Nathan VaporSwift 4L Race Vest
Test Locations: Crested Butte & Colorado Springs, Colorado
Test Duration: ~100 miles
- AdaptiveFit system conforms to all body types
- 1.5 Liter Bladder, 4 Liters of storage
- 360 degree reflective visibility for low light runs
Stated Storage Volume: 244.1 Cubic Inches / 4 Liters
Reviewer: 6’1″, 143 lbs / 185 cm, 65 kg
Size Tested: XS-M
Stated Weight (Pack and Bladder): 303 g / 10.7 oz
Stated Weight (Without Bladder): 194.9 g / 6.87 oz
Blister Measured Weight (XS-M):
- Vest: 196 g / 6.9 oz
- Empty Bladder: 119 g / 4.2 oz
- Total w/ Bladder: 315 g / 11.11 oz
Nathan Hydration is perhaps best known for their flagship VaporKrar and VaporHowe race vests. These vests come in 4L and 12L capacity options, spare no expense on top-of-the-line materials, and include all the features of a high-end race vest. They certainly take up a lot of the limelight when it comes to the Nathan hydration vest lineup.
That’s all well and good, but it also means that the VaporKrar 2.0 packs are pretty expensive — the VaporKrar 2.0 12L comes in at $199.99, while the 4L version runs $164.99. Those fairly steep price tags create a barrier to entry for first-time trail runners who are looking to dip their toes into longer runs without spending hundreds of dollars on gear.
This is where the Nathan VaporSwift 4L Men’s Race vest comes in. With the same advertised storage capacity as the VaporKrar 2.0 4L and a much lower price point of $124.99, the VaporSwift is well-positioned to be a respectable, entry-level pack.
I spent the summer running in the VaporSwift 4L on trails all over Colorado, and I’ve gotten a good sense of how the pack handles in a variety of scenarios — including where it excels and where it falls a bit flat. In this review, I’ll delve into the strengths and weaknesses of the VaporSwift 4L, what situations it performs well in, and how it compares to some other packs on the market.
As with just about any product that’s available in multiple sizes, we recommend that you try on the VaporSwift 4L in person if you can. With that said, I can give some insight into how the pack fits my body. For reference, I’m 6’1” and 143 lbs with a fairly narrow chest (about 36 in / 96.5 cm). I usually opt for a men’s Small when it comes to running packs. My go-to packs include the Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 3L for racing and the Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 4.0 for days when I need to carry a lot of gear.
One of the main distinguishing features of the VaporSwift is the pack’s “AdaptiveFit” tightening system, which allows you to adjust the pack’s fit to a much wider range of body sizes than most race-oriented vests. Pulling on the AdaptiveFit straps, which are housed in the zipper pockets behind each of the soft flask pouches, tightens the pack across the lower chest. In theory, this should allow you to adjust the pack to fit your particular body shape / size. The VaporSwift’s adjustability is probably part of why Nathan only offers the vest in two sizes: XS-M and L-XXXL.
Personally, I had some minor issues getting this system to fit securely. Even with the chest straps cranked all the way down, I still found that I couldn’t get the size XS/M to fit flush against my back. Because of the general lack of stretchiness in the materials of the pack itself, it is especially crucial to dial in the AdaptiveFit straps for a good fit. Unfortunately, I found myself often having to stop and readjust the pack on the go to prevent the pack from bouncing — particularly when running at faster paces or down steeper terrain.
In my opinion, this makes it even more important to try on the vest before you buy it to see if the AdaptiveFit system is something that works for your body type and fit preferences. And if you’re on the fence between getting the XS-M size or the L-XXXL size, I would recommend going with the smaller size — in my experience, the VaporSwift fits a little large.
Features and Construction
The Nathan VaporSwift 4L has a similar construction to the larger VaporAir 7L. Unlike the VaporKrar 2.0 packs, the VaporSwift is primarily made from a slightly studier, stiffer, and less stretchy mesh material. The material breathes well, and I didn’t find myself getting way hotter / sweatier in this vest than I would in my Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest. With that said, the VaporSwift’s thicker materials do make it less breathable than my Salomon S/Lab 3L on particularly hot days.
