The Nathan VaporAir 3.0 7 liter Hydration pack is a high capacity running vest, designed for long runs and adventures. First of all, I’d say that the 7L number does seem a bit under measured. It can hold just as much as other packs listed in the 8-10L range. Nathan is one of the few running vest brands that I’ve never tried before, mainly due to fit (more on that below). I’m always on the lookout for the perfect, goldilocks running vest, mainly for long distance (100M) ultras. I’ve owned or tested many of the major brands, so I have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. Read on to find out how the Nathan VaporAir 3.0 stacks up.
First, I have to talk about the sizing. I did try on a Nathan vest in the past, I can’t recall which one. But I do know that I tried on the smallest size available, and it was hanging off of me, impossible to use while running. When first trying on the VaporAir, I had the same feeling – I tightened the chest straps as far as they could go, and it was hanging off of me. I was in the middle of something, so I put the vest aside, figuring that I’d have to send it back.
Later on I inspected it further, and discovered the tightening pulls (Adaptive-Fit Sizing System), which are located inside the front zipper pockets.
These pulls are connected to the side body panels and you can essentially pull them to snug up the fit along the sides of the vest. With those side pulls as well as the chest straps tightened as far as they could go, I can get a decent fit. But that’s with the straps 100% maxed out – any loosening during the course of a run, or stretching of the vest over time will be a problem for me.
For reference, I’m 5’10”, and I just measured 35” around my chest. Nathan only offers 3 sizes for the VaporAir – XS-M, L-XXXL, and 1X-3X. Their sizing guide says XS-M should accommodate 30-38”, but I can’t see how that would be possible. If your chest is anywhere from 30-34”, the smallest size will be too big for you. On the other side, if you’re 36” or above, you should be able to find an appropriate size.
Fit and Storage Access/Utility
With the vest fully tightened, the vest does have a nice solid fit on the body. It just feels secure, reminiscent of my UltrAspire Zygos 5.0. Both vests use a bit more structured materials, which I find provide a more solid and less bouncy fit.
[Very large plastic buckles and attachments, whistle is removable, but magnetic hose clip is not]
Somewhat related to sizing – the buckles on the chest straps are bulky and large – larger than most running vests. They take up quite a bit of space, and I wish they were smaller, as then the vest could be tightened more to accommodate smaller runners. There’s also a magnet built into the strap, which is good if you use a hydration bladder, but a non-removable waste of space if you don’t.
There are 3 large pockets on the front of the vest. On top are 2 overlapping pockets which can be used for water bottles – primarily the rear taller pocket, or the front smaller pockets if you have smaller bottles. There are no bottle cap loops in either pocket to hold up water bottles. Also the rear bottle pocket (against your chest) is quite narrow at the top. I tested some bottles there, but it’s a little bit difficult to squeeze them in. The vest in general feels primarily oriented towards using a hydration bladder (2L bladder included).
Curiously, they also use small strips of velcro to seal off the tops of those pockets. This is an issue if you want to stuff any kind of fabrics into those pockets. It’s a bit of an odd design. Typically you just see a stretch upper closure or a bungee cord.
It’s a very good feature to have two large zipper pockets up front. For longer runs and races, secure storage is very important. The big problem here is that the tightening pulls for the side panels are located inside those two zipper pockets. If you wanted to make any adjustments, you would have to finagle those straps out while you presumably have those pockets filled with gear and small, important items. It’s a pretty convoluted design, I must say.
Also, you can see in the pic below the entry of the side panels (with those straps) into the front panels of the vest. That space is just wide open, and not secure or usable. It’s essentially additional wasted layers of fabric and space.
Continuing on the front of the vest, there are bungees attached along the shoulder straps. I can’t really figure out what to do with these aside from tucking the hydration hose behind them. Possibly you can strap something down like a hat, buff, or gloves?
The rear of the vest has 3 main storage compartments. The largest is against the back, and open at the top, so it is accessible on the run as long as you are flexible enough to reach your hand back there. There’s a divider for the hydration bladder. The opening is nice and wide so you can easily get the bladder in and out. But a small detail to note is that the hydration bladder hanger is a flimsy strap with some velcro. It seems a bit odd, considering the front buckle accessories are so bulky.
On top of the main compartment, on the outside of the vest is another zipper compartment. I like this feature as you can separate some items from the main section and keep them secure. That pocket is separated from the main compartment by seemingly water resistant material. So items in the zipper pocket would be somewhat drier than the stuff against your back.
On the rear/bottom of the vest is a kangaroo pocket. Kangaroo pockets are always good, and usually a useful spot to stuff a shell or other clothing. The VaporAir kangaroo pocket has somewhat narrow openings on the side, and the opening is vertical without any overlapping fabric on the bottom edge for containment. The material is quite taught though, and I didn’t have any issues with anything falling out.
[You can see the opening for the kangaroo pocket under my arm]
The back also has a crisscrossing bungee – good for lashing on any extras if you’re really carrying a lot. There’s also bungee loops to strap poles vertically – one on each side. You need to take the vest on and off to utilize those.
The VaporAir vest performs well in that it can hold a lot of gear with very little bounce. In the picture below I used a fully loaded hydration bladder. You can see how the rear sags down a bit as there’s more weight in the back. (On this run I didn’t fully load the front with gear and fuel). This wasn’t uncomfortable though, the vest still felt fine on the run.
The front pockets provide plenty of separated storage options, it just feels to me like they’re not that efficiently designed. The larger, tall bottle pocket is difficult to get bottles into. The zipper pockets have those pull straps dangling around inside. Not to mention the fact that if you’d like to adjust the side fit, you have to dig them out, and pull on them while having the zipper pockets wide open. It’s kind of a convoluted system.
The outer, smaller front pocket does have a bungee cinch at the top, and that’s the most standard pocket of them all. Then you have the fact that those side panels pass through behind the front panel of the vest, seemingly wasting space.
In the mid-high capacity vest market, the VaporAir 3.0 is just an “ok” option – but not for smaller-frame runners due to the sizing issue.
[I have the chest straps fully tightened here – there is no way to get the left and right front panels closer together due to the bulkiness of the straps/buckles]
The Adaptive-Fit Sizing System is a complete miss for me. Having to use straps which are located within zipper pockets doesn’t make any sense. You may say that could just be a one-time adjustment, but in my experience straps do tend to loosen with movement, and also sometimes you just want to make small adjustments here and there for comfort. Even if you never had to adjust them, they’re still annoyingly loose inside the zipper pockets.
Mike Postaski currently focuses on long mountainous ultras – anywhere from 50K up to his favorite – 100M. 5’10”, 138 lbs, midfoot/forefoot striker – he typically averages 70 mpw (mostly on trails), ramping up to nearly 100 mpw during race buildups. A recent 2:39 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 – 9:00/mi. In 2022 Mike won both the Standhope 100M and IMTUF 100M trail ultras within a 7 week period – both extremely rugged Idaho mountain races. Mike’s shoe preferences lean towards firmer, dense cushioning, and shoes with narrower profiles. He prefers extra forefoot space, especially for long ultras, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.