Tested: Camelbak Chase Vest

From the back, the Chase Vest just looks like a regular, small backpack.

Inspired by jogging. Yes, jogging.

We admit it, there are members on staff here at Flow who occasionally dabble in a bit of trail running. The shame. But as any trail runner will tell you, one of the handiest pieces of kit you can own is a running vest. It seems like some bright spark at Camelbak realised the same fundamental aspects that make a vest so good for running are equally applicable for mountain biking – ergo, the Chase Vest is born, sharing a lot of similarities with Camelbak’s Circuit running vest.

The Chase Vest keeps a low profile, all the weight is kept close to your core.

So what’s the idea here?

The idea is simple; spread the load, increase stability. Backpacks put the full weight and bulk of whatever it is you’re carrying way out there, dangling off your back. Every time you swing your hips or throw your weight about, you’ve got that extra mass of the backpack adding to the inertia and trying to yank you off the bike. In contrast, the Chase Vest is all about positioning the weight across the front and back of your torso, meaning more of the mass can be kept closer to your body and helping to alleviate some of the feeling of being pulled about by the moving weight of your pack and its contents.

The main compartment has enough room for spares and food.

How is the load spread?

The weight is split about 70/30 between your back and front when the pack is loaded up. The main section of the vest is where you’ll find a 1.5 litre bladder, along with a large zippered compartment, a deep pouch section, a smaller zippered pocket, and an another smaller stretchy pouch that will hold a jacket or flanno. This main section sits in the middle of your back, it doesn’t hang low on your hips like Camelbak’s new Low Rider range.

The ‘straps’ then both hold quite a lot of gear too – on your right you’ve got an external webbing pouch, plus a a deep zippered pocket, the left strap has another large double-zippered pocket that has further internal compartments.

The 1.5 litre bladder has Camelbak’s cool handle system too, so it’s easy to hold and fill.

What does it actually carry?

The Chase Vest will fit a solid amount of gear, it’s only the water capacity that’s a little limited at 1.5 litres. But in terms of equipment and nutrition, you can easily store enough for a few hours on the bike. Without feeling like we were overloading the pack, we stashed a multitool, Co2 dispenser, a bunch of bars and gels, phone, tube, mini pump, tyre plugs, sunnies, a vest and we still had nothing in the large pouch section.

We used the the left hand compartment for tools, CO2, tyre plugs and the like.

Is it more practical to use than a backpack?

Yes, it’s very convenient. What we like about the Chase Vest is that it has a variety of small stash points, which is far more usable than having a large compartment you need to rifle through. You can keep all the small items you use regularly in the front compartments, things like your phone, food, multitool or CO2, which can all be accessed without needing to stop or take the pack off. Then bigger items that are less frequently needed can go out back. If you’re using a jersey with rear pockets, you can still get at them too without taking the pack off too, as the Chase sits higher on your back.

In the right, we kept our phone for all those important calls, and our food.

Is it cooler to use than a backpack?

We’d say it’s fairly comparable. While the construction is fairly minimalistic and the pack doesn’t cover up much of your back, there’s not a lot of airflow under the bladder and the front compartments do restrict airflow to your flanks more than a traditional backpack’s straps do.

The hose clips are a tad fiddly when trying to stash the hose on the fly.

Anything annoying about it?

We found out the hard way that the elasticised pocket of the righthand strap is very good at launching your precious gels and food! When the going gets rough, things can bounce out of this pocket. Only use it to stash items that aren’t going to bounce free, or that you don’t want.

The little hose clips are a bit fiddly too. They’re easy to remove the hose from, but getting it clipped back in takes more concentration than we like.

But what about how it rides?

Along with the convenience of being able to access the front pockets so easily, the biggest advantage of the Chase Vest is its stability. It really does hug your body snuggly, and even when we had a full load of gear and water there’s no feeling of it shifting, bouncing or sloshing about, which makes it the perfect companion for wilder riding. If you’ve shied away from regular backpacks because you dislike the way they can affect your balance, you really should give the Chase a look, it’s a very ifferent feeling to a regular backpack.

