Press Camp 2017 gear preview: bike bags, packs and hydration

The nice thing about Press Camp is that most of the companies attending are actually showcasing new product. A few things stood out to us on the pack, travel and hydration sides of things from Camelbak and Thule. Here are the highlights:

Camelbak Quick Stow Flask

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The thing that grabbed my attention from Camelbak was one of the simplest, least-expensive items displayed at Press Camp. The half-liter Quick Stow Flask is simply Camelbak’s bladder material with a lockable bite valve, an insulated option, a hole for hanging the flask to dry and packability. This little thing will fit in all kinds of bag corners. Take it on tour for extra water storage or stick it in a rear jersey pocket: it will be much more comfortable than a bottle as it will conform to your spine and can be more easily stowed when empty.

Available in October, the non-insulated version will sell for $20 while an insulated version (Quick Stow Chill) will sell for $28. Note that Camelbak said not to use the hole in the bottom for clipping the flask to a pack or otherwise; it’s strength was not tested for banging around on a carabiner while full of liquid.

Camelbak Reservoir Updates

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Camelbak’s reservoir line got an update that was about five years in the making. Flow rate was increased by 20 percent thanks to a larger tube and a 45-degree (not 90-degree) angle on the bite valve. The bite valve has a new on-off flow switch that’s self-explanatory. Also updated is the handle, which is easier to hold and slips into pockets on the updated packs for security and stability.

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The best update, in my opinion, is the cap. If you have ever had an entire water bladder leak out all over your car/back/wherever, you know how annoying some of them can be to properly and securely close. Camelbak came up with what they call a “pickle-jar” closure. Just put the cap on, turn and it’s sealed—no fiddling with alignment required. It really is that simple.

Camelbak MULE Lowrider

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Camelbak’s lowrider packs situate water in a squat, square-shaped bladder that keeps the weight lower on your back. Most commonly seen in mountain biking, they’re also comfortable for touring and road riders who like packs for lengthy excursions.

Previously, the lowrider packs were rather small. Camelbak previewed a new, 15-liter Mule LR with 3 liters of water capacity and 12 liters of gear capacity that will retail for $150. That added room means this bag could be a good choice for bikepackers—stick some clothing or a sleeping bag in with your water and free up more room for gear in your bike bags.

These bags have some serious engineering in them. The plethora of adjustment straps, widgets and pockets take some getting used to, so this bag won’t be for those who just want a cavernous, unfussy opening. But if you like to stay organized and keep the bag well-fit to your back, this will be one to check out. A rain cover, tool roll pouch and waist strap pockets are included.

Thule Bike Bags

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Thule is expanding its line of bike bags. In addition to its panniers, Thule is adding a waterproof, roll-top handlebar bag. This one has a clear plastic map pocket on top and a simplified mounting system for attaching the bag to the handlebars.

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The bag easily clips off if you need to take it with you. The mounting system also doubles as an adjustable cell phone holder. A roll-closure saddle bag made of the same waterproof material will also be offered.

 

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Camera bags and backpacks for cycling

F-Stop Kenti

Photo Backpacks-1Tester: Justin Steiner
Price: $169

The 25-liter Kenti is a mountain-sports photographer’s best friend. This feature-heavy pack offers a large center pocket that’s fully customizable with included dividers and is accessible from both sides. There’s enough space to pack a full complement of lenses, flashes, bike tools, flat repair kit, rain shell, your lunch and a 13-inch laptop if you need it. Roll-top storage provides adjustable space for long or short days on the trail.

The only downside to the Kenti is the 70-ounce maximum bladder size. That said, there’s usually room inside the pack to stash a water bottle or even a Nalgene if you need it. F-Stop makes some of the best adventure photo gear available, and the Kenti continues that tradition. If you’re looking for an all-day-comfortable, feature-rich pack to haul gear during active pursuits, the Kenti is the ticket.

Best for: Hauling a lot of gear to shoot your next big assignment in the backcountry
More info: F Stop Gear

Mindshift Rotation 180 Trail 16L

Photo Backpacks-2Tester: Justin Steiner
Price: $180

MindShift’s brilliant camera bag is essentially a backpack with an integrated garage for its camera-toting waist pack. A magnetic closure secures the camera unit inside the pack when you’re not shooting. To access it, keep the waist belt fastened, open the slide closure and rotate the camera unit around your body. Just like that, your camera is right in front of you.

