October 28, 2011

Review : Nathan Endurance Hydration Vest

  • Gear type : hydration
  • Use : Road / trail distance events
  • Price : 120$

Some runners swear by their hydration packs, others resent the concept. I am one of the former, ever since I started running marathons and ultras. The reasons are multiple, but mostly because it gives you great autonomy over long distances and lets you sip your drink whenever you want, not just at water stations. Well-designed packs also feature most of the storage in the front, because you don’t want to take them off while running to access your stuff! In my opinion, packs are awesome in hot weather, “autonomy” races (without aid stations) and on very long runs.

I started running with a Camelbak SnoBlast, a hydration pack designed for winter activities and not specifically for running. Although I think it’s an awesome running backpack and I still use it on my run commutes on a daily basis, I decided it was time for an upgrade.

Field test

In comes the Nathan vest. At a featherlight 15.2 oz, it feels like you are wearing basically nothing. Any noticeable weight comes from the amount of liquid you will choose to put in it, which is up to 2 liters. The Endurance features a back pocket for storage of stuff you won’t want to access while running, 3 large main compartments (one zipped, one slip-in pocket and one with a bungee-cord closure) and 2 small other compartments, one with a Velcro flap for pills (electrolytes, ibuprofen or ecstasy - I’m not the judgmental type) and the other one with a stretchy fabric, just big enough for a gel or very small bottle (such as a “Five Hours of Energy” taurine drink).

The bladder itself is of the slide-top closure type and is held in place by a little hook-and-loop at the top. You can place the drink tube on your left or your right shoulder. The tube’s drinking end is a bite-valve that can clip onto the sternum strap.


After wearing the vest for a marathon and several long-distance trail runs, I would never go out with anything else. The pockets are very well designed and allow you to easily carry up to 8-10 gel pouches, a cell phone (useful if you use its GPS features to track your run), folded money bills (ya know, in case you run by a sushi shop) and still get room for a couple other small items. The back pocket will fit a light jacket, arm warmers and a hat.

The stabilization system looks very weird and weak at first. Since it doesn’t feature a belt strap, you really wonder how your pack is going to sit still on your back while swinging around trail bends. Turns out it’s not an issue at all. The underarm straps are adjustable and hold the pack perfectly in place. The only strap you have to close when you put your vest on is the front chest strap. The Nathan vest doesn’t swing or slush around, it sits right where it needs to and sticks with you, not on you. The breathable fabrics of the shoulder straps and the back panel make sure of that.

One extra interesting feature is that you don’t need to take out the bladder to refill it (a non-issue, until you start running endurance events). Simply undo the Velcro top at the back, pull down 2 little zippers and you get access to the bladder’s top. Slide out the closure and it’s ready to refill. Quick, efficient and dump proof, even after hours of running.

When your pack gets dirty, simply get the bladder out and throw it (the bag, not the bladder… unless you like the taste of detergent in the morning) in the washing machine. My pack kept a couple stains from opened gel pouches I refuse to trash on the trails, but it doesn’t bother me.


If you’re going to opt for a hydration solution that sits on your back, dish the extra cash and get a specialized hydration vest like the Nathan Endurance. Its light weight and the quality of its design are worth every single dollar. The Endurance vest is stable, roomy for its size and very easy to maintain. One thing I specifically appreciated is the design of the bite-valve, which is easy to clean and doesn’t get moldy like other, sometimes expensive, hydration alternatives out there (FuelBelt, anyone?).

High points

  • Feather light
  • Breathable
  • Lots of front storage pockets
  • Stable on your back
  • Fast and easy access to the bladder

Low points

  • A bit on the expensive side
  • Stuff falls off of the slip-in pocket
  • Rubber gizmo under the back pocket is pretty useless

The Endurance vest on Nathan's official site