Hydration packs are certainly commonplace amongst MTBers nowadays, but if you’re in the market for one, which one should you get and what should you be looking for? Full Sus put ﬁve through their paces and here’s what you need to know.
There are a number of packs out there and your ﬁrst thought has got to be what you are generally using the pack for. Are you doing stage races, adventure trails or are you a weekend warrior who doesn’t stray that far from home? This will inﬂuence the reservoir capacity you will need, how much storage you require and the general design of the bag, including the padding, straps and ventilation. Skills guru James Thornhill-Fisher will be the ﬁrst to tell you the value a backpack.
Having your water on you, not to mention your mobile and some gear could prove vital in the case of an emergency. Think of lying in a donga somewhere and your bike is unreachable. Besides the emergency scenario the pack also provides a great, out of the way, option for carrying your wet weather gear, bombs, pump, multi-tool and your grub.
So what did we look at?
Our ﬁrst consideration was the bladder or reservoir – we opted for similar capacity – but the important point was: how easy is it to ﬁll? Can you remove it easily and leave it in the fridge? Does the tube detach from the bag? Then we looked at the mouthpiece and tube system. Does it lock? Is it accessible while riding, does it clip away or does it just hang around? Does the mouthpiece work well?
Do the straps sit comfortably? Is it well paded, is it easy to adjust, does it have waist straps and does it provide air ﬂow or ventilation particularly on the back panel?
how much space is there for your tools, grub and gear? How is it laid out, is it accessible, practical and sufficient?
We never looked at cleaning the bag, whether the tubes were compatible with other systems, replacement mouthpiece and bags etc, but that is a consideration for another article. Cleaning should deﬁnitely come into your reckoning particularly if you are planning on putting electrolyte or sugar based powder into the bag as you will have to clean regularly – it is less frequently required if using water only, but you will still have to do it.
Leatt H4 Hydration Cargo pack
This pack comes from the guys who have made a name for themselves in off -road motorcycling. The storage system is superb and off ers all you need. The hydration bag is easy to use and the only pack that off ers reservoirs that are disposable – they are tough and re-usable but you will need a few spares – the test pack came with a pack of replacements. The tube is long and can be cut down to the desired length. There is a cap on the mouthpiece which was not practical on a bike and the lack of ventilation is again more suited to a motorbike. The straps are comfortable and really secure. It’s the lightest bag we tested.
K-Way Hydro Velocity 6
The K-Way Hydro Velocity is a Cape Union Mart house brand and is really a day pack with hydration capability. That said it holds its own in most departments with a smaller storage facility – essentially a pouch with some space inside the pack once the reservoir is in place. It’s a great regular route pack that will hold the bare essentials.
First Ascent Aqueos 2
First Ascent is a local brand that has come on in leaps and bounds in the MTB arena. They are really good at listening to their clients and are quick to improve and make changes accordingly. This is apparent when one sees their reservoir, mouthpiece and tube system. It is the best out there at the moment. The Aqueos 2 holds 2 litres of liquid, is easy to ﬁll and their antimicrobial treated Nalgene system has an awesome bag handle that runs the length of the bag and makes handling a breeze. The nifty magnet attachment secures the mouthpiece to the pack – no ﬂopping around and easy to reach and put back on the ﬂy. The clip also has a signal whistle. There is a large pouch and an additional mesh pocket that provides adequate storage although I would have preferred more space. (We are told that they have a new 2l offering with extra storage space on the way so watch this space – ed)
A really awesome bag with heaps of storage that includes a nifty mesh roll-out helmet or shoe holder, neat compartments for everything you could possibly want to carry, superb ventilation and the more than adequate Hydrapak bladder system. My only gripe is that there is no quick-release tube system so it’s either the entire bag and tube in the fridge or ice blocks (which isn’t the end of the world really…but still). I also wasn’t crazy about the mouthpiece – it’s small and the locking mechanism is tough to use on the ﬂ y – it also doesn’t swivel. The bag is available in funky colours, has a signal whistle on the strap clip and is very comfortable – it is the only pack with ventilated padded straps.
Camelbak Mule – (the Full Sus choice)
When one mentions hydration packs the name most people know is Camelbak – in fact much like Hoover is used in reference to all vacuum cleaners, Camelbak is used as a synonym for hydration packs, and in much the same vein the Mule is synonymous with MTBing. It’s the tried and tested wet pack that set and still very much sets the benchmark. Their reservoir system is excellent with a quick-release for the tube, an improved quarter turn cap that is easy to close, big enough to clean easily and allow you to put ice in if needed. The mouthpiece is superb and clips away on the strap (the magnet is in my opinion the best option and is possibly the only thing that would improve this bag), so it’s easy to ﬁnd and doesn’t ﬂy around when you’re riding. Storage is excellent – you have all the pockets, pouches and compartments you will ever need. The air ﬂow is great and the padding along with padded straps make the Mule a really comfortable ﬁt. I liked that you could easily remove the waist strap. Overall it’s a really good pack that ﬁts almost every use.