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  trailrunning > gear reviews > Nathan VaporWrap
 
Hydro 12 intro   NATHAN VAPORWRAP
Review date:   17.03.2013
Cost (HK$):   HK$1,500
Product type:   trailrunning vest
Size:   8.19 litres
Weight:   630g

 

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INTRODUCTION
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VaporWrap on the trails
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Fig. 1: The VaporWrap on the trails.

The Nathan VaporWrap is Nathan Sports premium trailrunning vest. This product is designed for men, with the Nathan VaporShape being the equivalent product specifically designed for women.

The vest features many innovations designed to help trailrunning. These include a bladder tightening system to alleviate bounce, front water bottle pockets with an elastic mechanism that tightens and narrows the whole pocket, and a tall narrow hidden ice pocket directly next to your back. This review will give a detailed insight into these and the many other features of the Nathan VaporWrap and how functional they really are when the vest is in use.

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STRUCTURAL DESIGN

The Nathan VaporWrap ships with a 2l bladder and also has two large front pockets which are suitable for carrying water flasks / bottles / sports drink. So it offers quite a few options in terms of how you carry your hydration. It weighs about 630g. This is heavy for a top of the range race vest. A direct comparison would be with the Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 12 vest, which weighs a mere 340g by comparison. I have used both these vests and can clearly state that the increased weight of the Nathan VaporWrap in no way makes it feel more durable or rugged. Both vests feel strong and durable. If I were to make a direct comparison between the construction of the Nathan VaporWrap and the Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 12 it would be that the Salomon has a superior construction and uses superior materials. The main structure of the Nathan vest which comes into contact with your torso is a grey mesh fabric which feels a little cheap and harsh by comparison to the Salomon. This lack of quality is also betrayed by the outrageously inadequate bladder which is supplied with this vest (manufactured by Hydrapak). Please refer to the BAD BLADDER section for my thoughts on this matter.

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VaporWrap main structure
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Fig. 2: The main structure.
grab pocket
Hydro 12 hydration system
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Fig. 3: The three main fabrics (see right).

Main Structure

The main structure of the VaporWrap is comprised of three main fabrics. I will describe them below and please also refer to Fig. 2 and Fig.3 on the left:

1. The majority of the back and the arm straps are made of a grey mesh fabric which although breathable appears quite dense. This fabric has quite a strong, rigid structure. It feels a little rough and cheap to the touch.

2. A lightweight, rugged mesh which has a honeycomb design, very similar to that used in Salomon vests. Only two thin strips of this come into contact with your torso - running vertically to the left and right of the rear ice pocket. Past experience tells me that this material works brilliantly on trailrunning vests as it is light, comfortable and breathable. I don't really understand why the arms and rest of the back are not also constructed of this fabric.

3. A thin elastic mesh material used to construct the pockets of the vest. This material also comprises part of the main structure of the rucksack.
Front Pockets

There are five front pockets on the VaporWrap of varying sizes and functions. A brief description of the pockets follows. Please also refer to Fig.4:

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VaporWrap on the trails
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Fig. 4: The front pockets.

1. The two largest front pockets are designed to take flasks, water bottles, miscellaneous items etc... There are two of these, one on the left and one on the right. These pockets measure about w=70mm h=140mm d=60mm. They are constructed of the stretchy thin elastic mesh material (number 2 in the fabric descriptions of the MAIN STRUCTURE section above) and also an inflexible, thin structural material - similar to the fly sheet of a modern tent. The integrity and structure of these two front pockets is excellent. They feel robust and as if they can hold a substantial amount of weight firmly in place whist running. The top of these pockets can be tightened using an elastic string which goes through a toggle but not just this, the elastic actually goes down all the way to the base of the pocket and so by tightening the elastic, you can tighten and narrow the entire pocket. I really like this innovative design. It is intuitive and simple to use.

