And the winner is…
Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no clear cut winner. Rather, there are pros and cons for each pack with enough variation between these five bags to put any one of them at the top of someone’s list. In summary, here’s some of the good, the bad, and the ugly for each bag reviewed.
The Repack has the best hydration system. The bladder’s ergonomic handle makes it easiest to fill, the bladder is robust, the hose is huge (more liquid per suck), the bite valve locks, and the hose will never come unhinged. For peace of mind, I’d rather see some sort of closure on at least one of the internal pockets. The Repack feels like most of the weight is concentrated at midline, but works since the hip belt originates where the weight would sag otherwise.
Dakine Hot Laps
For me personally, the Hot Laps is the best fit. It has the largest overall capacity, feels the best when loaded, and between the daisy chain and load straps, will accommodate extra gear with ease. I also prefer the simplicity of the one-sided belt adjustment. The one hip belt pocket it has is very small and the bite valve does not lock. The 2L hydration bladder is more than adequate for hip-pack-length rides.
Evoc Hip Pack Race
The Evoc Hip Pack Race will likely ventilate the best, it has a locking bite valve that’s more streamlined than the CamelBak, and has great internal tool pocket features. The reason it ventilates well is also the reason it packs awkwardly, creating stress on the main zipper. Keep in mind, it has an overall capacity of three liters. You can purchase the Hip Pack Race without the bladder to save $30, which could go toward a fancy water bottle to use with the built-in side holster. It’s also important to note that a big burrito will fit nicely without the hydration bladder.
North St. Bags Pioneer
The Pioneer is likely the most durable pack I tested. With additional straps purchased separately, this bag can be mounted to handlebars, worn across the chest, or around the waist. North St. offers the Pioneer in no less than 16 colors and it’s made in the U.S.A. If I carried agua on my frame, this would be my bag of choice. Just make sure to throw in a small hand towel to absorb the rattle of a less-than-full load.
If you loathe dismounting your hip pack every time you need something, the Burrosack is your bag. Lateral pocket placement makes for easy access, but securing a water bottle will require a stop. The buckle is quite large and the belt straps aren’t as dependable as the other bags reviewed.
Thanks to Dakine, Evoc, Camelbak, Weevil, and North St. Bags for the opportunity to review their gear.