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August 17, 2011

Nathan Endurance Vest Hydration Pack Review

If nothing else, the existence of Nathan’s Endurance vest reveals two important yet seemingly contradictory traits about the company:

1) They’re not afraid to do a little innovation, even with their most popular products, however …

2) They’re smart enough to leave a good thing alone.

How can both of those things be true? Consider the words of my Nathan rep in regards to the Endurance: It started out as a modified 020, but we soon realized we had an entirely different pack.

Nathan Endurance vest

The 020 she’s referring to is Nathan’s omnipresent HPL 020 hydration vest, an industry standard that happens to be my favorite vest for long training runs. (You can see my original HPL 020 review here, and an updated HPL 020 review here.) The 020 has top-notch pedigree – it was developed by legendary ultrarunner Dana Miller – and has become wildly popular among ultrarunners over the past several years. So you might wonder why Nathan felt the need to revamp it.

Fortunately, at some point in the redesign process, the company had the good sense to realize that they were better off introducing a completely new product rather than changing something that works so consistently well for so many people. The end result is the Endurance, which has enough new design aspects to distinguish it from the 020, but enough similarities that if you’re accustomed to the 020, you’ll find the Endurance just as easy and functional to use.

That was certainly the case with me; I received my pack about two days before my pacing duties at this summer’s Western States 100. I had no time to get accustomed to the pack – I literally strapped it on for the first time that afternoon, and ran 40 miles with it through the night. It felt just as comfortable as my favorite 020, with almost no adjustment period needed. It rides the same, performs the same, and has the same material construction as the 020, along with a few nice additions that are mostly upgrades. I have a couple of minor gripes – but then again, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a very good reviewer, right? (That’s what I tell myself, anyway.)

So what’s so different about the Endurance? It’s mainly the arrangement of its cargo containers, which result in slightly greater overall storage capacity, a little better ability to compartmentalize, and a different method of accessing a couple of key areas.

Endurance on left, HPL 020 on right (click to enlarge)

From the front, the two most noticeable changes are the different mesh used on a the larger pockets, and the addition of two small pockets: one is an elastic pouch on the left strap that’s perfect for used gel wrappers, and a waterproof pill pocket on the right that’s intended for electrolyte caps or any other small items that need to stay dry.

Otherwise, the size and configuration of the larger pockets is identical, with closed mesh used instead of the more porous mesh of the 020. This is actually a very nice change for me, as the right-sided bungee pouch is where I typically carry my camera. Every now and then my Canon gets gummed up with dust on the lens opening, and the closed mesh of the Endurance is much more effective at keeping excess dust out. In similar fashion, this material would improve protection for smart phones, GPS, or any other tech gadget you may be carrying.

Endurance on left, 020 on right

On the backside, the location of the external storage pocket is moved from the top of the 020 to the middle of the Endurance. I wasn’t crazy about this change, as I had become pretty adept at reaching over my head to unzip and access the top pocket on the 020 without breaking my stride, but I’d have to be some sort of circus performer to accomplish that with the Endurance.

External pocket with key clasp and inner elastic pouch

Aside from the location, this external pocket is pretty much identical on both vests: there’s an elastic internal pouch, a key clasp, and the same storage capacity. There’s a bungee shock cord below the main pocket that can be used for stuffing a jacket or securing other large items to the outside of the pack.

Dual vertical zippers and Velcro flap

The major change on the backside is that the reservoir compartment is now accessed by dual vertical zippers with a Velcro flap instead of a single semi-circular zipper. The website copy states this change was intended for rapid access, but I have to say that this was the biggest discrepancy I found in my testing.

You may recall from my pacer report that I was feeling a bit rushed getting in and out of the aid stations while trying to keep up with Gretchen; at many aid stations, part of my difficulty was accessing the reservoir quickly for the volunteers to top me off. I found it more cumbersome to undo a Velcro attachment and two zippers compared to the simplicity of just tearing one arched zipper open. This may have been a factor of my being unaccustomed to the pack that night, but even in my continued testing afterward, the dual zipper system is definitely less efficient for me.

