute” the white vest was, and I appreciated how it matched whatever I end up wearing. The pockets would soothe any OCD runner, since the vest can be very organized! But I admit, I still haven’t committed to memory what I put into each pocket- so if the confusion of convenient organization can be seen as a flaw, then I would say that’s the only flaw I found!
Missy ran more than 200 miles in her men’s Wrap and had this to say: For longer runs, the men’s Vapor Wrap gives you a lot more options as far as pockets and a bit more room for extra gear. I had no chafing issues at all, and the packs did not slide around or rub. The harness system is easily adjustable: straps are up front in two locations. The straps to the waist-belt system are farther forward than in previous Nathan pack designs, so they are easier to reach.Additional pockets: many options, many pockets. No complaints. Waist-belt pockets were easy to reach. I think this is a really great first-edition of these pack designs and Nathan will continue to improve the design the upcoming years.