Winner!

Recommended then?

Yep, for sure! Over the past few years, especially since the arrival of storage bibs such as Specialized’s SWAT bibs, we’ve been using backpacks less frequently. But the arrival of new-school packs that are better suited to technical and rough riding (such as the Camelbak Repack, Bontrager Rapid Pack, Henty Enduro Pack or Camelbak Skyline LR) has been changing our tune once again. The Chase Vest ticks a lot of boxes for us. Who knew that the world of jogging could bring some good to mountain biking?!

 

 

Tested: Camelbak Repack LR

Carrying a bit of extra weight on your hips isn’t such a bad thing in mountain biking. The new Camelbak Repack is a new-school bum bag, and it’s awesome. Why we all were such haters of this style of pack in the past?


Why bum bags, not just a regular pack?

Enduro-style riding, where you need to carry spares and water aplenty, but really want to retain good manoeuvrability has seen the resurgence of bum bags in mountain biking once again. They put the weight on your hips, for a low centre of gravity, and the pack is less likely to snag on trees, plus your back doesn’t get nearly so sweaty. You also don’t need to remove the pack to access your spares, you can just swing it around to your front. More convenient than online shopping.

Compared to running a backpack, you feel noticeably less top-heavy when using a bum bag.

Any downsides?

What we’ve found, in our limited experience, is that getting the bum bag secure so it doesn’t bounce and shift when things get rough can be difficult, especially if you’ve got a lot in the pack.  The Repack is an evolution of the Palos (which we took a look at here), and while the Palos stored a lot of gear we did find it tended to migrate if things got a bit wild, like it was trying to sit on our hip for a cuddle. We’ve also used the Bontrager Rapid Pack extensively, which is a super minimalist bag, and while it’s very secure when riding it only has limited storage capacity.

We used to Repack for two all-day gravel missions, and it was the perfect choice. Maybe not its intended use, but it was ideal.

How have you used it?

We’ve run the Repack at both ends of the spectrum of riding. It’s been taken out on some properly rough, technical rides (like when we were testing the Cannondale Jekyll, here), and we’ve also used it for some all-day gravel riding adventures too. During the latter, we absolutely crammed the Repack to its gills with food, spares and water, and it was brilliant.

The bladder has a handle, which makes it very easy to fill.

So what’s the Repack like?

This thing is a solid improvement over the Palos. The bladder hold 1.5 litres and we have no hesitation filling that sucker right up – even fully loaded with water it’s stable when you’re riding. Like other Camelbaks, the bladder has a handle that makes it easy to fill, though stuffing the fully-filled bladder back into the Repack is a bit like wrestling an blue jelly fish.

Two hip pockets – one zippered, the other elasticised, are good places to stash snacks.

There is a surprising amount of storage too; the hip pockets can be stuffed with M&Ms for fast access, and the main compartment is big enough for a tube, mini pump and multitool, maybe even a super lightweight jacket. Then you’ve also got a cool front compartment that zips right open, which makes it easier to use than traditional pockets; you can see what’s in there and you’re not having to rifle through from the top down with gloved hands. It’s good for all your spares, your keys, phone and the like.

Unlike a backpack, there’s only one strap to worry about.

When you compare the Repack to the Palos, the way the waist strap works is simpler and makes it much easier to adjust the strap tension on-the-fly (the Palos has a secondary set of straps to compress the bladder… it can be a bit fiddly), and it holds tight too. We didn’t notice the straps slipping or loosening, and you can crank it down tight enough to impede digestion if you like for seriously rough trails.

The front compartment swings open, giving you very easy access.

Unlike a backpack, where you can just let the bladder hose hang loose, you need to clip the hose back into place once you’re done drinking, or it’ll dangle in your spokes. The pack scores a magnetic clip that helps kind of ‘guide’ you when re-docking the hose, but it still requires a little bit of concentration to stash it, so you’ll tend to do most of your drinking on smoother climbs when you’ve got more time.

Clipping the hose back into its little magnetic dock when the trails are rough takes some getting used to.

