Product Review: Nathan Hydration Products

Proper hydration is essential for all levels and versions of runners. If you’re going to be running longer than 60 minutes, you need to plan for a way to get fluids into your system. Depending on your workout and geographic location you may want to plan for less than 60 minutes too, based on creature comfort. I won’t talk about what to hydrate with…that’s another can of worms all together…but I will talk about how to carry it.

In my training and racing I have gained experience with 4 types of Nathan Hydration products, a handheld, a vest style, and two types of waist belts. I will go over my pros and cons of each, list the suggested retail price, and advertised features.
1. The Nathan handheld bottle. Quickdraw Plus
Many people love handheld bottles. In theory they are easy to carry, provide more than enough fluid for a shorter route, and some of the cases provide a place for keys, gels, ID, maybe even your phone and some money. I came in contact with mine when I won a give-a-way through Nathan on Facebook. I took it on several shorter runs (5 miles or fewer) and used it countless times at the gym. Ultimately I designated it a gym bottle based on how it leaked when I ran. Eventually I decided it was just my bottle and I should buy another, until I spoke with a few other runners with the same style bottle and they admitted theirs leaked too. It isn’t a huge or constant leak, you won’t lose all your water or get soaked, but it’s enough to be annoying (esp if you’re carrying sport drink and don’t want to get sticky).
Per Nathan: Quickdraw Plus Data (18.00 USD)
  • Moisture-wicking, adjustable Airmesh hand strap
  • 22 oz. (650 mL) Hydration Bottle with Clipless Cap
  • Dimensional zippered pocket
  • Incorporated, waterproof I.D./medical emergency card
  • Reflective detail
  • Weight: 4 oz.
Pros: Lightweight, even with water in it. It was easy to switch from one hand to the other. Easy access when I needed a drink. Easy to refill. Easy to clean. Pocket was a great place for keys or gym card.
Cons: Even though it was easy to carry, I couldn’t get used to having one of my hands occupied while running trails. I like knowing I can brace myself on trees. I felt off balance. It leaks. You can only carry 1 type of fluid at a time. Once some is missing there is a constant swishing from the half full bottle. If something does happen to the bottle, you’re out of ways to carry fluids.
2. The Nathan waist pack. 4 bottles. Speed4

First, according to the Nathan site, this is not a “waist pak” apparently that term is reserved for the belts with 1 big bottle in the back. This is simply something from the “speed” line. Whatever. I don’t care what you call it, this belt with 4 bottles and 2 pockets was my first taste of hydration, I both loved and hated it. I bought mine in 2007 and from what I can tell it isn’t sold anymore. (Correction, if you do the “buy now” option on Nathan you can select the Speed4 for your shopping cart, it just isn’t featured on the page anymore). The Speed4R is the featured product on the site. The difference? From what I can tell the Speed4R has slightly smaller bottles and only one pocket, but it’s much larger. There is also a trail version, the main difference there is instead of a Velcro closure (with 3 sizing options) it’s one size fits all with a snap/buckle closure design. (I’m at a loss for terms, look at the pictures for the Trail Mix below to know what I’m trying to say). One thing people always worry about is having the bottles bounce out when running. In my experiences with the belt (and this includes using it for a 50K) the bottles stayed snug as long as they’re placed in the holder properly. And it isn’t hard to put them in their holder.

Per Nathan: Speed 4R Data (50.00 USD)
  • Canted, limited-stretch, elasticized Velcro-fastened waistbelt
  • Four 8 oz. (235 mL) Nutrition Flasks; two with Race Cap
  • Streamlined, Molded Holsters
  • Waterproof pill pocket
  • Instant-access Power Stretch Mesh pocket; interior flat pocket
  • Incorporated, waterproof I.D./medical emergency card
  • Weight: 12 oz.
  • Three sizes: SM 26-32”, MED 32-36”, & LG 36-42”
Per Nathan: Speed 4 Data (48.00 USD)
  • Molded holsters for quick Flask access
  • Four 10 oz. Nutrition Flasks
  • Front and rear stash pockets for small essentials
  • Airmesh moisture-wicking backing
  • Limited-stretch elasticized waistbelt with soft perimeter binding
  • Weight distributed evenly around belt
  • Three sizes: SM 26-32″, MED 32-36″ & LG 36-42″

Pros: 32-40 oz of fluids at your finger tips. Hands free. Space to carry gels, phone, keys, etc.  Adjustable fit. 4 diff bottles means a variety of fluids can be carried. Very easy to refill. Easy to use one bottle to dump water if anything needs cleaned while racing. Forces you into better posture (who wants to slouch and feel a bottle nozzle poking them?) If something happens to one of the bottles you have 3 other ways to carry fluid.