The VaporSwift comes with a 1.5 L bladder, and certainly seems to be constructed as a more “bladder centric” pack — the VaporSwift feels more secure when using the bladder, as opposed to keeping the bladder empty and using the front pouches for soft flasks. With that in mind, I found the pack to be well balanced when using the bladder to carry water and the front pouches for nutrition, extra hydration, or other essentials.
The VaporSwift 4L has two large zipper pockets (behind the front soft flask pockets) that can easily fit an iPhone 10 with a case, or plenty of nutrition. These pockets also house Nathan’s AdaptiveFit straps. It is worth noting that this is the same phone storage system found on the Nathan VaporKrar 4L, so there is potential for your phone to dig into your ribs — particularly if you choose to use soft flasks for water storage instead of a bladder. While I did not experience this problem, it could be an issue if you have a tighter fit in the vest.
Most of the VaporSwift 4L’s storage capacity is in the large stretchy pocket on the back of the pack. This pocket is divided into two compartments: one for the hydration bladder, and one large enough to stash extra gear like a windshell, a map, or extra food.
The front of the VaporSwift 4L has two sternum straps that can slide up and down to further adjust the fit. This is a feature that comes pretty standard on most running packs, but it certainly helps to further customize the fit of the vest.
The VaporSwift is not remarkably lightweight as far as race packs go, but I also didn’t find it to be unreasonably heavy for what you’re getting in terms of storage and hydration. For reference, here are the stated weights of a few comparable vests on the market from different brands:
175 g / 6.2 oz – Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance Vest (not including bottles)
175 g / 6.2 oz – Ultimate Direction Halo Race Vest (not including bottles)
181 g / 6.4 oz – Nathan VaporKrar 4L (not including bottles)
192 g / 6.84 oz – Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 set (not including bottles)
196 g / 6.9 oz – Nathan VaporSwift 4L Race Vest (without bladder)
201g / 7.1 oz – The North Face Flight Trail Vest (not including bottles)
When compared with some of the other packs on this list, the VaporSwift does come in at a slightly heavier weight. This makes sense, considering the extra adjustability of the pack and the more affordable materials being used in the construction. However, if you prefer a bladder to chest bottles, the VaporSwift 4L is within 20 g of the Nathan Vaporkrar 4L, and the VaporSwift already comes with a bladder. It is also worth mentioning that it comes in as the most affordable pack on this list.
The VaporSwift 4L’s storage options have been perfect for the 2-4 hour runs that I’ve been using it for. I can easily carry plenty of nutrition, a windbreaker, my iPhone 10, and a second layer if need be in the rear pouch. With 1.5 liters of water storage capacity in the bladder, I found this vest to be perfect for hot outings between 2-4 hours long on routes without readily available drinking water.
I’ve used hydration bladders in other vests and tend to avoid them, as I’ve found they often bounce / slosh around. I had less of an issue with that in the VaporSwift — it seems like a pack that is designed specifically to carry a bladder well.
One issue that I’ve had with the VaporSwift’s storage is that the most intuitive pockets to use for phone storage also happen to house the AdaptiveFit system. This becomes an issue when the pack loosens up a little at faster paces or on steep downhills. Because the AdaptiveFit straps are inside the phone pockets, you can’t just adjust them on the go without worrying about losing your phone, keys, or whatever else you’ve got in those pockets.
Another issue I’ve run into with the VaporSwift is that it doesn’t have any type of side pockets or kangaroo-style storage on the sides or back of the vest. The pockets that the vest does have just don’t feel as convenient, since you have to take the pack off to get to the main rear pockets.
On The Trail
As I stated above, I found that the VaporSwift performed well on runs between 2-4 hours, particularly when higher temperatures and a lack of reliable water sources along the trail necessitated carrying more water.
On my many runs with the VaporSwift this summer, I found that the pack fit most securely when fully loaded up. This was relatively easy to accomplish with a light jacket and the full bladder in the back of the pack, but the front bottle pouches seem a little too loose to effectively store nutrition. I often ended up storing gels in the zipper pockets just behind the bottle pouches.
