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July 8, 2014 Comments (0) Featured, Gear Reviews, Training

Nathan Hydration Firecatcher Race Vest

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Miles run (so far) – 1,248

Last and definitely “least” – in terms of size and weight – from Nathan is the minimal Firecatcher race vest. In a sport that had taken a turn toward carrying plenty of gadgets and large amounts of supplies, the idea of “minimal racing” is rapidly growing. Nathan kept in mind that not everyone can train on a gel and swig of water for multiple hours but still like the simplicity and advantage of water bottles at aid stations. Capturing that middle crowd that likes both the minimal approach and the security and comfort of carrying a pack, Nathan Hydration’s Firecatcher race vest find its own unique niche but still spans across a surprisingly wide spectrum of runners.


The Firecatcher comes standard with two 10oz flasks in a front pocket capacity format. Add to that the stretchy smart phone capable mesh pocket and water resistant pill pocket on the straps up front as well and you’ve got plenty to work with up front. The actual storage pocket in the back is large enough to host a 1.5L bladder, relieving the front pockets of their hydration carrying duties and giving them the opportunity to turn into nutrition pockets which can hold either your 10oz flask full of gel or plenty of other nutrition options. And at only 10.6oz (with bottles) and a 5.5L storage capacity, it pack a strong punch for a little guy.

Our testers obviously put a lot of miles on this vest so that tells you that it was well received. Here’s how it played out:

Fit & Comfort- 5.0

“Unlike other Nathan vests I’ve used… the Firecatcher positioned all of the weight across my back and waist, relieving my shoulders of the usual heavy burden of a vest. The Firecatcher feels light and free. Even though I have a small frame, 5’1” and 105lbs, the unisex Firecatcher fits better than most women’s small vests. I believe this is from the adjustable straps and free moving waist strap.”

This is the only vest in Nathan Hydration’s line that does not come in gender specific variations. With that being said, the side and front straps are very adjustable and offered our testers enough elasticity that it snugged the vest down wherever they felt it was most comfortable and it stayed there.

The weight distribution seemed to be as perfect is it gets when the vest is full and therefore takes some pressure directly off the shoulders being literally carrying the brunt of the load. Which is only benefited by the fact that the back storage compartment sits just a little lower than most minimal vests so that the weight can be carried across the back and wrap the mid-section rather than ride on the shoulders all day. Add to that the materials are so soft and breathable that it’s kinda like snuggling kittens with every run.

Single rear main pocket gives simple, easy access

Single rear main pocket gives simple, easy access

 Storage Capacity- 4.0

“I have used the Firecatcher on runs longer than 5 hours (without aid support) frequently. The two front flasks will hold 8 hours or so of gel or similar fuel, and I can squeeze a light jacket, headlamp, and topo into the back with the reservoir.”

Being a minimal vest, I have to take this number with a grain of salt. By its very definition we knew this wasn’t going to be up there with any of the UTMB ready vests that we tested earlier this month. I was surprised though that the number was actually that high. The expandable mesh really helps the runner get the most out of the storage pockets. As one runner found out, the back can hold the bladder and a few extras with no problem. Same with the smart phone pocket up front.

Front pockets offer easy access and can accommodate a 10oz bottle.

Front pockets offer easy access and can accommodate two 10oz bottles.

Ease of Access- 4.25

“Everything just felt natural to me from mile one. My stuff went in well and came out just as easy. When I used the bladder, though, I did need some time to figure out how to work it in and out at aid stations”

Without many pockets or compartments, everything is pretty easy to get to. The pockets are very simple to open and cinch or zip very smoothly. All your pockets are pretty much pre designated so you’ll have to adapt to that. Luckily, though, Nathan has done a great job at making everything feel very ergonomically situated and really just make sense for the runner.

The only reason this wasn’t a perfect score was because of the bladder in the back compartment. It never quite fit and felt right. It was a little hard to situate or pull out for a quick aid station refill. After some time it definitely becomes easy to figure out a system for it though and both of our testers seemed to find a groove pretty quickly.

Nathan Firecatcher in the field

Nathan Firecatcher in the field

Bottles & Valves- 4.5

“The bottles were WAY more comfortable than I thought they’d be up front. The comfy shape had everything to do with it. And the ease of squeeze on them really made my hands not have to work as hard in the cold night late in a race”

The bottles were a great addition to this pack. Their push top valves were wide mouth and allow the runner easy access to hydration. The bottles contour to the body very well and feel super comfy for any amount of miles. They are also firm enough to keep shape but squeeze rather easy, keeping those tired and cold hands happy. Larger bottles up to 21oz can used in there with no problem and Nathan makes their larger options still fit the body just the same.

Quality- 4.5

“I was pleasantly surprised the despite much abuse, and my tendency to squeeze more into this vest than it was intended for, it took 1,000 miles before the stitching on the velcro closure began to unravel.”

It took one tester almost 1,000 miles before anything started to show signs of wearing out, and she’s not easy on her gear. This was hugely impressive and got our team really excited about this piece of gear. The stitching is great and never popped, despite being over packed repeatedly. The known problem in other models of the elastic drawstring wasn’t an issue (leading our team to believe it was a singular event in our other models). Nathan Hydration really takes pride in being the first team to innovate a hydration pack and adds to their culture by providing quality work and materials that are going to last the runner well beyond their expectations.

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Nathan Firecatcher (L) and Nathan VaporWrap (R)


I wasn’t shocked by this score at all! Such an awesome option for those looking into a good race day vest or minimal long haul vest combination. This is one of the best offerings from our Nathan Hydration line review because of its versatility. While it doesn’t come with a bladder, a 1.5L bladder does the trick and really helps this lightweight minimal vest transform into something that can be used for the long haul.

Nathan’s quality and innovation really shine in the piece and it seems to be certainly a favorite among out team. They really hit the nail on the head with this one and anyone looking for a minimal vest that can still go the distance, the Firecatcher from Nathan should be your first look. Happy Trails!

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