Gear Review: CamelBak Women’s Zephyr Vest
Running was my first love. When distance trekking was still only a dream, running was there for me. And now that distance trekking is a reality partially stored in my legs, running is still there for me—but I have to run farther. I am exceptionally picky about having too much stuff when I’m running: too many layers, bulky layers, too much water, too much gear. This preference poses a real challenge for shoulder season long runs in the dry desert air of Utah, so I was stoked to try out the ultra lightweight, women’s-specific CamelBak Zephyr Vest.
CamelBak Women’s Zephyr Vest At-a-Glance
Pack weight: 7 ounces
H2O capacity: 34 ounces
Gear capacity: 10 liters | 610 cubic inches
Hydration type: BPA-free quick-stow flasks (also reservoir compatible)
Back panel material: Engineered knit mesh
Intended use: Ultra-long distance running, fast-packing
Circumstance of Review
I tested the Zephyr over the course of about 12 weeks, ranging from late winter (aka March) to mid-spring in the Wasatch mountains and foothills in Utah. Weather conditions ranged from very cold with clear skies, to moderately cold with light precipitation, to warm and basically perfect. Initially I had planned on a trip to the desert for additional climate variability testing, but then pandemic. The Zephyr performed really well in all conditions and came in extra handy as I recovered from COVID-19 (yes, really) and needed to carry a bit more than usual without feeling weighed down.
- Engineered Knit Mesh: This material is so light. The spacer mesh also means no seams, which decreases weight and spots where the pack might be more susceptible to wear and tear over time. The mesh is also a big part of what makes the pack women’s specific: larger perforations are located where women have a greater magnitude of perspiration.
- Dual Adjustable Sternum Straps: I really like this feature and I think it’s a big piece of what successfully makes the pack one-size fits all. You can see all the loops with spots for adjustments in the photos above. If you happen to develop a severe respiratory illness that makes breathing difficult and painful, you can situate both straps around your abdomen instead of having them at your sternum, with no compromise to a secure fit while in motion.
- Fuel and Gear Storage: Plenty of variability and space allows you to take what you need and organize items according to how you roll. Inside the main compartment there’s also a divider for a reservoir if you choose to use one. I’ve never tried fast-packing, but if I do (when I do?) I’d feel great about starting with the Zephyr. There’s just enough space for the bare minimum.
- Secure Phone Pocket and Stretch Overflow Pocket: Both super convenient. I found it difficult to get a layer in the outside pocket if the main zipper compartment was completely full (pictured below), but I think it would work if I kept tinkering with it.
- Trekking Pole Attachment: Not as easy to remove poles as I’d have liked, but I also think more time dialing in my process would change that. It seems like this would’ve been easier with Black Diamond’s collapsible Distance FLZ Trekking Poles.
- Polygiene® anti-microbial material
- Reflectivity and safety whistle
- Reservoir compatible with dual exits for tubing
The Zephyr is far more substantial than what I’m used to. You can see above that it’s covering nearly the entire length of my back and much of my torso in the front. This will certainly be different if you are taller than me (I’m 5’2″), so take the fit reference with a grain of salt. I was a little worried about this at first, thinking it would be overly cumbersome and/or impede upper body form, but because it is so adjustable and lightweight I really didn’t have much issue. The double side straps (pictured above) and double sternum straps make for an extra secure fit, and literally not once did I have things jostling around as I ran.
Another thing I loved was that the versatility was applicable to not only body shapes and sizes, but also to number of layers. I hate having gear that only works ideally in one season, and that is definitely not the case with the Zephyr. Layers make no difference in fit, and the mesh actually feels pretty nice on skin. Never any rubbing–or really any movement at all. Weird tan lines, coming soon.
The only thing I didn’t love about the performance was that the larger mesh perforations providing ventilation in high perspiration zones don’t necessarily direct the moisture as it’s being vented, so I frequently ended up with everything inside the main body of the pack slightly damp from condensation (similar to waking up to some moisture in a single wall tent). Not a huge deal, but not the best.
Ease of Drinking
Drinking from the flasks was easy and efficient. You can see in the top photo that there’s not only a locking system to completely open and close the bite valve, but also a gradient system. If you’ve ever tried drinking water and running at the same time, you surely understand the utility of this design. If you haven’t? Give it a shot and you’ll learn quickly.
That said, as the flasks get emptier, their fit in the flask pockets diminishes considerably. I actually had one bounce out and I had to go back (uphill) and get it. Nobody wants to go backwards, really ever. At first I figured this was user error and tried several alternative set-ups, including really shoving them down to the bottom of the flask pockets. I’ve yet to find a good solution for empty flask storage. I do not love reservoirs so I didn’t test that, but I think I’ve used enough reservoirs with various packs to at least visually assess that the Zephyr does seem to be set up well for comfortable reservoir compatibility.
Pros and Cons
The ultra lightweight materials and highly adjustable design stand out to me as the best features of the Zephyr. I was surprised I like it as much as I do, given my minimalist preferences. I think it’s largely due to how light it is and how well the pack hugs the body.
The empty flask issue was the biggest con. I still wonder if this is user error, or somehow otherwise unique to the way the pack fits on my body. I will definitely continue to test out different set-ups and try to figure out the issue. Not a deal-breaker by any means.
Overall, the CamelBak women’s Zephyr Vest is a solid investment. Even if you aren’t into long distance running or fast packing (or maybe you’re just starting and building up to higher mileage), it’s still a great option for day hikes and slack-packing. And if you aren’t into running, may I recommend it? Everything is funner with a runner.
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Disclaimer: This product was donated for the purpose of review.
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