Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 4L Race Vest
Test Duration: ~100 miles
- Equipped with two 20oz soft flasks with extended tubes to easily sip fluids without removing flasks from the front pockets
- Apparel-like fit with a lightweight, breathable structure
- Large front-stash pockets for quick access to on-the-go essentials
- Zippered water-resistant chest pocket for smartphones
- Zippered water-resistant pocket on back, for securing key essentials
- Shoulder pill pocket and safety whistle
- Reflective hits for 360-degree visibility
- Compatible with 1.5L Bladder
Stated Storage Volume: 244 cu in / 4 L
Reviewer: 6’1”, 145 lbs
Size Tested: Men’s Small
Stated Weight (Pack and Bottles): 306 g / 10.8 oz
Blister Measured Weight (Men’s size Small):
- Pack: 207 g / 7.3 oz
- Empty Bottles (each): 53 g / 1.9 oz
- Total w/ 2 Empty Bottles: 313 g / 11.0 oz
Nathan’s VaporKrar race vests were designed in conjunction with Rob Krar, who’s got a whole lot of big wins and accomplishments to his name. I reviewed the VaporKrar 2.0 12L Race Vest earlier this year with somewhat mixed results. As I said in that review, I’ve always been curious about the VaporKrar line, as those vests have many of the same design features as the Salomon vest I’ve been running in for the last few years. But at least for my preferences, the VaporKrar 2.0 12L had a few issues. Most significantly, I often felt like stuff was bouncing around inside the pack more than I’d prefer unless I had it completely full. With that in mind, I was especially curious to see if the smaller-capacity VaporKrar 2.0 4L would alleviate or at least reduce this problem. I was also interested to compare the VaporKrar 2.0 4L to my Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set more directly, as the two packs look fairly similar on paper.
After about 100 miles in the VaporKrar 2.0 4L, I’ve concluded that it does address some of the complaints I had about the VaporKrar 2.0 12L, but not all of them. In this review I’ll break down what the VaporKrar 4.0 L does well, what I think Nathan could do to improve it, and the scenarios for which I think it’s best suited.
As with any product that’s available in different sizes, we’d recommend trying on the VaporKrar 2.0 4L in person if you can. With that said, I can provide some insight into the pack’s fit based on my experience with it. For reference, I’m 6’1”, 145 lbs, have a fairly narrow chest, and usually wear a size Small in most running vests.
Like the VaporKrar 2.0 12L, the 4L is made of fairly stretchy materials that conform to the wearer pretty well. The sides of the VaporKrar 2.0 4L are noticeably more stretchy than those of the 12L, mostly because the 4L doesn’t have side cinch straps. While I liked the extra adjustability that the side straps provided in the 12L, they could get a bit uncomfortable after a few hours because they didn’t really stretch at all. With the VaporKrar 2.0 4L, the overall fit is much stretchier and more “forgiving,” if a bit less adjustable. I have noticed that I have to tighten the chest straps on the VaporKrar 2.0 4L almost all the way to get a secure fit, which makes me think that an Extra Small might fit me a bit better. So if you’re on the fence about which size to get, I’d recommend erring on the smaller side.
Overall, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L is definitely a bit more comfortable than the 12L thanks to the stretchy sides, but it doesn’t feel quite as secure as the Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set. I think this might partially be a sizing thing— I think the VaporKrar 2.0 4L in an XS could feel much more similar to the size Small Adv Skin 5 Set.
Features and Construction
The VaporKrar 2.0 4L has a pretty similar layout to the 12L version of the pack, with the main difference being the size of the rear pockets. Each shoulder strap still has a large, open-topped soft flask pocket, a stash pocket with Velcro closure at the bottom of the strap, and a smaller zippered pocket near the top of the strap. The left shoulder strap also has a supposedly water-resistant zippered phone pocket underneath the soft flask pocket that easily fits my iPhone 8 with a Lifeproof case. Unlike the Vaporkrar 2.0 12L, the 4L version comes with two 20 oz / 600 ml soft flasks instead of a bladder. The soft flasks have extended “straws” in place of regular lids to make drinking easier without taking the flasks out of their pockets.
