Don’t Call it a Fanny Pack: Camelbak FlashFlo LR Review

It’s no secret: I’m not a fan of hydration packs. And judging by the plethora of options on the market today, I’m guessing a lot of people have issues with their hydration packs too. Why else would so many companies be working on designing products to “fix” the issues with the other packs on the market? I’ll save everyone some time and money: the hydration pack is, for most uses, a flawed concept.

The fanny pack, on the other hand, has just one relatively minor problem: it’s not cool (ha!). But from a purely functional standpoint, I’m here to say the fanny pack (“waist pack” in modern terms) is a solid choice on the trail, and the Camelbak FlashFlo LR is by far the best one I’ve used. Here’s what you need to know about this awesome little pack.

The FlashFlo LR fits a 1.5-liter reservoir and includes another 200 cubic inches of cargo space. That’s actually more cargo room than the racy Rogue pack and in my experience, it’s enough to carry a hand pump, spare tube, tools, keys, phone, and snacks. Now, this pack won’t handle all the gear you’d need to bike deep into the backcountry, but it should be more than enough for most weekday rides under three hours or so. For many of us, the bulk of our rides fall into this category anyway, so a lightweight pack like this can potentially get a lot of use.

I’ve experimented with using the pack without the hydration reservoir, and I’ve been able to fit even more gear, including all my tools PLUS arm warmers and a DSLR camera with a big lens on it. Everything just fits.

My number one complaint about hydration packs is that they are constricting on the bike. Placing weight on a rider’s back alters his center of gravity, restricts movement, adds to fatigue (at least for me–maybe I need to do more back and shoulder exercises), and blocks airflow on hot days. The FlashFlo LR, by comparison, places weight right at the rider’s center of gravity. Admittedly, the pack does bounce up and down whenever the bike leaves the ground–but so does a hydration pack unless it’s cinched down tight (which restricts breathing).

The FlashFlo LR also places all the things I need on the trail–snacks, tools, smartphone–within reach without having to take my pack off. I just spin the pack around, get what I need, and slide it back around. While many full blown hydration backpacks feature small energy bar pockets on the hip belt, none of these can compare to the gaping maw the FlashFlo LR reveals with a pull of the main zipper. As a serious trail photographer, the FlashFlo is great since it allows me to pull off the side of the trail, grab my big camera quickly, and start firing off shots within seconds.

I’ve tried other waist packs for mountain biking, but none were as comfortable or as stable as the FlashFlo LR. Camelbak put a ton of thought and design experience into this pack, and the result is a padded and fitted waist belt that’s easy to adjust. It’s such a liberating feeling to have just a single buckle on this pack compared to the spider web of straps and buckles on the countless hydration packs I’ve owned.

Camelbak includes many of the nice touches consumers have come to expect from the brand, including high quality zippers, excellent strap management, and easy-to-clean materials throughout. I also really appreciate the reflective piping and ribbons, which make this pack easy to spot in the dark.

If the idea of wearing a fanny pack brings Steve Urkel to mind, it’s time to update your mental image. The FlashFlo is the best waist pack I’ve found, and it’s more than appropriate for mountain bikers who are tired of storing gear in an inaccessible pack that rides up high. Combine this pack and reservoir with a water bottle cage or two and you can carry all the water you need for an epic ride–plus a camera you’ll actually stop to use since it’s so easy to access.

Thanks to Camelbak for providing the FlashFlo LR for review.

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