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Best of Women’s Hydration Vests: 2020

Best of Women’s Hydration Vests: 2020

In this article, we’ll take you through some of the best hydration vests for women on the market in 2020. To quote Stacy Sims in her TedX New Zealand talk, women are not just small men. The advent of women’s specific intention and designs to hydration vests is a relatively new and welcome evolution. Some of the vests have increased the sculpting of their chest overlays, narrowed the angle on the shoulders, or shortened the torso-length. This is not to say that all women have these and similar anatomical considerations, but some do, and the intent is well placed.

For most, we chose middle-of-the-line price-point vests, with an outlier being a top-end Nathan, and another being an intentioned “race” versus full fest for UltrAspire. Most brands will have higher ticket vests which in general are lighter and softer, others entry-level vests which may be a bit heavier, thicker, and with less storage options. There are also some brands that we didn’t include here, such as Osprey, who makes great vests and packs for women. Other brands who make slick and functional vests, but either not quite as solid, or in a men’s / unisex version only.

Ian will take you through some of the specs such as weight, and features such as pocket design, with a few pieces of history and opinion woven in. More important, given this is a review of women’s vests, will be Sheena Heise and/or Nichole Cappadora weighing in on the fit and function of each based on putting them through a number of trail miles. So, we hope you walk away with a bit of useful info, and cue your interest to delve deeper into any of them at your local shop. Let’s dig in.

UltrAspire Basham Race Vest

Listed Weight:
6.4oz (w/o bottle) 9.4oz (with bottle), Shop-Scale Weight 7.3 (w/o bottle), 9.2 (w/ bottle) Volume:4L

Storage Breakdown:
7 Pockets

  • 3 in rear
    • Horizontal lumbar body bottle compartment
    • Drop in pocket over bottle
    • Top drop-in
  • 4 on front
    • Right chest large enough for phones
    • Left chest zip for nutrition
    • Two lower chest drop-in

Features:

  • Angled shoulder straps reduce vest center of gravity and as paired with sculpted “Ergo-Fit” makes for more secure fit
  • Dual stretch-cord sternal straps, with sculpted attachment points (Max O2 Sternum), for unrestricted breathing

Hydration:

Comes with one 550ml (18.5 oz) bottle (can hold two 550ml bottles), NOT Reservoir Compatible

Pole Attachment: No

Price: $90

Pick one up and support the Trails Collective here!

Wear Test and Review from Sheena Heise

When Ian asked me to review this vest I was super excited. The first hydration vest I ever wore was an old UltrAspire a friend lent me and I ended up using it for several races and training days that season. I was curious to see how the universal fit would be. At first sight I wasn’t thrilled, the vest is super minimal and has one 18oz water bottle which is carried sideways on the lower back of the vest, even if the vest fit great, it was lacking storage, pockets and hydration space and would not be able to handle longer unsupported efforts. There are 2 front storage pockets, one with a secure zip closure and the other pocket fit my phone perfectly and the bungee w/ toggle closure makes it easy to use headphones that connect with a cord.

To my surprise this vest was super comfortable. Very lightweight and breathable. I took this vest out on a very warm and humid afternoon and it was extremely cool and comfortable. The water bottle was difficult to remove from the back sleeve while moving and more than once I opened the top on the bottle, I didn’t mind getting wet but since that is the only water you have losing even a few ounces was a bummer.

Overall I really liked this vest. If its hydration capacity was larger and there was more storage it would have likely been my top pick of all the vest’s I tried. The versatility however just isn’t there for the type of running I like to do. This vest would be great for shorter distance or well supported long distances.

Pros: Light weight, minimal footprint, cool and breathable
Cons: Minimal hydration capacity, difficult to access bottle while moving, minimal storage capacity

Note: To be fare to UltrAspire, which creates wonderfully slick and technical products, their women’s-specific Astral 3.0 may have been more of an Apples-to-Apples comparison alongside the others in this review. We’ll be sure to review the updated Astral 4.0 for 2021.

