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April 24, 2013 Comments (13) Gear Reviews, Trails, Training

Gear Review – Nathan Vapor Wrap & Shape

picture of Nathan VaporShape used for review


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.


Nathan Vapor Wrap (men)

Nathan Vapor Shape (women)


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.


Jennilyn has put more than 200 miles on her Shape and speaks very well of it: 


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.


Craig ran with the vest for approximately 200 miles and had this final word to say:


Once I got past the initial difficulty of fitting the pack to my six foot, yet very slight frame, I found the pack to be incredibly comfortable.  The reservoir is easier to get to than other vests and I look forward to running in warmer weather (I wore this through the Winter) and testing out the thermal layer the reservoir slips into to see if it does, in fact, help keep fluids cooler.  While there are certain aspects of the vest I may never use (until I finally run a European Sky Race, that is), knowing they are an option is of great comfort.  Outside of that there isn’t much more that can be said that hasn’t already been stated by the other testers.


Look for these vests at your local specialty running store. If they aren’t available there they can be found at


13 Responses to Gear Review – Nathan Vapor Wrap & Shape

  1. Sherpa John says:

    Thanks for the review Craig and crew. I’ve always loved Nathan vests and I’m glad to finally see they’ve done a re-design that is inline with industry trends. Kudos to them. Hoping to try it out myself.. but I’m still in Love with the HP #?? .. don’t even know the model number anymore. But I love the pack.

  2. Knut says:

    Great review! Curious why there is bo mention of the single best feature of this vest, the perfectly places bottle pockets on the front. Adding 2 .5 liter bottles to the front gives you many more options for hydration. Added benefit is that bottles is a lot faster to refill at aid stations. Love running with bottles up front after running with the Vaporwrap over the winter.

    Also, last summer I used the pocket on the inside of the back panel a lot for a gel ice pack. This helped keep my core temp well down when running in the heat of the day (kids and wife on the beach, me running in the hills inland) making mid day long runs a lot more bearable.

  3. mkreuzer says:

    Knut, you make a really good points. Glad you added them to the discussion.

  4. CraigLloyd says:

    Knut, great question. Having the ability to add water bottles to the front does add significant versatility. I’m not sure if any of the other testers tried it with bottles in front other than myself, they did not provide that in their results. Personally, I don’t like wearing bottles up front unless the bottles is 10oz or less. It has nothing to do with the vest (I’ve tried it in several brands), it’s just a personal thing I don’t like, so I didn’t include it in my review. But you bring up a great point, it does offer amazing versatility. As for the ice pocket, I probably should have given it a nob, but considering we all tested this through the winter it just never came to mind; a fault I should have corrected. Thank you so much for bringing it up. We love these kinds of comments.

  5. I am really happy to see that Nathan is not being left behind with packs modernising both through use of different materials and progression of design.

    However, I would definitely say that these reviews leave some questions unasked and some issues unnoted.

    1. In the VaporWrap, just from checking this pack out at my local running store, I don’t know what the designers were thinking with the back pocket. There is a thin pocket that runs down the outside back of the main pack. It would seem the logical place to stick a small shell and mandatory items like a compression bandage/compass/firelighter etc. But I can’t even fit my hand in the zipped top, which is a problem when a pocket goes the length of a pack.

    2. I bought my partner the VaporShape. She does really love running with it but the UTMB-ready claim really needs some explaining by the designers if it’s going to be taken seriously. I would defy anybody using clothing that actually fits them to get a fleece, thermal top, thermal pants, shell, rainpants, 2 headlights and assorted other bits and pieces into this pack and then easily fill or remove and reinsert the hydration bladder. We removed the sleeve because it just took too much room but it was still a massive timekiller to reinsert the bladder which couldn’t actually be refilled inside the pack because there was too much pressure against it from the pack contents.
    As a running pack, fantastic. But for a race situation where checkpoints count, the speed of refilling the bladder and getting it back in is as much an issue as its actual volume.

    Nathan do make great running vests and packs, but it would be nice if somebody could get out front of these advanced new products and address these legitimate design questions.