2. Above the main left front pocket is a zippered tall, slim expandable pocket made out of the thin elastic mesh material. The zip runs from top to bottom (as you open the pocket) along the right side of the pocket. The dimensions of this pocket are about w=50mm h=150mm d=20mm. Despite the depth of about 20mm the pocket flattens itself when it is empty, although it is a little baggy. The folds in the pocket fabric and stretch material allow expansion to a depth of at least 50mm. First impressions point towards this being an ideal pocket for things such as energy gels, sun cream, small soft flasks, a small camera or smartphone (I could just about fit my iPhone in this pocket but don't think a larger smartphone would fit in).

3. Immediately above the main right front pocket is a small pocket measuring w=50mm h=60mm. The pocket is constructed out of the tent fly sheet-like material which should offer some protetion against water and sweat. It can be closed using velcro but the velcro seems quite weak. It seems this pocket has been designed for salt tabs or something similar. It would also fit an mp3 player but the velcro is too unreassuring for me to want to use it for this purpose.

4. Above the small water protective pocket is another front right pocket. This is bascially a rectangular shaped, removable pocket / bag. It attaches to the arm strap using velcro, meaures about w=80mm h=120mm d=25mm and is largely constructed of the stretchy thin elastic mesh material with the back made out of the tent fly sheet-like material. I do not like this pocket. At all. It seems to have been designed for another product and then just dumped onto the VaporWrap because Nathan didn't have the time / resources to design something more suitable. Firstly, when attached the bag / pocket protrudes too much to the left, hanging over your chest and getting too close to your chin for comfort. Say hello to your claustrophobic new friend. Secondly, the velcro system used to attach it seems quite strong, but, it can still wobble and move around even when empty. Adding weight in this pocket can only exacerbate this problem and cause it to bobble around whilst you are running (see IN USE section for elucidation). Thirdly, this pocket is quite deep (about 25mm) with no real way of tightening it if it is not full. This can result in the contents of the pocket bobbling and bouncing around unless it is tightly packed. But when it is tightly packed, it will be waaaay too big to have so high up and close to your face and chin. Quite frankly, this is just poor design. Incidentally, the side pockets of the VaporWrap also suffer the fate of being too big.

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VaporWrap on the trails
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Fig. 5: The large, bulgy side pockets.

Side Pockets

There are two identical side pockets on the VaporWrap. The side pockets are quite big, which is great. But they are also quite baggy. By this, I mean they have a lot of depth before you even start filling them and so if you only put a few items in them then those items are free to move and bounce around at will. The dimensions of the side pockets are about w=160mm h=70mm d=60mm and the zip runs horizontally at the top of the pocket and opens towards the back of the vest. These pockets are constructed of the thin elastic mesh material (number 2 in the fabric descriptions of the MAIN STRUCTURE section above). The width and height of these pockets is great, but I do not understand why they are so deep and bulgy. Surely it is better to make the pockets less deep and then just allow them to stretch when more items are put in. This would retain tension in the pocket fabric at all times and prevent items bouncing around. Anyway, there are repercussions with this design. You can read about them in the IN USE section of this review.
Rear Pockets

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Hydro 12 bladder holder
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Fig. 6: The large main pocket is easy to access. You can also see the tall narrow pocket opening at the top of the photo.

There are four rear pockets. I will list them and describe them below:

1. There is a tall narrow pocket on the outside rear of the vest (see Fig. 6). This measures w=110mm h=200mm and is accessible by a horizontal zip at the top of the pocket. As an easily accesible external pocket this is useful for many things - GPS device, wallet, gloves, head torch etc..... My initial feelings about this pocket are mixed. It is easily accessible but the opening is so narrow I can hardly get my hand into it - and this fact is exacerbated when you try and retrieve something during the course of a run. Also, it is so high that is is quite difficult to retrieve the various items you have in there. I would prefer it if this pocket had a vertical zip, so you can access if from the side and also if it were wide enough to hold a map, perhaps with a little open pocket at the top for valuables or small items. This would be really useful.

