Review: Nathan Hydration Vest

Spring’s just around the corner, and summer’s not too far off. That means it’s almost time to bring out one of my favourite pieces of equipment – my Nathan hydration vest. I use the HPL #20 model, described on the Nathan site as “the ultimate trail and ultra running hydration vest.” That’s marketing-speak, of course, but it’s the closest I’ve come to long-range hydration bliss.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s best to carry only what I absolutely need. I don’t carry any water bottles at all unless my runs are over two hours. A 10 oz. Fuel Belt handheld does the job then. For longer runs, I used to wear a 4-bottle Fuel Belt. But for really long runs, even the four 8 oz. bottles on the belt didn’t make the nut. I needed more capacity, but I couldn’t figure out to get that without loading myself down. (Remember, I’m a minimalist person and a very minimalist runner.)

Enter the Nathan hydration vest.

As you can see, the Nathan presents as very light. That’s borne out by the numbers. My HPL #20 model weighs only 400 gms. (14 oz.). Of course, that changes when the vest’s bladder is filled to its 2 liter (2-quart) capacity. But it’s still plenty light. The Nathan features a couple of small pockets on the front for carrying things like my home-made energy bars, keys, etc., and there are two zippered compartments in the pack itself (ideal for a pair of gloves, a bandana, and/or a light wind vest). The chest strap adjusts vertically, which is nice, because we’re all built differently.

The real delight of the Nathan, though, is its harness system. The manufacturer calls it a “3 way propulsion system.” It allows the vest to hang off your shoulders and sort of hug you, rather than clamp around you the way my old CamelBak Classic did. That makes it bounce less and chafe less. (Speaking of chafing, I’ve seen photos of ultra runners wearing the Nathan hydration vest while shirtless. I haven’t tried that yet, but am going to, once the hot weather arrives.)

Last season, I wore my Nathan vest for the Mississauga Marathon, as well as a number of long (30K and up) training runs. If I was just cruising along, I’d fill the bladder with Hammer Nutrition’s HEED electrolyte drink (gluten-free and vegan friendly), and on longer runs, when I needed more oomph, with Hammer’s Perpetuem, which has added protein and is also gluten-free and vegan friendly. No issues at all, save for a little lower back chafing that was gone once I’d got the vest properly fitted. It was a real joy to be able to sip my liquid of choice and get snacks out of the front pockets, without any fuss or bother. The Nathan vest helped me focus on running.

Getting dehydrated sucks big time. Carrying things is lame. Being able to bring along some additional fuel is good. The Nathan hydration vest is light, comfortable, and stylish. I can’t think of anything it doesn’t do well. It’s a winner.

(Note: Nathan also sells the Intensity hydration vest, which features woman-specific shoulder straps and torso length.)



  1. Thanks Alan, this is exactly what i have been looking for! Nice detailed review. One question, are the straps strong enough to put a Carabiner on them so that I can attach my dogs leash to it. Thanks again, Frank
    PS: just got back from a quick, feel the sun shine and the cool melted snow water on my feet barefoot run. 5k

    1. The straps are certainly strong enough to accept a carabiner, Frank. How well the solution would work depends, I think, on how gentle your dogs are on the leash. What kind of dogs do you run with?

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