Back then I always wanted to do a proper test of the Nateen Combi diapers, but then this opportunity was snatched away when the only German distributor closed its doors and shortly thereafter other vendors in Europe also stopped carrying the product line due to the transition from foil to a breathable outer surface (Guess which side those resellers were on when it comes to that preference! ;-) ). As a result, I was ever only able to do a shortened version of a test thanks to some leftover pieces the folks at Diaper Minister sent me.
I never lost sight of “doing it right” and so I patiently waited for my next chance and that arose when I stumbled upon a new supplier called Smartlifetime.com. You gotta hand it to the Belgians – when it comes to the availability of incontinence products they certainly are at the forefront of it, at least here in Europe. Of course that’s easy for them, with some manufacturing and import companies also heaving headquarters and factories in that little country.
Wanting to be thorough about it, I went the full mile and got all absorption levels and in addition one of them in the two sizes relevant to me, size M and L. First lets explore the absorption part.
Ranging from the weakest to strongest absorption rating the individual levels are called Soft, Plus, Maxi and Ultra, respectively. Since every pack contains exactly ten pieces you can already get a feel for what to expect just by gauging the package sizes. This becomes even more apparent when you place them directly side by side. The two lowest levels are about equal in package size, but the Maxi and Ultra have each different dimensions. Naturally, these will again be different across sizes, so you might have a bit of a problem when it comes to stacking them up in your garage or whatever you may use as your storage facility if you mix & match different versions.
Taking a specimen from each package and stacking them (flattened out under pressure with a heavy bathroom tile in my case) is somewhat inconclusive with regards to distinguishing the levels just visually. If someone just showed you a picture, you couldn’t really tell how thick each absorption level is. You only get a better impression once you hold each one in your hand and feel how it responds to pressure and how it flip-flops around a bit more or a bit less depending on the actual variant. Part of this problem is the rather inconsistent product appearance. Allow me to elaborate and linger on that a bit.
According to their own website, Nateen have their products manufactured in three different factories in China and it shows unfortunately, not in a good way. Let’s discard the Soft version on the leftmost position in the above image having a foil panel for the time being. Clearly I ended up with a leftover package from the transitional phase and current production runs would look like the other three items.
If you look closely at those, you see that each one is distinctly different in terms of how it is folded, how it got squeezed/ compressed in the package, where the fader-type wetness indicator strips are placed. Even the cellulose fluff has a slightly different coloration in the Plus model. That’s definitely not what I would call consistent branding. Don’t even get me started on how wrinkled some of the diapers are on the inside! You could write this off as my usual niggles, of course, and it shouldn’t affect the usability, should it? Unfortunately it kinda does. Each absorption level seems to give a different user experience based on the mix of components and ingredients. Allow me to tiptoe through each one of them.
The Soft version is basically your “use once (or twice) and then throw away” version as it would most commonly be used in stationary medical care where there’s always someone at hand that can change the diaper. For most people reading this blog it’s therefore probably not the most relevant. Having ended up with the intermediate version, my biggest complaint here would have been that the adhesive tapes were a bit weak, but this could be totally be due to the package having sat in storage for too long. During the short time you would be wearing this the behavior is predictable enough and the product reasonably retains its shape, being that you can only push so far with filling it up.
I used the Plus for those two or three hours in the evening between showering and actually going to bed and whatever one does during that time like watching TV. Things get a bit odd with this one “on the last mile”, as it were. Up to a certain point it behaves pretty much like the Soft and feels comfortable, but beyond this mark it starts to feel more and more mushy with every drop you squeeze into it. I also noticed that a considerable amount of vapor seeped through the outer surface, leaving lots of condensation droplets on my plastic pants. Ergo it would be logical to never go without those, as this moisture would make things very uncomfortable when it goes directly into your onesie or textile underpants.
The Maxi in my opinion is the best balanced of all the versions. As you would expect and as its name implies the amount of liquid it can hold is considerable and I always found it to be more than sufficient even when out of home for a bit longer. In particular I liked that this model never actually feels saggy and in fact somewhat firm as I’m used to from my daily go-to product Attends Slip Regular or others like Tena Slip. It seems to me that this also avoids the issue with the condensed liquid.