The back of the VaporKrar 2.0 4L has a large, open-topped pocket right against the back, which can hold a 1.5 L / 51 oz bladder. Behind that is a water-resistant pocket that opens with a vertical zipper in the middle of the back of the pack. Finally, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L has a smaller version of the kangaroo-style pocket found on the 12L version across the bottom of the pack. This pocket wraps around the sides of the pack a little more than the bottom pocket on the 12L, but it’s also got slightly smaller openings.
Another difference from the VaporKrar 2.0 12L is that the 4L version doesn’t have the adjustable side compression straps found on the 12L. The only way to adjust the 4L pack’s fit is the two chest straps.
The VaporKrar 2.0 4L isn’t notably lightweight, but in my opinion, it’s light enough that it doesn’t feel overly heavy out on the trail. I usually don’t worry too much about weight when it comes to hydration vests (as long as they’re not too ridiculously heavy), so the fact that the VaporKrar 2.0 4L isn’t the lightest pack on the market doesn’t bother me too much. For reference, here’s how it compares to a few running packs with similar storage capacities from different brands. All stated weights include both the pack and the soft flasks or bladder that it comes standard with:
211 g / 7.4 oz — Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0
259 g / 9.1 oz — Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set
306 g / 10.8 oz — Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 4L
308 g / 10.9 oz — Salomon ADV Skin 5 Set
It is worth pointing out that the VaporKrar 2.0 4L technically has slightly less storage than these other packs, even though it’s a fairly similar weight. So if you’re after the lightest pack with the most storage, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L probably won’t be the best option. But in my experience, the pack is still light enough that it doesn’t feel overly heavy or cumbersome in use.
The VaporKrar 2.0 4L has a pretty perfect amount of storage for the 2-3 hour runs that I’ve been using it for. On most of my runs in the VaporKrar 2.0 4L, I’ve carried a windbreaker, a small first-aid kit, my phone, about 40 oz / 1183 ml of water, and a couple of snacks. There’s plenty of storage for all of these items in the VaporKrar 2.0 4L, and I’m confident I could fit another light layer in the pack if needed. While the VaporKrar 2.0 4L can hold a bladder, I’ve only used it with the two included soft flasks — I’ve never found a bladder that doesn’t bounce, slosh, and generally be annoying while running, so I tend to avoid using them.
The VaporKrar 2.0 12L often felt pretty front-heavy when I used it with soft flasks, so I’m happy to report that the 4L carries soft flasks much better. The 12L had so much storage on the back of the pack that, unless it was full (especially in the back), the soft flasks would bounce all over the place. The VaporKrar 2.0 4L’s much smaller rear capacity means that the whole pack fits a bit tighter / closer to the body. While there’s still a little bit of bouncing, the 4L definitely feels more secure than the 12L, especially with smaller loads.
My other complaint about the VaporKrar 12L was that the pockets weren’t tight enough to keep things from bouncing around inside them. Unfortunately, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L suffers from the same issue, to an extent. The whole pack does fit a bit more tightly than the 12L, but the 4L’s individual pockets are still a little on the loose side, which allows soft flasks, phones, and other heavier items to bounce around inside the pockets more than they do in the Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set.
On the Trail
As I alluded to earlier, most of my runs in the VaporKrar 2.0 4L have been somewhere in the 2- to 3-hour range. Those runs have been in all kinds of weather, from sub-zero temperatures last winter up to 80° F / 27° C weather this spring. I’ve also tested the pack both fully and partially loaded to see how it handles carrying varying amounts of gear. In general, I’ve been happier with the VaporKrar 2.0 4L’s performance than I was with the 12L, but I think there are still a few small changes Nathan could make that would improve the pack’s overall performance.
To a large extent, these changes stem from many of the same issues I had with the 12L. First off, I think slightly tighter pockets would help alleviate some of the issues I’ve had with items bouncing around inside the pack during runs. The VaporKrar 2.0 4L does stay put pretty well, but as with the 12L version of the pack, the soft flasks have a tendency to bounce around inside their pockets quite a bit when they’re not completely full. In addition to more tightly fitting pockets, I think an elastic loop that goes around the top of each soft flask would help with this quite a bit. Both the Salomon ADV Skin 5 Set and Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 have elastic loops for the soft flasks, and they help decrease unwanted movement. One feature that I did like on the VaporKrar 2.0 4L over packs from other brands is the “straws” on the Nathan pack’s soft flasks. On my Salomon pack, I have to push the soft flask up pretty far to drink out of it without pulling it out of the pocket. It’s doable, but kind of obnoxious. Nathan’s soft flasks come standard with a flexible straw that makes drinking out of them much easier.