2. The large main pocket is constructed out of the thin elastic mesh material and its size is about w=180mm h=360mm d=60mm (see Fig.6). It is accessed by a zip about 240mm long which runs vertically on the right hand side as you look at the rear of the vest. The zip opens from top to bottom. I like this pocket a lot. It is easy to access and is surprisingly large. The elastic mesh material it is constructed out of gives real flexibility to the amount of gear you can store in there as the pocket can expand greatly. There is also an adjustable shock cord criss crossing on the outside rear of the vest and this can be used to tighten and secure this pocket if it is not full. This shock cord is also extremely useful for attaching things to the rear of the vest, such as items of clothing. It can be removed if you decide you do not need it or want it.

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Hydro 12 bladder holder
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Fig. 7: The hidden ice pocket.

3. The third rear pocket is something I have never encountered before. This is a hidden ice pocket (Fig. 7). A pocket which lies directly next to your back as you wear the vest with an opening at the top. This pocket can only be accessed when you take the vest off. It measures about w=120mm h=350mm and is made out of the rigid main fabric (number 1 in the fabric descriptions of the MAIN STRUCTURE section above). Basically the centre of this pocket runs directly down the centre of your spine from top to bottom. This pocket is designed for ice during hot races. Personally I find this pocket useless. It just adds bulk to the rear of the vest. Without this pocket Nathan could have constructed the main rear section of the vest out of the lightweight open honeycomb material (number 3 in the fabric descriptions of the MAIN STRUCTURE section above). This fabric works brilliantly on Salomon vests. Also, I would not any ice I use to be placed directly upon my spinal cord. For me, this pocket is a clear example of over-design.

4. There is a bladder pocket between the rear of the vest and the large main pocket. This is an open pocket into which the bladder slides in and out and also features an innovative 4 point bladder control system which can be used to tighten the bladder and reduce bounce. I write much more about both the theory and real world use of this system in the THE FIT and IN USE sections below.
Miscellaneous

Other miscellaneous features include:

1. There are standard shock cord attachments for hiking poles.

2. A whistle is also included, attached to a short shock cord. This is on the front of the vest and not ideally placed, as it bounces around. But it can be easily removed and attached somewhere else.

3. There is a removable bladder holder / sleeve.

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VISUAL DESIGN
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Hydro 12 bladder holder
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Fig. 8: The VaporWrap with and without branding. Actually, both images look pretty generic and uninspiring.

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz..... Ooops! Sorry! I was just casting a glance at the VaporWrap in order to comment on its visual design and fell asleep. Yes, it's that boring. Dull generic grey is the dominant colour of the item and this is interspersed with a lifeless yellow. If the VaporWrap was a human being and had a job it would be an accountant, working for a firm of accountants.

When analysing the design of a product it is often possible to discern the idea and visual theme behind the design. This is true of both colourful or subtly shaded products. With the VaporWrap the only theme that springs to mind is conservatism and generic-ness.

As with many trail gear manufacturers nowadays, Nathan could not resist the temptation to blatantly advertise their own brand in huge letters (w=30mm h=230mm) down the centre of the main rear pocket. It once again brings to mind the question I asked at more length in my review of the Salomon XT6 trailrunning shoes: If we as a customer buy an expensive, premium priced trailrunning product why should we have to put up with blatant advertising all over the product? This almost without exception has a negative affect upon the sensory pleasure we derive from looking at the product.

All in all, I consider the VaporWrap to be a visual fail.

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THE FIT

In this section I will analyse the general fit of the VaporWrap. I will be describing how it actually feels to run with it in the IN USE section below.

The VaporWrap comes in two different sizes, S/M and L/XL. You can see the sizing guide taken from the Nathan website here. I ordered the L/XL size and this fits well enough. For me, the Salomon S-Lab Hydro 12 vest is the gold standard in terms of static fit (my review of the Salomon vest here). And so I will draw a comparison of the fit of the Nathan VaporWrap with my experiences of using the Salomon vest. Here goes ..... The VaporWrap seems to ride quite high on the torso and does not have the same luxurious sense of supreme effortless comfort that the Salomon vest offers. Despite this the Nathan VaporWrap does feel comfortable when you put it on. It sits well and the weight distribution is balanced with no straining to the front or back. The L/XL size based on my chest measurement fit me very well.

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Hydro 12 bladder holder
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Fig. 9: The Nathan VaporWrap harness on top and Salomon S-Lab Hydro harness at the bottom.

