I’ve been using this pack now for around six months, and pretty much on every long distance trail run too. Although I have to say, when I first tried it out down in Melbourne for a few laps around the Tan, I hated it. For me, a good sign of equipment is if I’m not overly taken by it on first impression. I guess things take a little time with me!
However, I think we always get used to things as they are, and when we try something new it feels strange and weird to be trying something different. I firmly believe that this is one of the best packs on the market right now as it meets pretty much meets all my requirements when I go out on 6 hour+ runs. It carries 2.5 litres of water for starters (2 in the backpack and then a 600ml bottle fits in one of the pockets at the front).
It also has front pockets where you can fit around 4-5 hours worth of food if needs be. The pocket at the back allows you to carry even more food, and then if you have a small and light rain jacket, that fits in there too. There’s even a pocket for your salt tablets at the front too.
Sitting position: The first thing that’s very noticeable about this pack is how high it sits on the back, pretty much as described in its name, it’s a vest of sorts. For me personally, I like my pack to sit high around the upper back and shoulders, rather than down below at the waist. Different people enjoy different things, but for me, the higher position definitely works. What’s also noticeable is how snug the pack fits, and when you first put it on, it almost feels too tight and too constricted around the chest and ribs, but it’s something to get used to I think and play around with.
The pack stays solid to your back when you run too, there’s very little bounce to it as long as you have it to a snug fit. This makes maneuverability very good whilst you’re on the move.
The shoulder straps also work very well for this pack, made of very light mesh material and sitting nicely across the top of the shoulders. I often find that packs that sit high on the back can be troublesome with the straps running across the neck somewhat (this has been a bit of an issue with me for the Aarn pack in the past). With the Nathan Vest, no such issues at all.
Capacity: For such a small pack, there is an ability to carry quite a bit. I’ve already outlined the various pockets that it has, but the massive benefit for me as an ultra runner is the ability to utilise front pockets that suit my hydration and nutrition needs. I like to have a combination of both sports drink and water when I run, it keeps things different, rather than just sticking to one drink. The Nathan fits the bill perfectly in this regard, with a two litre hydration pack in the back, and then the ability to carry a 600ml bottle in the front pouch. The pocket on the other side allows you to cram in a good number of gels too – overall I reckon I can fit nearly 10 hours worth of gels and chews in both of the pockets, which is more than enough for a big day out and anything up to around 80-90kms if needs be.
In the pocket at the back, there’s also room for a very small lightweight rain jacket if needs be, and if you’re clever, you can stuff a thermal in the top of the pack where the hydration bladder fits too. To give you some idea, I recently completed a 100 miler with this pack and it was able to carry all of the mandatory gear I needed, plus food to last me to each checkpoint, which was roughly 4-5 hours apart.
The other great thing about this pack is the little extras that you get with it. A great innovation is a tiny pocket on the front of the shoulder strap that’s specifically designed to put your salt tablets in – brilliant. Very simple, yet a brilliant idea. There’s also a clever little clip on the front chest strap to place the hose from the bladder so that it’s not swinging everywhere when you run. Finally, there’s a piece of shock cord at the back of the pack to help carry other clothing gear too if you really need to.
The scores on the doors
So, should you buy this pack? Well if you’re like me, and use it for similar purposes, then there’s no doubt that pack really fits the bill in the variety that it offers as far as the scope of its capacity is concerned. The thing I find about most packs is that they have around 80-90% of what I need in terms of functionality. For example, the hydration carrying ability might be good, but then there’s less pockets to carry food, or they’re around the back of the pack which makes them hard to get at. Or the food pockets might be to hand, but then I can’t carry a bottle of sports drink at the front. This pack comes as close to meeting those requirements as I think is possible. I guess the only minor point for me is that it would be great to have the ability to have a 3 litre hydration bladder in the back. This of course would increase the weight, but that’s then probably taking away one of this pack’s major benefits – the fact that it feels as if you’re carrying so little. In saying that, it doesn’t make this pack ideal for races where mandatory gear carrying is high, like North Face for example. When I used it at Northburn, I just about managed to get all of my gear in there, but I was lucky. If it had been a bad weather day, there’s no way I could fit everything I required in there. So you really need to consider what other gear you might need for a race if your considering using this pack at race time. Otherwise, this is a fantastic day pack for training and at the moment, this is the pack for me. I’ve just bought one of those new Salomon Slab 5 packs, again another vest style pack, so it will be interesting to compare the two and see how they fare against each other.
If you’re in the market for one of these, there are various online retailers that price these at around $80-90, making them pretty affordable for the average runner. I personally can’t speak highly enough of them, so much so that I bought two 🙂
And it’s for these reasons that we’re going to score this pack a 5 on the basecamp to summit scale we employ. Another pack int he ranks of the summit scalers, a pack that’s swept all beside it and is waiting for those at basecamp to cook it a nice meal upon its return. Nice work Nathan.