Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest

Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest

Test Locations: Logan, Utah

Test Duration: ~100 miles

Stated Features:

  • Lightweight, breathable; features tapered back panels to keep the moisture out.
  • Enhanced shape with longer back for efficient, dispersed capacity
  • Chafe-free fit and form
  • Thoughtful storage is always in reach including two new Kangaroo pockets
  • Vertical pocket for trekking poles
  • Two water-resistant pockets on the chest for phone storage
  • Pill pocket with whistle
  • Large diagonal zippered rear pocket, multiple side pockets.
  • 20% lighter than the VaporKrar and VaporHowe packs
  • Unisex sizing to fit all body times (also available in women’s specific sizing)

Stated Storage Volume: 732.2 Cubic Inches / 12 Liters

Reviewer: 6’1″, 145 lbs / 185 cm, 67 kg

Size Tested: Men’s XS

Stated Weight (Pack and Bladder): 312 g / 11.0 oz

Blister Measured Weight (Men’s XS):

  • Vest: 210 g / 7.4 oz
  • Empty Bladder: 173 g / 6.1 oz
  • Total w/ Bladder: 383 g / 13.5 oz

MSRP: $200

Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, BLISTER
Nathan Pinnacle 12 L Race Vest
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Review Navigation:  Specs //  Intro //  Fit //  Design & Features //  Weight //  Performance //  Bottom Line

Intro

When I reviewed the Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 12L last year, I thought it was really close to being an awesome pack. I like the materials and the concept, but I had a few issues with the pack’s fit and pocket placement that ultimately kept it from becoming my go-to pack for longer runs. So when I had the chance to try out the new Pinnacle 12L — an evolution of the VaporKrar (men’s) / VaporHowe (women’s) series — I was excited to see whether it managed to fix some of the complaints I had about the VaporKrar.

It certainly seemed promising on paper — in addition to being 20% lighter than the VaporKrar 2.0 12L (according to Nathan), it also has a completely revamped pocket layout that Nathan says is specifically targeted at improving pocket accessibility without taking off the pack. If you’ve read any of my previous pack reviews, you’ll know that pocket accessibility is one of the main things I look for in a running pack (along with a secure fit), so Nathan’s description of the Pinnacle 12L definitely left me intrigued.

Gordon Gianniny reviews the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest for Blister.
Gordon Gianniny in the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, Bear River Mountains, Utah.

So does the Pinnacle 12L improve on some of the weaknesses of the VaporKrar 2.0 12L? And how does it compare to other lightweight, race-oriented running vests? I’ve spent enough time in the Pinnacle 12L to develop plenty of opinions about the pack — some positive and some not so much — which I’ll break down in detail in the rest of this review.

Nathan Pinnacle 12 L vs. VaporKrar 12L

As I said at the top, the Pinnacle 12L is an update to Nathan’s previous top-of-the-line race vest, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L. So what’s different? Honestly, aside from the stated storage capacity and the fact that it comes with a bladder (rather than soft flasks), pretty much everything.

The Pinnacle 12L uses lighter, allegedly more breathable materials than the VaporKrar (hence the 20% weight reduction; on the packs I have, the measured weight difference is closer to ~15%). It also has a longer fit, which Nathan says helps with weight distribution. And finally, the Pinnacle’s pocket layout is pretty much completely different — I’ll break down the specific pockets more in the “Features and Construction” section. The Pinnacle 12L also does away with the side compression straps found on the VaporKrar 12L (I’m guessing to save weight).

Like the VaporKrar / VaporHowe series before it, the Pinnacle series also includes a 4L version and a belt version.

Fit

Packs, like shoes, should really be tried on in person if at all possible. I’ll provide some context on how the Pinnacle 12L fits me, but your experience will depend on your particular body shape and fit preferences. For reference, I have a fairly narrow chest (~34 in / 86 cm) and usually wear either a men’s Small or Extra-Small in race vests from other brands.

