Review: Deuter’s very cool Race Air Lite hydration pack
I am a mountain biker that primarily enjoys disappearing for a morning ride at one of my local trailheads, then emerging at my truck a couple hours after I needed to be home. To achieve these ill planned rides without difficulty, I need a pack that I can always carry extra water, a stash of food and supplies to fix moderate mechanicals. The pack cannot be too bulky that it snags trees, throws me off balance or wanders around on descents. The Deuter Race Air Light fills 90% of all these requirements with the extra benefit of helping keep my back and shoulders dry. While the 6 Liter pack is limited in packable space, a little creativity gets all of my ride day goodies on my back. I was initially very impressed with the quality of the construction, with high quality zippers and strong seams. Click ‘more’ to find out
I first saw Deuter’s unique back ventilation system on my father’s hiking day pack. Intrigued I borrowed the pack for a day finding it worked quite well. Before starting out, I was worried that this extra gap between the pack and my back would make the pack more likely to shift during descents and make the pack feel much bigger than it was while on the bike. My first ride with the pack proved me wrong. I filled the pack to the max with a 3L water bladder, food, extra clothes and a limited supply of tools. Quickly I noticed that the pack hardly slipped around on my back. The broad webbed shoulder straps spread the weight of the overloaded pack nicely. At no point during the day or the subsequent rides has the pack noticeably distracted me from riding. This is due to the built in supports of the pack that keep the pack in shape no matter what the load is.
The outboard pocket suspended from the external elastic bands was a nice touch. The pocket can be easily reached while the pack is on, reaching for a tasty treat and my camera without taking my pack off. The outboard pocket has the side effect of shielding the elastic bands that hold it to the pack’s body from getting snagged on our numerous unfriendly plants here in the Southwest.
At one point, an ill planned ride went astray as a thunderstorm rolled in heavy rains and hail surprised us while exposed on a ridge. We bore the brunt of the storm until we could escape to cover. After we hunkered down, I reached for my half eaten candy bar only to find the inside of my pack quite damp. All of my water bladder seals were intact and not leaking. I was very disappointed in the lack of water proofing on the external fabric of the pack. I have never been a big fan of carrying an extra pack cover, so I want a pack that can withstand the majority of the elements without extra supplies [their smallest bike pack, it looks as the Race Air Lite is the only Deuter without an integrated raincover- marc].
With the pack’s small amount of usable space being half consumed by a full 3L water bladder, and lack of water proofing being the only drawbacks of the pack, I still end up using the Race Air Lite more often than not- because it is the most comfortable pack I have in the garage. After a couple of month’s use I can fit everything I need for a half day summer ride. I would recommend using a 70oz water bladder as to not use so much of the bag’s capacity with the bladder. Extra pockets inside of the storage pocket keep the small items from sinking all the way to the bottom of the pack, keeping everything nicely organized. The outboard pocket really increases the usefulness of the pack, allowing me to reach treats with the pack still on and to keep extra clothing bungee’d under it away from branches’ reach. I recommend the pack for people looking for a pack to deal with hot mid-summer rides that have limited chance of rain. The pack sits nicely on my back without much movement on the back while hammering the trails. The $90 Deuter is great piece of gear with great construction that looks like it will last seasons of abuse.
A big part of the reason that I asked Alex to have a look at the Race Air Lite is that, as a long-time fan of the brand’s Aircomfort suspension system, I wanted an objective opinion. As someone who tends to pack a bit more heavily than Alex (and so had a raincoat in my pack when we got dumped on rather than arm warmers and a vest), I found the Race Air Lite to be too small for most rides. Perfect for shorter single speed rides, but not really big enough for lunch or bad weather.
As big as it makes the bag look, the Aircomfort suspension system really allows the Race Air Lite to ride light- and cool. That said, my 6 year old Race X Air 1 doesn’t really feel any bigger on the bike. Looking at the company’s range, the 14L Race X Air (which has replaced my pack) is a claimed 60g lighter (820g vs. 880) and includes both a raincover and mesh side pockets for $10 more- making that bag probably a better choice for all but the lightest-packing riders.
Assuming a the right pack is chosen for your riding, the biggest Deuter disappointment for me is their included Streamer reservoirs. At this point, most riders have a favorite bladder- and I would be surprised if the Streamer was anyone’s. With a tethered hard plastic cap covering the drip-prone bite valve and stiff bladder material, it’s just not as nice as other bladders. It’s not bad (and there still are some bad bladders out there)- but I’d personally rather seen the bags come in $10-15 cheaper and pull a bladder from another bag or specify a bladder like Hydrapak’s, which is available to OEMs.
Still, my experience with the brand reinforces Alex’s impression- this bag should last a good long while. The Aircomfort suspension system allows for a nice, stable footprint that isn’t hot in use- which would be just as important in humid areas as in the desert. If you’re looking for a light and fast pack that is among the least-sweaty available, the Race Air Lite would be a great place to start.