Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 12L Race Vest
Test Locations: Gunnison & Durango, Colorado
Test Duration: ~50 miles
Reviewer: 6’1”, 147 lbs
Size Tested: Men’s Small
Stated Storage Capacity: 732 cubic inches / 12 Liters
Stated Weight (Pack and Bladder): 422 g / 15 oz
Blister Measured Weight (men’s size Small):
- Pack: 248 g / 8.74 oz
- Bladder: 167 g / 5.89 oz
- Total: 415 g / 14.6 oz
- 1.6L insulated hydration bladder with hourglass design to reduce sloshing
- Apparel-like fit with a lightweight, breathable structure
- Internal compression system tightens the load
- Zippered water-resistant smartphone chest pocket
- Large front stash pockets, back kangaroo pocket, shoulder pill pocket and safety feature
- Rear zippered pocket plus two large storage pockets
- Reflective hits for 360-degree visibility
I’m a little picky when it comes to running vests. Along with a good pair of shoes, I think a good running vest is probably the most important part of my trail-running kit. It’s one of those pieces of gear that I barely think about when it’s working properly, but can drive me completely nuts when it’s bouncing, rubbing, or otherwise underperforming. At this point, there’s no shortage of brands to choose from to find the right pack for you. I’ve had good luck with Salomon packs in the past, but I’ve always been curious about the Nathan VaporKrar packs (in spite of the series’ cringe-worthy name).
Nathan makes a wide variety of hydration packs, of which the “Vapor” series packs are their highest-end racing packs. Each “Vapor” pack was designed with one of Nathan’s top athletes, as denoted by the second part of the name. The VaporKrar packs were designed with input from Rob Krar, a multiple-time winner of the Western States 100 and Leadville Trail 100. Nathan markets the VaporKrar 2.0 12L Race Vest as a larger-capacity vest that’s light enough for racing. There’s also a 4L version for shorter outings, which I’ll soon be reviewing. The VaporKrar 2.0 12L has a pocket layout similar to the Salomon packs that I’ve liked in the past, so I was curious to see how it would compare. In general, my main concerns with a hydration pack are how well it fits / stays in place while running and how easy to access the various pockets are without stopping or taking the pack off. After about 50 miles of running in the VaporKrar 2.0 12L, I’ve got some thoughts on how it performs in these and other areas, as well as how it compares to other hydration vests I’ve used.
As with shoes, it’s really best to try running vests on in-person to ensure a proper fit. Each brand has slightly different sizing, and I’ve even found that different packs from the same brand can have very different fits. With that said, I can provide some basic insight into the fit of the VaporKrar 2.0 12L Race Vest. For reference, I’m 6’1”, 147 lbs, I’ve got a pretty narrow chest, and usually wear either a men’s Small or Extra Small, depending on the pack and the brand.
As advertised, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L does indeed have an “apparel-like fit.” The materials used for the main body of the pack all have a good amount of stretch to them, which allows the pack to conform to the wearer quite well. Even better, the side cinch straps make it easy to get a tighter, more secure fit. My previous go-to pack, the Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set, didn’t have adjustable side straps, and it sometimes felt a little loose when I didn’t have anything in the back pockets. With the VaporKrar 2.0 12L, I can just tighten the side straps when I don’t have anything in the back and loosen them if needed to accommodate bigger loads. The one downside of both the side straps and the chest straps is that they aren’t elastic at all, so they can feel a tad confining at times, particularly when breathing especially hard during runs. The stretchy material used for the rest of the pack helps with this to an extent, but I think the VaporKrar 2.0 12L would be even more comfortable if the chest straps had a little give to them.
I’ve done a few three-hour runs in the VaporKrar 2.0 12L, and so far I haven’t run into any issues with chafing. With that said, my ribs have been a little sore after each longer run I’ve done in the pack. I think this mostly goes back to the lack of stretch in the chest and side straps. When I cinch them down to get a secure fit during the run, the ridged straps put a little extra pressure on the bottom of my ribcage. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely been noticeable after most runs I’ve done in the VaporKrar 2.0 12L.
Features and Construction
Like most running vests, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L has a variety of pockets on both the shoulder straps and on the back of the pack. The shoulder straps each have a small zippered pocket at the top, an open-topped stretchy pocket that can hold a 600-ml soft flask, and a stretchy “stash pocket” at the bottom with a Velcro closure. The left-hand strap also has a water-resistant zippered pocket under the bottle pocket that’s large enough to fit an iPhone 8 with a Lifeproof case.