Cons: Imbalanced feeling as various bottles are emptied. Belt can shift if not tight enough as bottles are emptied. Can cause shirt to ride up. If worn too low on waist it slips. When worn too high my arms smacked into it as I ran. When I was heavier it made me feel like too much attention was drawn to my trouble areas.

3.  The Nathan waist pack. 2 bottles. Trail Mix

The trail mix was another item included in my give-a-way package. Originally I was going to give it away myself since I didn’t like my 4 bottle belt. Then as I was running with various trail groups this summer, everyone was saying how nice a 2 bottles or 1 bottle belt can be. I decided to suck it up and see if my smaller frame plus less weight from the bottles would help. I found for my shorter runs (again 5 miles or just over) the 2 bottles belt was much nicer than the 4. However, for racing longer distances it just doesn’t provide the fluids capacity a 4 bottles belt can. I do like the snap design and the fabric seems to ride up less and fit more snugly. Still, with all the weight on one side of the belt it causes it to spin around on my waist. With the 4 bottle the weight was evenly distributed to the front and back. My bubble butt smacks the two bottles too much.
Per Nathan: Trail Mix Data (45.00 USD)
  • Limited-stretch elasticized Titanium Belt
  • Two 10 oz. (300 mL) Nutrition Flasks
  • Molded Holsters
  • Large, dimensional pocket with zipper closure; Power Stretch Mesh outer pocket
  • Incorporated, waterproof I.D./medical emergency card
  • Two Shock Cords with one-pull tension lock for jacket or gloves
  • Weight: 8.8 oz.
  • Adjustable fit – one size fits all

Pros: 20 oz of fluids. Different bottles so a variety can be carried. Adjustable fit. Hands free. Lightweight, you can forget it’s on. Easy to refill. Easy to access. If something happens to one of the bottles, you still have a spare for fluids.

Cons: Posture trick doesn’t work with this design. Moves around on the waist a lot, although not up and down.

4. The Nathan hydration vest. Synergy

Again Nathan and I have a difference of vocabulary. I consider this a vest, they consider it a “pak”. Moving on, this thing is HUGE. I bought this vest for my 50K in July, but hated it before I got there. I used a CamelBak for the 2010 race in Oct and loved it, but mine didn’t have pockets so I was in the market for an upgrade. I chose the Synergy because it has a dual chamber. I knew 3 liters was a lot of fluid to carry, but I couldn’t imagine only having water or sport drink. See the belt spoiled me! Despite warnings on how this pack is too large for small female, I found a great deal and ordered it. I used it for a few training runs and can say it certainly serves a purpose, although maybe not the one I planned. It’s great for unsupported runs or all day hikes. It’s comfortable to run in, but it is NOT easy to refill the chambers. Super easy to run and drink since it’s an insulated hose. Super easy to adjust your mix between water, sport drink or a blend. I gave up on mine though the day I was out of water and 5 miles away from anything in 90 degree heat and the chamber wouldn’t open. Something in the screw top was stuck. There was a water station, but I had no way of carrying it/refilling, scary situation and I ended up getting sick. I still would use the pak, but not for anything where I would need to refill it during the event. I’ve read other people complain about the size and suggest putting the chamber into a different vest, which sounds great if the size were my issue. The size didn’t bother me, even if I was surprised, it was that the screw top gets stuck.

