Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Pack

I come from the cycling industry where I tested products non-stop in search of what would serve the customer's needs best. My goal was (and is) to find products that will enhance the user's experience. With that in mind I offer my thoughts on the Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Pack.

With a trail marathon and two 50-mile races coming up I decided it was time to invest in a running hydration pack. I've run multiple marathons on the road with a handheld bottle or just using the water stops. Using a handheld bottle has been my go-to method for years but I needed to know if there was a better way to enjoy the long runs.

Bring on the Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Pack...

At 5'10 the first thing I noticed was I felt like I was wearing a child's vest. The hydration packs I used for mountain biking the vest always was much longer and sat lower on my back. The Nathan #020 sits high and after the first run you will get why it is designed this way-it doesn't get in the way of any motion at the waist and it breathes really well.

The loading of fluid seems to be a big discussion among pack users. The Nathan system is simple in that you have a envelop like opening that you fold over at the top and slide a hard plastic Slideseal guide over the top and you are ready to go. The wide opening makes for easy cleaning and quick filling. I had been using the Osprey with the screw off lid and hard plastic spine that made for a great handle. My only knock on the Osprey bag is that it's harder to clean than the Nathan. The Nathan 70 ounce (2.0 liter) bag has measuring guides for mixing and filling. User tip: When rinsing and drying I leave a plastic pasta spoon in the bag to keep it open and let it drain upside down in the sink.

One you have the bladder loaded it's suspended in the pack with a plastic clip. The clip looks a little fragile and is kind of a pain at times getting it to hang the bag. It's not a deal breaker but I figure I'll be emailing Nathan for an extra since I know I'll break it the morning of a race (I know me).

The hose is guided over the shoulder strap (you can choose left or right side) and is to be clamped down on the chest strap. Here is where my product manager mind started churning. The hose is to clip into the harness horizontal with the strap. It's not the natural position the hose wants to sit and lock in. The bite-valve runs into the pockets and sometimes needs a little guiding to get it stowed. Nathan would get a great many cheers for adjusting the angle of the clip to a diagonal position so the user is not fighting the clip. While racing in this vest I would just cram the end of the hose under the belt or in the pocket since I felt I was fooling with the hose-clip interface too much. So far the best bite valve interface I have used is the magnetic mouthpiece by Osprey. You sip and just get that sucker close to the clasp and it snaps down magnetically without looking.

At the time of this writing I am still not sold on the pockets configuration. There are three pockets and each has a different opening/closing method. The zipper pocket on the left side is great. It is the right size for food, camera or a phone. In front of the zipper pocket is an open pocket with a diagonal cut opening. The opening is too large to keep anything securely stowed. I use this pocket for empty wrappers. My concern is anything with weight would bounce out on rugged descents. The right pocket has a pull-cord closure system that secures the contents. This is the pocket I stow my gels and a long sleeve of Clif Bloks. On the back there's a bigger zipper pocket that's great for headlamp, clothing, hat or gloves. To finish off the storing capabilities is an elastic shock cord on the back for the quick grab jacket.

As with any hydration vest they always seem heavy once you fill the bladder and start to run. While you'll obviously feel putting 70 ounces of fluid on your back the Nathan #020 really has a well balanced feel. There's also the 3-Way Propulsion Harness the "moves with you, not against you." I can't see what it's doing back there but it feels pretty good and works. The bladder stayed put and it didn't tear up my shirt or cause ANY chaffing. I was ready for the nasty rub marks after my first long run and there were none to be found! Amen! The literature that comes with the pack states: "Meant to be worn a little loose, it feels more like a hug than a weight on your back, resulting in the most comfortable way to carry fluids for extended exertion. I fully agree.

After 50 miles of running in this vest in a week I would recommend this to anyone looking to ditch the handheld. The pack is light (15 ounces per my digital scale) and feels great. Who knew a hydration vest could feel so good? I paid $76 online and find this to be on par with the other brands. If you have long mileage in mind you better start looking at the Nathan packs. With any pack it takes some time to get dialed with the straps and drinking from a hose takes more effort than a bottle (See previous post "Mr. Dumbass").

Pro: Lightweight vest that does feel like a hug. Everything you need is right at your chest and you can disappear with hours without worry. This vest has me excited for Fall running since I can take extra clothes and stow them in the back. No more driving back out to the mountain to grab the base layer I ditched in the tree. The bladder is easy to fill and clean. The vest breathes really well and there's plenty of adjustments to get it perfect for any body type.

Cons: I'm not a fan of the hose clamp on the chest strap. There's too much fidgeting for me. If it was able to be angled I think Nathan would win praise from the users. There's also an "On/Off" adjustment at the bite valve. In the future I would hope they just use a Green and Red dot. It's not something that would deter me from buying this product would be a nice touch. I'm 44 and it's hard to see if it's on or off. The last little picky comment is this vest does not have any reflective qualities. I think some added reflective touches on the back would be good for the all night runner who pops out on the road.

I give this product 4.5 nails (out of five). I love this hydration vest and will use it in both of my upcoming 50 mile races. I think the pockets could be improved and the bite valve takes a lot of work (even for a big mouth like me). I'll post another update after the Steamboat 50 coming up in two weeks.

Please feel free to add you comments or questions below.

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