On the back, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L has a Kangaroo-style pocket across the bottom that’s open on both ends, two large open-topped stretchy pockets, and one zippered pocket. The pocket that sits directly against your back has a Velcro loop for hanging the included 1.6-liter hydration bladder. The bladder itself is hourglass-shaped and insulated, which Nathan claims will help reduce sloshing and keep fluids colder for longer. It’s also got a detachable hose with a quick release so that you can remove and refill the bladder without having to unthread the hose.
In addition to the standard chest straps to hold the front of the vest closed, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L has cinch straps around the sides to allow for a little bit of fit customization. These side straps actually attach to one of the outermost pockets in the back of the pack, so they provide some load compression as well as fit customization.
In a men’s Small, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L weighs 415 g / 14.6 oz with the empty bladder in the pack. It’s worth noting that if you use the pack with two 600ml Nathan soft flasks instead of the bladder, the total weight is around 354 g/ 12.4 oz as the soft flasks are quite a bit lighter than the bladder. For reference, here’s how the VaporKrar 2.0 12L compares to packs with similar capacities from different brands. All weights include the pack and whatever hydration system with which it comes standard (bladder or soft flasks):
300 g / 10.6 oz – Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0 (13.4L storage capacity)
335 g / 11.8 oz – Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set (12L storage capacity)
415 g / 14.6 oz – Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 12L Race Vest (12L storage capacity)
441 g / 15.6 oz – Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2In1 Vest (12L storage capacity)
So on paper, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L is a bit heavier than similar packs from Ultimate Direction or Salomon. But both Salomon and Ultimate Direction use soft flasks rather than bladders for their packs, which saves quite a bit of weight. If you just compare the VaporKrar 2.0 12L’s weight with soft flasks instead of a bladder (354 g / 12.4 oz), it’s much closer to other brands. More importantly, the pack feels light when you’re actually wearing it, especially considering how much it can hold. I certainly wouldn’t write off the VaporKrar 2.0 12L just because it’s not the lightest option out there — the weight is close enough to other similar packs that you probably wouldn’t be able to tell a difference between them once you’re actually running.
The VaporKrar 2.0 12L has no shortage of storage options. For most of my runs, I just want to be able to carry food, water, and maybe a light layer or two. The VaporKrar 2.0 12L has more than enough storage for the essentials and could easily carry other gear for longer runs and races. I also appreciate the fact that it’s got multiple options for carrying water. The pack comes standard with a 1.6L bladder, but the large pockets on the shoulder straps can also easily hold two 600ml soft flasks. I’ve never been much of a bladder fan myself, so I like that I can still use the pack with soft flasks.
In testing, I found that there were benefits and drawbacks of both the bladder and soft flask approach with this pack. Carrying water in the bladder puts most of the weight on your back, which makes the pack feel a little more balanced — especially if you store most of your food and other gear in the front of the pack. But the bladder also sloshes around quite a bit, which drives me crazy. As far as I could tell, the hourglass-shaped bladder didn’t really have any impact on reducing sloshing relative to regular bladders that I’ve used in other packs. It doesn’t seem any worse than a regular bladder, but it’s also not noticeably better. As a result, I usually end up carrying my water in soft flasks on the front of the pack. This reduces sloshing, but it also makes the pack bounce a bit more because the weight isn’t as well distributed, especially if you don’t have much in the back of the pack.
This conundrum leads to my main complaint about the VaporKrar 2.0 12L’s storage options. In most situations, the pack rides very well when it’s full. When I’m starting a run with two full soft flasks, a couple of extra layers in the back pockets, and food in the stash pockets on the shoulder straps, the pack stays put and feels pretty well balanced. But as I drink water throughout the run, the soft flasks start bouncing around inside their pockets, which gets pretty old after a while. Similarly, if I take a layer out of the back, the pack bounces more because most of the weight is in the front. Cinching down the side straps some more helps reduce the bouncing a little, but it also contributes to the aforementioned post-run sore ribs.
So all told, I’m impressed by how well the VaporKrar 2.0 12L carries big loads. But I’m not overly impressed with how well it adjusts to changes in the load once you get going. I think the biggest thing Nathan could do to address this issue would be to take Salomon’s lead on tightening up the pockets a little.