Better than a backpack?

That depends on how much you need to carry. If 1.5 litres of water, a few snacks and the basic spares are all you need, then yes we think the Repack is probably a better solution. If you need more stuff, run a backpack. Having less weight on your upper body, not having a sternum strap across your chest (which can impede breathing), and getting less sweaty are all good reasons to give the Repack a go. If people can get over the stigma that they’re only for kids, tourists or rollerbladers, we think the trails will be full of bum bags soon.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Osprey Raptor 10L Hydration Pack

The Raptor 10 Hydration Pack is not their biggest pack in the range, but is the perfect all-day endurance riding companion. With an enticing combination of handy features, ample storage, 3L of water, light weight and comfort, we can’t wait to put it through its paces on local marathon trail rides this summer, especially when one drink bottle is nowhere near enough water.


Features

After just opening up the pack after arrival and playing around with it for a while, you realise just how many awesome features this thing has. The labyrinth of zippers, pull-outs, clips and pouches will have taken you on an adventure before you have even left home!

Despite being on the larger size of the hydration pack market, the Raptor 10 comes as a very light package. Utilising lightweight Nylon fabric and foam, the user comfort is definitely satisfied – comfy shoulder straps, super-breathable back mesh and foam, as well as a hip hugging lower strap. A large mesh panel lets the pack sit off your back to offer a degree of suspension on bouncy terrain and air flow between your back and the pack.Osprey Raptor-6344

Large, but still very light and compact.
Large, but still very light and compact.

The main compartment of this pack is quite generous for a 10L pack; however, filled with 3L of water, the space you have to work with is whittled down quite a bit. Despite this, Osprey have worked around this really well, giving you loose pouches for tubes, a pump and some snacks. Of course though, there’s enough space to squeeze in a rain jacket, pads or even a small camera.

As with many of these higher quality packs, the Osprey also has your mobile, keys and valuables sorted with a small top Stash Pocket, complete with two zip compartments and a plastic keyring, just to keep them extra secure. If you want even easier access, there is two great little zip pockets on the hip straps – within perfect reach for keys, tyre plugs, jelly snakes or a small water gun to piss your mates off with – the possibilities are near endless.

Pockets galore, the internal storage is very well thought out.
Pockets galore, the internal storage is very well thought out.

On the exterior, there seems to be a lot going on, with layers of fabric, straps and clips all over. However, they work out to be a stretchy jacket compartment, rear light mount and one for the enduro specialists; the LidLock Helmet Attachment. This handy plastic clip slots easily through the vents of your helmet, pulling it tight to your back and out of the way. Time will tell how well it holds your half face on long enduro stages – it is looking promising.

Helmet carrying solution. Handy for carrying a full face or chin guard on rides.
Helmet carrying solution. Handy for carrying a full face or chin guard on rides.
External hip pockets for easy access while riding.
External hip pockets for easy access while riding.

One of the best features of this pack is the roll out tool pouch. Sitting comfortably at the bottom of the bag and separated from the main compartment, it comes into its own when you can just throw your bag off, lay it flat and just roll out the tools ready to go without digging through your snacks, jacket, spare undies or the two-week old banana in the main compartment.

The roll out tool pouch.
The roll out tool pouch.

With all the things you can carry with this bag, the 3 Liters of water storage is a welcome and needed feature for all those backcountry trail rides you are going to want to be doing – enough water to last a good few hours without needing to hunt down a tap on someone’s private property in the middle of nowhere.

We’re looking forward to put this swiss-army-knife of a pack to the test out on the trails – with enough space to keep us set for whole-day adventures, I think this is as good reason as any to head out and test ourselves on the longer days of spring! For more information on Osprey’s range, check out – www.ospreypacks.com

Tested: CamelBak Skyline 10LR pack

For yonks now, bikes have been getting closer to the ground. Head angles get slacker, bottom bracket heights lowered, dropper seat posts introduced, all in the name of getting a lower centre-of-gravity. Get the mass down low, you’ve got more stability, especially in the corners. So why, oh why, has it taken so long to apply this logic to our packs?!

