Camelbak has redesigned nearly its entire bicycle hydration pack lineup for 2011, with some models getting updated styling, while other key models get wholesale reworks – plus there are several brand-new options on tap, too.
Leading the way is Camelbak's new Charge duo, featuring lightweight materials and more minimal unpadded mesh straps to cater to cross-country riders looking to shed every possible gram. The top-end Charge 450 is the larger of the two with a three-liter reservoir matched to 12.5 liters of cargo capacity – the same as the company's popular MULE but at two-thirds the mass with a claimed empty weight of just 450g.
Pocket layout is very similar to the MULE with a capacious main compartment, a protected media pouch up top, and a flip-down outer area ideal for mini-pumps, tools, and energy bars. Newly added stretch pockets on the webbed waist belt provide quick access for other items, too.
Gone is the MULE's exaggerated padded back panel, though, in favor of a more minimal Lightweight Exoskeleton raised EVA pattern to help air pass through. Also, the MULE's foldout catchall that was just big enough for helmet has been deleted as well.
For shorter rides there's the smaller Charge 240 with a smaller two-liter reservoir and a far more streamlined 1.5-liter cargo capacity. Claimed weight is – you guessed it – just 240g without the included reservoir.
All new for 2011 is the intriguing Octane LR model, which relocates its two liters of fluid down around your waist. We tried it during the Outdoor Demo portion of Interbike and while the sensation is unusual at first, what we noticed later was the pack's unwavering stability.
Meanwhile, the iconic MULE is wholly overhauled with a cargo capacity bump to 12.5 liters and a slightly tapered shape. Riders looking for more airflow than the MULE's standard Air Director back panel can still opt for the MULE NV's more advanced NVIS articulated design and handy waist belt pockets. Cargo capacity on the NV has similarly jumped from last year to 8.52 liters and both packs include three-liter reservoirs.
All-day riders requiring more space have the revised HAWG NV's mission with a larger 19-liter space capacity – up from 18 liters in 2010 – and newly tapered shape that sits more naturally on your torso and repositions more of the weight down low. Some of the added room comes courtesy of a pair of zippered side pods that are perfectly sized for energy bars.
Hidden inside all of Camelbaks for 2011 is the vastly improved Antidote reservoir, which includes a larger quarter-turn cap that's consistently much easier to operate and can't be over tightened, a baffled design that sits flatter when full, integrated flip-out arms that hold the bladder open for faster drying, and a quick-release hose connection that also allows for an inline water filter.
Hydrapak steps up its game
Hydrapak is Camelbak’s main competitor and has long kept to the lightweight construction theme with durable-yet-minimal ripstop nylon construction and more intentionally basic back panel constructions over its entire range. As a result, Hydrapak packs tend to feel a bit more unstructured but the upside is generally less mass to lug around and a more form-fitting feel on the bike.
Sitting at the top of the range is Hydrapak's Pro Series collection with heavily padded and anatomically shaped shoulder straps, three-liter reservoir capacities, plus a ventilated foam back panel to help even out heavy loads.
The Morro is the smaller of the two options with 13.1 liters of gear storage spread across a large main compartment, a lower tool pouch, a dedicated media sleeve, and two zippered side areas big enough to hold water bottles. Four compression straps help keep everything held down.
The larger Jolla boasts a similar overall layout to the Morro but moves the tool organizer inside and bumps up total storage capacity to a whopping 18 liters.
For shorter jaunts there's the race-oriented Avila with just two liters of fluid capacity and just enough room for a shell and some food and the slightly larger Soquel with four liters of gear storage. Stepping up to the Reyes, Big Sur, or Laguna models nets you another liter of fluid capacity and cargo capacities that stretch from 5.3 liters on the Reyes up to 9.8 liters on the Laguna, which also integrates five compression straps for attaching extra equipment.
One of Hydrapak's most interesting models for 2011 is barely even a pack at all, comprising little more than a barely-there ripstop nylon sleeve for the one-liter reservoir, spindly mesh straps, and six small pockets to hold energy food and maybe a multi-tool – there's no padding whatsoever and the reservoir compartment doesn't even zip shut.
But the benefit of the E-Lite Vest is weight, or rather a lack thereof – claimed weight with the reservoir is just 280g (or 159g without), making it an enticing choice for mountain bike racers who just need to carry a bit of extra fluid and nothing else.
While Camelbak still enjoys the lion's share of the hydration pack market, Hydrapak's clever reservoir definitely makes it worth a closer look. The slide-lock top is exceptionally easy to operate and reversible for cleaning (and drying!), while the BPA-free material is remarkably strong and stretchy.
Quick-disconnect hoses are included on upper-end models, too, while integrated magnetic clips also help keep the lockable bite valve within easy reach.