Not all hydration packs are created equal. I’ve been using these three all-purpose adventure packs lately and evaluating the pros and cons of each. Get a detailed report below.
Hydrapak Bishop Hydration Pack $140
The Bishop from Hydrapak is an all-day hydration pack built to carry lots of gear and water for extended adventures.
Any bag labeled as “all-day” should have sufficient water storage capabilities. The Bishop’s 100 ounce Hydrapak-made bladder saw me through all-day backcountry rides with just enough left over for the drive back to the lodge. Hydrapak has also added an interior spine to their bladder so it feels less like a watery sausage on your back. The newly redesigned bite valve is an improvement over their former version in that the turny bit you rotate to release liquid is much smoother to operate. Overall the valve has good flow too.
With 732 cubic inches of storage between its 6 pockets, the 2-pound (empty) Bishop had no trouble swallowing anything I could think to bring along on a ride. I easily fit a pump, tool-bag, spare tube, lunch, soft-shell and still had room to spare. I especially like the small pockets on either side of the waist strap, which are great for holding a favorite trail bar, but not quite big enough to house my phone.
While the Bishop isn’t so comfortable that I didn’t feel it, it certainly isn’t uncomfortable. The back employs a pad, which has horizontal ridges and a channel running up the spine to keep you cool. It sort of reminds me of something you might roll out and sleep on. The shoulder straps are made of perforated padding encased in mesh to disperse heat—this combination is pretty comfy with the pack fully loaded. I never felt the need to readjust the straps due to hot spots, though I did have profuse back sweat when the days ran a little warm.
This is a solid bag for anyone in the market for lots of storage and water capacity. There is even a larger size model called the EXT, which has an additional 200 cubic inches of storage space for $10 more.
Shimano Rokko 16 $70
Shimano is developing quite a line-up of bags and the Rokko is a nice, mid-size trail pack (16 liters/957 cubic inches) many of us are looking for.
All the basic features are here, with a soft pocket for electronics up top, a bigger lower pocket with a few mesh pockets for tools and tubes, and a central space for everything else. There are two stretchy mesh pockets on the outside of the pack, and a rain cover in its own pocket on the bottom. There is room for a 100o ounce bladder, which you’ll have to provide yourself.
The pack sits low and has a very little structure, which allows it to hug my back while riding. The back of the pack has some channels to help air flow, but with it sitting right on my back, it isn’t going to win awards for air circulation.
When the going gets rough, a pack that is hanging on tight is a good thing, and even without the straps cinched down tight, the Rokko stayed secure, never twisting around or smacking my helmet on descents.
Last year I tested Shimano’s Unzen pack, which I liked for its storage, but not so much for the fit. I wish the Rokko had the same separate zippered compartment for the bladder pocket and wing pockets on the waist belt.
Inside the pack there is plenty of room for lunch, a jacket and camera. It would be nice to see some type of overflow pocket/helmet storage, but on the other hand, that would ruin the svelte looks and weight of this pack. This is a simple and comfortable pack that is often just the right size for the 2-5 hours rides we all seem to do.
Mountainsmith Spirit 12 $70
The Spirit 12 is similar to the Rokko in both price and intended use. Although the Rokko claims to be 4 liters larger in capacity, in use the Spirit could carry as much, if not more gear.
Unlike most hydration packs on the market, the Mountainsmith is a pack with some structure, using a plastic frame sheet and tensioned back panel. This is called the Breezeway and it is designed to keep air flowing to the rider’s back. Combined with lightweight shoulder straps and a minimalist waist belt, this pack is ready for summer time.
The rest of the pack is pretty standard: there’s a large main compartment with a bladder sleeve, a secondary pocket with mesh organizers inside, and a pair of deep external mesh pockets. An external shock cord can accommodate a jacket and a smaller mesh pocket on the shoulder strap is designed to carry a few energy gels.
I tested the breathability out in Arizona. It isn’t a gimmick; this bag will keep you much cooler and drier than any other hydration pack I’ve used. There is lots of room for a day’s worth of gear and a 100 ounce bladder kept me hydrated. Even the harness was comfortable all day long.
My only complaint is the small amount of contact in the lumbar area. With big loads that wanted to shift around, that small contact patch led to some chafing, but when I cinched the bag up higher (I like them really low) everything got more stable and less ouch-y. This was a pretty minor issue, and for riders after a good mid-size pack in hot climates, the Spirit should be high on the shopping list.