Leaders of the Pack:
13 Adventure Racing Packs Tested Tough
By Lisa Jhung
The pack you choose for the season practically becomes a part of your body -- you depend on it to carry your fuel, your gear, your key items, like that sometimes necessary ibuprofen. Finding the right pack for your specific needs can be as important as finding the right teammates (almost). Here's the low-down on what's new in the world of adventure race-specific packs for the season.
Sprint to One-Day Race Packs
Fuel Belt Del Fuego
Volume: 350 cubic inches; Bladder: Includes 70-ounce bladder; Weight: 13.5 ounces
Pros: This is the first pack to offer a detachable waist belt, which adds versatility. A simple hydration pack combines (via Velcro) with a waist belt with three pockets (two Velcro, one zippered) in this small-volume pack. The waist belt pockets allow energy gels and other small items to be stashed away, and can be worn alone. The hydration pack features exterior lash points, a slim mesh pocket and a bungee cord for additional gear stashing or compression. An additional strap system on one shoulder strap holds a gel flask securely in place.
Cons: The waist belt pockets sit rather far back (toward the small of your back) to be completely accessible, and without the waist belt attached, the hydration pack lacks support to keep it in place. Also, some testers reported that they could feel the mouth opening of the Platypus hydration bladder through the back of the pack.
(888) 666-2358; www.fuelbelt.com
Volume: 810 cubic inches; Bladder: Not included; Weight: 22.5 ounces
Pros: Joining the year-old, larger volume Gregory Advent Pro is the new 810-cubic inch Reactor, designed specifically for sprint racing. Bells and whistles include two roomy, zippered waist pockets, two separate compartments on the back (the exterior with a large mesh pocket and key ring inside), an outer mesh pocket, bungee system and lash points, two additional mesh pockets fit water bottles, and reflective tape for night riding and racing, and a “tow loop.” The fit of this pack benefits from a height-adjustable chest strap, yoke-style shoulder straps and a heftier than some waist belt — all combining to keep the pack in place on your back through all kinds of activity, even wiggling through the mud pit. And the drainage holes on the bottom should help that mud run on through.
Cons: Even though the pack’s main materials are lightweight, the multiple features of this pack make it heavier than some of its class. The pack may be too full-featured for some sprint races, but you could consider using it at a longer race (or section of a race) that doesn’t require lots of gear.
(800) 477-3420, www.gregorypacks.com
Nike ACG 1.2 Lumbar Pack
Volume: 671 cubic inches; Bladder: Not included; Weight: 17.0 ounces
Pros: With its unique combination of simple shoulder straps with a lumbar pack main compartment, this pack rated high in comfort. A wide-winged waist belt with a complex strap system keeps the lumbar pack where it should be, while the shoulder straps distribute some of the weight (but not too much). And the shoulder straps are removable, if you want to the lumbar pack on its own. Extremely lightweight nylon makes up the main pack compartment, while a metal ring takes the place of a lighter-weight daisy chain for gear stashing; the metal ring also acts as a compression system that keeps the pack’s contents close to the small of your back, where it’s comfortable and doesn’t slosh around. Two side pockets allow additional gear storage; one is open mesh and the other a close-zippered pouch.
Cons: Side pockets are hard to reach with the pack on; at least one front pocket would be a nice touch. A buckle system (although detachable) that connects the shoulder straps to the lumbar pack blocks the top of the main gear compartment, making packing and unpacking a little cumbersome. The pack only allows for square-shaped bladders. (800) 344-6453; www.nikeacg.com
Salomon Packvest 150
Volume: 732 cubic inches; Bladder: Includes 68-ounce bladder; Weight: 14.5 ounces
Pros: Salomon’s new Packvests feature the most unique innovation of the season: A lightweight, mesh vest covers your entire chest in place of a sternum strap and waist belt. The verdict? This pack will not budge on your back, and even well-endowed women found the vest system comfortable — one even said it was more comfy than a sternum strap. The vest design offers two pockets for easy-access items on the front: one open at the top, one closes with a Velcro flap. The main compartment of the pack expands in capacity when a second zipper is opened, and the exterior material stretches and expands with added loads. An exterior bungee system allows additional gear storage and combines with the pack’s overall design to keep contents close to your body for an overall streamlined fit. One medium-sized interior zippered pocket and drainage holes are nice features. The 150 is best suited for large to extra large racers, while the 100 (488 cubic inches) comes in both small/medium and large/extra large.
