Pack It In:
10 New Packs Designed For Adventure Racing
By Lisa Jhung
During a race, your pack is your lifeline; you carry your water, food, gear for various
disciplines, warm and protective layers, first aid equipment, sunglasses, lip balm, etc. on your back for as
long as you’re out on the course. In stores this spring, you’ll find more adventure race pack choices than ever. We tested more than two dozen models and present the best in two categories.
Every pack in this review weighs less than 36 ounces and can carry between 1,500 and 3,300 cubic inches of gear and accessories. Just as crucial, each was built specifically for adventure racing, with front access pockets, outside elastic/mesh compartments, hydration-system compatibility and, of course, a lightweight construction. Each pack was tested on the trail and filled with 100 ounces of water, a climbing harness and helmet, a shell jacket, food for one day and miscellaneous accessories.
The king of hydration enters the adventure race-specific market this season, with the large volume Raza and the smaller Rally combining Camelbak’s hydration savvy with race-ready features. volume: 1821 cu. in.; weight: 35 ounces; bladder size: 100 ounces (included).
Why we love it: A favorite feature of the Raza is the external access hydration sleeve, where a zippered panel allows quick and easy access to the bladder. The wide mouth of the bladder allows for easy refilling and cleaning, and the mouthpiece (with an on-and-off valve) is the most free-flowing of any pack we tried, making drinking easier during high exertion.
It’s a top-loading pack and constructed with durable materials. (One tester felt it would “withstand dragging up a rock face and being thrown around for a lifetime.”) There are two zippered mesh pockets on the top panel, while three more mesh pockets line the outer body of the pack. Zippered pockets and one small mesh pocket on the hip belt allow easy access to food and other items, and additional lash points help with extraneous gear.
Drawbacks: While CamelBak did a pretty good job with one of its first products in the large-volume pack realm, there is some room for improvement. The padded back panel isn’t contoured, which prohibits airflow and can result in the pack “sloshing” side-to-side a bit while running. The pack fits snugly and adjusts easily, but the waist belt doesn’t seem to pull the weight of the pack around the hips. Another small drawback is that the outer mesh pockets aren’t large enough to hold shoes, and the hip-belt pockets could be larger. (800) 767-8725; www.camelbak.com
Dana Design Racer X
With its unique design — a separate dry bag encompassed by the shell of the pack –– the Racer X is ideal for races where you’ll spend a lot of time in the water or in a downpour. volume: Comes with a 25-liter (1,525-cubic inch) dry bag; weight: 34 ounces; bladder size: 100 ounces (not included)
Why we love it: The narrow profile, internal suspension (made from two 4mm fiberglass rods) and beefy hip belt make for a comfortable pack that stays put while running. This unique pack is essentially an outer shell that frames the dry bag, thereby keeping the contents... dry. The pack has gotten a facelift from previous models, and when it hits retail shops in August, the Racer X will have large pockets on each hip belt, a larger exterior pocket and an exterior bladder sleeve — all big improvements. Plus, the Racer X and its larger counterpart Raid Z (50 L dry bag, $199) will come with lightweight and durable Dana Design dry bags, unlike years past when you’d have to buy a dry bag from a different manufacturer. Padded and contoured shoulder straps and hip belt add to the comfort of this unique pack.
Drawbacks: While the dry bag design keeps your gear protected, it can be a chore to get in and out of the main compartment. You must unclip and unroll the dry bag for access. Also, the shoulder strap doesn’t have a clip for the hydration hose. Maybe it will by its August release. (888) 357-3262; www.danadesign.com
With the potential to carry 3,300 cubic inches worth of gear, this is the Mac Daddy of packs for gear-intensive multi-day races, and it still weighs in at only 30 ounces. volume: 3,300 cubic inches (including external pockets); weight: 30 ounces; bladder size: One or two 100- to 128-ounce bladders (not included)
Why we love it: Designed from a year’s worth of feedback from last season’s Team GoLite, the Team pack is chock-full of race-ready features and incredibly lightweight. The top-loading pack adjusts to two load sizes, and the lid alone stashes 400 cubic inches of gear. Extra mesh and zippered pockets, an ice axe loop and water-bottle holders on the shoulder straps add additional capcity. The ultra-light silicone impregnated SilLite fabric is designed to be waterproof and tear-
resistant. A chest pocket that attaches to the sternum strap allows quick access to
a passport, map, food or other necessities. More evidence that extra thought went into this pack: there are drain holes on the main compartment and large-volume hip-belt pocket; and the pack has separate bladder encasements to keep hydration reservoirs from sloshing around (even if you’re just carrying one).