On the Salomon Adv Skin 5 set, every pocket is made of an extremely stretchy mesh material that lays pretty much flat when empty but stretches to accommodate surprisingly large loads. While this does make it a little harder to get stuff into the pockets initially, it also means that they stay put and don’t bounce once they’re in there. The VaporKrar 2.0 12L’s pockets are pretty loose in comparison. They can still stretch quite a bit, but they’re not tight enough to lay flat when empty. This makes getting soft flasks, jackets, and other pieces of gear into the pockets much easier than the Adv Skin 5 set, but allows the load to bounce around quite a bit more if the pockets aren’t totally full.
On the Trail
As previously mentioned, I’ve used the VaporKrar 2.0 12L on runs up to three hours long. I’ve also had the chance to test it out in rain / snow and in fairly warm conditions. I’ve been fairly happy with the pack’s performance across the board, but I do have a few complaints.
I’ve already ranted about the pack’s bouncing issues when it’s not completely full, but I think it’s worth restating exactly what I’ve run into trouble with. The pack rides well when it’s full, but as soon as it’s not, the looser pockets let soft flasks, jackets, and other items bounce around inside their pockets more than other packs I’ve used. I’ve never had anything fall out of a pocket on the VaporKrar 2.0 12L, but there’s enough movement within the pockets to be obnoxious on longer runs. With that said, most of the runs I’ve done in the pack have been short enough that I haven’t really used the pack’s full storage capacity, which definitely exacerbates the problem. I anticipate really liking this pack for some of the full day runs and routes I’m hoping to do this summer when I’ll actually need to carry 12 liters worth of stuff.
Another thing I’ve noticed with the VaporKrar 2.0 12L is that the pocket placement leaves a bit to be desired. One of my favorite features of the Salomon Adv Skin 5 set is that I can reach pretty much every pocket on both the front and back of the pack while running. While the VaporKrar 2.0 12L has a fairly similar pocket layout, the exact placement makes it harder to access pockets mid-run. For example, the openings on either end of the rear kangaroo pocket are just a tad too small to make stuffing a jacket into the pocket easy without stopping and using both hands. The Velcro on the shoulder strap stash pockets keeps things from falling out, but it also makes it hard to quickly pull a gel out of the pocket without extensive fumbling. Finally, if you put a phone in the zippered phone pocket under the left-hand soft flask, it gets pressed into your ribs by the overlying soft flask for the entire run, leading to — you guessed it — more sore ribs. It’s not that it’s impossible to use the pockets while running, but it does require a bit more effort than I’d prefer. Again, I want to forget I’m wearing a pack, not battle a piece of Velcro while trying to dig out a gel while I’m exhausted.
One area that the VaporKrar 2.0 12L does excel in is breathability and drying time. My back still gets a little more sweaty than usual when wearing the pack, but not any more so than other packs I’ve used. In addition, when I’ve gotten rained on during runs, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L dries extremely fast once the rain stops. The material used for most of the pack doesn’t really absorb any water, and what little water does get retained is quickly wicked away.
I’ve probably run well over 500 miles in my previous running vest, so it’s probably too early to get a very accurate read on the VaporKrar 2.0 12L’s durability. After 50 miles of use, the pack looks just like it did when it came out of the box — no fraying seams, holes, or other signs of wear. I’ll update this review if I do run into issues with the pack down the road, but it seems to be well constructed and I fully expect it to hold up for several hundred miles of use.
Who’s It For?
While I’ve had my issues with it, I think the VaporKrar 2.0 12L Race Vest is a worthwhile option if you’re looking for a pack exclusively for long, equipment-heavy runs. It carries large loads very well and has a variety of storage options to accommodate personal preference in how you want to carry water, food, and other gear. It’s also got a bit more adjustability than many similarly sized race vests thanks to the side compression straps. It breathes well, fits securely, and can carry a ton of gear. But if most of your runs don’t require 12L of storage space and you’re looking for a pack with a little extra capacity for when you do go longer, I don’t think the VaporKrar 2.0 12L is the best option. It’ll perform well when you do fill it, but if you don’t usually fill the pack it will likely bounce around quite a bit more.
As I said at the top, my main criteria for a good running vest are how well it fits / stays in place and how easy it is to access the pockets while running. While I’ve had issues with the VaporKrar 2.0 12L in both of these areas, I still think the pack might have a place in some runners’ kits. It’s good enough at carrying large loads that it’s a solid option to have around for long, unsupported runs where you need to carry lots of gear. I don’t think it makes a great all-around pack for both long efforts and for shorter runs / races, but I’m sure that there are plenty of runners out there who would disagree with me.