With last year’s superlight adventure racing-oriented Octane LR pack, CamelBak turned their long-time hydration pack design on its side. With a dedicated 70oz (2L) Antidote sitting across the wearer’s hips, the heaviest part of the wearer’s load could be carried low, relieving the shoulders and lowering the rider’s center of gravity. For 2012, CamelBak took the Octane LR’s design and tweaked it a bit for the mountain bikers who were buying the “lumbar reservoir” pack, resulting in the Charge LR tested here. How has CamelBak’s new approach fared on the trail? Answers after the jump…
Wearing the $100 Charge LR out of the winter and into an unnervingly warm spring, its main limitation quickly became clear. As the days get warmer, there’s no escaping the sheer amount of surface area covered by the pack. For me, this has met wet backs on days as cool as 60 degrees: the Exoskeleton back panel simply doesn’t allow for enough moisture transfer to keep up. Another limitation of the lumbar design is the lack of a bladder protecting the wearer from tools or other sharp items in the cargo area. With a lightly loaded Charge LR, I never had any issues- but once the pack nears 2/3 full, its contents get pushed uncomfortably against the rider’s back. Finally, technical terrain can bounce the waist belt off of the wearer’s hips, and the quick transition from extremely stable load to an moderately unstable one can be unnerving in dicey sections.
For all that, the lumbar bladder concept does have appeal. Riders whose bad backs preclude carrying much weight on the shoulders will appreciate the Charge LR’s design. Adding a bit of structure to the pack, as CamelBak have done with their NVIS series of bags, could go a long way toward improving breathability while protecting the wearer from their gear. And rubberizing the waistbelt’s mesh could help to keep the pack in place during technical terrain. For the time being, though, it seems as though most riders would be better served by one of CamelBak’s more traditional packs.