    Thanks for the reviews 🙂

  6. Emily Baehr says:

    I purchased the VaporShape on Jennilyns suggestion (completely independent of finding this review on it!) and so far I am very happy with it!

    1. I was able to find it on sale with free shipping (Schwing!).
    2. I experimented with cold packs in the back pocket, and later utilized by filling with ice at the bottom of the grand canyon. AWESOME!
    3. After all is said and done, it can be a bit of a tight fit, and getting a full bladder back into the pack when loaded can take some wiggling and gravity swings to help.
    4. Jennilynn showed me an alternate method to putting the hose up the side so the mouth piece points up. It’s perfect, though I still need to trim the hose to mine because it is a bit too long and kinks unless i pull it out more.

    All in all I think it is a solid vest. I used it to do a rim to rim hike in the grand canyon in one go, and found that I had plenty of supplies in the summer. My pack went from white to red and very dirty after using it as a pillow on the canyon floor. It’s looking really good after cleaning. I will continue putting the pack through its courses, but for me it’s already proven itself a winner!

  7. Allan Tan says:

    Just got my Vapor Wrap.

    With force, I can squeeze the mandatory UTMB gear into my Vapor Wrap (First Ascent Helium II, Patagonia Torrentshell Pants, Patagonia R1 Full Zip – a light fleece, Outdoor Research mitten shells). BUT, as Roger points out above, I’ll have to remove at least half the items when refilling, irrespective of whether I refill the bladder while inside (risk wetting everything if it spills) or outside the sack (still a struggle to get back in). In a fatigued race situation, I risk dropping/losing critical gear in the process. If they’d added 25% more storage space, perhaps utilising the bottom corners of the pack, they could claim UTMB readiness. Disappointed with what is, in practice, a false claim by Nathan.

    • mkreuzer says:

      Good comments Allan. I think you should definitely reach out to nathan and we will do when we visit with them at OR. It’s good to have folks like you read then comment on the articles to point out things we don’t review, or miss. We are testing the PB vest from UD and the Omega from UltrAspire and both may be more in line with with your hopes. From my personal testing, each has pluses and a couple of minuses. Most importantly, thank you for taking the time to post!

  8. Elizabeth Kimble says:

    I’ve been running with my VaporShape for a while now, and my single favorite thing is the zippered pockets along the side. I am now finally fueling properly because it is so easy to get to what I need. The bottle pouch up front makes it easy to carry alternative hydration (I carry espresso, sometimes gatorade) to strictly water in the back bladder. Then miscellaneous goods in the zipper pocket on the left front strap, like headlamps, rock salt, etc.

    The fit is fantastic; it is definitely made with women in mind. And unlike cheaper packs, I don’t hesitate to take it off and on because the hassle is just too much; the two little buckles make it so easy.

    That said, even the small is too large for me and there is some bouncing especially when low on water. I’m 5’4 and around 120, so I’m not sure what the issue is, but I have pulled all the little cords and straps as tight as they will go! Perhaps they designed strictly with UTMB gear requirements in mind. And within two wearings, I dirtied up that pretty white fabric. I almost don’t want to wash it, because it will be gross again asap, I’m sure.

    It’s served me well through several unsupported training runs, where that fluid carrying capacity came in handy, and a few races where the fuel access was vital to my success, so no real complaints from me. I’m glad to see such a product added to Nathan’s lineup.

    • Jennilyn says:

      I wash my pack pretty regularly (about every other week). I spray it with shout and wash it with my other whites. Comes out clean every time, which I love!

      I haven’t had any bouncing issues. I am 5’1 and 105lbs. I tend to keep the front chest straps loose(r). The shoulder straps and waist straps are what I adjust primarily. The waist ones are tightened when the bladder gets low. The top shoulder straps are great, and I don’t think I’ve even got those tightened all the way. Perhaps if the the top ones are pulled all the way it’s perching the vest too high to fit properly? I know I’ve had that issue with backpacking packs.

  9. druse76 says:

    Craig mentioned being 6ft yet very slight frame. I’m curious what size he was wearing while testing out this vest. I would describe myself as the same. I found a recommended size by measuring around the mid-chest area. Said 33″ or more to go with the L/XL. I’m curious if that is going to be good as I’m right over that measurement.

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