Harness

The front harness attachment system is comprised of two main chest strap attachments, one upper and one lower. These attachments both feature two straps in a V-shape on one side of the vest which click into a single clasp on the opposite side of the vest. The height of these chest straps can be adjusted by sliding them up and down a plastic rod which is covered in fabric. The chest straps and clasp cannot be removed and switched around. Once again when it comes to hydration vest harness systems I consider the Salomon S-Lab Hydro vests to be the gold standard (Fig. 9 shows a photo of both the Nathan VaporWrap and Salomon S-Lab Hydro vest harness systems). Comparing the VaporWrap to Salomon vests I find the Nathan VaporWrap front harness attachment system to be demonstrably inferior to the Salomon system for a several reasons:

1. The actual straps on the VaporWrap are quite easy to tighten but really not that easy to loosen. So trying to loosen and adjust them whilst you are running is both time consuming and fiddly. I also quite dislike the elastic material the straps are made of as it feels too squishy for my tastes (yes, squishy is a scientific term!). This is obviously a personal preference.

2. On the top left strap, where it attaches to the plastic rod, there is a magnet where the water bladder tube can be attached using an adapter. On my VaporWrap the part that attaches to the rod is very loose, and so the top strap with bladder tube attached constantly slips down the rod as I am running. This is actually quite annoying and frustrating, especially when you feel fatigued and small trivial things occasionally irk. All other straps and clasps are quite stiff and held securely in place so I am not sure if this issue is particular to my vest or if it is universal.

3. The straps and clasps cannot be removed and switched around. One thing I love about the Salomon vest is the freedom you have to just move the harness around as you please, depending on what feels most comfortable.

4. The whole system on the VaporWrap feels uneccesarily bulky and awkward when compared to the Salomon system which feels light, minimal, functional and brilliant. This is also very obvious when you compare the two images in Fig. 9.

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Hydro 12 bladder holder
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Fig. 10: The bladder slides between the back of the vest and a sheath which can be tightened.

Bladder Pocket and Bladder Adjustment

The bladder slides in between the rear of the vest and the main pocket, as is the case with most running vests. But the VaporWrap has an added design feature that I personally have never encountered before. Between the bladder and the main pocket is an extra flat sheath of material made of the same thin elastic mesh material as most of the pockets. This can be tightened and compressed using straps at both the top and bottom of the bladder, with compression straps running over both shoulder straps at the top and behind both side pockets at the bottom. This is an extremely innovative system and it can be used to tighten the load of the rucksack before running and also to tighten the bladder whislt running. This means that there is none of that bouncing and sloshing around as the bladder empties.

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Hydro 12 bladder holder
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Fig. 11: The correct order in which the straps on the VaporWrap should be tightened.

The instructions for properly fitting the vest with both the harness and also the bladder adjustment are printed on the removable bladder holder. This prints the order in which the straps on the VaporWrap should be tightened, which is:

1. Strap with white bartack at upper chest strap (a bartack is a series of reinforcing stiches which on the VaporWrap are coloured to enable these instructions).

2. Strap with yellow bartack at middle chest strap.

3. Both straps (on the left and right) with orange bartack which tighten the bladder via the shoulder compression mechanism. The straps to tighten this protrude from the top of the large front pockets.

4. Both straps (on the left and right) with red bartack which tighten the bladder via the lower compression mechanism. These straps emerge from behind the two side pockets.

Overall, I was delighted and intrigued when I first saw this innovative bladder tightening mechanism. You can read more about how it performs on the trails in the IN USE section.

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BAD BLADDER

The VaporWrap is shipped with a 2l bladder which is manufactured by Hydrapak and before I go any further in this review I am going to comment on this bladder. If I were to describe this bladder in one word? Atrocious. Another word? Crap. Two words? Absolute rubbish. Yes, I think you get the idea. Both Nathan Sports and Hydrapak should hang their heads in shame that such a useless, inferior bladder has been included with a premium race vest such as the VaporWrap. So what's wrong with it? Firstly, the drinks tube has no quick release system in order to remove it from the bladder. You might think this is no big deal but actually, on high end trailrunning bladders this is pretty much a given. I also notice that on the Nathan Sports website on the VaporWrap page under 'Product Specs' the following is written regarding the bladder:

"To clean bladder: Remove and rinse tubing and bite valve. Turn bladder inside out, rinse, and dry standing up. When ready to reassemble, do everything you did before, except backwards."