Breathable mesh with rectangular, contoured back panel

The interior surface of the Endurance looks very similar to the 020, but there are a couple of subtle differences. The same lightweight, highly breatheable mesh is used, but on the Endurance the “footprint” is more rectangular instead of oval, and the back panel is somewhat contoured to the natural curvature of your back. I honestly couldn’t notice a difference in overall comfort, but that’s probably because the 020 is already so comfortable as to be almost unnoticeable. Weight of the two vests is quite similar as well, with the 15.2-oz Endurance slightly heavier than the 14-oz 020.

Hydrapak reservoir and drink tube

Another big strength of this pack is something I’ve touched on in previous reviews: Nathan uses Hydrapak reversible reservoirs for their vests – in this case, the same 70-oz fluid capacity as the 020. I’m convinced that Hydrapak is the best in the business – yes, even better than CamelBak – when it comes to fluid reservoirs. They’re almost indestructible, super easy to open and close, and they can be cleaned and dried in a snap.

If there's been one problem with Hydrapak reservoirs, it’s that they haven’t quite perfected the bite valve, but the Endurance pack features the most recent version – with small plastic side flares for easier twisting – that’s almost comparable to the top of the line in this regard as well. And since the 020 and Endurance pack both utilize the same reservoir, this particular element isn’t really a point in favor of either model - but the use of Hydrapak soft goods is such a compelling feature that it was worth recognizing.

Shock cord for storage - same on both models

After a few months of testing, I’m not quite ready to say that the Endurance will replace my 020, but I can certainly say that it’s almost exactly comparable in performance, with an assortment of design tweaks that will come down to a matter of personal preference for most users. I guess my one-sentence comparison is that you gain a little bit in cargo space, and lose a little bit in operational efficiency. The Endurance also has a slightly higher retail price than the 020, but the extra five bucks you pay is certainly worth it if the styling strikes you as more attractive.

The Nathan Endurance vest retails for $84 from Amazon.com.

*Product provided by Nathan Sports. Affiliate sales support Running and Rambling.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you'd like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Tomislav 8/18/11, 2:32 AM  

Hi Donald!

Are the bladders the same in both models?
I have HPL #20 model and bladder has leaked after my second run I got replacement very fast but now I'm extra careful and reluctant to turn the bladder inside out in fear of puncturing it.
Othervise the vest is fantastic.
Is there any simmilar model's you would recommend with more cargo capacity (I need it for unsupported runs of 50k to 100k)?

Donald 8/18/11, 6:56 AM  

Tomislav: the bladders are the same in both, but depending on when you bought your 020, you might have an older Nathan bladder. A lot of the 020s that are discounted online are older models, so that might be a factor as well.

Check out my other pack reviews on the sidebar. The UD Wasp has great cargo capacity, and CamelBak stuff is great as well. The 020 is still my favorite, though.

nrmrvrk 8/18/11, 8:58 AM  

I love my HPL 020 except for two things:

1) The supply hose is about 4" too short and pops out of the keeper on the chest buckle a few times every run.

2) The small clip on the bladder closure that you use to hang the bladder inside the pack is flimsy and has popped off of the fabric loop every time I've opened the pack mid/post run.

It looks like the little clip hasn't changed. How was the hose length for you? I'm 6'6" so maybe I can chalk that up to being too tall for yet another product.

Thanks for the review! I had no idea that they were coming out with another one. Keep up the good work!

JimDog 8/18/11, 12:03 PM  

Donald, how old is your 020? The pockets on my 020 look just like the ones on the Endurance model. Yep, just checked the website:


They must have updated them since you got yours. For the record both Nathan and Hydrapak rock!! My Hydrapak broke after 5 runs (trying to remove the drink tube) and they replaced it super quick and without any hassle on my part.

