It used to be that any manufacturer could make a rucksack, stuff it with a bladder, and market it as a hydration solution. These packs were fine for the everyday recreationalist but didn’t work for cyclists, who need packs that can carry the essentials—water, flat kit, extra layers—without jostling around. Thankfully, hydration packs have grown up over the past few years, getting a lot better for consumers who demand bike-specific features. We tested a slew of the top contenders. Here are our three favorites.
Evoc FR Trail Blackline 20L ($230)
This monster is big enough for bikepacking—it swallowed enough clothing and gear for five self-supported days on the trail—but it carries like a pack half the size. Credit for the comfort goes to the huge Velcro waistband and the malleable back panel, which is reinforced with a removable foam back protector that will shield your spine from trauma in a major impact. (It also doubles as great pad for picnic stops and midafternoon naps.) Inside are more organizing pockets than you could ever need, including a fully waterproof pouch deep within the pack’s body that kept our electronics snug and dry even after several hours of high-altitude rain. Outside, the elasticized envelope carries a helmet—even a full-face model—or spare clothing. And though its storage capacity is huge, the Blackline cinches down small enough to make it a good daytripper.
The only downfall? No included bladder, which at this price is ridiculous.
Acre The Hauser 14L ($215)
Acre, a spinoff of the urban brand Mission Workshop, makes mountain bike gear with hipster appeal. Few people who wear this pack will take full advantage of the camo design, but it looks sweet and, more important, came through several all-day mud rides looking pretty much brand new. Inside, it’s a classic klettersack design, with one main tube-shaped compartment that’s big enough for a few essentials—thick jacket, frame pump, shock pump, a few tubes, and other sundries—but not a multiday expedition. The closure is a quick and easy drybag-style rolltop. There are several zip-up accessory pockets on the outside for quick access to tools, food, and maps, plus a bottom stash for the included rainfly. The entire pack has a weatherproof TPU liner that kept everything dry. Testers loved the variable heights for the waist belt, which allowed the pack to fit a slew of torso sizes.
The back panel carried great, but some riders found it a bit sweaty on hot days.
CamelBak Skyline LR 10L ($130)
The Skyline (and the identical women’s Solstice) is the smallest pack we reviewed and represents the second iteration of CamelBak’s lumbar series, which uses a horizontally oriented bladder across the small of the back to stabilize the load. It’s also the least expensive pack on this list and the only one that ships with a bladder. It works quite well, with an internal webbing system that can be cinched down as you drink to pull the remaining weight closer to your body, further steadying the bulk. The yoked harness system rides tight against the body, so it’s hard to tell you’re carrying three liters. It has less volume than the other packs but features several organizing pockets, a tool roll (also included on the Acre), and enough space for a sandwich, jacket, and anything else you might need for a few hours in the dirt.
Available in January.