Drawbacks: Water bottle holders on the hip belt are a good idea, but testers found that they tended to get in the way while running. While the lightweight SilLite fabric should last you at least a season of racing, it doesn’t appear to be
as durable as other packs. But that can be one of the trade-offs for light gear. (888) 546-5488; www.golite.com
Gregory Advent Pro
Gregory’s reputation for top-quality backpacking packs crosses over into this smartly designed, adventure race-specific model that’s chock-full of great features. volume: 2,000 to 2,400 cubic inches (depending on size); weight: 36 ounces; bladder size: Two 128-ounce bladders (not included).
Why we love it: The new Advent Pro is possibly the most “livable” pack of the lot, with thoughtful features such as a smartly placed headlamp battery pocket (close to your head), loops and straps for trekking poles and/or an ice axe, a sunglass pocket on the shoulder strap and a separate bottom compartment that holds climbing gear or anything else you’d want to access quickly. Equally as important are a helmet-sized outer mesh pocket (also great for carrying shoes), roomy zippered pockets on the hip belt and a preponderance of other pockets (eight in all), straps, lash points and bungee cords. The pack is a top-loading model and volume-adjustable, but a well-placed zip panel allows quick and easy access to the main gear compartment. The back padding of the pack is shaped to allow airflow to keep cool, while the overall fit (small, medium and large packs) proves Gregory’s long-standing reputation for well-made packs.
Drawbacks: With the bottom compartment being separate from the top, some testers felt the pivot point on their backs, saying that the pack seemed to “bend in half” at times. Also, having just one bladder in the hydration sleeve results in sloshing; two bladders are held more securely. (800) 477-8545; www.gregorypacks.com
RailRiders Jaz Pack from Kiva Designs
Durable construction and simple, yet functional design make this pack a great deal. volume: 1,600 cubic inches; weight: 22 ounces; bladder size: 100-ounce (not included).
Why we love it: Manufactured by Kiva Designs (adventure travel and luggage) and distributed by RailRiders, the Jaz pack features durable materials, all the right pockets (and nothing else) and a simple overall design. Plus, the price makes it a great bargain. A favorite feature is the removable foam insert, which doubles as a mini sleeping pad that adds protection and cushion from the cold, hard ground – even if you’re only taking a 10-minute nap. Two drainage holes at the bottom, two compression straps, a bungee cord and ice axe loop complete this functional, no frills pack.
Drawbacks: The placement of the hip-belt pockets is too far back, and their lack of depth make them difficult to fill and access. Also, the padded mesh back panel isn’t contoured, which gives it more of a flat, sometimes hot, feel. (800) 437-3794;
Salomon Raid Race 300
Salomon has been in the adventure race pack market the longest, and it shows in its functional and well-fitting designs that continue to improve every year.
volume: 1,892 cubic inches; weight: 22 ounces; bladder size: Up to two 128-ounce bladders (not included).
Why we love it: The Raid Race 300 rated high in staying put among large-volume packs while running downhill, and it also performs while riding, hiking, climbing, and so on. The padded and contoured back panel combines with contoured shoulder straps, an “Airwing” hip belt (new for 2003) and adjustable sternum strap to create a snug fit that keeps the pack from sliding side-to-side. The top-loading pack has two zippered pockets on the lid, as well as three mesh pockets on the back and two small pockets on the hip belt. The back center pocket easily fits a helmet or shoes, and the shock cord strap cinches down the contents of your pack to eliminate slop. Four drain holes on the bottom are large enough to work quickly. The slightly smaller Salomon Trail Sport (1,587 cu. in., $75) is also a good choice for multi-day races that don’t require as much cargo.
Drawbacks: The waist belt doesn’t adjust tight enough for racers with small waists, so some custom adjustments might be necessary. The placement of the mesh pocket on the right side of the waist belt rests only on a thin piece of webbing, giving that particular part of the pack a flimsy feel. (800) 654-2668; www.salomonsports.com
Ultimate Direction SpeeDemon
This functional, mid-sized pack from Ultimate Direction continues to improve with every incarnation. volume: 2,070 cubic inches; weight: 33 ounces; bladder size: 128 ounces (included).
Why we love it: The updated SpeeDemon features a versatile size, larger zipper to the main compartment and a new DoubleShot hydration mouthpiece that doesn’t leak (like the old one did). The new design features a double-sip stream and adjustable angles for personal preference. The unique arc zipper placement allows you to pack and unpack large items easily and see most of the contents in your pack when it’s unzipped. Two mesh pockets on the side, a zippered pocket on the lid and a divided back pocket help organize gear. A detachable hip-belt pocket and small pocket on the shoulder strap come with the pack. Five compression straps provide gear adjustability and stability, while the exterior bungee cord can keep a shell in place. A sleek mesh back panel is adjustable for a variety of body sizes.
Drawbacks: The adjustability of this pack is a great feature, but load the pack too heavy and the Velcro may wear over time. (This happened with an older version of the pack.) Also, if you don’t close the roll-top bladder perfectly, it can leak when you lean against your pack for a rest. (800) 426-7229; www.ultimatedirection.com