Per Nathan : Synergy Data (130.00 USD)
  • 2-way Propulsion Harness
  • 100 oz. (almost 3 liters) Synergy Bladder with Potency Dial and bite valve with on/off settings
  • Water chamber has filter-compatible screw-top closure that is easy to fill
  • Electrolyte chamber has roll-top closure that allows full access for easy cleaning and mixing drinks
  • Potency Dial allows you to control intensity of your drink: all water, all electrolyte, or a combination of the two
  • Potency Dial easily and securely clips to either right or left shoulder strap at reinforced attachment points
  • Zippered main compartment with 750 cubic inch gear capacity
  • Dual front pockets –– one mesh holster, one zippered
  • Power Stretch Mesh back pocket for jacket or gloves
  • Vertically adjustable sternum strap with tube clip
  • Honeycomb Mesh shoulder straps add comfort, prevent chafing, and dissipate heat
  • Two mesh side pockets
  • Lightweight, breathable Wall Mesh with soft perimeter binding feels great against skin and won’t damage technical apparel
  • Weight: 19.2 oz.

Pros: Two chambers for a variety of fluids. Easy to clean. Very comfortable on back/shoulders. More space than you’ll know how to fill. Easy access pockets on the front. Ability to drink while in motion. Hands free. Won’t make shorts or shirt bunch.

Cons: Can get heavy. Too much pack for shorter runs. Can hear loose items rattling around. NOT easy to refill during an event. If something happens, you’re out of fluid options. EXPENSIVE.
There you have it, my down and dirty review of the Nathan products I have used. At the end of the day I can say for short runs I like my 2 bottle belt. For longer runs I like my 4 bottle belt. I’d still like to find a vest I’m happy with, but after my dehydration scare this summer I’m nervous. I also like to have a variety on me at all times. My final two cents is this…I don’t think anyone LIKES having to carry fluids with them on a run. In a perfect world someone else would do it for us, or there would be unlimited points along routes filled with whatever you’re craving at the moment. This isn’t a perfect world or a Walgreen’s commercial though, so we need to suck it up and find a way to keep ourselves safe and happy while we’re out there doing our thing.Please take a moment to visit the Nathan website, Facebook page or Twitter.

Disclaimer: I’m not being paid for this review or provided with products. The opinions expressed are completely my own. I simply wanted to share my experiences. Feel free to contact me at Julie@rojrunning.com if you have any questions, or just leave a comment.

4 thoughts on “Product Review: Nathan Hydration Products

  1. Great review Julie. I absolutely HATE carrying fluids during long runs, but as you say, its a necessity. However, I usually get by with just one of the small 8oz bottles from Speed thing tucked into my shorts. Then I just re-fill it at various public restrooms or waterfountains along my path. However, this isnt possible in all locations – so sometimes you just have to suck it up and carry the load. Also – have you noticed the general trend that women usually carry more fluid than men? Maybe this is sexist but I've noticed it both in triathlon races and on the trails where training. Any thoughts on why this is?

  2. thanks for the review! it took me forever to admit that i definitely was in need of something out there on my runs besides just a stop at the gas station. i hesitate to really have “more” on my body so i went with a handheld and so far I really like it!

  3. I don't think that sounds too sexist, because I've noticed the same trend. Doing some quick internet research (because that's valid) the only explanation I found that makes sense is that women's bodies are made up of more fatty tissue (even when in shape) and fatty tissue has a lower water level than other tissue. This means women need to take in more water and retain it in less efficient ways.

    My totally not research based at all ideas are the following 1) Women are socialized to want comfort more than men. Perhaps having all that water at our finger tips gives us that sense of control and comfort? Or drinking more helps us feel more comfortable? 2) Some women also like to feel like they're “providers” I've seen so many females stopped and sharing their water more than I ever have males. 3) We sweat more. Men can wear skimpy shorts and call it a day, exposing more skin and the ability to have the body cool itself. Ladies at minimum also have a sports bra if not also a bra and top. More coverage = heating up quicker. Now I know this last part can be debated by “keeping covered actually keeps skin cooler” or “tech fabrics” but like I said those were my immediate thoughts on the topic.

  4. Well, since you ARE a woman (and you've done the research, I'll take those as the reasons! Thanks for the response AND the helpful review. All those options seem rationally superior a little 8 OZ'er covered in my butt sweat. Oh well. I'm “too cool” to stay properly hydrated… Actually, could it be that males are “too macho” for water bottles? There may be something in that…

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