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The KUDU is a new, large capacity hydration pack targeted towards enduro racers (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)

The Camelbak K.U.D.U. is a large hydration pack with integrated back protection for tackling big rides in rugged terrain. Some might even call it an “enduro pack” as it is the go-to choice for many of Camelbak’s sponsored riders in that discipline. Camelbak made a host of changes on the new-for-2018 K.U.D.U., and I’ve been testing the updated version for several months.

Specs

Instead of three volume options, the new K.U.D.U. comes in just two: a 10L and a 20L (tested). However, both packs come in small/medium or medium/large sizes to accommodate different torso lengths. Camelbak includes their new 3L Crux reservoir with either size of the pack. Pricing is $200 for the 10L K.U.D.U. and $230 for the 20L.

The K.U.D.U. features a removable back protector (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)

The back protector meets the CE Level II protection standard, which is currently the highest standard for mountain bike armor. Several layers of perforated foam make up the pad, aiding in mobility and breathability. The back protector fits tightly into a sleeve in the back of the pack and can be removed if desired. Riders can also unzip the pack completely from the protector, leaving the bag behind. While solely wearing the protector in this configuration, you still get space for essential gear thanks to the inclusion of two jersey-style pockets. It’s a good option if you’re riding in a bike park or doing shuttle laps and don’t want to lug around a big bag.

A look at the storage on the K.U.D.U. (top to bottom, left to right): Side stash pockets, large enough for a water bottle; slim pocket for tools; fleece-lined goggle pocket; main pocket zips open wide; included tool roll; rain cover (deployed) stashes in its own pocket on the bottom of the bag (photos: Aaron Chamberlain)

Storage is spread across a few areas. There’s a large main pocket; a tall but thin pocket on the back for tools and spares; a fleece-lined goggle/glasses pocket; two stash pockets on the sides; a stuff pocket on the back; and two pockets on the waist belt. Like many other packs in the category, there are provisions for carrying a helmet — either half shell or full face — and body armor.

Running the KUDU as a back protector only (photos: Jeff Barber)

Other features of the K.U.D.U. include an integrated rainfly that tucks into its own pocket and a handy tool roll to keep small items organized.

On the Trail

Putting the Camelbak K.U.D.U. through its paces in North Georgia (photo: Eric Nicoletti)

I received the K.U.D.U. in late summer, and eager to try it, I loaded it up for a big day of riding at Coldwater Mountain in Anniston, Alabama. Even with 3L of water and a full complement of tools and photo gear, the pack felt comfortable on my back. The large waist belt carried most of the weight, keeping it off my shoulders, and dual chest straps help to further stabilize the load. Pockets on either side of the waist belt let me keep a multi-tool and snacks handy. Life was good.

However, it wasn’t long into the ride before I discovered the biggest drawback of the K.U.D.U. — it’s one mother-grabbing hot pack. Now look, my body temperature runs hot and I live in the Southeast, which is a recipe for sweat, but the K.U.D.U. was noticeably hotter than any pack I’ve tried before. Camelbak tried to mitigate the heat with ventilated straps and mesh pads on the back, but there was no getting around it — this is not an ideal pack for steamy climes.

Bringing sweaty back; consider removing the back protector for tamer rides to make the K.U.D.U. more breathable. (photo: Chris Jones)

A couple things contribute to making the K.U.D.U. so hot. For one, it’s a large pack that covered most of my back. That’s a ton of surface area that would otherwise be releasing heat. The back protector takes some blame as well. Camelbak no doubt poked as many holes into it as they could without lowering the protection rating, but the fact remains it’s one thick piece of foam. I found taking the armor out made the K.U.D.U. way more tolerable for riding in the heat, but of course, you’re foregoing that protection. It’s nice to have the option, though, depending on how and where you’re riding. Pulling out the back protector also saves nearly a pound of weight.

One of my favorite features on the KUDU is the large waist belt with ample storage (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)

As fall settled in and the chances of overheating decreased, I reached for the K.U.D.U. more and more. Obviously, the K.U.D.U. is great for carrying lots of gear, but it’s so comfortable, I used it for lighter loads as well. I’ve taken it on trail workdays, on hikes, and used it as a carry-on for flying. On a trip to British Columbia in October, I used it every day for cruising around Vancouver, riding on the North Shore, and in Squamish. The relatively low key design and olive green color don’t scream “BIKE GEAR!”

That trip also proved to be a great test for the built-in rain cover, which I deployed on multiple occasions. It worked perfectly, keeping my extra layers and camera dry despite a heinous deluge in North Vancouver that saw lightning and hail in addition to driving rain.

Suggestions

One thing to note is that the K.U.D.U. sits up relatively high. Depending on how much gear you have or what you’re carrying — especially in the goggle pocket — this may or may not be an issue. When I carried my small mirrorless camera in the goggle pocket, it would bonk into the back of my helmet on really steep descents. Just be aware that the combination of a tall bag and an extended coverage helmet can cause interference.

The only change I would make to the bag is to add more organization within the different compartments. As it’s currently designed, there isn’t much in the way of smaller pockets — you basically have a cavernous main pocket, a goggle pocket, and a narrow pocket for stashing the tool roll and spares.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the new K.U.D.U. It’s well-made and packed with thoughtful features like the high contrast interior, which makes it easy to spot items, and the color-coded zipper pulls so you know which pocket you’re opening: orange for tools, green for the main pocket, and blue for water.

Finish Line

photo: Eric Nicoletti

The Camelbak K.U.D.U. easily holds enough gear and water for an all-day affair. Thanks to the large waist belt, padded shoulder straps, and dual sternum straps, the K.U.D.U. stays put even when rattling down the roughest descents. I thankfully never put the back protector to the test, but it’s nice to have that extra peace of mind, especially while racing. While the pad made the K.U.D.U. unbearably warm for summer use, taking it out was a quick fix.

In all, the Camelbak K.U.D.U. is a versatile, durable, good-looking, comfortable pack.

Thanks to Camelbak for providing the K.U.D.U. for review. 

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