Dakine Drafter hydration pack review

There are so many great things to say about the Dakine Drafter hydration pack I almost don’t know where to begin. I will start with the most obvious: it is plaid. A very nice plaid, similar to my ancestors’ tartan back in ye old country. Don’t worry, if your lineage comes from the other side …

There are so many great things to say about the Dakine Drafter hydration pack I almost don’t know where to begin. I will start with the most obvious: it is plaid. A very nice plaid, similar to my ancestors’ tartan back in ye old country. Don’t worry, if your lineage comes from the other side of a different pond, or if “logger flannel” is just not your thing, Dakine makes this pack in Black, Black Box (dark gray graphics on black) and Olive. I like the plaid and now one of my ride buddies greats me with a hearty “if it ain’t Scottish it’s crap!”

Packing My Stuff

Like many riders, things tend to migrate into my hydration pack and stay there. So I unloaded my old pack, got rid of all the odd bits that I had no reason to keep in there, and then I started loading up the Drafter. During this time of year my rides begin after dark, and frequently the temperature at the start point is in the mid to low 50’s. By the end of the ride, temps can be hovering near 30 degrees F. That means extra clothes and gloves, plus an extra base layer in case things go wrong and you have to walk out: wind vest, wool arm warmers, long sleeve jersey, balaclava, head sweat, and thicker insulated gloves. My year-round kit is more typical: a spare inner tube, 2 multi-tools, a chain tool, a small LED flashlight, Light & Motion li-ion battery for my ARC helmet light, spare flat pack battery for my Marwi handlebar mounted light, clear lens glasses, a couple of Clif bars, keys and of course, my cellphone. I frequently carry my Pentax 5si ultra compact digital camera too.

Lots of Pockets to Get Organized

The Drafter swallowed all the small stuff into the zippered pockets throughout the pack. Clif bars fit in the nifty plastic-lined pocket just inside the helmet carry flap (ever had a GU explode in your main pack? – it’s not pretty. I’ve been there). The external fleece lined zippered top pocket is perfect for my camera and cell phone where I can get at them quickly and I stuffed my keys into the uppermost internal pocket. My slightly-larger-than-mini-pump slid comfortably into its designated pocket. Inner tubes are a joy to carry– refolded sorta flat and banana shaped, you can easily pack two 29er tubes or maybe three 26ers. Batteries went into the fleece lined mp3 player pocket where light cords have a well placed and gusseted exit out the top of the pack. While my flashlight, wind vest and headsweat fit in with the inner tube, the long sleeve jersey ended up folded at the bottom of the main pocket. I was able to stuff the rest of the clothing (arm warmers, gloves and balaclava) into the external helmet carry flap, which worked out well because those are the things I usually have to scramble to put on at re-group points while the slower riders catch up. Dakine added a convenient set of straps under the helmet carry area for body armor; if the forecast is for the 20’s I may roll up a fleece or wind front jacket and strap it down there. When not in use, the straps stow away inside special pockets.

Straps and Suspension System

With a few quick adjustments the Dakine Drafter pack was very comfortable. The 2.5 inch wide shoulder straps are well padded and are lined with mesh for wicking. Both shoulder straps have drink tube guides on them so you can set up to drink lefty or righty. The back area is padded too – firm neoprene in the center, padded mesh over the rest. The waist strap is 1 inch wide and adjusts easily and, while the waist strap isn’t padded, it has a soft nylon webbing that stayed comfortable even on a 3 hour ride. The breast strap adjusts very well and is equipped with plastic slides for height adjustment. All of the materials and construction in the suspension system are high quality and should last a long, long time. While riding, the pack stayed in place and remained comfortable even when fully loaded at 13.5 pounds. With some other packs, I have had issues with the pack bouncing up and whacking the back of my helmet when I go over log piles, but this pack did not budge.

Nalgene Water Reservoir

This thing carries water, right? You bet. The Dakine Drafter pack features a Nalgene 100oz (3 liter) water bladder (specifically the Nalgene Encapsule Big Bore). What does that mean? No plastic taste–none. I have some bladders from other major hydration pack companies that still taste strongly of chemicals even after 3 years of regular use and cleaning. With Nalgene Encapsule, even the first time out it was like drinking out of a glass. Nalgene’s bladder material cleans very easily and it has their proprietary Aquaguard (TM) anti-microbial formula. The mouth of the bladder is slightly over-sized for ice cubes, closes with a star-shaped cap that you can easily grip and has a cap retainer that does not tangle. The Nalgene bladder is very simple to fill; there’s a handle near the star-shaped cap that keeps everything open, so the bladder can keep up with a high flow faucet or a water filter machine. Another feature that aids filling is the quick disconnect on the drink tube – you don’t have to unroute your drink tube to get the bladder out. The valve at the bottom of the bladder doesn’t leak and it didn’t freeze shut when I put the whole thing in the freezer. The drink tube length is the only thing I found not-quite-right. For this pack it needs to be about 2 inches longer. I am not a tall guy and I found myself craning my neck at a funky angle to drink. The bite valve gives a good amount of flow, doesn’t drip, and has a shut off if you straighten the valve. I like the Nalgene Encapsule Big Bore water resevoir so much I am considering getting the 1.5 liter for my smaller Camelback Lobo.

Final Thoughts

There are still a half dozen things I like about this pack that I have not talked about: the drink tube clip, the carry handle, the reservoir clip… the list goes on. The Dakine Drafter Pack is well made using 630D Nylon. It holds about 700 cu inches of stuff, measures 18 x 7.5 x 5 inches and weighs 975g with the bladder. The pockets are all well placed and their closures are effective. It rides well, the straps are comfortable and even loaded with nearly 14 pounds of stuff it is stable on your back. My only complaint is that the drink tube length is a little short for me.

This pack is a good value at its MSRP of $75.00 Backcountry.com has an awesome sale for $44.97 right now – a smokin’ deal!