Hello and welcome. This is my review of the Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Pack. I used this hydration vest during The North Face Endurance Challenge GORE-TEX 50 mile race in April 2015.
The Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Vest was first released 3 or 4 years ago. However, it remains a classic best seller and can still be found in the store at places like REI. It can also be purchased at Amazon and other online retailers.
Let’s jump right to the review.
What I like
Overall, I thought the pack was very comfortable. It felt secure and locked down on my back when running; more so than I thought it would. The straps are easy to adjust and they stay in place once adjusted. I have a CamelBak hiking backpack in which the straps don’t stay adjusted and constantly need to be tightened. I was worried that would be the case in this pack, but I didn’t have any issues. It stayed tight throughout the entire 50 mile race.
Of course when full of water, there was a little bounce, but I didn’t feel it was excessive. Make sure you squeeze out all of the extra air out of the bladder to avoid the water sloshing around.
This pack has a good amount of storage for those extra long runs. According to product specs, it has 6L total storage capacity, which includes a 2L water bladder. This can be a good or bad thing depending of what you are looking for. If you’re looking for an ultra-minimal pack, then this is probably not the pack for you. But if you’re looking for a mid-size pack and plan to carry most of your water and fuel for those long races, this is one to consider. Despite the storage capacity, the pack is still relatively lightweight at 13 oz.
There is a storage area on the back (which you have to take off the backpack to access) and a few easy access storage pockets in the front. See the pictures below. During the North Face 50 mile, I was able to carry plenty of gels, an energy bar, cell phone, sunglasses, and still had plenty of room. I only refilled the bladder once during the race.
The pack has been out for a few years so you can find it much cheaper than some of the newer packs out there. I would say if you’re unsure whether you will like running with a pack on your back, which some people don’t, this is a good one to try first since it is inexpensive, but still a solid choice.
(4) Didn’t leak
I thought about not even mentioning this since it is a basic requirement for any pack. But since leaking seems to be a problem for many packs and water bottles, I thought it was worth mentioning. I haven’t experienced any leaking with this pack.
What I don’t like
(1) Time to refill at aid stations
As can be the case with all hydration packs with bladder systems, they can take more time to refill at an aid station than simple handheld water bottles or even packs with easy access bottles instead of bladders. It is not a simple matter of unscrewing the water bottle lip and holding it to get refilled. The bladder can’t be easily accessed while it is on your back (unless you have assistance). You need to remove the pack completely and go through a number of steps to get it refilled. In addition, these steps aren’t always easy (see item 2). Overall, this can take time at an aid station. The trade-off is that this type of pack can store more water and other fuel, so you can potentially stop less. It all depends on your race plan. Again, this isn’t a criticism of this particular pack; just the style of pack. However, it is something to consider.
(2) Tricky to close and secure bladder
I am sure this get’s easier with practice, but I found the bladder to be difficult to close when filled with water, which could cost some time during a race. I had a little trouble closing it at one of the aid stations during the North Face 50 miler. I am sure that once you get the hang of it, it get’s easier. But when you’re in a hurry and/or tired during a race, it could take you a little longer. See the pictures below on how you have to fold over the top of the bladder and slide on the locking mechanism. Simple, but it doesn’t always work the first time.
In addition, when the bladder was filled with water, it was sometimes difficult to secure to the hook inside the pack. See the pictures below. When the bladder is full (but not overfilled), it had the tendency to slide off the hook when I tried to zip the pack. I would have preferred a more secure locking mechanism than just the small hook and loop. Again, this could cost a little extra time during a race.
That being said, as with all new gear, I would suggest you practice first before taking it out on the course.
Would I recommend this to a friend?
Yes, I would recommend this to a friend. It has plenty of storage and felt comfortable and secure on my back. If you’re looking for an inexpensive no frills hydration pack, this is a solid choice. I will likely be using this for the upcoming JFK 50 Mile race in November and other planned ultras next year.
If you’d like to purchase, you can find it at Amazon or in stores such as REI.
As always, comments are appreciated. Let me know of any thoughts or questions below.
Thanks for reading.