I’ve been reviewing Hydrapak products for years now. From the Selva to the Big Sur to the Avila to the Tamarack, I’ve covered the gamut of Hydrapak’s lineup. And while I love their packs, the latest rendition I tested seemed a bit behind the times when compared to some of the advanced features present in Osprey and Camelback’s new packs.
It seems that Hydrapak heard my silent cries, and with the recent release of their all-new Bishop pack, they have put all of my worries to rest and have launched back into heated competition with the very best hydration packs on the market.
The Bishop features an all-new internal aluminum shank frame coupled with a new Air Tread back panel. This combination provides excellent stiffness and shape when riding, while also venting heat superbly.
At first, when I heard the word “aluminum,” I thought this new back panel would make for a very heavy pack. While I’ll address the performance in detail below, this pack is still very light, weighing in at 1.8lbs (0.82kg) dry in the standard 12L version, which I tested. The expanded 15L EXT weighs in at 1.96lbs (0.89kg).
Other cutting edge features include “Swivel Tacked” shoulder straps for an excellent fit, vented and redesigned padding on the shoulder straps, a rain cover, helmet carrier, and great organizational pockets.
Of specific note are the new side pockets and the pockets located on the waist belt. One of my few gripes about previous Hydrapak products was the lack of easily-accessible pockets. Now with four such pockets they’ve completely, solved that issue!
Another previous complaint (shared with maddslacker) was a leak in the bite valve that developed over time. Well, the completely redesigned high-flow Blaster bite valve is Hydrapak’s answer! In addition to providing an even bigger jet of water and a more durable valve, the locking mechanism on the valve is much larger and easier to use, even if the valve does develop a small leak over many months of use (as all hydration packs seem to do).
The day after I finished typing the first draft of this review, I noticed that I had somehow managed to bite through the rubber exterior of the valve, creating a hole and a leak. I don’t necessarily think this is any fault of Hydrapak’s–it’s more likely my own for chomping down way too hard. Also, it is worth noting that even despite my rough abuse, it took me about 3 1/2 months to gnaw through the rubber. 🙂 Hydrapak is sending a new bite valve over, so I guess I’ll just have to keep on riding and testing!
Finally, the Bishop features Hydrapak’s tried-and-true 100oz Shape-Shift Reservoir. While I’m not going to spend much time covering the reservoir here (check out my previous reviews), this is easily the most versatile, easy to use, and easy to clean reservoir on the market.
Out on the Trail
While I was stoked after learning about all the Bishop’s new features at Interbike, that stoke didn’t prepare me for how well this pack would actually function out on the trail.
As I mentioned above, at first I was worried the aluminum back panel would make the Bishop heavy and unwieldy. Rather, the pack feels feather-light!
This advanced back panel design is also the key to the Bishop’s other successes. With other packs, sometimes a pack will feel comfortable with a certain amount of gear and water, and unwieldy with a different fill level. The Bishop, on the other hand, feels right at home whether it’s chock-full or mostly empty. Hydrapak designed this pack for all-day epics, yet even when minimally packed, it rides very comfortably.
When filled to the brim with water, food, layers, tools, spares, and more, the Bishop yet again rides supremely comfortably. The stiff aluminum back panel and frame keep the reservoir and gear from bulging uncomfortably into the rider’s back.
This stiff frame, combined with the new strap designs, have an additional unique effect. Instead of weighing heavily on my shoulders, the weight in a heavily-loaded Bishop is very evenly distributed, making the heavy load feel lighter than it would in a less-supported pack. Even when hauling water, all of my normal stuff, plus a ton of camera gear, the Bishop felt lighter than I thought it should have, and and very well-distributed.
This excellent distribution leads to my second major point: the excellent strap design and frame also make this an incredibly stable pack. Even on steep roll-ins and hard cornering, I’ve had very few issues with the pack moving either forward/back or side-to-side. Just check out the photos above for confirmation: even on steep rock rolls, this pack stays put!
As for ventilation, the stiff back panel, while compliant enough to conform to the bend of the rider’s back, is stiff enough to keep the air channels open and the air flowing. Also, the vented foam padding in the shoulder straps, in addition to being crazy-comfortable, is a major improvement in ventilation over previous models.
All of the accessory details are fantastic as well. My favorite single feature from the Shimano Unzen pack I reviewed in 2013, the loop zippers, are included on the Bishop. The organizational pockets are all fantastic. The hip and side pockets are great for accessing snacks and phone on the fly. And the bite valve is vastly improved, and works just as well as advertised.
The Hydrapak Bishop is the most comfortable, most stable, and best weight-bearing mountain bike hydration pack I have ever used. While I can’t claim to have tested every pack, I’ve used quite a few… so that’s saying something!
While in the past I would run smaller hydration packs for short rides and reserve my bigger packs for long jaunts, the Bishop is so comfortable no matter the situation that I feel no need to swap packs. The Bishop is going to be my go-to mountain biking pack for the foreseeable future. Heck, I don’t know if I even want to test another pack now!
MSRP: $140 for the 12L Bishop, $150 for the 15L Bishop EXT.
A big “thank you” to Hydrapak for sending the Bishop over for review.