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Get the mass down low.

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The Skyline 10LR is from the new Low Rider line of CamelBak packs, so called because it positions the weight of the pack down closer to your hips, rather than in the centre of your back. The new lumbar bladder is shorter, but wider, with kind of a ‘winged’ shape that spreads the load outwards rather than up. Inside the bladder there’s a baffle, that reduces the sloshing about of the water, making it more stable once again.

Finally, there are two bladder compression straps, which are the red toggles on the hip straps. The idea is that you pull these as the water level in the bladder drops, helping squish the bladder flat against your body, which makes it more secure and also helps get all the water out without sucking like a Hoover.

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pull these as the water level in the bladder drops, helping squish the bladder flat against your body.

In terms of features and storage, the stand out elements for us are: the inclusion of a tool roll, which keeps your spares and tools in one neat pack; the elasticised and zippered hip pockets which are ideal for stashing gels or snacks; and the quarter-turn bladder lid, that is easy to open with gloves on.

There’s a lot of external storage for a pack this size too, with compression straps for stashing a jacket and big external pouch which can hold up to four sweet potatoes.

If you’re accustomed to running your packs nice and tight so they don’t flop about, then you’ll notice the Skyline feels very different to wear. Rather than having the pressure of the pack pressing between your shoulder blades, it rests more in the small of your back, and it doesn’t press against you quite so hard. Resist the temptation to over-tighten the shoulder straps to position the pack higher on your back – it’s meant to hang a little lower. It might feel strange for a few minutes, but it’s a much more stable arrangement.

Even with a full three litres of water on board, the Skyline is a pleasure to wear.

It’s noticeably more stable than equivalent capacity non-Low Rider CamelBak packs, which were already very comfy.

For this particular tester, a notorious pack avoider, finding a pack that is this unobtrusive when riding rough trails is a big win.

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Stable and comfortable, a new favourite.

In terms of complaints, we can only point our finger at the magnetic hose holder. It’s tricky to slot the hose back into the narrow little clasp when you’re riding. We also needed to keep reminding ourselves to give the red bladder compression tabs a pull every so often to get the maximum pack stability.

If you’re looking for a high-capacity pack that doesn’t feel like you’ve got a duffel bag strapped to your back, then this is the one.

Our new favourite? Indeed.

While fast and wild riding is when you’ll most appreciate the performance of Skyline 10LR,  you don’t have to be riding super technical trails to appreciate the benefits either. It’s just a more comfy and exceptionally well-made pack, full-stop.

Flow’s First Bite: CamelBak Skyline 10LR

Despite being so dominant that their brand name is often used to describe the whole category of hydration packs, CamelBak never rest on their laurels. Their new Skyline 10LR pack is a perfect example of how these guys keep on innovating their way ahead of the game.

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The whole pack sits quite low on your back.

The Skyline is part of CamelBak’s new Low Rider series of packs, which are designed to offer better stability for both rider and pack when you’re riding aggressively. It’s all about keeping the weight low and central on your body, so you get less of that top-heavy, floppy feeling when you’re hammering with a full load on your back.

The new lumbar bladder is key here; it is shorter and wider than a traditional CamelBak bladder, distributing the weight across your hips, rather than up and down your spine. There are further neat tricks too, like an internal baffle to reduce the effects of the water sloshing about, and bladder compressions straps than cinch the bladder closer to your body as you consume the water. The pack leaves a greater area of your upper back uncovered too, so not only is the Low Rider design more stable, it’s cooler on hot days.

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The lumbar bladder sits low and wide. It also features a quick-release hose and CamelBak’s easy-to-open reservoir cap.

From a size and features standpoint, the Skyline is well equipped for all day rides. The bladder holds three litres, and there’s a lot of external storage options in addition to a large central compartment. We really like the two hip pockets (one elasticised, one zippered) which are perfect for stashing food that you’ll want to get at without stopping. There’s also compression straps for holding jackets or protective gear, and strap hooks for your helmet.

