Bunny did a fair bit of research looking specifically for a hydration vest that would work topless or semi-topless in her case. She tried several and for reasons she’ll go into in a bit she landed on the Nathan Vaporkrar.
I like my Ultimate Direction FKT but I really like my Salomon Advanced Skin 12.
I recently ran my UD in a tank and ended up with a chafe line on my chest after only 15.5 miles. Granted it was about 20 degrees past sweaty here in Oklahoma in May but still. The UD has some bounce on me which contributed to the chafing result.
Note: wearing the UD with sleeved shirt of any length or even a sleevless shirt that’s not a tank top I’ve never had a problem with chafing. It does bounce on me more than the others.
But… I do like trying new things so when I had a chance between a sale, a coupon and a gift card from work to get a Nathan Vaporkrar for next to no out of pocket I decided to give it a try.
So… What do I think about it? I’ll concur with Bunny that the material is soft, softer than the other vests I have and use. The XL fits me, #clydesdalerunner, if barely. I have about 2″ of strap left in the chest straps, 0″ in the side straps. So I realistically have about 1″ to spare since that 2″ of strap is divided between two because of the V shape of the chest straps.
The upper chest pockets are better than the Salomon and the UD. They expand well and my Pixel 2XL will fit in one with a case on it no less. Not that I could carry one there as it bounces on my collar bone but it does fit.
The lower pockets for the water and gels are not as good as the Salomon, not even close. About the same as the UD. The reason I say this is I have a harder than normal time fitting my UD soft flasks in them than I do with the others. The UD has a toggle string on theirs so you can adjust the fit precisely. The Salomon is just stretching.
The lower outer pocket is really where the Salomon shines compared. On the Nathan there’s enough room to fit about 3 eGels (my preferred gel based fuel). The UD is about the same. The Salomon’s are kangaroo pouches that are huge compared to the other two and stretch like crazy.
The chest attachment methods though go strongly to the Nathan, then the UD and trailing in distant last the Salomon. I do not care for the fiddly tiny ass little clips that Salomon chose. I’ve had them come undone on me while running if you don’t have them pulled tight. The V straps and the large buckle of the Nathan is a welcome thing at all times and especially when you’re tired.
The Nathan 12 has no side pouches but due to the strap they have they’d have to route the straps like the Ultimate Direction FKT does where it runs through the pockets. I’m not a fan of the UD side pockets but they’re somewhat functional.
The Salomon’s side pockets are better than both with the vertical zippers and I can easily fit my Pixel in one for easy access and all the gels I normally carry on the other side. On the Salomon I use the front kangaroo pockets for trash and paper towels primarily. My nose runs like a broken water hose when it’s cold out.
As we move to the back I give the nod to the Nathan for storage slighly over the Salomon and UD with one major exception. The Salomon’s kangaroo pouches are far more usable in a general fashion than the Nathan’s as they’re accessed from the top. The Nathan’s though hold a bottle in a easy to access way. I found putting a frozen water bottle in there a decent way to get some heat relief. It lasts about an hour currently before it’s all melted and still cool enough to be enjoyable.
I like the the big pouch layout of the Nathan the best, I like their bladder hanger better for sure than the Salomon.
Bladder, they all support a bladder but the Nathan is the only one of the three that comes with one. The Salomon comes with two half liter soft bottles, long skinny ones that I don’t like and gave away. I prefer my long neck UD soft bottles. The UD came with two 20oz hard bottles when I bought it and I like them but the old style nipples they have wear out far quicker than I liked.
So which one? With one exception, but it’s a important one, and cost being equal I’d say go with the Salomon, then the Nathan Vaporkrar and then the UD although 2nd and 3rd are a tough call.
That exception though is if you’re going to be doing long runs with these vests against your skin then go with the Nathan.
But if one of them is a significant savings over the others then that likely moves them up in the ranking a fair bit because when you get right down to it none of them are head and shoulders above the others although for me the Salomon is the winner when it comes to storage by a fair bit.
The ‘two cents of a women’…
As Trex said, in the months before our first marathon I spent countless hours researching hydration options that would fit my needs/preferences. I am still searching.