Well ..... you can't remove the tubing on a bladder that has no removable tubing. A screen capture of the relevant page from the Nathan Sports website is here.

OK, so no removable tubing - not important to you? Well the worst thing about the bladder is this. When you drink from it the water has the most plasticky, putrid and grotesque taste I have ever experienced from a hydration product. It really is that bad. This is not just a mild, slightly plastic taste. This is a pronounced, strong, bitter taste. I could hardly believe it when I first tried drinking from the bladder on my first run with the vest. After a while I realised that spitting out the first few mouthfuls alleviated the disgusting taste somewhat. Implying that maybe the non-removable tube is somehow at fault here. But after trying to drink maybe three times I decided that I categorically will not ingest this unhealthy, disgustingly flavoured liquid into my body. I felt as if I was doing my body pronounced harm by drinking from this bladder. So .... I stopped drinking until the end of the run. It was hot and quite long, but thankfully I managed it.

I suppose that given time this putrid taste will subside somewhat, but not for me. I refuse to drink even one sip from a bladder where the water tastes so irredeemably wrong. This bladder was manufactured by Hydrapak. Sourced by Nathan Sports and I cannot believe that no-one in the testing and development stage of this product noticed the awful taste of the water in this bladder. Dispensing clean tasting water efficiently is THE most important function of a hydration vest and, by induction, Hydrapak and Nathan Sports SHAME ON YOU BOTH for presuming to think your customers will find this quality of bladder acceptable. You should both be EMBARRASSED by this bladder. As soon as I returned home from my first run with the VaporWrap I threw the bladder in the bin. Which is where it belongs. And no, I won't post a photo of the bladder because it doesn't deserve one. OK. Enough prose wasted on this matter.

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IN USE

Moving on to the most important section of the review. How does the Nathan VaporWrap perform on the trails? Can it carry water and gear in a smooth, unobtrusive manner whilst you are running? I have used this vest many, many times over the last few months and in a plethora of configurations. Ranging from a full bladder and two 400ml bottles in the large front pockets and stuffed with gear to just two half full front bottles and almost no gear. So hear are my feelings based on my own running experiences with the Nathan VaporWrap.
Running Experience

The overall running experience is the most important aspect of any trailrunning vest and regardless of whether it is fully loaded or half empty, the VaporWrap offers a consistently excellent ride. It offers the least bounce and movement I have ever encountered from any trailrunning vest and this is high praise indeed. The harness holds the vest securely and firmly in place. The two adjustable straps at the front of the vest stay firmly in place with no loosening of tension occuring. There were two issues I encountered with the front harness though, (as mentioned in the THE FIT section). Firstly, the top elastic cord of the top adjustment strap (the one with the magnet on it to attach the bladder to) was quite loose and repeatedly slipped down the vest as I ran. Ultimately I now just leave it in the 'slipped down' position all the time, but this is a compromise. Secondly, the two adjustment straps running across your chest are easy to tighten but not very easy to loosen. During a normal training run loosening these straps is very often not necessary, as the vest just becomes progressively emptier as you continue so you just need to tighten them if anything. But on long training runs or long races, where you need to re-fill the bladder often the fiddly loosening of the straps could well become annoying, especially if your hands are cold. But despite these issues the overall running experience with this vest is excellent, really, really smooth and bounce free.

Another positive surprise comes from the bladder tightening system. This works brilliantly. If you follow the instructions and tighten all the straps in the correct order then the vest really does hug your body as you set off on your run. And as you run and drink water you can repeatedly keep tightening the bladder tightening straps and the bladder stays fixed firmly in place and there is almost no bouncing and sloshing around. I found all the straps for the system easy to access and easy to tighten and all these extra straps do not unduly bother you during a run as the two front straps can be tucked into the two large front pockets and the side straps can be pushed behind the side pockets. It is great that Nathan added this bladder tightening system to their trailrunning vest and even better that the system works so efficiently and easily.