Aside from that, I think that Nathan could continue to tweak pocket placement to make it a bit easier to access the pack’s various storage options without having to take off the pack. I can’t open or close the vertical zippered pocket on the back of the pack while I’m wearing it, so I pretty much never use it. The horizontal kangaroo pocket across the back of the pack is also a little hard to access while running because the openings are slightly smaller than they are on the 12L version of the pack. Finally, as with the 12L pack, the smartphone pocket is directly under the left-hand soft flask, so if you put a phone in it, you can expect it to dig into your ribs for the entirety of your run — not ideal.
It is worth noting that pretty much all of these complaints are fairly minor. On most of my runs, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L carried everything I needed, didn’t bounce an absurd amount, and never caused any chafing or rubbing. But I’m still left with the feeling that it could be slightly better in quite a few ways, especially when compared with a pack like the Salomon ADV Skin 5 Set that gets all of the small things so right in my opinion.
When reviewing the 12L version of the VaporKrar 2.0, I was impressed by how breathable and quick-drying its materials were. The same holds true for the VaporKrar 2.0 4L, with one minor caveat. For the most part, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L is extremely breathable and doesn’t cause any more extra sweat than I’d expect from wearing a pack. It also dries quite quickly after getting wet, and doesn’t really retain any water. The one part of the pack that doesn’t breathe quite as well as I’d like is the water-resistant rear zippered pocket. The portion of this pocket that’s against your back when wearing the pack is made with a water-resistant material, which is great in some ways — it keeps whatever you’ve got in the pocket from getting saturated with back sweat, which is always a plus. But it also somewhat reduces breathability in this area, and I’ve noticed that the part of my back under this pocket is noticeably sweatier after runs in hot weather. The water-resistant phone pocket on the left-hand chest pocket suffers from the same issue, although it’s not quite as noticeable since it’s quite a bit smaller. Again, it’s not a major problem, but it is worth being aware of if you can’t stand being extra sweaty.
So far, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L is holding up very well. I haven’t seen any signs of fraying or tearing, and the materials seem durable enough that they’ll hold up to lots more use. With that said, I really don’t expect race vests to wear out until they’ve been in use for several years. With about 100 miles of running in the pack so far, it seems like there aren’t any glaring issues with its durability, but I’ll have to put quite a few more miles in it before I can get a better read on how it holds up long-term. If I do run into any unexpected issues down the road I’ll post an update about them.
Who’s It For?
The VaporKrar 2.0 4L is Nathan’s answer to the lower-capacity, race-vest market, and for the most part, I think it fulfills its purpose well. If you’re looking for a vest to carry water, food, a few layers, and other essentials for medium-length runs or races, the VaporKrar 2.0 4L has no shortage of storage options. For especially long, unsupported outings, you’d probably be better off with a larger pack, but the VaporKrar 2.0 4L should be plenty big enough for runs up to about 3 hours (depending on how much gear you typically bring for a given run).
With that said, I still have a hard time specifically recommending the VaporKrar 2.0 4L over some similar packs from other brands because of the minor storage and pocket placement issues I’ve had with it. None of these things are deal-breakers on their own, but when you add them all up, it’s hard not to give the edge to a pack like the Salomon ADV Skin 5 Set that has many of the same features but performs slightly better in numerous ways. The good news is that a lot of the packs in this class are quite good overall, but small features can help make some stand out more from the others.
My final conclusion on the Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 4L is that it’s definitely got some good things going for it, but it needs a few tweaks to pocket sizing and placement before it could become my go-to race vest. I like the overall design — the fabrics used are comfortable and seem durable, there are tons of pockets, and the pack easily fits all of the things I need for unsupported runs up to 3 hours long. But there are other packs I’ve used that check all of these boxes and have more convenient pocket placement and less bouncing. So while the VaporKrar 2.0 4L is certainly a solid pack and will probably work well for many runners, in my opinion, it’s not necessarily the best option in the lower-volume, race-vest market.