The Ultra should add that extra bit of even more absorption on top, but strangely falls back into Plus territory when it comes how it actually feels. My impression is that just adding more absorbent material to the pad once again doesn’t work and while on many other products of that ilk I have criticized them being too hard and thus screwing up absorbency, here it is the exact opposite. For my taste after a while things got a bit too soggy and saggy, so I tended to change my diaper even if presumably the product could have sustained yet another shot of pee (or more).
The oddities and slight quirks with the appearance continue across different sizes as well as is evident in the picture below. Once again a case of factory A vs. factory B, I suppose. Additionally there’s a confusing disparity with the sizes themselves when compared to other products and established standard measurements.
The size M adheres to those standards pretty well – at about 65 cm panel width and 78 cm transversal length front to back it’s pretty much in the range you would find on a Tena, Attends, etc. product, covering the usual 80 to 110 cm circumference. The size L on the other hand exceeds those standard specs and in fact comes across more like an XL. Its front-to-back length is around 98 cm instead of the more common 90 cm, the panel width 83 cm instead of 78 cm. Those little bits here and there add up.
The good news in all of that is of course that if you are caught in the “gap” between L and XL you might be presented with a chance here to go with the smaller product while still being able to wear it comfortably. These observations also make me wonder what the actual XL version might be like. Perhaps I will buy a pack one day just to satisfy my curiosity.
For me wearing the size L is a bit awkward as there is seemingly no way to get it fixated as I would like. Admittedly, though, this could simply be a case of needing more practice, i.e. having to buy a few more packs to figure things out. The biggest issue in my case is that it ends up to high on the waist line and then the old chain of cause and effect kicks in – my belly pushes things out, the diaper slides down and overall there is just too much air in the crotch region to really feel safe.
As always my primary testing efforts were focused on size M. In addition to what has been said about the absorption levels and sizes already, there are a few more things worth mentioning. The first would be the shape of the absorbent pad. It’s identical across the whole range and thankfully isn’t “over-optimized” with the sideways extensions in the front and back not having trimmed to a strip. I love myself some good bum coverage and this product is therefore highly suitable for people with fecal incontinence issues. There’s a high likelihood everything will stay sealed in beyond your buttocks and not come out left and right of your butt crack.
While the basic shape and fit are just fine, the material of the outer surface is rather thin and tends to wear out after a certain time and amount of liquid in your diaper. This almost inevitably means that you may need to check and re-fasten your tapes at some point, which however then could also damage the surface when you have to tear the tapes off an all too moist product. Hmmm… It’s an imperfect world, but this is not how things should be.
The tapes are pretty much standard fare, but their being entirely white makes it at times difficult to figure out where to pull in a situation like described above. On a few occasions they also were reluctant to come off their backing foil when first putting on the diaper, so I managed to pull of their socket/ anchoring tape that is supposed to hold them on the shell a couple of times. Because the tapes are also kinda stiff and thick, you sometimes don’t even notice. In any case, you have to be careful.
Overall this is by no means a bad product, but it has issues that can’t be ignored. The inconsistent branding is a minor one, though you still have to ask “Why ?“. Companies like Hartmann or SCA/ Essity (Tena) go out of their way to provide the same experience even when products are produced in different facilities all across the globe, so it seems just weird they can’t manage the same in their factories that are relatively close by one another in China. Quality management, anyone?
The fit and softness of the product are once more a matter of individual preference. I prefer almost harness-like, tight diapers that are not too soft, others may be just the opposite and want things super soft. What cannot be debated, however, are things like possibly having to adjust your tapes halfway through the wearing time. This definitely needs to be addressed. While I still think that something has been lost or gone awry in the transition from a foil-based product to one with a breathable surface, not all is lost.
My personal favorite is the Maxi as it hits all the right beats and simply works. The others are kind of okay-ish. For me, anyway. Your own testing may skew in a different direction and the good part is that you can do so on a modest budget. Since only ten pieces are in every pack, the resulting prices per pack are low enough. You could even throw in one of them just to pad out your purchase and get entitlement for free shipping, should you come up short of whatever value a distributor may have set as the threshold…