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VaporWrap on the trails
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Fig. 12: Most of the main structure is made out of the dense mesh material on the left. I much prefer the more open honeycomb mesh on the right, which is also used but only very sparingly.

One thing I need to point out before I continue is that despite the excellent ride, this vest is heavy and hot. Noticeably so. I have made a direct comparison between the VaporWrap and the Salomon S-Lab Hydro 12 vest. The VaporWrap delivers an infinitely better running experience than the Salomon S-Lab Hydro 12 (review here). That is beyond question. But the VaporWrap does feel significantly heavier and also hotter. I do not understand why Nathan has used such a dense material for the majority of their vest when on parts of it they use the much more appropriate large holed honeycomb material which is used by Salomon to such great effect (Fig.12 shows both materials). Also, because of its weight I would never attempt a fast time or a race on a relatively short route (up to 30km) in the VaporWrap. I just feel that the extra weight is ultimately cumbersome and transmits a slight psychological lethargy.

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VaporWrap on the trails
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Fig. 13: Tightening the elastic and then twisting it around the top of a water bottle works brilliantly. Bottle is 430ml.

Using Large Main Front Pockets for Hydration

As previously mentioned, the two large main front pockets (one on the left and one on the right) can be tightened by using a shock cord at the top which also runs inside the pocket and narrows the pocket as it is being tightened. I found these pockets to be very useful for carrying a wide variety of items but I think their primary use is for carrying water or some other form of liquid. Initially when I put in reasonably small 430ml plastic bottles and tightened the pockets the contraction of the pocket made the water bottles climb out of the vest. But I soon realised that by twisting the elastic shock cord used for tightening the pocket around the top of the bottles these bottles were held in place very strongly and very well indeed. I am not sure if this was the way Nathan intended bottles to be held in place on the VaporWrap but it works very well. Using this method, whilst running the bottles do not bounce around in the front pockets at all and the running experience is a~mazing. These front pockets are also extremely easy to acceess and drink from. I have also carried small 350ml soft flasks, a camera and energy gels in these pockets with great success. For smaller items the fact that the pocket constricts when you tighten it really is a very useful feature.

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VaporWrap on the trails
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Fig. 14: The front pockets.

Other Front Pockets

The fixed pocket above the main large pocket on the front left strap (number 2 in Fig.14) proved to be very useful for carrying a variety of items and is functional and well designed. It is easy to access and handily placed. The pocket is quite flat but expands well when you add things to it. I mainly use it for carrying gels or sometimes my phone. As mentioned, it fits an iPhone but only just, so larger smart phones would not fit in here.

The small pocket just above the right large front pocket (number 3 in Fig.14) is the ideal size for things such as salt tabs or a small mp3 player. But there is one issue with this pocket which is that the velcro used to hold it closed it quite weak, it just does not hold very well and the top of the pocket repeatedly opens of its own accord. I have only used this pocket on a few occasions and have never lost anything out of it, but I would hesitate to put valuable items into it unless the fastening system has been somehow improved or strengthened.

The detachable pocket above the small pocket on the right front strap seems totally nonsensical to me (number 4 in Fig.14). The velcro holds the pocket onto the vest well enough but this does not hold it securely enough to stop the pocket bouncing around (including sideways) whilst you run. This problem is exacerbated when it is quite full. And that is another issue. This pocket cannot be tightened or compressed and so when it is only partially full the items inside the pocket move around. The pocket is too large, boxy and cumbersome bearing in mind where it is positioned. It protrudes awkwardly over your chest and is too close to your chin, creating a sense of claustrophobia as you run. Like someone you don't know very well and are chatting to standing just that little bit too close to you. In my opinion this removable pocket is just a complete design fail and I never use it when I am running with the VaporWrap. Why waste this valuable space on a trailrunning vest with a removable pocket which, quite frankly, is useless? The fixed flattish pocket on the top of the left strap which I mentioned two paragraphs ago works really well and is really well designed. Why not just have two of these?