Cons: Some testers found the packvest slightly constricting and somewhat warm (despite its light mesh construction). And while the pockets on the chest are convenient, one tester found that her bars got squashed while in the bike position. Also, the zipper takes longer than buckles or clips to do and undo in a transition area. Small zipper pulls appear to save some weight, but were a little hard to grasp, especially with gloves on. (971) 234-7001; www.salomonsports.com
Ultimate Direction Wasp
Volume: 350 cubic inches; Bladder: Includes 64-ounce bladder; Weight: 10.5 ounces
Pros: For such a small-volume pack, the Wasp has roomy front access pockets (two zippered, one open), so if you’re a racer who likes having quick and easy access to key items, this might be the small pack for you. Utilizing thicker, contoured shoulder straps that house the front pockets, the Wasp fits comfortably. A separate (from the bladder pocket) zippered pocket on the back of the pack acts as the main gear compartment, while an exterior bungee cord both holds additional gear in place and compresses gear within.
Cons: The sternum strap and mid-chest strap don’t do the same job as a waist strap; the pack slides up your back (and nearly over your head) when leaning over to tie a shoe, pick up a piece of gear, etc. (800) 426-7229; www.ultimatedirection.com
Tried and True: Other favorites in this category that are still available in stores include the Salomon Aquastream 100 (88 cubic inches, $40) and the Ultimate Direction Lightning (four small flasks, $40).
Volume: 1,200 cubic inches; Bladder: Not included; Weight: 17.5 ounces(transmitter belt), Batteries: Replaceable
Pros: This new pack from GoLite uses beefier materials than GoLite’s earlier adventure racing packs, and this proved to be a good thing. The overall fit, durability and functionality rate high on the 24. A wide waist belt, padded and contoured shoulder straps and padded back panels create a solid fit; the pack doesn’t budge while running. The back panels are also spaced well for ventilation. The main compartment of this pack is fairly narrow (wider at the bottom), but large exterior mesh pockets and two small zippered pockets on the waist belt help organize and distribute weight of gear. The side pockets are cut low enough for flexible people to reach into with the pack on, but deep enough to hold a water bottle securely. A helmet fits into the back mesh pocket, and a bungee cord system keeps extra gear in place. Extras include a tow loop and four drainage holes in the main compartment. The 24 is an overall well thought-out pack with everything you need and nothing more.
Cons: The narrow profile of the main compartment could be too slim for 24-hour races that require a lot of gear, and the pockets on the waist belt could be larger in volume and placed further forward. (888) 546-5483; www.golite.com
Salomon Packvest 200
Volume: 1,037 cubic inches; Bladder: Includes 68-ounce bladder; Weight: 16.5 ounces
Pros: Like its smaller-volume counterparts, this pack is innovative in its design and one of the most unique of the bunch. The vest design keeps the pack in place, even with substantial loads. Front access pockets hold key items conveniently. And unlike the Packvest 100 or 150, the 200 is large enough to carry climbing gear, extra layers, shoes and your bike helmet, which fits nicely in the exterior mesh panel with adjustable cord webbing. Side mesh pockets hold water bottles, and their angular cut makes them more accessible while on the go (unless you’re inflexible in the shoulders). The pack has an interior zippered pocket and small mesh pocket, which helps organize minimal gear.
Cons: Like the Packvest 150, the vest fit might take some getting used to. Also, the front access pockets are handy, but limiting; only one of the two small pockets has a Velcro closure while the other is open. (971) 234-7001; www.salomonsports.com
Tried and True: Other favorites in this category that are still available in stores include the Salomon Raid Race 200 (1,220 cubic inches, $59) and Salomon Trail Sport 300 (1,571 cubic inches, $69), and keep an eye out for Salomon’s new Trail Sport 200 (1,196 cubic inches, $49).
24-hour to Multi-Day Race Packs
CamelBak Raza 28
Volume: 1,821 cubic inches; Bladder: Includes 100-ounce bladder; Weight: 24 ounces
Pros: Like it’s smaller cousin (the Rally 18), the Raza was improved this year with a lighter overall material. The large-volume pack has all the necessary bells and whistles for a multi-day pack: large-volume capacity, multiple exterior pockets including two top zippered pockets, front access pockets for key items (food, ibuprofen, chapstick, etc.), lash loops and a bungee compression system. The best features of this pack are the exterior zippered pocket (which holds the 100-ounce bladder) and the bladder itself, with a locking, yet free-flowing bite valve. And unlike some packs, the hose is properly routed through loops and clips to sit in an accessible position. Contoured, padded shoulder straps and a wide hip belt (which houses the front-access pockets) help to keep the pack in place.