 

 

 

Raidlight Responsiv 12L (Womens)

Listed Weight:

200G (7.05 oz), Shop-scale weight: 7.4 oz (w/out Bottles), 11.0 oz (w/ Bottles)

Volume:

12L

Storage Breakdown:

8 Pockets

  • 4 Rear
    • Two rear top-drop in with one containing a secondary zippered water resistant pocket
    • One lower divided into three access points per stitching
  • 4 Front
    • Two soft-flask pockets
    • One lower stretch-drop-in on the lower right which may accommodate smaller phones
    • One stretch zip on the lower left.

Features:

  • Dual elastic sternal straps with adjustable fixture points
  • Bilateral FreeLock Boa style tensioners on sides for fit adjustments on the fly
  • Whistle threaded onto sternal strap

Hydration:

  • Two 600ml (20oz) soft flasks with tube extenders and swivel bite valves

Poles: Yes (center front)

Price: $155 Euro, or with remaining US inventory found on sale with domestic retailers

Wear-Test and Review By: Sheena Heise

My first impression of this vest was that it was dated, the color way doesn’t seem current compared to the other vest I have been reviewing and there is what looks like faded material on the back as well as the side hardware. I’m sure this is intentional but I do wonder. The techno color flasks are not to be missed!

Then there’s the micrometric buckle system, it seemed like a concerning amount of hardware in a tight spot and all I could think of was chafing. Then I took it out on the trails. Easily dialed in a great fit, while moving, and never looked back. To my surprise I never noticed any of the hardware. The chest straps were nice to the touch but loosened easily throughout my runs.

The water flasks come in a nice 20oz size, they’re placement is slightly higher making hydration while you’re moving easy and a better women’s specific fit. The vest material is stretchy yet supportive and very breathable. What I did notice was the lack of pockets, accessible storage on the front of the vest, no place for easy access to your phone or to store multiple gels and bars. The existing pockets could be deeper as things either didn’t fit well or fell out easily.

The overall fit and feel of this vest is great, however due to the lack of secure accessible storage I wouldn’t recommend it for much over a marathon to 50k distance, unless you’re well supported.

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 5.0

Listed Weight:

180 g (6.3 oz), Shop-Scaled Weight 7.0 (without bottles), 10.3 (with bottles)

Volume:

10.4L

Storage Breakdown:

12 Pockets:

  • Rear: 5
    • Two top drop-in with space for up to a 4L bladder
    • One full rear outer
    • Two side access
  • Late / Side: 2 Full
  • Front: 5
    • One upper front water resistant
    • Two main bottle front
    • Two front lower nutrition

Features:

  • 2-point Hook and Loop Sternum adjustability,
  • Front stretch pockets large enough for large cell-phones
  • Comfort Cinch 2.0 size adjustment side / rear straps
  • Sculpted shoulders to evenly distribute weight
  • Water resistant pocket on left shoulder for tablets, GoPro Batteries, etc..

Hydration:

  • Two 500ml (17 oz) Body Bottle II’s
  • Rear capacity for up to 4L bladder (though not form fitted or synch strapped). Bladder pass-throughs on both sides with elastic for either bladder hose or bottle valve extenders)

Poles: Front lateral elastic cords which unsnap to seat laterally

Price: $140

Wear-Test and Review By: Sheena Heise

I was really excited to try this vest, two of my running buddies really like their UD vests and this had all the features I was after (front/back hydrations options, lots of secure storage, multiple points to adjust the fit). I took this vest out 2 times but unfortunately, I could never get a good snug fit, there was a lot of gapping on the front straps and the back road up really high on my neck. I do wonder if sizing down would help? Though I am pretty consistently a size small.

I also wasn’t a fan of the flask tops; you have to pull out and turn the bite valve before you can get water out. For me it was complicated and if you are running and drinking the last thing I want while straining your neck while in a multi-step process just to get a sip. The flasks were easy to fill and slide into their pockets with the quick pull of a small bungee.

Otherwise this vest had all the storage and secure pockets you desire front and back. The bag material is durable and lightweight.

Wear-Test and Review By: Nichole Cappadora

This vest comes with bottles but also has the option for bladder use. I used a 2L bladder, which was WAY too small for the vest, it was sliding all over the place. It also seemed to be a bit large for me, even with me tightening it all the way, which left long straps that I tucked and tied to stay out the way. I liked that it had so many options to adjust the chest strap position. However, it’s not a strap that can be slid up and down, so it’s not easily done while running.