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VaporWrap main structure
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Fig. 15: Accessing the side pockets is easy.
grab pocket
Hydro 12 hydration system
grab pocket
Fig. 16: Left, the bulging side pocket rubs your arm as you run when it is full. Right, my improvised velcro tightening strap.

Side Pockets

I found the two side pockets to be easy to access using the arm on the same side as the pocket to open and access them (Fig.15). As previously mentioned, the two side pockets (one on either side of the vest) are very big. Despite being made out of the thin elastic mesh material used for most of the pockets, the pockets are also quite baggy. When they are not full there is a lot of excess material and they are loose and this is a real problem when you are running with the vest. If the side pockets have only a few items in them, then the items jump and bounce around. Of course, filling the pockets resolves this problem as there is no room for items to bounce around. It does create another problem though. When the side pockets are full they become so large and bulky and bulgy that my arms brush against them when I am running. This is not just annoying, it is actually impossible to run for any length of time in this manner. My conclusion about the side pockets are that they are very badly designed. Little thought has gone into these pockets and it seems product testing was neglected. I did manage to find some form of improvised solution. I have a velcro strap which I put around the outside of the side pockets and now I can just carry a few items in them and still tighten them so that the items do not jump around (Fig.16). But this is not really an ideal solution and I stand by my opinion that the two side pockets are badly designed.
Rear Pockets

As I have mentioned before, the tall, narrow, smaller rear pocket on the outside of the vest is quite awkward to access as the opening to the pocket is not very big. I struggle to get my hands in there sometimes. The pocket is also very high, especially with respect to how narrow it is. This leads to a lot of awkward fumbling around when you are trying to retrieve things from this pocket as many smaller items fall quite far into the pocket. I feel that this pocket should have a longer vertical zip as opposed to a short horizontal zip, so that it can be accessed from the side. I also think that this pocket should be bigger, at least big enough to slide a map into.

The large rear pocket can swallow a large amount of gear. I have no problem carrying enough gear for a long day run in cold weather, including a warm jacket to change into at the end of the run (a warm jacket that folds up very small) and a couple of spare T-shirts. The pocket goes all the way to the top of the vest and you can utilise all this space very well. It also stretches a lot and so even when you think this large pocket is full, you can normally still stuff something else in there.

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VaporWrap on the trails
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Fig. 17: The rear shock cord is really useful.

With respect to carrying things I also found the rear shock cord to be indispensable. Firstly, this can be used to tighten the main rear pocket when it is not completely full. But added to this it is so useful to be able to quickly attach things to the outisde of the vest - waterproof jacket, spare T-shirt, hat, gloves ..... I have attached all these items and many more to the outside of the vest using this shock cord.

Regarding the hidden ice pocket on the inside rear of the vest. I have never used this and can never envisage myself using it. I am not sure what the general consensus on this pocket is, perhaps some people who regularly race in very hot weather find it useful. But personally, I would never want ice to be placed directly over my spinal cord which is where the pocket would position it. I find this pocket to be superfluous. It should write a book entitled 'Diary of a Superfluous Pocket'.
Overall

So overall this is a real menagerie of highs and lows. When the VaporWrap is on, and you are running with it, it gives an amazing ride. Wonderful. Brilliant. As I already mentioned, the best and smoothest ride I have ever experienced from a trailrunning vest. But ..... it is heavy. Hot. There are issues with several pockets. A weird, confusing mix.

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PROS AND CONS

A quick synopsis of what I consider to be the pros and cons of the Nathan VaporWrap trailrunning vest:

PROS

1. The running experience is excellent. Minimal bouncing of both bladder and bottles / flasks in the main front pockets gives a very smooth ride.

2. Lots of imaginative, innovative design features. These include the bladder tightening system and the main front pocket tightening system where the entire pocket constricts as the shock cord at the top is tightened.

3. The large main rear pocket it well designed and functional. It is easily accessible and can expand to swallow large amounts of gear.