After watching online video reviews, promotional videos, and reading tons of articles from the best of the best, I narrowed my search to 6 packs. These being:
- Nathan VaporKrar* Racing Vests 4L & 12L
- Salomon Advanced Skin 5Set Pack and 12Set Packs
- Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set and 8 Set Packs
I borrowed a friends S-Lab Sens Ultra 8 set to wear on a run. I also wore Trex’s beloved Salomon & UD vests, which didn’t fit of course, but gave me an idea of storage and general ‘wearability’. I spent an entire afternoon at our local running store, Runners World, where I wore my sizes in all these vests and was able to test out stuffing these vests with gear, bottles, and nutrition. In the end I bought the Krar 12L because, as TRex has also found, it was wearable against my skin or over a tank top for the 95+ temperatures of our Oklahoma Springs and summers, and had enough storage for longer trail races. The Salomons failed me miserably when I tried them on in my summer tank top. They both caused red marks in a few minutes where they rubbed on my shoulders and back. The material is just too rough. This was a huge disappointment as I really liked the storage options of these packs a bit over the Nathans. But I am all about comfort and slightly less about storage.
So why the Krar and not the “womens vest” designed by Stephanie Howe, the VaporHowe? Because I wanted a more subdued and gender neutral color and more important the sizing on the Krar (MM) I found fit a women with my curves better than the Howe. Sorry Stephanie, we just aren’t all built that narrow framed.
TRex pretty much covered all my likes and dislikes with these vests. After purchasing the Nathan I wore it for the first time, like a rookie, on our first Marathon, where it dumped cold rain on us. I have also worn it on our long trail races and runs in all temperatures (below freezing to sweltering heat), both with a bladder and without, usually with Trex’s reject Salomon skinny soft bottles, and I have not once had any chaffing or bouncing or annoying adjustment issues. I personally carry an iPhone 7 (not the plus) and it fits in the lapel pockets without bouncing on my collar bone as it is considerably smaller than the dino-sized Pixel2 Trex carries. Just sayin.
But at the end of the day I have one major disappointment with this vest and most all of the other vests I researched. What’s that you ask? I’ll tell you.
They are not designed to accommodate breasts.
Now I am not sporting anything close to double letters in my size, but the simple fact is that regardless of how big/little mine are, I don’t like bottles over my boobs. They jut out from my chest and cause a visual distraction, as well as squish my girls even more than my sports bra’s do.
‘Just use a bladder or belt instead’ I am told. First I don’t need a bladder on shorter distances or supported races as it adds too much weight. I prefer a bottle to hold my electrolyte drink of choice and bottle for water sometimes combined with a bladder, plus room for my phone and gels. Most hydration belts still don’t fit all I carry on long races well.
When I wore the Salomons I put the bottles in the front kangaroo pouches and liked the location, but they bounced way too much since they weren’t designed for bottles.
Another problem is that vests not designed with the curves of breasts in mind, require tighter oddly angled strap adjustments which can cause pressure points. I have only found two vests on the market that sort of address my complaint, those being the UD Jenny Jurek Ultra Vesta, and the UltrAspire Astral Vest. The Jenny, looked promising, but in the end I didn’t like body layer materials of Trex’s Scott Jurek UD, so I knew I wouldn’t want that one against my skin come this summer. Turns out I was right. I do wear the Jurek hydration belt when I am not sporting my Nathan, but it lacks in storage, and bounces unless its tighten within an inch of its life. But the UD Jurek collection belt & vests do have some waterproof pockets, unlike the Nathan or Salomon, which is needed with all the water I am sweating in this heat!
And while I haven’t tried the UltraAspire which, like the Jenny, sort of solves the bottle placement problem, it looks kinda ridiculous and unnecessary how it curves the fabric around the breast. I know, given reviews and descriptions I’ve read, it won’t be as soft as the Nathan on my skin, and I also wanted a vest my DH could wear in the event he needed to, and frankly the UltraAspire would look simply ridiculous on a man. It also can’t compete in terms of storage for longer trail races.
So in the future, for my own edification, I will post my write-up/rant about what my ideal vest looks like. But for now I agree with TRex’s assessment of the Krar. And while it could use a curvy women’s touch, it’s soft and smooth like butter on my skin and that makes it a win.