With all the usual caveats out of the way, I’ll be up front about saying that I’ve had some issues with the Pinnacle 12L’s fit. Before everyone stops reading and starts shopping for other packs, I also want to make it clear that I think that the issues I’ve had are pretty specific to my body shape / size. I’ve been testing the Pinnacle 12L in the smallest size available (Men’s XS), and it still doesn’t seem to be quite small enough to get a secure fit. I have to cinch down the sternum straps almost all the way to get a secure fit when the pack is dry, and once it gets sweaty and stretches a little, I run out of strap completely — especially because the upper strap has a longer buckle on the right side with a magnet for the hydration bladder tube that makes the adjustable portion of the strap a few centimeters shorter. It also doesn’t help that, while you can slide the sternum straps up and down, the highest you can get the top strap is about ¾ of the way up the soft flask pockets — so I also can’t slide the upper strap higher up to adjust the fit that way. And because the Pinnacle 12L doesn’t have side compression straps, once I max out the sternum straps, I’m pretty much out of options as far as adjustability is concerned. It’s important to note that I was still able to get a secure-enough fit to run in the Pinnacle 12L without it bouncing all over the place — it’s just that I wasn’t able to get it tightened down to the point where it felt as secure as vests like the Salomon ADV Skin 5 or USWE Pace 8.

Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, BLISTER
Nathan Pinnacle 12 L Race Vest

Again, I think this is only an issue because I’m a tall skinny guy — but I also think that there are enough tall skinny runners out there that Nathan should know better. It’s also worth noting that, according to the sizing chart on Nathan’s website, my chest circumference of ~34 in is within the stated range of 33-35 in for the XS size. So with all that in mind, I have two recommendations regarding sizing in the Pinnacle 12L. First, if you are in the tall / skinny category and usually wear a small or extra-small in packs from other brands, I would strongly consider a different pack — or at the very least, make sure you try on the Pinnacle 12L before pulling the trigger. If you don’t usually wear a S or XS, consider sizing down a size from what you’d usually wear.

I think it’s also important to highlight that, aside from sizing, Nathan did a very good job with the Pinnacle 12L’s fit in my opinion. As I mentioned previously, the whole pack is slightly longer than the previous version, which I really appreciate as a taller runner. I have a fairly long torso, so many running vests end up riding on the very top of my back. As advertised, the Pinnacle 12L’s longer back helps distribute the load better than a shorter pack like the Salomon ADV Skin 5. Nathan’s claims about the Pinnacle 12L’s improved breathability have also held true in my experience — I still get some back sweat in the Pinnacle 12L, but not nearly as much as I did with the VaporKrar 2.0 12L.

So if there’s a takeaway from that extremely long monologue about fit (my apologies), I think it’s that the Pinnacle 12L should fit most runners very well — especially if you size down a size. But if you’re already running in Small / Extra-Small vests from other brands, just know that you might have a hard time getting the Pinnacle 12L tight enough.

Features and Construction

One of the Pinnacle 12L’s biggest selling points for me was the number and variety of pockets it has. According to Nathan, the Pinnacle 12L has a whopping 22 pockets (13 which are external) — that’s a lot compared to other vests and packs of all sizes. For example, the USWE Pace 8 only has 7 pockets. Even the much larger Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 only has 11 pockets.