Cons: The top-loading main compartment would be a lot easier to access if the double-buckle lid didn’t cover it; this makes for secure gear that’s difficult to get to. And the mesh pockets on both this pack and the Rally 18 could be lighter material and would benefit from being stretchy. They are currently static. One tester also complained that the straps (because of their light weight) slipped through the buckles when carrying a heavy load. (800) 767-8725; www.camelbak.com
Dana Design Racer X
$150 and Raid Z, $200
Volume: A dry bag (25 liters Racer X, 50 liters Raid Z) combines with exterior pockets, but total capacity is variable; Bladder: Not included; Weight: 39.5 ounces (Racer X), 51 ounces (Raid Z)
Pros: For races in wet places, or events that have you in and out of the water coasteering or canyoneering, this is the bag. A simple, lightweight dry bag sits in the pack that serves as its frame. A narrow but sturdy frame system combines with a hefty waist belt for a solid fit, and padded and contoured shoulder straps add to the comfort level of this pack. Large-volume zippered pockets on the waist belt make access to key items easy, and exterior zippered and mesh pockets on the back are an upgrade to early versions of this pack. The dry bag does its job at keeping things moisture-free, and additional large items, like boogie boards (a-la the 2003 Balance Bar Beaver Creek race) can be crammed into the carrying space.
Cons: The two separate pieces of this pack — the dry bag and shell frame — make this pack somewhat complex. Access to the main compartment calls for un-clipping and unrolling the dry bag. (888) 357-3262; www.danadesign.com
Gregory Advent Pro
Volume: 2,000 cubic inches (small), 2200 cubic inches (medium), 2400 cubic inches (large); Bladder: Not included; Weight: 40 ounces
Pros: A well-thought out pack with unmatched adventure race-specific details, the Advent Pro features a large-volume main compartment that is accessible three ways — through the top-loading opening (which is expandable for extra-large loads), the front zippered panel, and through a bottom zipper. A separate bottom compartment keeps items like climbing gear separate for quick access. New from last year, the bottom panel detaches so that large items, like a five-piece paddle, can fit in the main compartment. Three exterior mesh pockets, gear loops, a zippered lid compartment, bungee cords, large mesh zippered pockets on the waist belt and small mesh pocket on one shoulder strap add to gear organizing capabilities. And the overall fit, aided by an adjustable harness system and padded, contoured shoulder straps and waist belt was of the best in the test. Additional perks include a separate battery pack for quick-access headlamp use, drainage holes, and two separate sleeves for carrying two bladders in long races.
Cons: It may take a while to get used to the multiple straps and pockets of this pack, and some testers noticed a pivot point between the main compartment and bottom compartment. (800) 477-3420; www.gregorypacks.com
Granite Gear Wisp
Volume: 2,000 cubic inches; Bladder: Not included; Weight: 23 ounces
Pros: Granite Gear’s first attempt at an adventure race-specific pack results in a design with appeal to those seeking simplicity and light weight. One large main compartment is lightly padded on the back but lacks any additional support; however it proved to fit nicely on testers. Padded shoulder straps are contoured well for a good fit, and the pack stayed in place relatively well while running. One small zippered pocket on the top panel adds some storage options, as does an exterior mesh panel that would fit a pfd, but that’s about it as there aren’t any straps to keep smaller items inside. The pad in the back panel has holes cut out of it to save weight, which we thought was innovative. Two side zippered pockets are placed far enough forward for easy access.
Cons: Although the front pockets are a good feature, they are too flat and low-volume to hold much; they lie basically flat. And while this pack strives for simplicity, an extra mesh pocket or two would be beneficial. Plus, the usage of waterproof zippers seems odd with the non-waterproof material. (218) 834-6157; www.granitegear.com
Ultimate Direction WarpSpeed
Volume: 2,770 cubic inches; Bladder: Not included, but it does come with two 26-ounce bottles; Weight: 32 ounces
Pros: Volume: 2,770 cubic inches; Bladder: Not included, but it does come with two 26-ounce bottles; Weight: 32 ounces n Pros: With a 2,770 cubic inch capacity, this is the Mac Daddy pack in this review. The large volume main compartment could hold the majority of the contents in your garage, and additional mesh pockets on the back, plus a bungee system and large-volume top pocket all combine to carry the load. Thick mesh shoulder straps fit comfortably and house two 26-ounce water bottles (included) with innovative straps to keep the bottles in place (although placement is not adjustable). The best part of this pack is that the water bottles are equipped with straws, which allow quick slurping on the go (a bonus over bladders when you’re refilling bottles in rivers and lakes). Additional features include lash points and two drainage holes.
Cons: Remarkably, this pack lacks front-access pockets on the waist belt. And the minimal weight proves costly in places; testers reported the thin straps loosening while running (but not biking or hiking). Plus, the water bottles sit high up (read: straws poking your face). Comfort depends on body type. (800) 426-7229; www.ultimatedirection.com
Tried and True: Other favorites in this category still available in stores include Salomon’s Raid Race 300 (1,892 cubic inches, $79), Kiva’s Jazz Pack (1,300 cubic inches, $69.95), Ultimate Directions SpeeDemon (2,070 cubic inches, $140) and GoLite’s Speed (3,200 cubic inches, $139), Team (2,900 cubic inches, $119) and Race (2,700 cubic inches, $99).