The storage pockets were great, especially when not using the bottles. I wasn’t able to easily reach the back zipper pockets while running, but for stashing food, or something not needed often, it was great.

Overall, the vest was comfortable, I think if I had a smaller size and larger bladder, it would’ve been better. There’s a lot of storage for longer training or unsupportive runs.

Pros:

  • Lots of Storage
  • Secure Pockets (front and back)
  • Multiple points to adjust fit check size chart for measurements
  • Small weather resistant pocket on shoulder strap
  • Corded elastic for gear and compression
  • Holds up to 3L reservoir for long efforts

Cons:

  • Hydration Flasks were difficult to drink from
  • Shallow pockets for hydration flasks leave them hanging out top (although cords present to keep them in)
  • 2L or smaller bladders, if used for hydration, slosh without bladder compression in rear compartment
  • Some difficulty dialing in fit, particularly changes on the move

Nathan Vapor Howe 2.0 4L

Listed-Weight:

6.3 oz (without flasks), 10 oz (with flasks)

Volume:

4L

Storage Breakdown:

11 Pockets

  • Rear: 3
    • Top drop-in for hydration reservoir if used
    • A second full drop-in pocket
    • A third with weather-resistant external zip
  • Side / Lat
    • Two smaller lat pockets
  • Front: 6
    • Upper capsule or GoPro battery sized pocket which houses emergency whistle
    • Two chest bottle pockets
    • Two additional velcro’d drop in lower front pockets
    • One weather resistant zipped chest seated behind bottle for phones (fits larger phones)

Features:

  • 2-point slider rail sternal chest straps
  • Weather-resistant chest phone pocket and rear zip storage
  • Shoulder pill pocket
  • Reflective hits
  • Exceptionally soft / light / breathable fabric construction
    Hydration:
  • Two  20 oz soft flasks with extension tubes
  • Room for 1.5L bladder with swivel magnetic chest clasp

Poles? No

Price: $165

For Sp21: Howe series will drop, replaced by top tier new model of the Pinnacle series – amazingly light and soft

Wear-Test and Review By: Sheena Heise

Pros:
The women’s specific fit is great, room and stretch in all the right places, no bouncing. Water bottle placement and up/down chest strap adjustment were on point. The vest material is super soft and breathable. It rides well regardless of whether you’re wearing multiple layers, a tank top or just a sports bra. The first time I wore this vest was for a 20 mile run, I returned with zero chafe. Another great feature on this vest are the zipper hoods, keeping long hair from getting caught and tangled. The straw top flasks at 20 oz are easy to hold, fill and drop back into the vest pocket, the flask
necks are wide and there is a plastic shank like stint that keeps the flask upright even when empty.

Cons:
My main issue with this vest was the length of the straws, the bite valve rested and bounced directly on my collar bone which was uncomfortable and distracting. To finish the long run I was on I folded the straws over and tucked them into the pockets. Before taking the vest out again I modified the straws using a razor blade and cut them down about 1⁄4 inch. This way they would clear my collar bone but still tuck into the shoulder strap. I had to tighten chest traps frequently as they don’t stay locked down tight. I found the front pockets to be pretty shallow, my phone (iphone 6s) fell out a few times and the back pockets were difficult to access while running. You had to stop, take off your vest and check your phone or get a snack or jacket from the large rear zipper pocket.

Overall I like the fit and feel of this vest. I would use this vest for up to a trail marathon or 50k effort.

Wear-Test and Review By: Nichole Cappadora

The Nathan Vapor Howe has options for bottles in the front and a bladder pocket in the back. I used a 2L bladder (vest billed at 1.5L, 2L will fit but is not included) on my run. There’s a cool clip that hooks to the straw and separates by a magnet for easy access, so there was no fussing with getting the straw back in place. The pack fit nicely, there was a lot of room in the back that I could easily have stashed extra clothes, headlamp, more food, etc. I was able to fit my phone in the zipper pocket that sits under one of the bottles on the chest. It was raining pretty hard, and my phone was not very wet, even with me taking it out a few times. There are lots of pockets for food stashing, even two side rib pockets. The whole pack was pretty comfortable. With lots of room for storage for a longer training run. My favorite of the mix.