Gordon Gianniny reviews the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest for Blister.
Gordon Gianniny in the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, Bear River Mountains, Utah.
Starting with the front of the Pinnacle 12L, each shoulder strap has a large open-topped soft flask pocket with another large stretchy stash pocket with a Velcro closure. Each side also has a water-resistant, zippered pocket under the soft flask pocket. Inside the right-hand zipper pocket is another smaller stash pocket to keep smaller items from bouncing around, along with a safety whistle (and yes, that gets its own small pocket, too). Unlike the VaporKrar 12L, the Pinnacle 12L’s shoulder strap above each soft flask pocket is just pocket-free mesh to improve breathability — the smaller storage pockets that covered the tops of the shoulder straps on the VaporKrar 12L have moved around to the sides of the pack. Finally, the Pinnacle 12L has two sternum straps that can easily slide up and down to adjust the fit. As I mentioned earlier, the top strap also has a magnet on the right side for securing the hydration bladder tube. Moving around to the back, the Pinnacle 12L has two new kangaroo-style pockets. The first is pretty similar to the side-access kangaroo pockets found on many other running vests, except that it only extends about halfway across the back of the pack. The other is a diagonal pocket that runs from the left shoulder down to the right-hand corner of the pack that’s intended for bulkier clothing items or trekking poles. It has openings on both ends, so you can access it either by reaching over your shoulder or by pushing things in from the side / bottom. The main rear pocket is accessed via a diagonal zipper that runs parallel to the diagonal kangaroo pocket — again, the diagonal layout is intended to improve access to the rear pocket with the pack still on. Inside is a separate pocket for the included 1.6L bladder. The bladder itself is insulated and hourglass-shaped, which Nathan says helps reduce sloshing.
Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, BLISTER
Nathan Pinnacle 12 L Race Vest
Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, BLISTER
Nathan Pinnacle 12 L — Bladder
Pockets aside, the Pinnacle 12L is made entirely of extremely lightweight, stretchy, and breathable materials. Nathan also says that the tapered shape of the mesh back panels helps improve the pack’s breathability even more. I’ll go into more detail on how all of those pockets and features perform in the “On The Trail” section, but I do think that Nathan’s claims about the Pinnacle 12L’s improved pocket access and excellent breathability hold up for the most part.

Weight

As I’ve said numerous times throughout this review, Nathan claims that the Pinnacle 12L is 20% lighter than the VaporKrar 12L — and it certainly uses very lightweight-feeling materials. FWIW, comparing the VaporKrar 12L and Pinnacle 12L packs I have, the measured weight difference between the two is closer to 15%. For a more specific comparison, here’s how the Pinnacle 12L stacks up compared to other similar packs from different brands (All stated weights include pack and bottles / bladders that come standard with it):

249 g / 8.9 oz — Salomon Sense Pro 10 (10 L)
300 g / 10.6 oz — Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0 (13.4 L)
306 g / 10.8 oz — The North Face Flight Training Pack 12 (10 L)
312 g / 11.0 oz — Nathan Pinnacle 12L (12 L)
335 g / 11.8 oz — Salomon ADV Skin 12 (12 L)
442 g / 15 oz — Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 12L (12 L)
449 g / 15.8 oz — Ultraspire Legacy 2.0 (10 L)

In practice, the Pinnacle 12L definitely feels light and minimal — even if there are lighter packs on the market, I think that the Pinnacle 12L comes close enough that the difference is barely noticeable when actually running in the pack.

Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, BLISTER

On The Trail

I’ve tested the Pinnacle 12L on a variety of runs, mostly in the 2-3 hour range. Much like the VaporKrar 12L before it, I think the Pinnacle 12L handles best when it’s fully loaded — but I’ve also been much happier with the Pinnacle’s pocket layout than I was with that of the VaporKrar.

I usually prefer soft flasks to bladders, so I’ve tested the Pinnacle 12L with both the provided 1.6 L bladder and with two 500 mL soft flasks. While the Pinnacle 12L does work with soft flasks, I can definitely tell that it’s designed to be used with a bladder. Much like the VaporKrar 12L, the soft flask pockets don’t have any way to cinch down the top of the pocket, and the pockets themselves seem a little bit loose — which allows the soft flasks to bounce around inside the pockets an obnoxious amount. While I found that pretty annoying, I was impressed by how well the Pinnacle 12L carries when using the bladder instead of soft flasks. I usually find that bladders bounce and slosh all over the place, but the Pinnacle 12L does a good job of keeping the bladder stable and mostly bounce-free, as long as there’s something else (e.g., a jacket) in the back of the pack as well. I did notice that any time I pulled my jacket out of the pack, the bladder started bouncing noticeably more. Still, as someone who usually avoids hydration bladders like the plague, I was pleasantly surprised by the bladder carrying ability of the Pinnacle 12L.

Gordon Gianniny reviews the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest for Blister.
Gordon Gianniny in the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, Bear River Mountains, Utah.

