Review: Ergon BC1 and BC2 Hydration Backpacks
MARC: I’ll be the first to admit that I, Marc, have a pack problem. When headed out for a ride (or hike, or trip, or …), I usually go back and forth a few times on the merits of different bags for the job. How long will I be out? Is the weather likely to change? What’s packed at the moment? Despite a handful of annoyances, Ergon’s first-generation BD2 pack has been my favorite since its arrival more than two years ago. The patented Flink suspension system places a claimed 80% of the pack’s load on the wearer’s hips while allowing for excellent mobility, comfort, and ventilation. It’s a bit bulky looking, a bit pricey, and has some odd pockets, but the BD2 was the best bag that I’d found for medium to long rides. When I heard from our contact at the company that the new-for-2010 BC2would address a number of my complaints with the BD2, I put my name down for an early sample.
TYLER: If Marc’s the first, then I’m the second to admit a problem. I have more messengers and hydration packs than any sane person needs, and I too waffle between various packs before each ride, trip and commute. It’s a serious problem for which I’ve found no support group. I tested the more simplified, minimalist BC1, which shares the comfort/fit features of the BC2 but does away with many of the pockets and convenience features.
See what we thought after the break…
SHARED PRODUCT FEATURES:
The bags share the Flink ball joint, strap design and polypropylene exoskeleton, so these pictures work for both, and Marc’s done a great job explaining most of it in his review below. Tyler’s review is at the bottom of the post.
The Flink ball joint separates the shoulder harness from the pack’s weight and lets your body move freely without affecting or being affected by the pack’s position. It comes with the tools to move it within three preset positions so you can adjust the pack to fit your body size.
There’s a wide range of movement for the shoulder straps, letting you really boogie down when jukin’ through the trees on a mountain bike. The padded waist straps have a grippy strip running all the way around.
MARC’S REVIEW: ERGON BC2 BACKPACK
What makes the BC2 really, strikingly, different than anything else on the market is the large nylon frame. (Apparently) good to -40°, the frame forms a loop around the back of the pack and extends well into the sides of the well-padded hip belt. It also serves as the attachment to the second unique feature, a shoulder harness. Between the two sits a bright green ball-and-socket joint- the “Flink.” Why all the hardware, when most hydration packs on the market can make do with far less? It turns out that the Flink is really an enabler- it really does allow Ergon to shift the vast majority of the pack’s (and it’s contents’) mass onto the rider’s hips. Unlike most packs, which use a waist belt primarily as a stabilizer, the Ergon’s waistbelt (available in small and large versions) manages most of the load, increasing both comfort and mobility. The Flink prevents the rider’s torso from being tied directly to the hips through the pack. Because the shoulder straps don’t have to be tight to prevent things from shifting around, the weight can be carried quite low on the back, lowering the rider’s center of gravity. This also means that, unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s no chance in Hell of being twatted in the back of the head by a shifting pack.
Is this a big deal? If your rides run 60-90 minutes and not terribly far from the car, then probably not. If, like mine, your rides tend to require a packed lunch, then the loads can be pretty big and can overwhelm less structured packs. With a 16L capacity (expandable to 20L), the BC2 can handle having a fair bit of crap stuffed into it- enough for all-day spring, summer, and fall rides. Its only taken a handful of July snowstorms and high-altitude hailstorms to see the benefit of carrying a pair of warm gloves and a light rain jacket year-round.
When first pulling a Flink-equipped Ergon on, it feels odd. Any moderately-heavy pack is bound to be restrictive in one way or another, but once properly adjusted (instructions are provided), the BC2 feels really, really good. Although I am a full 6′ tall, Ergon recommended for me the smaller pack size based on my small chest (and presumably waist size). I have to say that it’s an improvement over my previous pack’s. The waistbelt must be fairly snug to work properly (rubber-coated mesh helps to keep it from moving much), and the smaller pack’s waistbelt is a better fit for me than the large BD2’s. Follow the sizing recommendations on Ergon’s website and unless you’re fairly oddly proportioned you should be be fine. When set up correctly, the pack really feels attached to the waist and lower back while leaving the shoulders and arms to move fairly freely. This is especially noticeable on technical sections and steep descents where the pack stays nice and low and big loads don’t have the destabilizing effect that they can when perched high on the back.
SO, the Flink system is awesome. What about the details? The BD2 was lacking a bit in organization- and the organization that it did have was a bit odd. Most of the pockets were oddly narrow and tall, leaving their contents in a jumble at their bottoms and not making the best use of the space. The interior of the BC2 is much improved, with two rows of medium-sized pockets towards the rider’s back. The center zip has been replaced with a large rainbow zipper, providing good access to everything inside. The bladder now sits in its own compartment between the main cargo compartment and the rider’s back. I’ve used several different 3L bladders in the BC2 with no problems and, if one were available, I imagine that a 4L bladder would easily fit.
The deep exterior mesh pockets are gone, replaced by a pair of zippered pockets just inboard of the frame and a removable accessory pocket. The accessory pocket is kind of boxy and unsexy, but it is just the right size for a point and shoot camera. The inboard pockets (actually one pocket- the two zips access one compartment spans width of the bag) can comfortably hold a couple of granola or energy bars on each side or a mini-tool and keys. My main complaint with both the inboard and accessory pockets are the zippers: the waterproof-looking zips are cool looking but unnecessarily difficult to open and close, making pulling out a snack or tool a two-handed job. I’ve taken to leaving one of the inboard pockets open and haven’t yet lost any snacks and can now grab a bite on road sections, but doing away with the zips in favor of some elasticated closure would be an improvement in my eyes.
