Selecting the proper pack for a given ride can be a delicate process, with the rider entering the great pre-ride debate of opting for the too-small pack and forgoing some items or dealing with a flappy pack filled with mostly dead air. On the smaller end of the backpack size continuum is the Koosah from Mazama Designs. A relatively new entrant to the highly-competitive mountain sports scene, Mazama Designs is a Bend, Oregon company looking to create gear that is as unobtrusive as it is effective. I’ve decided to put the 1.5L Koosah hydration pack through my own strenuous testing regimen to see how it performs when subjected to the rigors of mountain biking.
A Weight Weenie’s Pack
As soon as I picked up the Koosah, my inner weight weenie marveled at the mass (or lack thereof) of the pack. At a claimed weight of 400g, the Koosah instantly unseated my old Inov8 pack that had been my go-to for years when heading out for a day on the bike. I was a bit awestruck at the pack’s ability to combine an impressively low weight with premium materials and high build quality.
Many lightweight packs forego any sort of interior organization in pursuit of lightness, but thankfully, Mazama has figured out how to keep weight low while still allowing the rider to bring a fair amount of gear along for the ride. The Koosah has two zippered storage options for the rider, with the primary storage being a modestly-sized compartment on the exterior of the pack that can hold an extra layer (though it may hold little more than a windbreaker), some snacks, a pump, and a multitool.
Riders, especially numbskull ones like the author, should take note that this pack is an ultralight pack, which means that it won’t be able to successfully hold an excessive amount of gear without busting a zipper. I only know this because I overloaded the pack and popped the zipper right off, necessitating a MacGyver-esque fix mid-ride. Don’t take this as a shortcoming of the pack though, but rather as a cautionary tale – the Koosah is designed to be as light as possible, so don’t try to stuff it full of things you may not need on your ride. Once I reached a reasonable understanding of the pack and its 1.5L capacity, it was a joy to wear on trail.
Aside from the cargo compartment, the Koosah sports a separate hydration pack compartment that fits the Mazama reservoir perfectly. As an added nicety, the hydration compartment also has a heat-reflective shield stitched into the back of the pack to keep the rider’s body heat from transferring into the reservoir. Even on longer days on the trail, my water stayed just as cool as when I poured it from the faucet–which is a boon when you’re pedaling under a scorching sun, wanting nothing more than a cool drink of water.
Water That Tastes Like Water
The Koosah is primarily billed as a hydration pack, and it would be foolish to produce a pack that makes said hydration unappealing. Thankfully, Mazama has designed a hydration bladder that makes water taste like, well, water. I’ve come to accept that water that I carry with me out on trail is going to have a slightly plastic tinge about it, as many of the packs in my gear closet impart their own flavor on the water I bring. I thought that it was an essential feature of a water reservoir; to let you know that you were drinking out of a plastic bag, it had to taste like a plastic bag, right?
Mazama opted to buck the trend and created a BPA-free (BPA, Bisphenol A, is found in many plastic items, including water bottles, and can impose a health risk in some of the population) reservoir that doesn’t impart any sort of synthetic taste to the water, which keeps water as refreshing as its meant to be.
In addition to removing BPA from the manufacturing process, Mazama created a rather inventive way to seal the reservoir, which is impressive in its simplicity. Many reservoirs on the market use either a screw top (common on Camelbak reservoirs) or a glorified ziplock-style closure that isn’t necessarily bad, but can make filling and sealing problematic. The Mazama reservoir uses a clever locking system that uses two locking arms to provide a secure lock atop the reservoir, which is simple and quick to use. For the casual rider, this simplicity may not be much a selling point, but for a racer who wants to minimize time spent refilling at aid stations, it could help shave a couple more seconds off their course time.
The Koosah has proven to be a great pack for day trips where overall gear capacity isn’t a critical feature, and it has usurped my old pack as my first choice. If I were embarking on a self-supported, multi-day trip, I may opt for a larger pack to augment my frame bags’ cargo capacity, but for spending the day tooling around on the trails, the Koosah is hard to beat. Its light weight is hardly felt while riding and its clever insulated pocket for the hydration reservoir keeps the rider’s preferred beverage well-chilled all day, while still offering enough room to bring some snacks and necessities along. If you’re in the market for a lightweight pack to give your back a rest, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Mazama’s offerings.
Thanks to Mazama for providing the Koosah for review.