Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Product Review – Nathan VaporWrap

The quick version:
Great hydration pack…get one you will love it!!

The long version:
The Nathan VaporWrap is a new for 2013 gender specific hydration pack (the women’s version is called the VaporShape) from one of the leading running equipment manufacturers Nathan Sports (http://www.nathansports.com/index.php). It provides just enough carrying capacity for long single day runs without a lot of added empty space adding to its bulk. If you are like me you will feel no pack should look empty so will often carry more than needed. The smaller size of the Nathan VaporWrap allows you to take the required essentials and leave the kitchen sink at home.

Nathan VaporWrap and VaporShape
(photos from Nathan Web site http://www.nathansports.com/our-products/hydrationnutrition/race-vests)

While a great product it is not without its faults. I came across two issues; one which can be corrected, the second which may be more problematic for some potential users. But first before I get to far let me give you some of the specs and then take you to a simple run through of the pack and how it performed on 4 test runs over the last couple of weeks.

A bit of a review warning: I am really into backpacks in the same way some people are into cars, motorcycles or shoes. When I walk into an outdoor store I will b-line it for the wall of packs and stand there like a kid in a candy store. There is something about the design beauty of a backpack that just turns my crank much to my wife’s dismay. She probably doesn’t mind my being interested in backpacks but my small collection has her wondering why I need another. So when I saw the Nathan advertisement in the March edition of Trail Runner magazine I knew I needed to add this pack to my collection. This review was an attempt at justifying the purchase. So let me get on with the review.

 As I mentioned above the VaporWrap is a gender specific pack so the information that follows deals specifically with the men’s version. The men’s version is Grey in colour, while the women’s version is white.  As well Nathan has sized these packs, an issue that I will discuss a bit further on in this review, into the S/M (small and medium) and L/XL (large and xlarge). Again here, this review relates to the L/XL size.  The VaporWrap weighs in at 771 grams (1.7 pounds) empty. The liquid capacity is listed at 2 litres but this could be adjusted by changing the bladder to a 1.5 litre or I would suspect based on the space available, moving up to a 3 litre bladder. Added to this the VaporWrap allows for the addition of two water bottles on the shoulder strap. So this at a minimum would be another 1 litre in total (warning - the larger the water bottles the more likely that the pack will ‘pull’ along the shoulders and change the fit for some runners. So test any added water bottles to see how they feel with the pack).

The Pack Components:
I had hoped to do a video here but my technical skills are wanting so will just stick to the written word. Hopefully I will get a video review up on this site for some future product test.

When you first look at the VaporWrap you will notice that the shoulder straps are different from most other packs as well there is no separate waist belt. This is because the VaporWrap is form fitting and does not have a one size fits all. On the upside it means the pack sits against your body with little to no movement. On the downside, and this is one of my concerns with the product, the pack you pick has to fit you body like a glove. So I was very lucky in ordering mine without first trying it on. I would not recommend someone does that unless you have a great relationship with the retail store you buy from. Try and find a retailer with the VaporWrap in stock and try it on to get the right size. For guys with larger shoulder/chest area I suspect you will find the XL too small for you.

The pack has three main pockets in the back, two hip pockets, one cell phone/camera/ipod/blackberry/etc zippered pocket (removable) on the right shoulder strap and another small zippered pocket on the left shoulder strap. Finally two water bottle holsters are on each shoulder strap (less the bottles at time of purchase). With a bit of testing and moving things around for optimum access the VaporWrap give you enough carrying capacity for a good long day run without having to leave anything essential behind.
Two of the pockets on the back are zippered and will easily hold a pair of running gloves, hat, wind/rain jacket, trail map, some added gels and anything else you may need for a day long run. The external bungee cord system allows you to tighten it all up to keep all the contents in as compact a space as possible. There is also room in the area next to the hydration bladder for added items if space becomes an issue. Just remember to fill up your bladder fist and place it in the pack before adding too many other items!!
The heart of the VaporWrap is of course the hydration characteristics. As I already identified the pack has two water bottle holsters. I really like water bottle holsters on a pack, even one with a bladder. The reason is simple, if you want to carry something different for hydration you have the option with the bottles. So normally I carry water in the bladder then on bottle with water and the other with an electrolyte drink. Another benefit with a bottle is on a hot day you can use the water bottle to get water on your head or face, something not always possible with a bladder. I would suggest that Nathan consider including water bottles with the VaporWrap though. I found not having water bottles come with the pack was like windshield wiper blades not coming with a new vehicle. Yes easy to go out and get your own but why not just have the bottles as part of the package.

Now on to my second problem with the Nathan VaporWrap…How could a company with so much experience in making quality hydration products for runners create such a crappy hydration bladder. After one run with the bladder that came with the pack I swapped it out for a Salomon bladder that has an insulated tube as well as a removable tube from the bladder. This should just be standard with any bladder these days.

Impressions while Running:
I used the VaporWrap on 4 runs, three on road surfaces and one trail run. Distances ranged from 14km for the trail run to a 50km run. Equally important was the amount of time the pack was on my shoulders. This ranged from a little over 2 hours to 6.5 hours for the 50km run. The pack performed flawlessly on all the runs with no noticeable bounce, no rubbing, no chaffing or discomfort during or after the run. In fact, and this is something I want to check more into, the shoulder strap design seemed to keep my shoulders back and prevented me from slouching toward the end of the 50km run. As a result I felt better and less stiff in my shoulders and upper back after the 50km run than I normally do with more traditional packs.

I tried accessing items from the various pockets while on the run as well. My comments here have to be taken with a grain of salt. Some runners may find accessing any of the pockets difficult while others who are flexible will have a lot less trouble. So again through trial and error you will learn which pockets are easier to reach and use those for the important items. The first item to access was of course the water bottles. They came out of the holster with one hand and I could easily return them into the holster with one hand while on the run. Next the zippered pocket for a phone or camera was also easy to access. I pulled out a camera from that pocket a couple of times on the trail run and the 50km run without any difficulty. The other shoulder strap pocket was also easy to access. The two hip pockets were a bit more difficult to get too but other runners may have a lot less problem accessing these pockets. The zippers were easy to open and close.
The final thing I noticed with the pack is that as it doesn’t use traditional shoulder and chest straps I did not find that things would loosen up after running especially on the trail run which contained a lot of technical single track. And last but not least the lack of a waist belt meant I didn’t feel constricted in my stomach area. This is something some of you, if you are like my, will appreciate especially if you have a bit more of a 24pack and not a six pack!!

So all in all I am very impressed with the Nathan VaporWrap. In Canada it retails between $159 and $179 depending on size and is well worth the money.The VaporWrap will make you feel a lot more free to go out and run longer distances without having to worry about water stops or changes in weather. And for trail runners the VaporWrap will give you peace of mind in being able to carry a bit of extra emergency provisions while not impacting on your form on technical runs.