Nathan VaporKrar 4L Race Vest Review

First Impressions of the Nathan VaporKrar 4L:

Nice looking vest. It appears to be really streamlined. It has plenty of laser cutouts so does it breathe well? Good amount of front storage options it appears. I like the tiered storage options I’m seeing as well as the side pockets. Then I picked up the Nathan VaporKrar 4L and examined it closer…

…the material feels different than expected. It’s got some nice stretch to it. And it feels more durable than I expected. Weight-wise it feels spot on. OK, so how does it perform?

nathan vaporkrar 4L

Presenting The Nathan VaporKrar 4L Race Vest.

Now for more details. In this review we’ll break things down in to five areas:

  1. What’s good: the new, differentiating, or simply well designed or built features or aspects of the product.
  2. What’s decent: the features or aspects that are OK but not particularly new or differentiating.
  3. What could be improved: tweaks or improvements that could be made to make the product better.
  4. When to use it: the situations or scenarios where the product excels.
  5. How it compares: my current go-to competing products and how this compares.

I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. After all, you’ve probably got more running you can do today!

What’s good?

  • Streamlined. I really prefer products that are not overbuilt and this race vest includes all the things you need, for the most part, and nothing extra. Also, while it’s tough to tell from the pictures the back of the vest actually has three pockets. A larger full rear storage option for a bladder or plenty of clothes, a tiered pocket on top of this that only extends halfway down (making it possible to grab items out of it while wearing it), and a lower pass-through pocket on the bottom that is a good option for storing a windbreaker or even a bottle horizontally against the small of your back.

nathan vaporkrar 4L

The back of the vest is streamlined so it fits close to the body.

nathan vaporkrar 4L

Tiered rear pockets allow for plenty of storage that stays close to the body to minimize the bounce.

  • Front pocket access. There are three identical pockets on each shoulder strap. A zippered top pocket with plenty of stretch, a larger pocket below that (ideally meant for a soft flask or bottle but it could easily store a large smartphone), and finally a tiered dump pocket below the soft flask pocket. Very clean, very nice.

nathan vaporkrar 4L

The top pocket on each shoulder strap is a secure, zippered pocket with plenty of expansion to it.

nathan vaporkrar 4L

Below the zippered pocket on each side is a larger pocket, ideally meant for soft flasks or larger smartphones, and a smaller dump pocket secured with a little strip of Velcro.

  • Durability for the weight. The fabric and materials are a combination of many different types (e.g., polyester, spandex, TPU, nylon, etc.) which provide for a surprisingly durable exterior that should hold up quite well to abuse on the trails.

What’s decent?

  • The fit. I think this is really going to be a personal thing with this vest. I had a friend try this vest at the Gorge 100k this weekend and he loves the fit. For me, something is a little off (see comments below about the lack of stretch). Without much weight in the vest, particularly if you don’t load up the front with soft flasks and loosen up the side adjustment straps, it fits well and can carry things like clothing and food well. However, the whole point of wearing a vest, at least for me, is to load it up for big days when short pockets or a waist belt and handheld isn’t enough.
  • The breathability. The laser cutouts help sweat and heat escape and evaporate somewhat. However, the material itself holds water a bit more than some of the mesh or other fabrics competitors are using. One plus though of the fabric used I think in hot weather, assuming you have plenty of water available throughout the day, is that you could constantly soak it to provide an ongoing evaporative cooling effect.

nathan vaporkrar 4L

The laser cutouts help with breathability but it’s not the fastest drying vest I’ve ever worn.

  • Unique features. Nathan really tried to do some cool, unique things with this vest and it’s a solid attempt. The integrated, magnetic reservoir tube attachment point on the front is cool. The little elastic soft flask drink valve lock downs are neat. The fabric choice is novel.

What could be improved?

  • The soft flasks. They don’t seal properly and leak no matter how many times you try to twist them closed. As a result, they are essentially useless and either need to be sent in for new ones (assuming Nathan will replace them?) or taken out and tossed in the garbage. Plus, why are they only 12oz? 14-17oz flasks should be the minimum I believe. You can always fill larger soft flasks up with less water should you really be counting ounces.

