Since I’ve started ultra running, I’ve used pretty much the same pack, race after race, and year after year, and for everything from trail marathons to 100-milers. Two simple questions were used when choosing my original pack: did it fit? And could it carry everything I needed? Other factors like feel, weight, storage, and color weren’t on my radar…until this vest: The Nathan VaporHowe 12L.
Suddenly I can use a pack that was designed for my female body, is a color other than the typical pink, purple or red (give me green, blue, orange, or yellow, please!), and has the storage capacity to fuel a 100-mile race–all with the softness of a favorite light-weight t-shirt. I’m sold.
Nathan VaporHowe 12L Specifics
Hydration: 1.8 L bladder plus optional soft flasks up to 22 oz.
Weight: 12 oz.
Color: Blue Radiance
Phone: Can fit up to iPhone 7 Plus
First Impressions of the Nathan VaporHowe 12L
From the box, the VaporHowe is a pretty pack. The color of the pack–called Blue Radiance–has a turquoise hue and periwinkle lines the vest and fills the logos. Perhaps the most surprising part is the feel: it’s soft and entirely not what you’d expect. I was doubtful the pack would hold up well because of this. At 12 oz. the pack feels far lighter than it looks, partly because of the amount of storage capacity (12L). The 1.8L bladder is designed to reduce sloshing, hence the tapered cut. It’s obvious that the pack’s namesake, Ultrarunner Stephanie Howe, put thought and precision into helping design this pack’s features.
Fit – Read This, Ladies
I’m a small in most sizes, and whereas most men’s vests don’t work because I can’t get the pack to fit snug enough around my chest without uncomfortably resting on my bust, most women’s packs don’t work because of my slightly wide shoulders. I tried this vest in size small and, while snug, it fits well and sits high on my back. Adjustable straps on the sternum (with three contact points), under the bust (again with three contact points) and on the sides keep compression high–so much so that even with a full pack, I didn’t notice any bouncing. Keep in mind that my sternum straps were almost fully maxed out wearing a small (there are options for XS and even XXS) and I wear a size 32B. This pack definitely runs small. Sizes come in XXS to L, but this sizing chart seems fairly inaccurate. If in doubt, size up. Still, I appreciate the fact that diversity in sizing is offered.
Storage for the Nathan VaporHowe 12L
At 12L but with a plethora of pockets, this pack is like Mary Poppins’ magic bag: while seemingly small and compact, you’ll be able to stash two 22 oz. soft flasks, your keys, an iPhone, a 1.8L full bladder, fuel in one of the numerous front, side, and internal storage pockets, and a jacket (or two, or three, to be honest…) The side straps compress the pack with a simply tug so that adjustments can be made on the go. The 1.8 bladder, which is patented for its hourglass shape and internal baffle (basically a fluid regulator), is designed to reduce the sloshing sound that can become agitating several hours into a long run, but I didn’t get the chance to test it out. The night before an early morning long run, I filled my pack and gathered the rest of my gear to grab and go when I woke. When I went to throw it on the next morning, my entire pack was soaked. The bladder had three small but significant holes that had caused the full volume of the water to leak out of the bladder. One small hole isn’t a major problem and can be patched, but there might be a larger design problem if a brand new bladder comes with three holes. I reached out to Nathan to see about potential replacements but have not heard back as of this time of publication. Ed: Update: Nathan contacted Jade and is sending a replacement bladder immediately.
To substitute, I used an old 1.5L Nathan bladder. Without the patented Vapor bladder, the sloshing sound was the worst I’ve ever heard, even with jackets holding everything in place. Keep in mind that this pack might go hand-in-hand with the bladder it comes with. Or, forego a bladder completely and stick to soft flasks.
The Nathan VaporHowe fits as advertised–like a t-shirt. The softness of the fabric ensures that no chafing occurs even when wearing solely a sports bra, and the breathability kept my back from feeling overly hot and sweaty, even at the end of a mid-morning three hour run in San Diego. Following that specific run, without thinking I threw it in the wash, then hung to dry, hoping for the best,. The pack was entirely fine with no pilling or tears. Even though the pack looks flimsy, it wears well. Reflective taping on the bottom front and back offers some extra safety during early morning or night runs. Pockets, as mentioned, offer loads of storage, but as a bonus all pockets are positioned strategically: keys in a zippered pouch at the top, deep side pockets for fuel or a phone, and a pouch that sits deep enough to keep things in but easy enough so that a jacket can be stored without having to worry about removing the pack, unzipping a zipper, or otherwise fussing when you’d rather be running.
At $179.99, the VaporHowe is a pricey pack. The release of the VaporHowe creates a new category for packs, and there really aren’t a lot of comparable. The Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 12 Set appears the most comparable, but lacks the design, color, female-specific fit and number of storage options that the VaporHowe offers. While expensive, the price is justified with this one.
For those looking for a smaller option with the pizzazz of the VaporHowe, the 4L option is also a possibility.
This pack is hard to beat on any level whether form, fit, or function. The options to use solely soft flasks or stick with a 1.8 L bladder caters to any distance, from a weekend training run to a 100-mile race, and the adjustable straps ensures that most women can customize their pack. There’s no one I wouldn’t recommend this pack to, although I would prepare to size up.
Purchasing Options for the Nathan VaporHowe 12L
If you’re interested in purchasing this pack, please first check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community.
If that’s not an option, please consider using this affiliate link for Amazon. The return policy is great, and it’ll drop a few nickels into URP bucket if you decide to keep it. Thank You!
Meet Your Reviewer
This review was written by Jade Belzberg from San Diego, California. The pack was provided to URP/Jade for review purposed and all words are her own. Jade appeared on URP in this interview about her first hundred miler and blogs/writes on her eponymous website right here.