Salomon ADV Skin 8 W Set

Listed weight:

251g (8.5 oz), store-scaled weight: 10.9 (without bottles), 13.7 (with bottles)

Volume:

8L storage volume

Storage Breakdown:

14 Pockets

  • Rear: 4
    • Center zip
    • Internal drop-in with secondary internal mesh drop in
    • Large drop-in with insulated bladder sleeve
  • Lateral / Side: 2 elastic full side lat drop-ins
  • Front: 7
    • Two soft flask pockets
    • Two elastic drop-in external to those with the right containing a secondary water-resistant inner pocket
    • Two upper bilateral medially accessed mesh pockets
    • One water-resistant pocket seated over the right shoulder

Features:

  • Women’s fit with narrower shoulders, curved or sculpted chest and shorter torso length
  • Dual “Quick-Link” chest straps which feature a singular stretch cord with push clasp to adjust tension on the fly
  • Safety Whistle and reflective hits

Hydration:

  • Two 500ml Soft Flasks with triangular shapes designed to remove pressure from the breasts and with straw extenders.
  • Inner insulated sleeve compatible with 1.5L bladders.

Poles: Yes (adjustable stretch-cords to offer front, rear, and angled solutions)

Price: $155

Check it out at and support the Trails Collective here

Wear-Test and Review by: Sheena Heise

I was really excited to try this bag out after years of wearing a slightly larger unisex version. As soon as I put this vest on, I noticed how much higher everything was set, the 500-ml hydration flask straws were right where they needed to be to avoid any straining to get a drink. There are even small straps you can thread the straws through to adjust where the straws rest, this also prevents bouncing while you’re on the move. It also comes with an insulated sleeve for your reservoir/bladder to keep your water cool.

Ample secure storage on this vest and in all the right places. The exterior vest material is soft, flexible and breathable while the inside material is bulker it does provide some cushion. The inner material is a bit rough to the touch compared to the exterior but I had no issue (chafing) running in a tank or sports bra. I would say the heavier inner material seems to hold on to body heat and was a bit uncomfortable on warmer temp running days.

The front closure system is easy to use and minimal lending to some great airflow however this is the only adjustment point on the vest and although this vest fits me well I can see this being problematic in getting a snug fit depending on your shape and size. For visibility and security there are front and back reflective logos as well as an attached whistle.

Overall I really liked this vest. It’s got you covered no matter the distance. Whether you’re out for a quick run on your favorite local trail or for long day efforts in the mountains.

Pros:
Hydration System
Secure Pockets
Storage
Value

Cons:
Closure system can be difficult to adjust
Lack of adjustable fit/comfort
Interior vest material is heavy and has a rough feel

Where these vests are best suited, or, the Best-Of awards:

Overall wins: Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set W (Sheena) and Nathan Vapor Howe 2.0 4L (Nichole)

Next-to-skin comfort: Nathan Vapor-Howe

Fit adjustability on-the-fly: RaidLight Responsiv

Storage and Accessibility: Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set W (though we’d be curious about the Vapor Howe 2.0 12L)

It’s pretty awesome how far hydration vests have come in terms of comfort and capacity. With hydration being a critical part of endurance trail running, it’s important to find a hydration vest that mirrors your training and racing demands. Think about how you’ll need to use it, in length between aid and therefore hydration storage capacity. About seasons and weather which may impact what gear you’ll need to stow. And specifics on your body shape and movement which feed into an appropriate vest for you.

With all of that considered, being able to try them on makes a difference. So check in with your local run specialty shop. See what they have. Stop in and try a couple on. And, ask friends or someone at a race who has one you’ve been considering how it’s been working for them.

Hopefully you found a bit of utility in our selecting and running a handful of models in this review. Drop us a line if you’ve any questions, or whether we can get you setup with a vest from our inventory. As always, thanks for the support and in advance for helping us to spread word and grow the Trails Collective. #ConnectedByTrails

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