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Fueling the Long Run: Nathan vs. Camelbak

This morning, I did my first group long run in a very long time. Becky, Jen and I met for a 14-miler along a beautiful bike path (you can read more about our run here and here). Besides how fast the miles went by or how easily the conversation flowed, what struck me most about this run was the fact that, like our footwear, we all chose to hydrate a little differently.

Jen preferred to carry a bottle of Gatorade and stash Sharkies, etc in another pouch. Becky rocked her Camelbak, and I wore my almost-brand new Nathan Race Vest.

Jen Lauren Becky run

Proper fueling on long runs is extremely important. When you’re out running for several hours, your body loses a lot of fluid – and burns through a lot of calories. In order to keep running well (and avoid bonking!), you need to make sure you’re giving your body enough fuel. You wouldn’t try to keep driving on an empty tank of gas, would you??

The most important thing you need to do during a long run is hydrate! You may be able to survive without gels or other running snacks, but your body will quickly run out of gas if you don’t replace those lost fluids.

The way you take in those fluids, however, is really up to your own personal preferences and needs. And those preferences will also determine how you transport them. While many prefer to run with sports drinks, I am a straight-up water drinker. And I drink a lot of it. For this reason, I have always chosen to run with a pack instead of a fuel belt or hand held water bottle. (Plus, I hate the thought of having something bouncing around my waist for hours.)

I trained for 3 full marathons and 1 half with a Camelbak and was really happy with it. But when the bladder started getting old and leaky, I began researching what other options were available. Even though my Camelbak had served me well, I was in the market to try something new. Especially since I’ve had my eye on the Nathan Race Vests ever since I saw No Meat Athlete’s review a few months ago. So after a lot of debate, I finally settled on a Nathan Vest made specifically for women: the Intensity.

The verdict? It was love at first run.

Camelbak vs. Nathan

DSCN0686

First, it must be noted that my Camelbak is about 3.5 years old. I’m sure there have been new advances in design over the past few years that have improved the way Camelbaks fit – particularly on the bodies of female runners. However, there are some basic things about both packs that are worth comparing.

Advantages of the Camelbak

Although I’m very happy to have made the switch, I would say there are 3 advantages of my old pack over my Nathan vest.

  1. Price – A women’s Camelbak retails on Amazon for about $50 (some smaller ones are even cheaper). In comparison, my Nathan vest was $85.
  2. Mouthpiece – I love Camelbak’s signature Big Bite™ valve. It’s very easy (and fun!) to drink from while running. I could even hold it in my mouth to breathe between sips. On the other hand, Nathan’s mouthpiece takes some getting used to. You open it up like the top of a water bottle, and then have to put your teeth in the mouthpiece’s grooves and bite to get the water out.nathan mouthpiece
  3. Name – Let’s be honest, Camelbak is a little more fun to say than Nathan Race Vest. I think they could use a catchier name…just sayin’…
Advantages of the Intensity Race Vest

nathan intensity (Source)

Here are the top 5 things I love most about my new running vest – and the reasons that make me happy I made the switch.

  1. Fit – The Women’s Intensity race vest is pretty compact. I love the narrow and long design. There are also many different adjustments straps (or — according to the website — a 3-way propulsion harness) that help the vest fit snuggly and keep the weight of the water off your shoulders. My first time out in the vest, it only took a few quick adjustments to get the weight centered on my lower back. I love that the straps are designed to make it super easy to adjust while running. And unlike my Camelback, whose straps would loosen up over the course of the run, the Intensity stayed firmly in place.

    DSCN0674

  2. Comfort – I think the biggest worry people have when considering whether or not to wear a pack instead of a fuel belt is that it will make their shoulders hurt. Like any good backpack, these packs are designed to keep the weight off your shoulders and on your chest/back. In my opinion, the Intensity does a much better job, due to the design of the harness. Added bonus for women – the chest strap easily fits under your…well…chest. So you don’t have to worry about squishing the ladies when you run. Another advantage in comfort comes from vest’s the mesh straps. They are extremely lightweight and breathable. I have even worn sleeveless running tops with this pack and experienced no chafing.

    nathan intensity_front(Source)

  3. Storage – One reason why I love running with a pack is because there’s lots of extra room to store things like gels, energy bars, iPod, keys, cell phone…even extra layers. DSCN0688

    The Intensity is designed with the Ultramarathoner in mind, which means there are plenty of spaces for storage! In addition to the main compartment that holds the water, there’s another slot in back where you can put big items like a cell phone and keys. It’s even divided into 2 separate compartments (complete with a hook to hang your keys on!). DSCN0690 But my favorite feature (and a huge selling point of the pack for me) is the two pouches in the front – one that even zips. I used to store my gels in the back of my Camelback, which meant I had to stop and take the vest off or do some crazy stretching moves if I wanted to get them out during the run. Now I have easy access to anything I might need…without even breaking my stride.

