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If you’ve been watching the hydration pack market lately, you know that lots of manufacturers are entering the market with all kinds of brand new ideas (examples here, here, here, and here). That competition means established market leaders, like our friends at Camelbak, are incentivized to innovate right along with them.

I’m pretty sure that’s right, but I learned everything I know about business by watching Rising Sun, with Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery.

Oh tree, you're so silly. You can't use a hydration pack.

In this case, the spirit of innovation has led Camelbak to produce a series of ultralight hydration packs with lumbar reservoirs: the Spark (ladies specific), Charge (10L), and Volt (13L).

How Light is Ultralight?

I’ll be reviewing the Volt, which I’ve been lucky enough to bring along on a few rides now. Let’s take a look at some of the Volt’s relevant specs:

  • Hydration Capacity: 100 oz (3 L)
  • Total Capacity: 600 cu in (10 L) + 3 L Reservoir
  • Total Weight (Pack and Reservoir): 1.6 lbs / 725 g
  • MSRP: $125

The Volt shaves weight by cutting shoulder strap padding and by using some high tech materials that CamalBak’s comparable packs, namely the MULE, don’t have. According to CamelBak, the Volt (at 1.6lbs or 725g) boasts a weight savings of .1lbs (or 46g) off the 1.7lbs of the MULE (at 1.7lbs or 771g).

To put that into perspective, if you were wearing the Volt and you wanted to make it weigh as much as the MULE, you’d need to attach 46 small paperclips (at around a gram each). What am I, an office supply closet? Get these dang paperclips out of my hydration pack. Sheesh.

Of course, like all light bike components, loss of mass equals addition of cash. The Volt’s MSRP is an extra $25 north of the MULE’s. Hey, science costs money. Just stop thinking and get our your wallet already.

That precious moment when a new CamelBak receives its first glops of mud.

I’m a Lumbar pack and I’m OK

In my mind, the biggest advantage of these packs, more than the light weight, is the lumbar reservoir. Instead of riding on your back like a gigantic sucking leech that has attached itself to your spine, as normal reservoirs do, the Volt’s lumbar reservoir rides upon your hips like a helpful monkey sidekick who holds your stuff and gives you water. Who doesn’t want a helpful monkey sidekick? Boring people, that’s who.

For this reason, I have given my Volt a monkey sidekick name: Mister Pickles. Thanks for holding my spare tube and inflator, Mister Pickles. Now I’d like some water, please. Ah, thank you. Good work, Mister Pickles.

Here’s Mister Pickles riding faithfully on my prodigious hips on a dirt road somewhere in North Georgia.

These hips don't lie, but they should probably start.

On someone with less prodigious hips, the lumbar reservoir would be better able to do its job, but even on me, I liked having the water off my back. Here’s how you fill up the reservoir:

Reservoir access

Peekaboo! Hello there reservoir

Here’s a feature of the Volt that CamalBak doesn’t even touch on: it can stand up. Normal hydration packs are no more willing to stand up than a freshman after his first long night out, but the Volt, thanks to having the weight down low, is all about it. It probably won’t do it every time, e.g. if you have a heavy coat in the pack, or whatever, but I liked that it’s possible, at least.

Standing tall!

There are also hooks on either side to hold your helmet, and the shoulder straps have a clip to keep the hydration tube from dangling around like a…well, like a thing that dangles. Use your imagination.

Here’s a shot of the hook:

Hook it up, brah!

And the hook in action, with action finger to indicate area of concern:

Finger indicates end of finger.

Here’s the dangly tube clip just below some weird looking goober’s unshaven mug:

Shaving's for working stiffs. I'm a writer.

I also really like that the hip belt has big pockets. It’s a lot easier to reach into them than a jersey pocket, and I need a lot of food on the trail or I get really grumpy. My riding buddies tolerate my slow speeds and stark lack of bike handling skill, but I fear that adding crabby attitude would be a bridge too far.

Long story short, if you’re in the market for a new hydration pack and you want to try something new, head out and pick up a Mister Pickles of your own. Of course, you have to come up with your own name. There’s only one Mister Pickles, and he’s mine.

Mine, I tell you!

Thanks to Camelbak for sending the Volt 13 LR over for review!

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# Comments

  • rwmtb

    I just picked up one of these packs a week ago. Thus far it has been okay but I did have an issue with water delivery a couple time on the trail. I am not sure why but I would go to take a drink and would hardly get any to flow. I think the reservoir was folding over on itself and cutting off the water flow. Pulling the hose seemed to fix it but it happened 3 times over the course of a 16 mile ride. I have not had the issue since but I have not been riding with it as full.

    • Jim Hodgson

      Hm, weird. I haven’t seen that problem. Do you think the tube was pinched under the reservoir maybe?

    • rwmtb

      Maybe, I don’t think that the hose was kinked it seems too stout. I believe the bladder folded over itself so that the back of the bladder somehow blocked off the end of the hose. I had it clipped in so the bag couldn’t fall down but still think that was the issue. I plan to do some more biking with it and will post up if it continues to be a problem.

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