There are a dizzying number of choices in the hydration pack market these days, and most of them are pretty darn good, but with the Drafter, Dakine has gone all out to make a pack that stands out from the crowd.
Starting from the inside, this pack employs a 100oz water bladder with a quick-release hose. Dakine does not manufacture their own bladder, but instead they use a tried-and-true model from Hydrapak. The bladder itself is PVC-free, and employs an internal baffle. The baffle helps it keep its shape, as well as reducing the effect of the water sloshing inside. It sounds like a gimmick, but it works really well out on the trail. And the quick release fittings make removing the bladder super easy for filling and cleaning.
The whole affair lives in a dedicated pocket on the side of that pack that faces your back with a dedicated zipper. The tube comes out of an opening at the top-middle of the pack and runs to a clip permanently affixed to the left shoulder strap. Upon first using the bladder, there was a slight plastic taste, but it went away after the first few ounces of water passed through and it has been flavor-free ever since.
On the outside of the pack, there is a large main pocket with internal gear organization. There is a fleece-lined pocket for your MP3 player, with access to the same opening as the drinking tube so you can route your headphone cord through it. Below that are a sleeve for a mini-pump and a mesh pocket suitable for a tube or two and a CO2 cartridge. The flap that covers this section unzips ALL the way and folds out flat with the pack standing up. This makes an excellent surface for placing small parts or tools when working beside the trail. This flap has two large, zippered mesh pockets large enough for a variety of tools, first aid kit, etc.
Near the top of the main pocket flap, with its own zipper, is another fleece-lined pocket for your cell phone or point-and-shoot camera. There is also a weather-proof, zippered pocket suitable for car keys or other small bits that aren’t delicate, but need to be kept safe and dry.
Moving further out are the features that make this pack really stand out: a large flap with straps and buckles that can easily handle an XC or full-faced helmet for storage or off-bike carrying, and there are also two dedicated straps for attaching your body armor. On the trail, the helmet storage flap is useful for stashing extra clothing.
Comfort and Fit
The fit and comfort of hydration packs have come a long way in recent years, and the Drafter is no exception. The shoulder straps are contoured and have ventilated mesh on the inside. There are several straps for attaching things like blinky lights, radios, etc, and the chest strap employs a sliding rail attachment that adjusts easily and stays where you put it. The Dakine doesn’t have load lifter straps like Osprey uses, but it is constructed in such a way they aren’t really needed.
In the fit department, the waist belt blew me away. On every other pack I have used I have had to remove the belt due to poor fit around my middle-aged beer gut. Not so with the Dakine. It naturally falls in the perfect spot and cinches snugly, helping to keep the whole pack stabilized over fast technical trail sections.
Despite its 100oz water capacity and ability to swallow a ton of gear, this pack is incredibly stable out on the trail. The shape and weight distribution are perfect and the shoulder and waist straps are in just the right places. Adjustability is minimal, but effective. The molded back panel has a nice level of stiffness and includes a well-ventilated air channel. I generate a LOT of body heat and this pack handles it surprisingly well considering its size and how much of my back it covers. I have worn this pack extensively on both short rides and all day epics and it is impressively comfortable.
While the Drafter is an excellent pack overall, it does have two minor annoyances. First, the drinking hose is a bit short, and when it is clipped in place it’s difficult to reach it to drink. Unclipping the hose solves this, but having it be a bit longer would be a better solution. Second, the flow volume through the bite valve is pathetic. I mean really lame. Without going into too much detail, the hose happens to be the same inner diameter as another brand of pack, allowing an easy valve swap.
I have had a 70oz Camelbak Rogue for years and it has been decent enough, but it’s getting worn out. I had been in the market for a new pack and I was having trouble deciding what to get due to needing lots of water for long adventures, but not as much for shorter rides. I had even considered getting two packs to cover both contingencies, but moving stuff between them would be a pain. The Dakine Drafter has managed to cover all my needs perfectly. It is equally comfortable fully loaded or with barely anything in it, and the shaped water bladder with its internal baffle works great with a full 100oz for long trips in the desert or half that for after work rides.
For the ladies there is also a women’s specific version with identical features but an anatomically correct fit and girly colors.
We get a fair number of cool items to test here at Singletracks, but often we end up sticking with our old favorites. This Dakine Drafter, however, has instantly relegated my old Camelbak to the spares shelf and it has become my go-to hydration pack for all of my riding.
Thanks to the folks at Dakine for sending over the Drafter for review.