We also really like the tool roll which is included with the Skyline. It’s a really simple way of keeping your tools, CO2 canisters, patches and the like in one spot that you can just roll out when it’s time for trailside repairs. There are more additional features than you can squirt a hose at, but we’ll touch on those in our full review in the coming months.

We’ve only had the one ride with this pack so far, but it was a good initial test, with a four-hour slog including some of the most technical trails Sydney has to offer. We were definitely impressed. We’ll be back with a full review once we’ve logged a full summer of trails with this bad boy.

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Flow’s First Bite: CamelBak Palos 4 LR Lumbar Pack

The bum bag is back, baby! Of course CamelBak doesn’t use that term – they call it a ‘lumbar pack’. We haven’t used one of these things since 1998 (genuinely, we promise) so we’re intrigued to see the Palos in CamelBak’s new Low Rider range.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-3

Now before you start making jokes about aerobics instructors or rollerblading, let’s take a moment acknowledge there are some practical, if not fashionable, advantages to the bumbar bag.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-9
Enough room for all the basics internally.
Camelbak Palos 4 LR-8
Smart fold-out mesh pockets. There are also small storage pouches on the waist straps too.

Firstly, it’s cooler (sorry, we mean, less sweaty) than a backpack, but it still allows you to carry a decent amount of water and gear, far more than in a bottle/jersey pocket. In this case, the Palos will hold up to 1.5 litres of water with 2.5 litres of storage capacity for a tube, CO2, multitool and some food. Secondly, it positions all the weight low on your hips which has obvious advantages for your centre of gravity and stability. That’s were the LR (Low Rider) comes from in the Palos’s name.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-10
The funky shaped lumbar reservoir spreads the weight low and wide.

CamelBak have taken this Low Rider approach with their new Skyline backpack too –  it also uses a lumbar reservoir to keep the weight of the water low of your body. We’re testing that one out as well.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-7
These small tabs pull the bladder in closer to your body as you drink.

The whole thing just clips around your waist with a big buckle, and there are little tabs to pull and cinch it down closer to your body as the water level drops in the bladder. The hose also runs across your waist, fastening in place with a magnetic clasp.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-5
A magnetic clasp holds the hose in place.

We’ll be taking the Palos out for a few rides with some non-judgemental mates soon. We’ve definitely got some questions about how it will handle really rough terrain and jumps – will it spin around or move? And how tight do you need to crank the straps up to hold it in place? We’ll find out soon enough.

Who knows, perhaps we’ll all be rocking the bum bag again soon!

Tested: Shimano Unzen Hydration Bags

Arriving in time for a summer full of shredding under the hot hot sun, Shimano have two new hydration bags with a suite of unique features to secure them snugly on your back.We’ve been testing the Unzen 2 for $109 and its bigger brother, the Unzen 4 Enduro for $129.

Both bags use Shimano’s new Rider Fit X-Harness where the shoulder straps join together with a clip above your sternum, creating a cross harness on your chest. Shimano say the design gives you more freedom of movement, and takes pressure of your (massive) pecs, so you can breathe more easily and feel less restricted. The two straps are held together with robust harness hook, rather than a clip. There’s still a waist strap too, for extra stabilisation and security.


Shimano Cycling Bag 13

[divider]Features up the wahzoo[/divider]

While the harness system is the most obvious point of difference, in Shimano fashion, the both bags are so feature packed you need a Powerpoint presentation to take it all in.


Unzen 2

Complete with a top quality two-litre Hydrapak bladder for $109, this is a seriously good bag for the bucks!

The first thing that struck us with this bag is the slim shape and very low weight (350g-ish). It sits close and low on your back and doesn’t occupy much space keeping a slim profile, we quickly forgot it was there. When we all spend so much time, effort and cash on making our bikes as light as possible, we often overlook the opportunity to save grams in what we carry on our bodies. We’ve been enjoying having such a light bag for quick local rides.

