This is the third running hydration pack I’ve worn and reviewed, but the first time I’ve strayed from the safety of the Salomon camp. As always, you can find the detailed specs of the pack itself on the brand’s website, Nathan, so, similar to my review of the Salomon Adv 12 set, I’ll break this down into the good bits “yeahs” and not so good bits “mehs”.
I’ve been wearing this pack now for four months; predominantly trail running, on runs of up to a few hours long. I have to confess, I really, really, really wanted to love this pack, but in spite of multiple uses, while it’s a good pack and I wear it every week… there’s just something that doesn’t sit so well for me about it. I bought it because I was looking for a women’s specific fit after my Salomon 12 set surprisingly chafed me quite a bit at the Blackall 50, sitting very low on my back, and I was looking for a lighter weight vest than my two Salomons (although they’re not exactly “heavy”, the fabric could be thinner for stinking hot Queensland summers). I also love the front dump pockets of my Salomon 12 set, which my older 5 doesn’t have, so that feature really appealed to me too.
Let’s begin with the good stuff:
- The lightweight fabric. There’s no denying it, I love the fabric of this vest! It is light, breathable and sooo soft! Like, really, really soft. If you were wearing this directly against your skin, with just a sports bra, I’m sure it would feel great. I wear it with a running vest/singlet and no complaints at all.
- Front stash pockets. This is the feature I love on my Salmon 12 set, which the new Salmon 5 set offers too. Front pockets are just so easily accessible on the go, to stuff in your car key, or nutrition or the GoPro.
- Easily accessible zip pocket. This is small, but handy. Although the opening looks pretty small, surprisingly I can easily fit my credit card; drivers license; some cash, and my car key in here, all locked safely away during my run.
- Straw bottles and loops to hold them securely. I love this!! The vest comes with smaller than usual bottles – 350ml x 2. These are great Hydrapak collapsible flasks (reviewed in my flask review here) and the best bit IMHO – the loops on the vest which hold the straws against your body. This prevents any bouncing around from full flasks and it is still possible to drink from them while they’re held in these loops. I love this feature and wish my Salmon vests offered it too!
- A feminine vest. Look, to be honest, I didn’t want a pink vest. I really liked the look of the aqua coloured 12L and had originally planned to go for this. Deciding however that I didn’t need another bigger capacity vest, I went for this smaller one. The pink is the only colour available. This may be 100% up your street for a girly look. It may not. I’m more into the practicalities than the colour, so I don’t especially mind. It’s definitely feminine!
- Rear pockets with top access – one for a bladder (which I have not tested at all for water as I have only used this pack with bottles) and one smaller pouch which I tend to stick my compression bandage in for potential snake bite treatment! I can’t access these while I’m wearing the vest so I don’t tend to use them for anything else. That being said, I did shove some extra layers and my Ay Up headlamp in the bigger, bladder pocket while running in sub zero temperatures in Canada, and was pleasantly surprised with how much it could hold. The stretchy fabric makes the pockets deceptively sizeable.
- Robust. I was pretty sceptical at how robust this vest would be once I had unpackaged it as the fabric really is super light and smooth. However, I wash this vest on a delicate cycle in our machine once or twice every week and have seen no deterioration so far – very impressed.
- Women’s specific fit. I do have some issues with the fit of this vest (see the mehs!) but I must say, I love how small the surface area of the vest is on my body compared to my other packs, especially in the way that it sits high up my back, leaving more room to breathe and less scope for chafe!
- Adjustability: Not only are there two front chest straps which are easily adjusted, a feature I love about the pack is the ability to also tighten straps at the side. This means, if you like to wear the pack loosely tightened across your chest, you can still pull the pack snug against your body using the side adjustment.
- Vest sizing. It’s possible that this one issue is the cause of my uncertainty about this vest. I’m a UK size 10/12 and went for the Medium. I did read in reviews that you need to size up, and I was extra careful to measure and choose the size based on the Nathan size chart. But I do wonder if this vest is too small for me. Or if my body shape is just not the right fit. Or, maybe I just haven’t worked out the optimum adjustment yet since there is the additional scope to change the pack fit with the side straps, in addition to the front chest straps. Let’s face it, Stephanie Howe (the vest’s namesake) is a tad skinnier than my build…and I’ve fiddled around a lot with the various straps (and a positive is definitely the adjustability), but somehow the vest just doesn’t sit as nicely as my Salomon vests do. I notice it when I first put it on. I don’t really notice my Salomon vests.
- Possibly related to the sizing, but the stiff piping along the front of the vest has a habit of slightly digging into me if I don’t adjust the vest well. I really don’t like this feeling!
- Velcro. Several fastenings on this vest (the front pouch pockets and the rear bladder pocket) are held together with tiny pieces of velcro. I don’t like velcro. Velcro is scratchy and attaches to unsuspecting objects. This includes my hair at the back! I run with my hair in a high bun or a side plait and even then, I’ve found myself unceremoniously ripping my hair out of the velcro mid run. The velcro fastenings are rarely done up; don’t add much to the pocket closures and to be honest, the vest would be better without them.
- Pocket size – even my modest iPhone 5 has been known to fly out of the front pocket, so I don’t know where people with more modern, larger phones are stashing them. That being said, if you used a bladder instead of the front flasks, you would quickly gain two extra deep pockets at the front of the vest.
- The pockets for the flasks are designed for the smaller 350ml size so while it’s not a deal breaker, popping in a full 500ml flask at the beginning of your run makes for a tight fit. Once you’ve swallowed a bit of water, problem solved though! Just a minor consideration if you want to use this vest with other flasks.
- Talking of pockets, the rear of this vest has a long pocket which runs horizontally across the bottom at the back, which is open at both ends. When Kim Teshima Newberry (Mile Long Legs) reviewed this pack, she mentioned how handy this was for stuffing a jacket into. While I was running in Canada, I did find it handy for this, however in Queensland, I’ve found its uses to be minimal. I have at times stuffed my sunnies in there, but am always slightly nervous anything small in there could work its way out of the openings on either side.
- And finally, lack of colour choice! There are no colour options for this vest. I would love to see it in the aqua colour of its larger teammate!
So, the jury is out. I return to this vest time and time again because, with the weather here being hot and humid, the lightweight nature of the fabric and the smaller size of the vest against my body is great. However, I have limited storage once I’ve added my phone, GoPro, car key and nutrition for longer runs and I just feel the vest could sit better on me – I’d be interested to try the Large and see if that solves the niggle I have. Don’t get me wrong, I run in this vest a couple of times a week at least! However, I’d also be curious to test the Salomon S/Lab 2 set (or to hear from someone else who has worn both?!) which I would see as a lightweight contender for this model.
She’s a nifty little feminine vest, and I will no doubt continue to run in her, but I do see some scope for improvement!
As usual, all reviews are entirely independent and products are purchased by me! Sarah x