Trail Running Product Review: Nathan VaporHowe Women’s Race Vest

Trail runner Susan Kendrick reviews the Nathan VaporHowe women’s race vest. Susan is the Director of Sponsorship for the American Birkebeiner® Ski Foundation and was featured in our View from the Pack series of articles.

Conscientious. That’s the super sexy word that kept going through my mind as I ran with the Nathan VaporHowe race vest for women. The folks at Nathan thought out and built in every detail for runners. Notice I didn’t say “women” runners. That’s because gear is gear. It needs to perform at every challenging turn on the trail, in all conditions, mile after sweaty mile, no matter who is using it.

It weighs barely more than your sports bra.  (Yes, I checked), so it is as light or as heavy as what you choose to carry. And, there is plenty of room for those choices. Check out the two-handed “crunch test” in the photo below to see how light and soft this vest is.

Here Are the Highlights:

  • Huge Carrying Capacity.
  • Two Hydration Systems.
  • All in One Super-Light Race Vest.

Fit to Perform. The fit is what makes this a women’s vest, and the fit is great. It comes in six sizes ranging from XXS to XL to accommodate all kinds of body shapes and sizes. In other words, it is not just a “pinkified” version of a men’s vest. The men’s vest, by contrast comes in only five sizes. Then, the front adjustment straps plus two side straps let you fully customize the fit to your body and to what you are wearing.

I am hyper vigilant about anything that can possibly rub or poke—I feel everything, especially when running in a tank top. This plush vest is soft and smooth at every touch point.

Yet it’s tough. Both men’s and women’s vest have the same carrying capacity, 750 cu inches, a big win there. Yet this women’s version weighs in at one ounce lighter than the men’s (14 oz. for women’s vs. 15 4oz. for men’s). So, all the goods are in place and nothing is sacrificed.

Even Though It Says “Race” Vest. I sometimes read complaints about hydration “race” vests not being big enough. Here’s the deal. To excel, a great race vest needs to hit that sweet spot of being super light while also keeping you well supplied. The Nathan VaporHowe more than hits this mark!

Think about it, in a race most of us don’t carry anything extra, not a cell phone, not a battery charger for that phone, maybe one super-light jacket with a hood, and no real food. That’s because in a race you have aid stations and drop bags. That said, the carrying capacity of this vest makes possible just about anything you want or need to bring with you—on a training run or in a race. It has the details that sometimes get left out of other racing vests. Then it takes those details to the next level.

The Dirt on Design. Here are the official Features and Benefits list for this vest from Nathan:

  • Includes a 1.6L Insulated hydration bladder, with an hourglass design to reduce sloshing
  • Insulated bladder keeps water cooler 38% longer than non-insulated flasks
  • Apparel-like fit with a lightweight, breathable structure
  • Internal compression system tightens the load against your back for stability
  • Zippered water-resistant chest pocket for smartphones
  • Large front stash pockets for quick access to on-the go nutrition and essentials
  • Back kangaroo pocket for stashing flasks, layers, and other essentials
  • Zippered pocket plus two large storage pockets on back
  • Shoulder pill pocket and safety whistle
  • Reflective hits for 360-degree visibility

Here’s What that List Doesn’t Tell You

Your Choice—2 Hydration Systems. The back alone actually has four deep, generous, and separate pockets for gear—four, if you count the pocket for the bladder. However, you can also use that pocket for gear and carry your hydration in front flasks. I have personally moved from using a back bladder to front flasks. With this vest, though, you don’t have to choose. You can decide how to carry your hydration, given the day, trail, distance, etc. You may even want to carry front and back if you are self-supported over longer distances in general or between aid stations on more remote courses.

Get to Your Stuff … While Running! Access to gear has been a problem and a disappointment with other vests I’ve tried. I had to take the vest off mid-run to get to my gear—in a race. I would love to just reach back and grab what I need, and with this Nathan I can. There are two ways Nathan does this. One is making the openings to back pockets big enough to easily get your hands into. Then, they add another genius move, a pocket that runs horizontally along your lower back that you can reach into from either side. Nathan designed this vest so you can access your stuff and keep moving.

From Pill Pocket to Cell Phone. Details count, and the “pill pocket” means no more fishing salt tabs out of the corner of larger pockets. And, because this vest is all about streamlined carrying capacity, Nathan has “layered” its pockets. The zippered cell phone pocket, for example, sits right behind the front left stash pocket. Keeping your phone this close eliminates bouncing. And, because this pocket has a water-resistant liner, there are no worries for your phone when refilling a flask or if the weather turns on you.

Running Light
. Even fully loaded, I hardly noticed what I was carrying, but what I did carry gave me great peace of mind. And, that’s why we go far and wide, to feel free as we push ourselves—not our gear—down the trail. Thanks for keeping it light, Nathan!

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