My friend and running buddy Scott Noack (www.DirtyTrailShoes.com) and I were talking the other day and thought it would be rad to do some sort of collaborative post since both of us are blogging nuts. We put our heads together and came up with the idea to talk about some hydration vests. BOOM! Scott is going to talk about the Orange Mud HydraQuiver Single Barrel and the Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka (“AK”) Race Vest. I’ll be covering the Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin (“PB”) Adventure Vest, and the Nathan HPL 020 Hydration Vest. There are a lot of hydra-vests on the market of course, but this small group covers the bases pretty well from the most minimal all the way up to something an adventure racer would reach for. This is Part III of the series. Check it out and let us know what your favorite vest is!
Overview of The Hydra Vests in this Roundup
- Part I – Orange Mud Single Barrel: A minimalist vest that offers an alternative to carrying a handheld. (Read more at Dirty Trail Shoes)
- Part II – Nathan HPL 020:A small vest that carries a 70 oz hydration bladder and provides just enough room for some snacks or small items.
- Part III – Ultimate Direction AK: A small vest with the ability to carry two 20 oz bottles AND up to a 70 oz hydration bladder, or other gear. (Read more at Dirty Trail Shoes)
- Part IV – Ultimate Direction PB 2.0: A large vest with the ability to carry two 20 oz bottles, up to a 70 oz hydration bladder + room for clothing/other gear.(read more)
Nathan HPL 020
Nathan offers a series of similar looking hydration vests which are mostly differentiated by their harness system and storage capacity. The HPL 020 is one of the smaller hydration vests available, and is one of Nathan’s more minimalist vests. Nathan markets the HPL 020 as the men’s vest in this class, the women’s equivalent is the Intensity which is mostly the same except for a shorter and slightly modified harness shape.
Specs at a Glance
The HPL 020 is the second smallest of Nathan’s race vest lineup. It features a claimed 6.5 liters of total storage capacity, with just under 5 liters of room when carrying a 70 oz bladder. It’s a straight forward vest with just enough carry capacity to work for organized marathons & ultra’s where aid stations are frequent and the runner does not expect to carry much, if any gear.
- Carrying Capacity: 6.5 liters total, 4.9 liters while using bladder
- Fluid Carrying Capacity: 1x 10-20 oz bottle (not included) up front, 1x 70 oz bladder in back (included)
- Weight: 10.5 oz, 16 oz with hydration bladder
- MSRP: $79
- Options: 10 oz flask ($10.95, sold in pairs), 22 oz bottle ($6.95 each)
There’s not a lot to the HPL 020, which is probably a good thing as a vest of this type doesn’t need extra bells or whistles. The primary hydration capability of this vest is provided via an invcluded 2L (~70 oz) bladder and drink tube. While this is no longer my preferred method of hydrating during runs, it suffices. The harness system on the HPL 020 works well and Nathan has an innovative means of keeping the fit dynamic (more on this below). I found my vest on sale, as they frequently are, and for about half off regular price I felt the cost was easily justified after getting a few runs in with it, however it’s not without a few small issues.
In 2013 I wore this vest on a self-supported 38 mile run across the CRHT in Joshua Tree National Park. We cached water and food at the half way point and I didn’t need much/any spare clothing so I was able to squeeze in the rest of my snacks, a small first aid kit, some socks, and enough water to make the two 19-mile splits… but it was a stretch. Out of the 7 of us that ran together 3 of us wore an HPL 020, a couple others wore Ultimate Direction vests, and the others used some home made junkola or somethin’
The HPL 020 is a “one size fits all” model (again, this is the “men’s” vest). There is quite a bit of adjustment in the straps but there may be a point at which someone’s body type is too large or too petite for it to fit well. The fit works well for me at 6′-3 and about 165 lbs.
The adjustment system consists of a sternum strap up front, and two side adjustment straps on each side. This provides plenty of customization of the fit. At the back of the vest the adjustment straps come together at a central hub which Nathan calls the “three way propulsion system”. A fancy name for a rubber thingy which attaches the straps to the pack. It does make a difference however. This provides for some “give” in the straps and allows the vest to better move with you once it’s been snugged down. This design is repeated in many of Nathan’s vests.
While the adjustment system is comfy and does its job, I don’t care for the little elastic keepers that are there to prevent the straps from flapping. They don’t always stay put which leads to some flapping strap-ends. I find that I can usually space out enough to put the flapping out of mind, but it can and does get annoying from time to time when it occurs.
From a craftsmanship perspective things are looking very good. All body-contact areas are a fine mesh over a larger mesh with decent breathability. The storage compartments are made of a fairly burly grid-stop material which seems like it will take a lot of abuse. All of the seams are nice and flat, not hot spots.
The one zippered pocket has held up without issue for me, and the other stretch pockets have retained their elasticity well. No complaints in this department what so ever.
As mentioned, the HPL 020 is light on features but it likely has most of what you would want or need in a vest like this. There are two zippered pockets on back. One of them accesses the main compartment, where the hydration bladder resides, and the other accesses a smaller compartment up top which is adequate for a small first aid kit, spare pair of socks, etc… There is also a very simple, single shock cord for compression on the back of the pack. The shock cord is probably unnecessary unless being used to lash something to the outside of the pack; with the bladder back there it doesn’t leave much spare room in the main compartment.
A gripe I have about the hydration bladder is the clip that attaches it to a loop at the top of the pack. It’s the worst, most convoluted fastener design you’ll come across. I’ve heard stories about aid station volunteers cursing these things- and I believe it. They’re very difficult to fasten and unfasten. I threw mine away and replaced it with a small piece of stick (bamboo skewer) attached by a very short length of cord. Gravity keeps it in place.
Moving around to the front of the vest, there are 2 pockets. One is zippered and is about the size of a smart phone or handheld GPS. The other is a stretch pocket sized for a 10-20 oz bottle, or whatever you might want to put in there. The zippered pocket also features a small stretch pocket laid on top of it which could be a spot to stash small personal items like chapstick or a Stinger waffle for a quick snack. The drink tube is secured by one fixed loop and it clips onto the sternum strap. Simple but effective. That’s really about it as far as the features go.
There’s not much of a solution for the flapping straps without redesigning this vest, so that aside I would only change that damned clip that secures the hydration bladder inside the pack. There are many “standard” plastic clip designs around or even a mini-carabinger would suffice. Other than that, the vest is a little heavy and could probably benefit from a lighter pack material such as gridstop Silnylon.
So, my vest model has been replaced with the newer blue colored version. The color isn’t the only change, and some of my wishlist items have been implemented. They fixed the clip! The design still looks a little over-thought to me, but I’m sure it’s a big improvement. They’ve made it 3 oz lighter. They even improved the little outside stash pocket on the front; on my model the pocket is cut on the diagonal (why?!?), the newer ones feature a more standard, common sense design. At this point, I think any savings to be found on an older silve/white model would be a false economy with these updates considered.
Final Thoughts on the Nathan HPL 020
For a typical 2-3 hour (ish) run this vest provides all that could be asked for, no problem. For longer runs it can be made to work but there is insufficient room for much clothing other than maybe some spare socks and there’s no way to carry trekking poles (for those who use them) so its best use may be supported runs. The harness system is simple and comfortable. For anyone who prefers to drink from a drink tube this should be a vest to consider. For those who prefer to drink from bottles, it’s probably not the best choice due to the asymmetrical single-bottle capacity. The price is relatively easy on the wallet and from the amount of these seen at races there seems to be a universal seal of approval. Hike It. Like It.