4. The rear shock cord is very handy for attaching various items.

CONS

1. The bladder that ships with the VaporWrap is shockingly bad. Embarrassing.

2. The vest is too heavy and seems to be constructed out of generally cheaper materials than, for example, the Salomon S-Lab Hydro 12 vest.

3. The vest sits well but the front chest straps are a little awkward to tighten and loosen on the go.

4. The side pockets are too large and baggy and badly designed. When they are not full, items bounce around in them. When they are full, your arms brush against them.

5. The small rear pocket on the outside of the vest is too tall and narrow. I found it difficult to get my hand in and very difficult to find things that had fallen all the way to the bottom of the pocket.

6. The detchable front pocket on the top right is too big, protrudes too much to the left and bounces around whilst running.

7. The ice pocket is totally unecessary and even if used, the ice would be positioned directly over your spinal cord.

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CONCLUSION

Please bear in mind I am just expressing my honest, personal opinion. You, or anyone else reading this review may have an entirely different opinion about the comfort and useability of this item.

I have never had such mixed feelings about an item of trailrunning gear before. The Nathan VaporWrap seems to veer between beautiful, innovative deisgn and absolutely useless design with virtually no middle ground. It feels almost as if there were two designers working on this product one of whom had a bounteous knowledge of trailrunners desires and needs and the second of whom had no clue about trailrunning at all. Or, as seems more likely, Nathan started off designing this vest with care and attention and then had to rush it to market. This would explain things such as the detchable front right pocket which basically feels as if it was taken from, and belongs on, another product.

So I'll start with the most simple and important aspect of all. Does the VaporWrap supply you with, and allow you to carry water unobtrusively and efficiently whilst running on the trails? And the answer to this is a resounding YES. The vest fits well and even with a full bladder and fully loaded with gear there is amazingly little bounce whilst running if you have taken the time to tighten the harness system correctly. The bladder tightening system works brilliantly, allowing you to tighten the bladder as you drink more water during the run and that half-bladder sloshing sound we all know so well is largely eradicated. The two main front pockets also work very well and allow you to carry a very wide range of items securely, ranging from water bottles to camera and gels. Overall the HydroWrap offers the best comfort, stability and ride I have ever experienced from a trailrunning vest. And I have used mine a lot in the last months and use it as my main trailrunning vest.

And yet ... dark clouds taint this idyllic vision of the perfect trailrunning vest. Firstly, the bladder. It is so badly manufactured that it almost defies belief and does not even supply you with fresh tasting water - which is the first and most essential thing you expect from any bladder. Then there is the weight. This vest has an excellent ride but it is heavy and it feels heavy. I would not want to race in this vest or attempt some seriously fast times whilst wearing it. It's just too heavy. Then there is the quality of materials used. Salomon vests just seem to use better quality materials in my opinion, and the VaporWrap is a premium vest so it should feel expensive and well made. It should also look the part - and I find the visual design of the VaporWrap to be dull and uninspiring.

And then we move on to aspects of the vest that are basically just badly designed. Large baggy side pockets that allow items to bounce around when they are not full but are so big they rub against your arms when they are full. A small rear pocket too small to get your hand into easily and so tall it is awkward extracting items from its bowels. A detachable front pocket that is too big, cannot be tightened and flaps around when you run. A hidden rear ice pocket that runs directly over your spinal cord and which, for me, is totally unecessary and gimmicky anyway.

This vest is a paradox.

Personally speaking I love the spirit and attitude of companies that try to design something innovative and new. This is exciting and brave and this is what Nathan have done with several features found on the VaporWrap, with the bladder tightening system and front pockets most notable in this respect. I feel it is much better to try and fail trying than not to try at all. And ultimately failure leads to knowledge and improvement if it is dealt with constructively. So congratulations Nathan for trying new design ideas out on this vest. You deserve real credit for this.

Do I recommend you buy the Nathan VaporWrap? No, I don't. There are just too many faults with it in its current form. But if Nathan actively and thoughtfully improve this vest then the next edition, or maybe the third edition two years from now ..... wow, one of those is probably going to be totally, inspirationally good. I await the generational progress of this vest eagerly and with sharp anticipation.

 
5/10
 
3 stars
 
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