Real Talk: I used to hike in a Jansport backpack from JC Penny. This is years ago before I knew a hike could be longer than a few hours. When I started getting into running, I used to stuff my running shorts with all the gels I could fit and hoped for numerous water fountains on the urban trails. When I started running longer distances, someone finally enlightened me and told me about running packs, this weird mashup of a cloth vest and Jansport backpack that would fit everything you need and not be bouncy and uncomfortable. Once I got over how dorky this might make me look, I finally bought a Nathan VaporShadow 11L running vest and I’ve been a convert ever since.
I ran my first ultra in this vest and was very pleased with it but when I saw Nathan was coming out with a new, shinier running vest, I couldn’t resist. I had it in the mail before my old one was even a year old.
It was love at first sight when I opened the VaporHowe 12L vest.
I opened the box and was blown away by how soft the material was. It literally felt like an old, worn in t-shirt with no hard edges or itchy seams. The entire thing draped wonderfully and looked like an actual vest, not a clunky backpack. I was worried the durability might be compromised because of the buttery soft material but it’s held out so well. Not that it matters, but it also looks great. The color is something different than I’ve seen before and the shape of the bag is ultra flattering.
The 1.8 L bladder is hourglasses shape to prevent water from sloshing around, thus preventing bag bounce. The mouthpiece on the bladder was also an improvement over the last model as it’s a simple bite valve instead of having to turn the nozzle “on” to get water, which was cumbersome, to say the least in the last model. The hose for the bladder completely disconnects without spilling water everywhere making it easy to clean and easy to get in and out of your pack. A small magnet on the hose ensures the mouthpiece stays in place and doesn’t smack you in the face. One minor complaint about the bladder, I’ve had the bit valve fly off the straw at least twice, once being permanently lost in the bush. It doesn’t seem very secure so it requires a bit of delicacy but as long as you’re not thrashing about (as I often am) you should be ok.
Alternatively, I’ve become more partial to soft-flasks over the years and this bag accommodates well. The two chest pockets accommodate two 22oz soft flasks. I will say that the Salomon soft-flasks I use are not the best fitting things in the world. The flasks are just tall enough that the tops flop around a bit when you’re running. An added piece of elastic to keep them in place would solve this problem nicely. These pockets might suit shorter and wider bottles a bit better.
Bladder rating: 4.5/5
I ordered a size small and it fits well. When the pack is not full, the straps are fully strapped down to the smallest size but when I load up the pack, it’s a perfect fit. One minor nitpicky time is the straps don’t really stay in place. The dual sliding sternum straps look like they should hold a steady criss-cross position but they slide too easily up and down on the sliding rails. Even so, the straps are pretty hefty and do a great job or reducing bag bounce and ensuring a great fit.
The bag also has two lateral straps under the arms to allow a tighter fit.
Overall Fit rating: 4.5/5 stars
This bag is a storage machine. It has so many pockets in every little nook and cranny. I had the bag for a few weeks and I was STILL finding new pockets and storage places. The front has three layers of pockets. The external layer fastens with velcro and accommodates gels, electrolytes, etc. Behind that layer is a longer pocket with velcro or larger snacks, gloves, buff, or two soft flask water bottles if you’re going without a bladder. The top right has a tiny pocket for pills or electrolytes and the left has a zipper pocket that can hold an iPhone and also encloses a whistle.
The rear has one giant stretchy pocket to fit any big, bulky layers. It seems like this pocket will never be truly filled, as it stretches amazingly to accommodate any gear. The rear also has a zipper on the right for more storage and mesh zipper pocket on the top that accommodates smaller items like snacks, phone, headlamps, sunnies, wallet, etc. the bottom of the pack also has an easily accessible stuff pocket where you can quickly shove hats or layers that are easily accessible without having to remove the pack. Lastly, there’s a mesh pocket for the water bladder that does a good job of holding the bladder in place and reducing bounce.
Pocket rating: This honestly feels like the pack has pockets for its pockets so for that reason, it’s a solid 5/5 stars on the pocket front.
Did I mention how soft this material is? It’s the most comfortable material I’ve run with and despite bouncing along for hundreds of miles at a time, it caused me zero chaffing. That’s honestly a miracle! Despite the hard miles, it's endured, it’s still incredibly durable. After a quick wash, it looks good as new. Even when it’s fully packed, it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing much at all.
Comfort rating: 5/5 stars
The main accessory I want to mention with this pack is the lack of easy pole carrying. I often go on missions where poles are needed and/or greatly appreciated and I ran into a huge problem with this pack on my last ultra. The pole attachments ensure the poles run down the back of the pack, slight on the side, but I found with a full pack, the poles easily slipped out of their holding straps, requiring me to take off the bag and fuss with the poles. When they did stay put, they were really uncomfortable, digging into my shoulders and causing irritation. It’d be better if the poles could be strapped on to the outside, instead of over the back.
Accessories Rating: It was a good effort and is probably easily modified but not a fan of the pole carrying system so for that, it gets 2/5 stars.
Overall Rating: 4.2/5 Stars
I really love this pack and I imagine it will serve me well for years to come, I’m planning on making a few home-adjustments to better accommodate my water flasks and trekking poles but other than those few minor details, this pack does everything I want it to. The endless storage makes it a perfect race bag, where you often have to carry more than you’d ever need for hours at a time. It fits like a glove and works well with a t-shirt or even just a sports bra. I’d highly recommend this bag for any distance runner or hiker looking to travel lightly.