  4. Ease of cleaning – It’s super easy to get the bladder in and out of the pack. There’s just one little hole in the back that the water tube has to go through, and then another loop in the front to hold it. On the other hand, I had to feed the tube through one of the arm straps of my Camelbak, which made it very difficult to get in and out. DSCN0694

    The other advantage is that the top of the bladder opens up all the way. I must admit that this made me nervous at first. I didn’t think the fold and slide top would stay sealed during my run. But it holds the water in perfectly. And when I’m done, I can turn the entire thing inside out to wash it. The mouthpiece and drinking tube also separate from the bladder to make cleaning that much easier!  DSCN0698

  5. Enough Water for a Fish – The Intensity holds 2L (70 ounces) of glorious, refreshing water. This is enough to keep me hydrated even on long, hot 20-milers. My Camelbak only held 50 ounces, and on the longer runs I was constantly worried about running out of water.
In summary, the Intensity vest is super comfortable and worth every penny! Its design works for me, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a running hydration pack.
Thoughts on Nathan products? Or disagree with me? I’d love to hear how you prefer to fuel!

    18 Responses to Fueling the Long Run: Nathan vs. Camelbak

    1. It was soo great to run with you today! I know I’m a huge nerd, but I just can’t stop smiling about how nice it was to run with such great people. I can’t wait to blow through a few more miles with you soon ;)

      Your Nathan pack is pretty sweet. I love my Camelbak, but I’ve never had anything to compare it to. I can’t carry water or wear a belt, so the pack is the way to go for me. I like the harness on yours. It looks really comfy. The compartments also seem to provide great storage for long runs.
      Becky´s last post ..Run- Bloggers- Run!

    2. I typically like to have a little variety on the run so have always liked a fuel belt to carry up to 4 bottles of water, coconut water or Vega Sport mix to carry me through those long runs.
      Bekah @ runtrackmind´s last post ..Power 4

    3. Love the new blog look! And I had so much fun running with you yesterday! I wish I lived closer :(

      You have me wanting to try the Nathan. My very old Camelback chafed me, I tried 2 different types of belts and they didn’t work, so I always just carry fluids or place them along the course. But it’s honestly annoying. Perhaps I need to try the Nathan :)
      Jen´s last post ..Why I heart blogging

      • I know!! We’re just going to have to get you up here for a million different races.

        I also got a lot of chafing with the Camelback straps and couldn’t wear tank tops with it. But so far, the Nathan hasn’t caused any problems. The material the straps are made out of is so comfortable. I’m thinking you should probably try it out… :)

    4. I have never tried a water pack. I worry that it might annoy me (I am an easily annoyed runner) I usually carry water in my hand and pick routes where I can easily purchase anotehr bottle along the way. (street vendors are my best friends!!)

      • I was also worried it would annoy me at first but you get used to it. It really just depends on preference, though. I get annoyed holding things in my hand or having stuff on my waist, so I love that I can just stick it all in a pack and not have to worry about it. Plus, it’s so easy to drink and run at the same time.

    5. I think I just tried to stand up and clap. This is SO true. I was nodding my head throughout.

      I had no idea you and Becky were friends, I forgot. Jealous I can’t join the run party:( But looks like y’all had a blast.

      I did so much better in the FL heat this weekend because I had the proper water with me, what a difference.
      Nichole´s last post ..Triathlon Tips from the Pro- Tri Week Has Arrived

    6. I had never heard of this brand, or vests before. I bought a waist pack last year that I use sometimes; the only trouble with it is that it sometimes rides up my hips and onto my waist, which can get uncomfortable. But I like that the weight is on my hips, since I have trouble wearing backpacks for a long time.
      lisasfoods´s last post ..The Trouble with Cheap Food

    7. I currently wear a Nathan 2 bottle belt on longer runs (or even on shorter runs in the blazing heat of summer), but now that I am training for my first marathon, I am definitely looking into other options. The vest seems like it might be a good fit– looking forward to checking it out/trying it on. :)
      Elizabeth´s last post ..Today- Brighten up

    8. I love the new look of your blog! It looks so great! :-)

    9. Love the new header! I still have a really hard time drinking anything while running. I recently picked up Nuun tablets to try, but seem to cramp instantly after drinking while running.
      Alex @ IEatAsphalt´s last post ..The Food Revolution

    10. Check out the Body Bottle (bodybottle dot com) – its the most comfortable option out there. It straps to your arm, and pulls off easily. Definitely more comfortable than water bladder backpacks, waist-belt bottles and handhelds.

      Check it out: bodybottle dot com

    11. Thanks for your info on the Nathan. I am looking for a hydration pack. Does the nathan also have room to hold an extra small water bottle in the front? And what do you think of the plastic clasp versus velcro?

    12. Just a great review and article just what I was looking for a fairly critical and genuine recap of both. Nathan is is!!!I have been procrastinating on which one for over a week.thanks for the help

    13. Love this review!! I just got one of these and I just have one stupid question. Is there a trick to removing the hose from the bladder? I can’t for the life of me get mine to come off. I watched a video and the gal just pulled it right off. Mine is stuck on there. Any ideas or tips would be greatly appreciated!

    14. Turn the hose clockwise and pull to remove the hose from the bladder.
      Brandon´s last post ..Firecracker 4-miler Recap

    15. Thanks so much for this review! It’s well written. You just sold me a Nathan pack!

      • Awesome! You’re very welcome! Hope it lives up to my hype. :) For what it’s worth, it’s still my favorite pack years later. And it has held up great over time!

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