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Stores a 2L bladder and two 22 oz handhelds
Adjustable straps for a body-mapped fit
Plenty of storage without the bulk
SAM: Summer is showing its scorching, sweaty face here in Baltimore, and the Nathan Vapor Air 3.0 hydration vest is one of the first of a new season of hydration packs and handhelds we have in for testing. Nathan promises a new sizing structure that goes all the way to XXXL, as well as lighter, more breathable shoulder straps and back panel, and stretch fabric to contour comfortably to your kit. The VaporAir 3.0 still has a highly adjustable elastic fit, a nylon ripstop exterior, and a fully chafe-free lining. This is a bladder vest, so it comes with a 2L bladder and cut-to-fit drinking tube.
It all sounds pretty good, so let’s get to the specifics.
SAM: There are two things that so many bladder vests claim as features: a bounce-free fit and a slosh-free bladder carry. The Nathan Vapor Air 3.0 claims neither of these but delivers both in spades. Fit is the real winner here — this pack contours to your torso and stays in place on uphill efforts and jarring downhills. I’m not the biggest bladder fan, and while I don’t think I’m alone in that, there’s a chance that if every bladder pack carried like this one there would be a few more trail runners out there sucking their water out of tubes.
Because of the adaptable elastic straps that run along the sides of the vest contour the fit, you get a little slosh as you pull water from the bladder, but then everything settles out in a few steps. Drawing water from the bite valve in the included bladder is easy and doesn’t leave you gasping for air.
Nathan’s new air mesh straps are comfortable and breathable. I had zero rub points during any of my test miles. You’ll also find a generous three pockets on each strap. The front pocket is ripstop nylon with a drawstring closure and is perfect for a phone or a handful of gels. Under that is a deep elastic pocket that would accommodate soft flasks, and hiding behind both of those is a side zipper pocket, something I love to see on vests. The quick-adjust straps for the side elastic are tucked into these zipper pockets. There are two large compartments on the back, and one of those is divided by a panel to keep the bladder separated from your gear. Clearly, there’s no shortage of pockets or storage here.
I only have one real complaint about this vest, and that’s the absolutely wild sizing of the men’s version. Nathan originally sent this vest to Robbe in the XXS-M size, and he passed it to me because he was swimming in it. I’m usually an M-L in vests like this (although I’m a medium in most t-shirts), and the XXS-M fits me great. There are two more sizes above this, and I can only imagine the XXL-XXXL must be sized for Andre the Giant. If you wear a men’s small or smaller, this vest will probably hang too large.
Any other negatives in the Nathan VaporAir 3.0 are mostly a function of trade-offs. The back, although it looks to be flanked by elastic panels, is all non-stretch nylon seamed together. The nylon is durable and, as Nathan says, probably won’t get caught up on trees, but shoving a jacket into the back will hump out the air mesh lining on the inside, next to your back, instead of stretching the storage compartment.
Tucking the adjustments for the side straps into the zippered pockets nicely avoids flapping strap ends, but unzipping the pockets and digging under the zipper for the dual adjustment buckles to loosen the straps is not easy to do while weaving down singletrack. If you’ve stashed a phone or cards or gels into these pockets it turns simple adjustments into a veritable clown show as you try to work the buckles and bounce your stuff back into the pockets all at the same time. Get the fit right before you get on the trail so the vest doesn’t force you to stop.
Lastly, and maybe this is the soft flask-loving part of me fighting its way into this review, but the tall elastic pockets on the front have only small Velcro strip closures, and not only do they seem useless because those pockets are so deep, but they sure suck to squeeze your hand past if something has slipped to the bottom of one of the pockets.
That said, I mostly count these as minor flaws in an overall good setup. Most of the observations will work for the VaporAiress, too, which is identical but comes in women’s colors, I guess.
Sam lives in Baltimore with his wife and two kids and spends his days fixing espresso machines for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. He runs with the Faster Bastards when he can, races ultras, and has been working on completing the AT section by section. He thinks the best days are made of long miles on nasty trails, but that a good surf session, a really stunning book, or a day of board games are pretty all right too.
All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Xodus Ultra, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Lone PeakMore from Sam