Nathan VaporAir Hydration Backpack
Hydration vests are similar to camelbacks, large wearable water bladders favored by runners, cyclists, and hardened survivors of apocalyptic water-poor wastelands. Drinking water is never a bad idea during activity, and it becomes vital when you play outside in hot weather. Drinking enough water will keep your system working at capacity and reduce the risk of sunstroke, and will also help replace the liquid your body loses through sweat.
One of the best modern hydration vests we have found is the Nathan VaporAir. It is expensive, but so are stability shoes, race shoes, protein gels, and other gear that serious runners need to stay on track. If you regularly go on long outdoor runs, the Nathan VaporAir will be a worthy investment.
The VaporAir receives praise and consistently good reviews for its unobtrusive but roomy inner water bladder. Even loaded down with water and extras, this vest will not slow you down or cause chafing and marks in the strap areas. And you will fill this vest with extras–carefully placed pockets tuck away your phone, cash, credit cards, snacks, and ID. You won’t experience the jingling or annoyance you sometimes get using shorts with small pockets.
Packing area sits over your shoulders, so water/gear doesn't bounce or jar when you run
Mesh/fabric/straps allow for air circulation and conform to your body
Stash pocket in chest area holds energy gels, keys, more
Front left pocket resists spills and wipes clean easily
Another pocket holds your smart phone of nearly any size
Two liter water bladder releases water quickly, stops it when you don't need it
Skin contact and binding areas made of chafe-free lightweight synthetics
A bit expensive and not needed if you don't do longer outdoor runs
Vest is made for a snug fit, so may feel too small at first
The Rundown On Hydration Packs
CamelBak, who pioneered the use of wearable hydration, introduced the first camelback in 1989. Founder Michael Eidson, a cyclist, made his own prototype from an IV bag stuffed into a tube sock. He pinned the sock to his back jersey, with the IV tube going down the front and into his mouth. He was able to take sips without taking his hands off the bike handles. It first took off in the cycling community. By the time of the first Gulf War, CamelBaks were being used by soldiers in the arid climate of the Middle East.
Typical hydration vests or packs, like the VaporAir, consist of flexible plastic or rubber bladder. The bladder connects to the wearer's mouth area with a tube. The person wearing the pack can bite down to open a release valve, getting the water they need without having to stop or break form. You can also use a hydration pack for washing dishes or even showering during overnight outdoor events. Though the VaporAir isn't designed or marketed for showering, you can hang one from a tree and open the drain/fill hole to let water pour via gravity.
Hydration vests typically don't carry enough water for an extended hike or anything above a half marathon. The surface area and volume of water make this impractical. Blowing many competitors out of the water, though, the Nathan Sports VaporAir holds up to 5 liters in the bladder. Without the bladder, you can comfortably carry up to 7 liters in plastic bottles or other suitable containers.
The storage area and fabric material give the vest a weight of 14 ounces, or 397 grams when not filled with water and supplies. That is only about an ounce more than the Reebok Nano 9, a sneaker made for speed and flexibility and favored by CrossFitters and weightlifters alike.
Nathan Sports also makes water bottles, safety gear, specialty run laces, and a few other products. You can find their products at specialty running shops and some outdoor retailers.
Nathan's laser-sharp focus on running needs means the VaporAir won't have much application outside the running or cycling community. You could use one as a camp shower, as mentioned earlier, or perhaps to wash dishes after outdoor cooking. But there are similar products designed for those purposes, with bigger storage areas and attachments for hanging from a tree limb. Camp showers will also be less expensive than a vest like the VaporAir. So, while the vest will never catch on with powerlifters or most other athletes, it is invaluable and a lifesaver for extended outdoor activity. Specialty equipment doesn't just appear--it is made to meet specific needs.
There are seven pockets sewn into the vest. They are different sizes, with the largest on the back. That pouch is for flasks, lunches, and extra layers of clothing. Other pockets include room for your phone and any emergency items. Pockets are big enough to be useful, but compact enough to keep items from jarring or shaking as you run. All the pockets have drawstring zippers and are designed to clean off easily in case of a spill.
There is also a bungee cord strap in the back, which pulls tightly enough to hold clothing and other items. The bungee does not pull loose and will not cause you to lose your stuff. Pockets on the ab area and front right area are made for extra liquids and energy gel packs respectively.
Comfort/Ease Of Use
Bulky hydration gear was the bane of sport runners for years until modern advancements and new materials eliminated much of the problem. Today's hydration packs are aerodynamic and form-fitting, without restricting body movement. Instead of feeling like you have a heavy load, you won't even notice you have on the VaporAir after a few trial runs.
Part of the innovation is in the straps. The ones on your shoulders adjust easily with lower front straps that hold the bulk of the fabric near the center of power in your trunk. This also centers whatever bouncy, jangly gear you have and will help keep it stationary. To further immobilize the vest, there is a sternum strap that adjusts by pulling through a tab. You attach with long-lasting plastic buckles.
The vest strikes a balance between having room for everything, and not feeling big or bulky. Strategically placed zipper pockets, with pull strings, line the sides, chest, and shoulder areas. They are all easy to clean, and the mesh body is breathable to wick away sweat and bacteria.
For safety, there are reflective strips on the front and back. If you anticipate cold weather, you can pack a knit cap or lightweight wrap in the larger back pouch. This pouch also comes in handy if you want to change into a dry top after getting soaked in sweat. Even on a hot day, that sweat can cool you down more than you need if you leave the shirt on for too long post-run.
If you stash a shirt, cap, or compression socks for wear, we suggest putting it inside a Ziploc bag or other moisture-proof container. Nathan Sports does not claim that any part of the VaporAir is waterproof. Watch out for sandwiches or other snacks that you don't want getting soggy, too.