(ed: I spoke with Nathan after both Ben and Jade had similar issues with bladder leakage. “Nathan is aware of the issue with the HydraPack bottles and recommends using force while screwing to ensure a tight seal.  A redesign is in process that will include hard screw tops for a secure fit.”  If you’ve purchased the pack and have leakage, call Nathan Customer Service and they’ll get replacements out to you ASAP.)

nathan vaporkrar 4L

The soft flasks are too small, are very difficult to thread properly, and leak. I hope Nathan quickly rectifies the issues with these soft flasks.

  • Useful side pockets. I love that Nathan tried to include side pockets. The problem is that they put the side adjustment straps over the top of these pockets (not inside them like Ultimate Direction does) which renders them basically useless because when you tighten the straps down to lock in the fit the nylon strap is too tight to access the pocket underneath.

nathan vaporkrar 4L

It would be great if these pockets were accessible but unfortunately, they are not due to the overlapping side adjustment straps.

  • More stretch for deep breathing. Nathan markets the vest in this way “…flexible mesh strap around the rib cage allows for support and breathability without digging or constricting.” I would debate this claim. While the 12L version does have elastic at the point where the side adjustment straps connect around the back under the stash pocket this version does not. The front chest straps also don’t have any elastic attachment points. As a result, the vest doesn’t stretch or expand enough for deep breathing I feel which is a deal breaker for me. Competing vests from Salomon and Ultraspire have plenty of elastic to allow for a more comfortable fit, for me personally, I have found.

nathan vaporkrar 4L

Some elastic around the back at the side strap adjustment point would greatly improve the fit I believe.

  • A pole storage option. I assume because the 12L version of this vest has pole storage loops they wanted to keep this vest more minimal. However, pole storage loops add very little weight and at $150 for this vest, and $180 for the larger version, you shouldn’t have to purchase two vests to also store your poles for races or hikes where you want them I feel.
  • The value. At $150 with poorly manufactured soft flasks, side pockets which are basically useless, limited stretch on the sides to allow for deep breathing, and no pole storage options, it’s tough for me to claim this vest is a good or decent value.

When to use it?

  • Assuming the fit works for you this vest is probably best for days when you want to carry extra lighter weight items like clothes or food. As mentioned, at least for me, when weighed down with heavier objects like dual soft flasks or a rear reservoir the fit isn’t comfortable enough for really long days on the trail.
  • It’s also probably better suited to cooler fall or winter days or really hot days, when you can constantly soak yourself, as opposed to a more moderate spring or summer day.

The Nathan VaporKrar 4L Race Vest is a good option in these scenarios.

Similar vests to compare with:

  • Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Packs (either last year’s version or the Ultra 5 or Ultra 8 this year). The Salomon packs are much lighter, breathe better, have elastic to allow for deeper breathing, and cost less. I’m giving the nod to the Salomon vests.
  • Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0. The UD Jurek vest has more capacity, is lighter, breathes better, has a pole storage option, and costs $25 less. I’d reach for the Jurek vest first.
  • UltrAspire Spry 2.0. I’m guessing this vest flies under the radar and I’m not sure why. It’s a great option when you need just a bit more storage than shorts or a waist belt can provide. It has an elastic sternum strap that really expands, breathes really well, and fits great. Plus, it retails for $70 – what a value! I wore this vest last year at the Flagstaff Skyrace and loved it. Again, I’m reaching for this before the Krar 4L vest.

So, the $150 question – should you purchase The Nathan VaporKrar 4L Race Vest?

In two words, not yet. Until Nathan fixes the soft flasks and adds some elastic attachment points to allow for more expansion / a better fit I think there are better options out there from its competitors at this point.

Questions, comments, or feedback on this pack? Please share! And thanks for reading!

Purchasing Information for Nathan VaporKrar 4L

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 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: Ben Zuehlsdorf

I am an avid running gear junkie. When I’m not smelling new shoes I’m usually running or racing around the local trails in Marin County, California or talking shop with the San Francisco Running Company community of friends. I was once a road marathoner but now have transitioned almost exclusively to the trails and racing ultras the last few years.

Disclaimer: This pack was provided to URP/Ben for testing purposes. All words and thoughts are ours and no compensation was offered or received.

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