Donald 8/18/11, 4:51 PM  

JimDog: Good catch! My 020 isn't very old - the version I photographed was the one received for my update post last spring, so that fabric change must be new in 2011. Thanks for pointing it out.

Donald 8/18/11, 4:55 PM  

nrmrvrk: The tube length feels good for me, but I agree with you that your tall stature poses a unique challenge for most standard sized gear. I haven't had the clip issue you're describing, though.

Jason Fitzgerald 8/19/11, 6:59 AM  

Hi Donald - just a general question about these packs. At what mileage or time spent running do you rely on them for hydration/fuel storage? I certainly don't put in the long runs that you do, but on 20-22 milers I've never needed anything more than a gel and a few sips of water (even in the summer). Thanks for a great review!

Donald 8/19/11, 5:22 PM  

Fitz: Great question. I was like you when marathon training; one water bottle was usually all I needed for a 20-miler. With the switch to ultrarunning, my pace is slower, mainly thanks to climbs that are way longer and steeper than any road, so it's easier to take in fluids on the go. It's also good to practice taking consistent fluids in training, because your race-day performance depends on how well your body can process food and fluids.

To answer your question, 70 oz typically lasts me for 3 to 4 hours, depending on the heat and other conditions. So for my multi-hour runs, I typically have to refill at least once along the way.
Everybody experiments with this, however, and you'll find some ultrarunners who prefer to run dehydrated as much as possible. To each his/her own, I guess.

Kermit,  12/16/11, 9:19 PM  

Thanks for the review. How much extra clothing are you able to carry in the Endurance or the 020? I am thinking about them for some races in Aus but need to be pretty self sufficient and carry layers. I can't decide between the Nathan and the UD Wasp or Diablo.


Donald 12/17/11, 8:45 PM  

Kermit: I can stuff a light vest or jacket as well as a headlamp into the 020 or Endurance, but there's more cargo space in the Wasp for sure. The Diablo has the lowest cargo space of any of them.

Craig,  3/28/12, 11:27 AM  

Does the 020 have a pocket for a 20 oz. water bottle? It seems that the Endurance does. I am a dedicated Hammer Perpeteum user and need to have a water bottle on hand.

Donald 3/28/12, 8:45 PM  

@Craig: the bungee pocket is wide enough for a water bottle, but is not quite tall enough to keep it secure there.

Sunshine Taylor,  4/14/12, 3:07 PM  

Hi Donald,

Thank you for the comprehensive review and especially the detailed PHOTOS. I am looking for my first hydro pack for running marathons. I am a small woman, 5'2", 105#. I carry my own fluids and nutrition because I cannot trust what I find at the races not to upset my stomach. (Very sensitive stomach.) Do you think either of these vests would work for a small framed woman? Can you recommend other packs that might work better? Thank you!

Christian Hamblin 10/18/12, 10:45 AM  

Hey Donald
I had a question for you I have my second 50k coming in February and I need a new hydration pack and I'm torn between the camelbak ultra lr vest and the Nathan Endurance race vest what one would you recommend I want to get it all right because I have a chance of winning it this year thank you!:)

Donald 10/21/12, 8:25 PM  

@Christian: It's all about personal preference, but my favorite is the Nathan vest. Good luck in the 50K!

Marcos Miranda 10/31/12, 6:29 PM  

Hi Donald,

First of all, thank you very much for all the info in your blog... it is a great resource for a beginner like myself.

Regarding hydration vests, having read your reviews I'm thorn between the Nathan's HPL020 and the Endurance options.

I believe I would like to get the one with greater capacity for carrying additional stuff. You mention the Endurance has more space, whereas Nathan's website states it is the HPL020.

Can you please tell me which one is larger?

Thanks in advance.

Donald 11/5/12, 6:32 PM  

@Marcos: The Endurance has more cargo capacity on the front vest pockets, but the 020 has more room to stuff clothes or gear in the main compartment in back.

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