Osprey Zealot 16 Hydration Pack Review

Osprey has taken everything they learned from the Raptor, Manta, and other packs they have produced and used those lessons to release two new ultra-refined pack series: the Syncro and Zealot. Having previously reviewed the Manta 20 and Viper 13, I am familiar with the high quality of Osprey packs, and not much has changed there!

When I first checked out the Zealot at Interbike I was thoroughly impressed with the direction this pack was going. So read on, and for all you riders who fancy the wilder side of riding, pay close attention. This just might be the pack for you!


The Zealot is a definite departure from Osprey’s other packs, specifically in the materials department, with heavier duty materials and thicker webbing (straps). The mix of 210D, 500D, and 1000D nylon make up this pack, along with sections of stretch material strategically placed for comfort, and the ability to stabilize gear stored in those pockets.

As far as pack management is concerned, the Zealot has one large main compartment (956 cu. in.) with a full complement zipper from one side to the next, and a smaller access zipper to get to the exterior pouch for your sensitive gear, electronics, eye gear, or keys (a key hoop can be found here).

As mentioned before, there are two side pockets with stretch material (for additional water bottles or even shin guards). Finally, there is an adjustable fold pouch that has two straps to secure a rain jacket or munchies. The inner compartment is big enough to carry your electronics like a camera, extra food, first aid kit, patch kit, or air pump. I nearly always keep a small towel and shirt too, just in case.

A super slick and somewhat secret lower compartment is perfect for keeping your tools away from everything else. In fact, a removable tool pouch is supplied with two zip sections that keep small tools and things like powerlinks safe.

Don’t forget the famous 3-liter, wide-mouth Hydraform bladder. Unlike other hydration bladders, this one fills flat so you don’t end up with a salami-shaped bag of water that digs in between your shoulder blades. Instead, the rider-facing side is shaped to prevent that infamous feeling and lets the bladder conform to your back. Add to that a swivel bite valve and magnetic clip that prevents the hose from dangling when riding, and this hydration reservoir is just about perfect.

Up front, Osprey continues the good work by making sure that even if you have the Zealot on all day, you’re as comfortable as can be. The whole backing is a mesh-type nylon that enables good air flow. To further enhance the flow of air between the panels of rigid waved foam, an air channel was introduced with a natural bend that mimics the contour of your back while riding.

Like the Manta series pack, the side pockets on the Zealot transition into a generous 40mm webbing belt. The over-the-shoulder straps have a semi-rigid foam which is perforated for comfort and air flow. On the rider’s right there is a stretch pocket that’s good for snacks, and on the left there’s a zip pouch which is big enough for a smart phone.

Out on the Trail

I have used a variety of packs over the years and have seen them change from just a bladder holder to what we have today. The Zealot is an intelligently thought out hydration system with an emphasis on comfort and durability. I personally love the design and choice of colors and graphics. If you pay close attention, the graphic is an exploded view of a Santa Cruz V10 Carbon, which happens to be what I ride. So you may have to excuse me on my slightly biased opinion on the graphic choice.

I typically used the Zealot on my trail rides and when I needed to carry some extra gear for hike-a-bike rides. There was enough room to carry PB&J sandwiches and snacks along with my knee guards, elbow guards, and other items that I didn’t want to wear when walking.

When riding, the weight stayed centered and just above the small of my back.

Once the straps were set, I didn’t get any unwanted shifting. The large size of the pack is not really something you would want to consider for racing as it can get a bit bulky, but for what I do, it’s perfect. I really love the little extras that Osprey includes. For example, the LidLock feature is convenient when packing for the ride. Just slip your helmet through the LidLock and forget it; the helmet stays secure without fumbling around. Carrying a smaller camera around in the top slash pocket keeps it safe and scratch free, or a set of Oakleys will fit just as well.

When the ride is done, the easy-to-remove bladder and large mouth makes it easy enough to clean up. I personally would not recommend trying to add any powdered or sugary items to your water, however, as it may cause unwanted things growing in some of the corners despite the anti-microbial protection.

For about $149 you’re getting a solid performing premium hydration system, with a super warranty in case you case it.

Many thanks to the folks at Osprey for sending down the Zealot for review.

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