I also think Nathan just about nailed it with the pocket placement on the Pinnacle 12L — especially compared to the VaporKrar 12L. The new kangaroo pockets make it easy to access most of the pack’s rear storage; I still have to take off the pack to access the main zipper pocket, but I can easily stow jackets, gloves, hats, and various other items in the two kangaroo pockets without removing the pack. I will say that I’m a bit skeptical about Nathan’s claim that the diagonal pocket can be used for trekking pole storage — I haven’t been able to get my Black Diamond Distance Carbon FL-Z poles into or out of the pocket without removing the pack. Other than that though, I think the new rear pocket layout is a major improvement over the VaporKrar 12L.

I have more critiques of the front pockets, but overall they still do their jobs pretty well. First off, as I said above, the soft flask pockets seem a bit too loose, which allows the flasks to bounce all over the place inside the pocket (which was one of my chief complaints with the VaporKrar packs as well). I also miss having the smaller zipper pockets on the top 1/3 of the shoulder straps — I know they inhibited breathability a bit, but I also found them much easier to access than the Pinnacle’s new side pockets. Personally I’d sacrifice a little breathability for easier pocket access, but that’s mostly just down to personal preference. I’m also not convinced that the “water-resistant” phone / pill pockets under the soft flask pockets actually keep my phone any drier than a regular mesh pocket would — my phone is always just as wet and sweaty when I take it out as it is when I store it in non-water-resistant pockets.

From a practicality standpoint on the trail, I think the Pinnacle 12L does very well overall. The storage is definitely more accessible than it was on the VaporKrar, and the pack has plenty of volume for extra layers and food. The issues with the vest’s overall layout that I have had are mostly just matters of personal preference — maybe with the exception of the trekking pole storage and soft flask pockets. Unfortunately, the fit issues I’ve described make it hard for me to appreciate the Pinnacle’s many strong points. My main criteria for any pack are (a) a secure, bounce-free fit and (b) accessible storage, in that order. I think the Pinnacle 12L is a vast improvement over the VaporKrar series packs as far as storage is concerned, but it definitely misses the mark on the fit side of things for my body shape. Still, I think the Pinnacle 12L is a solid option for runners with wider chests, and it’d definitely be a contender for my go-to pack for longer days if Nathan tightened up the fit a little (or just offered an XXS men’s size).

Durability

I’ve only worn the Pinnacle 12L for about 100 miles so far, so I’ll have to spend more time in the pack before I can make any conclusions about its long-term durability. As with any product that’s made with extra-light materials, I am a little concerned that the Pinnacle won’t last as long as a slightly heavier pack like the Salomon ADV Skin 5. But so far, the Pinnacle has held up to numerous bushwhacks without any signs of wear. I’ll update this section down the road if I run into any unforeseen durability issues.

Gordon Gianniny reviews the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest for Blister.
Gordon Gianniny in the Nathan Pinnacle 12L Race Vest, Bear River Mountains, Utah.

Who’s It For?

Like the VaporKrar series packs, the Pinnacle 12L is designed as a race-day pack for runners who prioritize performance materials and light weight — and it has a fairly hefty $200 price tag to match. Based on my experience with the pack, I think the Pinnacle 12L is probably best suited for longer runs where you truly need 12L of carrying capacity — as I’ve said, I think the pack carries best when it’s fairly full. So if you do lots of running and racing where you’re carrying a fair amount of gear and want a lightweight, breathable pack with lots of storage options, I think the Pinnacle 12 L could be a solid option — especially if it fits you well and / or you consider going down a size.

Bottom Line

In the grand scheme of things, the Nathan Pinnacle 12L gets a lot of things right. The materials are lightweight and breathable, the pockets are well thought out and easy to use, and it can fit tons of gear. In my opinion, it’s a far better pack than its predecessor, the VaporKrar 12L.

With all that said, I think Nathan still has some work to do as far as sizing is concerned. I had a hard time appreciating the Pinnacle 12L because it was just a hair too big, even in the smallest men’s size available. As I’ve said throughout this review, that issue is specific to my body type, but it’s not as if the tall / skinny body type is uncommon in the running world. With a few minor changes to the sizing and pocket tightness, the Pinnacle 12L would definitely be one of my top choices for longer outings where I need to carry more gear than I can fit in a smaller pack like the USWE Pace 8 — and I think the Pinnacle 12L is a solid option for runners with wider chests who want a pack for the same purpose.

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