The BC2’s compression straps are simple, versatile, and effective- something that’s all too rare in the pack world. They’ll easily handle knee/shin guards, jackets, or snowshoes- though helmets can be a bit more of a challenge. The sternum strap has a cool magnetically guided mechanical catch that is easy to use single-handed (the same Magic Buckle that Lazer is using on some of their ’11 helmets). The provided raincover doesn’t have it’s own pocket and can be left at home if need be (but make sure to throw a Ziploc sandwich bag for your phone and wallet). Nothing especially groundbreaking, but well executed nonetheless.
Though I haven’t needed it yet, the expanding feature is a nice addition and one that I have wanted on the 15L BD2. That said, it takes what is a fairly boxy pack in profile and makes it even more so. I wouldn’t have thought this a problem until I caught the top edge of the BC2 on a branch, something its new shape doesn’t really deflect. As a result, I was jerked back and my nice new pack had a decently-sized hole along the expansion zipper. It may be that my bag had a seam that wandered too close to the edge of the fabric, but it’s still a bummer. Ten minutes with a needle and some upholstery thread fixed it , but I can’t help but think that expanding the pack from the bottom might not only help to prevent snags but keep the pack’s center of gravity lower as well.
Other niggles? It would still be nice to see S-curved shoulder straps, though my BD2’s straps did break in and become comfortable at the armpits after a couple of months’ use. The heavy reliance on the waist strap can make loose fit baggies feel gather and bunch uncomfortably, which may take Ergon packs out of the running for some riders. The $150 price is also high- though it is easy to see where the money goes- Ergon have clearly spent a good deal of time and money on the tooling and design of this pack.
When all is said and done, Ergon are quickly closing on mountain pack perfection. The BC2 does address most of my requests after 2 years’ living with the BD2. The unique load carrying system really is effective and is much more comfortable than anything else I’ve found on long rides. It also remains stable and keeps weight low in dicey technical sections so should find a welcome audience among more freeride-oriented riders. While it won’t quite make carrying big loads effortless, the BC2 does leave me with noticeably fewer back aches than more traditional bags. Though it’s a bit early to say (the pack came after the end of my ‘big ride’ season), the BC2 is quickly becoming my fvorite bag for any ride over 2 or 3 hours
TYLER’S REVIEW: ERGON BC1 BACKPACK
The BC1 is a new model for 2010 and is the minimalist’s choice among Ergon’s offerings. Save for one small pocket on the backside of the pack, there is no external storage. The compression straps can double for holding a jacket or armor, and they do a pretty good job of cinching the upper section down. The lower half remains fully three dimensional thanks to the hard-shell cage that creates the pack’s frame.
Shown above, left, is the pack with the rainfly attached.
The packs are meant to be worn low, and there are two sizes available for the BC1, Regular and Large. For my height, their guidelines say I should have a large, but this model tested is a regular size, which could be part of the cause of my issues with it (below).
The shoulder straps are comfortable despite sitting higher under the arms than most. Tightening or loosening them didn’t seem to affect pack stability. There’s also a sternum strap for those that like it, but it didn’t seem terribly necessary since most of the weight is born by the hip belt.
Internally, there’s a small front pocket that the rain fly fits into along with the tool and bolt if you choose to carry it. Otherwise, it fits a mini-tool and a few gels, or your cell phone/camera wrapped in a small washcloth or something for protection. Against the back is a pocket for the hydration reservoir, and there are small covered slits on either side for the hose to run through to the straps. The pack is big enough to stow a rain coat, arm warmers, pump, shock pump and a few snacks easily…or a change of clothes for a commute. It holds it’s shape well, making packing it full pretty easy.
The BC1 has a lot of things going for it. It’s comfortable, it holds a lot, and it doesn’t weigh down your shoulders. Mobility while wearing it is excellent. Other than the little plastic washers that broke almost immediately (picture above, left) that reinforce the grommets at the top of the hydration pocket, it’s held up very well and seems to be very well made. The exoskeleton provides a bit of protection for the contents, which gives me a little peace of mind when carrying my good camera in it on the trail.
The issue I had was the way it rolled around to my sides when riding. Despite trying every conceivable combination of loosening and tightening of the shoulder and hip straps, I couldn’t keep the pack in the center of my back while riding. And, since the shoulder straps are mostly independent of the pack, I couldn’t just give it the ol’ twist-and-shrug maneuver to recenter it. This meant that more often than not, the pack was riding almost sideways on me, which was rather annoying. Even people riding behind me noticed how lopsided it sat. It did this regardless of load size and weight.
It’s worth mentioning that maybe this was because I was running a Regular and not a Large, but I don’t know unless Ergon sends another pack (which you’re welcome to do, Jeffrey!). I also suspect that’s why the hip belt rode a bit high on my waist even with the shoulder harness in the lowest slot. This had the unfortunate effect of pulling my shirt up rather than the shorts-bunching that Marc experienced.
UPDATE: The difference in the sizes is the shoulder harness, so the Large size would have let the pack sit a bit lower on my hips, which may have alleviated some of the flopping.
Overall, I like the pack more for hiking or tooling around town, where it makes an excellent, simple pack. For mountain biking, I’ll need to figure out a better way of keeping the whole thing centered and stable.