There’s not a lot of internal storage with this one – there’s the large main compartment which houses the bladder and has just enough space for a pump and tube, then there’s a smaller pocket out front for your multitool, keys and tooth brush. It’s best suited to shorter rides or racing where you’re aiming to keep the weight down. That said, you can still secure a jacket using the elasticised loops on the outside of the bag, and there are other neat storage inclusions like a fleece-lined pocket for your phone or glasses.

Unzen 4 Enduro

With more space for gear and water, Shimano’s Enduro Racepack is the go for all-day rides. It doesn’t come with a bladder, but the $129 pricepoint is fair and you can pick a three-litre bladder of your choosing. Weight-wise, it’s around 600g excluding a bladder.

The main compartment is accessible from both sides, there’s a huge external flap/pouch that’ll take a jacket, a spare bottle, your full-face helmet, or a large bunch of bananas. We’ve found it suitably roomy even when loaded it up with a full bladder, spares, tools, food, first aid and a wet weather jacket.

Like the smaller bag, you’ve got a fleece-lined pocket, glasses hanging loop and a billion other little storage solutions. The most handy is the small elasticised pocket on the chest harness, it’s the perfect size and location for a gel or two to dig you out of a hole.

[divider]About that harness[/divider]

Setting up the Rider Fit X-Harness is certainly a little more involved than with your standard bag, and we found it took some fiddling and trial and error to set it up correctly. You can’t just throw it on,  pull on the straps to tighten and go – we needed to take it on and off a few times until it was just right.

Because the length of the harness system is adjusted internally (like you’d find on a bigger hiking pack), you need to unpack the bag to make big adjustments to the fit too, which is time consuming because when the bag is full of stuff it fits differently to when it’s empty. You can then make smaller adjustments to the tightness of the fit on the fly with the big Velcro tabs. Shimano have good instructions on their site here to help get it all fitted correctly. If you don’t get the fit right, the harness will restrict your expanding chest as you breathe heavily during a climb or hard effort. We found this more noticeable with the Unzen 4 Enduro than with the smaller Unzen 2.

On the positive side, you do feel very unencumbered around your arms. The bags are both super stable too, though we’re not sure whether this is because of the harness system along or because they’re both low-profile and keep all the mass close to your body.

Shimano Cycling Bag 8

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

Great value, well-constructed and a little bit different from everyone else’s bags. Don’t be put off if the fit isn’t perfect in the shop, because getting the adjustment just right takes a bit more persistence than usual. the Unzen packs are good option for both short and long days in the saddle.

Fresh Product: Camelbak Kudu 12 with Impact Protection

Protection is serious business, and when it comes to combining protection and hydration you can bet on Camelbak for the right fit of both elements.

The Kudu 12 is a 3 litre capacity bag with built in back protection. Using a foam insert inside the bag, it’s able to absorb 94% of the impact from a crash. Wearing back protection makes it hard to then add in a hydration bag to the mix, this solves that problem nicely. Camelbak Kudu 12 16

In conjunction with Austrian snow protection company – Komperdell – Camelbak have integrated a layered foam plank that is made from three layers glued together to give a flexible yet supportive back protector that slides inside the bag.

The protector plate is removable for rides where you won’t be needing it, or for use as a regular backpack.

The Hydration side of things is handled in true Camelbak style and integrated perfectly, although in Australia the Kudu is sold without a bladder to keep cost down and allow the consumer to choose the desired size. Taking up to a 3 litre bladder, a Camelbak Antidote Bladder will set you back $69.95 and smaller and a touch less for the smallest 1.5 litre version. These are arguably the best bladders in the business too, and fit in the bags they are designed for perfectly even when filled to their max capacity.

Camelbak Kudu 12 6
The Impact Protector is supportive yet flexible. Also removable.

With the Kudu strapped up tight with it’s double chest and waist straps, it’s a super-secure bag. Upon close inspection of the bag, you’ll see a myriad of mesh and breathable sections to keep things cool and less sweaty.

Camelbak Kudu 12 1
Carries your helmet, too!

A larger version with 18 litre capacity is also available – Kudu 18 $349.95

It’s the type of protection that exceeds motorcycle standards, and for those riders who descend hard or crash a lot, this pack has your back.