SHOOTOUT: HYDRATION PACKS THAT PROTECT

Top three brands for shining armor

Most gear bag brands offer something in their product lineup that claims to be ultra-lightweight and as small and slim as possible. While it is smart to travel light, many brands have also seen the wisdom in developing a more robust backpack system with integrated protection for riders. Each design addresses storage for the basic hydration and bike tools needed, yet there’s much more to a protector pack than the ability to hold some water.

Although the wrecking crew has tested numerous protection packs, three options have stood out from all others. In this shootout, we take our top choices on the market from EVOC, USWE and Osprey, and spill the beans on our ideal choice for a pack that is ready for all-day backcountry adventure, enduro stages or even for lugging around non-bike-related equipment.

The Flow 16 is easy to organize with plenty of room for the essentials.

USWE FLOW PROTECTOR PACK

Tech features: First up is USWE, one of our favorite brands currently producing adventure packs. We got our hands on the latest Flow 16, which is USWE’s newest protector pack. The Flow series uses an integrated, removable, CE-certified, SAS-TEC full-back protector. Furthermore, the Flow 16 tested is equipped with USWE’s No Dancing Monkey 2.0 + Snug-Me and waist support belt to make the pack totally bounce-free. There are also several smart storage compartments, a helmet carrying system and attachment points to carry pads and a rain cover. It comes in a 16L or 26L option with thin, reflective points for night visibility.

Field test results: In general, all USWE packs we’ve tested have a secure fit, and, of course, a bounce-free design. No exception, the Flow 16 shares all of these qualities and is our first choice for all-day comfort uphill or downhill. It is simple to organize essentials where you need them, and unlike with the other two options, there is a set of exterior straps underneath the pack that we used for small trail tools or our knee/elbow pads.

While our testers wish there were an included hydration sleeve, it’s worth noting that the side pockets easily hold larger-volume water bottles. More often than not, we’d run bottles on the sides, so we had more room for camera gear, extra clothing, snacks, etc. We also found that the bright orange rain cover works great in inclement weather but can also be used to make yourself more visible in case of an emergency. There is plenty of room in the 16L size we tested to store all-day essentials with no need to go for the bigger 26L option. No matter the cargo, the back protector proved to be very breathable while giving additional support and a consistent fit.

HITS:

• The best fit and most comfortable while riding in our shootout

• All straps tuck away to avoid any unwanted snags

• Rugged for riding and using off the bike

MISSES:

• Hydration reservoir not included

STAR RATING: ★★★★½

Weight: 1400g (1210g excluding protector)

Size options: 16L (tested) or 26L

Price: $199–$219

Contact: www.uswe-sports.com

Thinking ahead, EVOC stitched a handy emergency plan as a reference guide into one of the pockets.

EVOC TRAIL PRO 16

Tech features: The EVOC has been our go-to bag for travel when we want to keep our bikes protected. Needless to say, we had high expectations for the Trail Pro series and the Life Shield Plus back protector. Unlike the other two options in our shootout, the Life Shield Plus is rated CE level 2 and is made with a combination of expanded polypropylene (EPP) with a thermoplastic polypropylene (TPU) carrier layer. Essentially, this means it will be able to absorb higher-speed impacts to help reduce the chance of an injury. This is similar to what is used in helmet technology.

Coming in as the lightest option tested in our shootout, it is also packed with features. Available in a 10L, 16L, or 26L size, the Trail Pro is designed in two different lengths (S/M or L/XL) for different torso sizes. Additionally, there is a mesh pocket in the main compartment for keys, a rain cover stowed away in the hip belt, attachment loops for helmet carrying, room for a 3-liter hydration reservoir, chest strap with whistle, and a fleece-lined pocket for glasses/goggles (also great for electronics).

Should a serious crash come your way, EVOC will replace the protector free of charge with its crash-replacement guarantee.

Field test results: Although the Trail Pro was by far the lightest (and most expensive) protector pack in this shootout, it did not offer the ventilation of our other two packs. Still, the sleek construction and use of durable materials make the Trail Pro a worthy investment for a rider. We found the pockets exactly where we wanted them and never felt like items were out of order or hard to find. In terms of fit, the Trail Pro sits on a rider’s back with great support from the secure yet comfortable enclosure straps. Overall, it looks great and feels solid while being able to haul gear for an all-day ride with a little extra protection and weight savings in mind.

HITS:

• Lightest weight with protector installed

• CE Level 2 certification for more protection at higher speeds

• Comes in three volumes and two lengths with a well-rounded design for all riding conditions

MISSES:

• Hydration reservoir not included

• Least breathable in our shootout

STAR RATING: ★★★★

Weight: 1210g (1010g excluding protector)

Size options: 10, 16 (tested) or 26L

Price: $220–$260

Contact: www.evocsports.com

OSPREY RAPTOR PRO 18

Tech features: Last but certainly not least on our shootout list is the Raptor Pro 18 from Osprey. Our wrecking crew was fortunate to get this pack for testing well before its expected launch date of spring of 2022. Right out of the box, the Raptor Pro sets itself apart from the other two with the lowest price and includes a 2.5L hydration reservoir. Notable is the unique bike tool organizer that fits into its own pocket at the bottom of the pack.

D3O, a name you might be familiar with in pads, provides the pads for the Raptor Pro back protector. The material used is a proprietary technology that is soft, sensitive, highly flexible and shock absorbing. In addition to protection, the D3O is ventilated to increase airflow through Osprey’s mesh-covered AirScape back panel. Furthermore, this design features side panel pockets, no rain cover, a padded front shield for full-face helmets, a scratch-free zippered pocket for glasses/electronics, a direct-zip hose path and is blue-sign approved, being made with sustainable materials.

Field test results: The ultra-sleek Raptor Pro is neck and neck with the USWE Flow 16 in terms of ventilation; however, the Raptor Pro has better airflow through the back panel/protector and arm straps. The Raptor Pro is also lightweight without sacrificing protection. Given that this is a “protection pack,” we would have liked to see some brighter colors for visibility purposes. Our favorite feature has to be the organized roll-up tool storage. Having your tools organized and at the bottom of the bag not only keeps your other items safe but keeps the weight towards the bottom of the bag. This is helpful when descending so the pack is not side- or top-heavy.

Overall, this is our pack of choice when compared to the other two options in this shootout. The Raptor Pro 18 has proved to be a great balance of light weight and ruggedness. While we are not the biggest fans of the pack being all black, the Raptor Pro has a comfy fit, a sleek design, and an abundance of features that meet riders’ demands while being a great value. At the end of the day, all the backpacks in this shootout would be worth investing in to add comfort and protection to your rides.

HITS:

• Hydration reservoir included

• Best value in our shootout with D3O technology

• Most breathable back-panel design

MISSES:

• No rain cover

• All black colors can be hard to spot

STAR RATING: ★★★★

Weight: 1360g (1010g excluding protector)

Size option: 18L

Price: $200

Contact: www.osprey.com

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