In my experience, the VaporSwift would bounce fairly minimally early in the run, (full bladder / heading uphill), and would bounce a lot more towards the end of a run (empty bladder / running downhill). Again, this is where the VaporSwift’s fit caused issues for me. No matter how much I cranked down the AdaptiveFit straps, I couldn’t quite get a secure fit — particularly when the pack had less stuff in it. Runners with broader chests might have no problem getting a bounce-free fit from the VaporSwift 4L, but for my body type the pack was just a touch too large — even in the smallest size that Nathan offers.
The material used on the VaporSwift is very comfortable on longer runs, and the pack didn’t feel overly hot on some of my warmer summer outings in temperatures around 85℉ / 29℃. It is worth reiterating that the materials used in this vest are not as breathable as the materials used in some other higher-end vests. That said, I also didn’t have any issues with hot spots or rubbing from the pack on any of my runs. As I touched on earlier, the storage on the back of the pack is pretty difficult to access without taking the pack off, so I often just used the rather limited storage space on the front of the pack to carry my essentials for the run.
Ultimately, I think that the VaporSwift is a solid pack, but it does need some changes to make it truly competitive in the world of race vests (particularly more expensive ones). Personally, it would not be my top pick for the race settings it’s reportedly designed for — it doesn’t have the apparel-like fit or easy storage access of the VaporKrar series or the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 5 Set vest. The VaporSwift’s tendency to loosen up and bounce around at higher speeds also definitely turns my eye to more tightly-fitting options, especially for race day.
I would also probably lean towards using soft flasks or bottles over a bladder in a race setting because they’re so much quicker / easier to refill at aid stations. To be clear, the VaporSwift 4L is not a bad pack — it shouldn’t bounce a ridiculous amount for most people, it can hold plenty of water, and it comes at a very reasonable price point (especially when compared with some other options from Salomon or Ultimate Direction). For me, however, the VaporSwift 4L falls short in enough areas that I’d likely look to another vest for race day.
I would expect a good race vest to last for at least a couple of years, so I’ll need to put more miles in the VaporSwift before I can fully speak to its durability. With that said, the VaporSwift seems like a very sturdy pack. There don’t appear to be any signs of fraying in the seams or the straps, which is a good sign, considering I’ve run almost 100 miles in the vest so far.
The majority of the VaporSwift’s exterior is made from a ripstop material and looks almost brand new. Because this vest doesn’t use the ultralight mesh material found on a lot of other packs in the racing category, the VaporSwift also feels a lot more durable. I’m often worried about snagging my Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 3L on a branch and tearing the material, but I have no such worries with the VaporSwift 4L. I will post an update to this article if anything unexpected happens with the pack later down the road.
Who’s It For?
The VaporSwift 4L is Nathan’s take on an affordable, low-volume race pack. Coming in at a $124.99 MSRP, it is certainly on the lower end of the price spectrum for a race-oriented pack. For reference, you could spend $169.95 on the Ultimate Direction Halo Vest or $164.99 on the VaporKrar 4L. I think the VaporSwift is a solid, sturdy pack that allows you to bring an ample supply of water, as well as any essentials you would need for your running or hiking adventures. I think it is a vest that will fit most runners pretty well, though I would still advocate for getting a smaller size if you are on the fence size-wise.
At $124.99 I think the VaporSwift is a very reasonable entry-level pack — if you’re looking to get into running longer distances without spending close to $200 on a top-of-the-line race vest and don’t mind passing up the more refined fit and features of a more expensive pack, the VaporSwift could be a solid option.
Ultimately, I think the VaporSwift 4L is a very reasonable pack for carrying all of the essentials you need to start running longer distances. It is well built, affordable, and should be a solid option for many runners. With that said, the inability to get a completely locked-down fit, combined with the fact that there are no convenient side pockets for on-the-go storage, would make me personally hesitate to grab this pack on race day. There are plenty of other low-volume packs on the market, such as the Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 4L or Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5, that deliver a better fit and more convenient storage options (at least in my opinion), albeit at a higher price point.
So while I think the Nathan VaporSwift 4L could be a good option for runners looking to buy their first race vest without dropping $200, there are certainly other race vests on the market that will probably perform better in race settings for most runners — you just have to be willing to pay a little extra for them.