The Trail 16L is the smallest of MindShift’s offerings. It’s not a huge bag but is perfectly sized for most day rides. The only downside of this arrangement is the 2-liter bladder maximum. In terms of camera gear, the Trail 16L will hold a DSLR with a superzoom, but you’ll only get in one or two small lens, like a 50 mm prime, with that setup. Despite being initially skeptical about the concept, I’m now totally sold because the trail 16L facilitates taking more photos.

Best for: Shooting while on a ride
More info: Mind Shift Gear

Porcelain Rocket Mini Slinger

PR Mini Sling-1Tester: Eric McKeegan
Price: $140

The Mini Slinger is designed to hold a mirrorless camera and midsize lens. A big brother DSLR Slinger is an option for those still insisting on hauling the big bodies out to the woods. A simple strap system attaches to the handlebar, stem and fork. A drawstring top keeps the camera in place and protected from dust and drizzle, but I always keep a plastic bag stuffed at the bottom in case of real rain. My Fuji X-E1 fits inside just fine, even with a wrist or shoulder strap attached. I ended up using this bag on all kinds of bikes, both touring and just riding road and mountain.

For those trying to keep the backpacks at home, this was a surprisingly unnoticeable way to carry a real camera on almost any bike. While bopping around playing tourist, I had room to shove my wallet and passport in with my camera, and even managed to make this work on a bike with a Lefty fork. With easy access to the camera, universal mounting system for any cockpit I tried, and sturdy construction, the Slinger made sure I had my camera at hand more often. This is a win in my book.

Best for: Bikepacking or bringing a camera on every ride
More info: Porcelain Rocket

 

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Review: Commuter backpacks from Blaq, Thule and Ortlieb

Blaq Design Kagero – $250

Tester: Eric McKeegan

BT38 Products-2Blaq Designs makes a variety of sturdy bags out of Portland, Oregon. How sturdy? Blaq says “We believe that a bag should be able to endure being thrown on the ground, kicked to the curb, ridden through a rainstorm, sprayed with a line of road grime, and over-stuffed with sharp objects. For year after year after year after year.” That sounds like my kinda bag.

Blaq sent me the Kagero, an new mid-size, roll-top addition to its two strap line-up. A heavy-duty seamless floating tarp liner has proven to be absolutely watertight, but the zippered front pocket is unlined and only water resistant. The external material is heavy cordura, the single zipper is super-beefy and all straps and buckles feel more than strong enough for the job. Six compression straps can keep the bag small, and the contents tight; I only used the pair around the side pockets to keep my water bottle and u-lock from bouncing out. I’d be into longer straps on the bottom of the bag to secure bulky stuff like a jacket, yoga mat, or bed roll, a few more inches would help a lot.

Internal organization is limited to a laptop sleeve, which is well protected by the padded back panel. The shoulder straps are wide and comfortable, and I’m thankful for the waist belt, which keeps the bag from bouncing around when my commutes get too rad for just shoulder straps. This is well designed and executed bag.

The $250 price tag includes custom colors in the body, trim, liner and logo. For ten bucks more, you get a reflective stripe across the bottom or top. Backed by a generous lifetime warranty, the Kagero is a serious investment for the rider who asks a lot of a bag.

More info: blaqpaks.com

Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter Backpack – $160

Tester: Justin Steiner

BT38 Products-3Though Thule is a name most often associated with racks and cargo boxes, the company has been steadily branching out by producing panniers, backpacks and travel cases. We’ve been impressed with all of the Thule bags we’ve tested over the years and this pack is no different. Quality construction and materials certainly help justify the asking price.

The main compartment is accessed via a zippered, roll-top closure. Inside, a removable laptop sleeve accommodates up to a 15-inch machine and a 10-inch tablet. This removable sleeve connects to the bag’s back panel, suspending it from the bottom of the bag. With 24 liters of capacity, this bag’s middle-of-the-road size is perfect for commutes where you need to carry a flat repair kit, computer, change of clothes, shoes and your lunch.

I really appreciate the genius, hard-shell pocket on the side of the bag. It’s the perfect place to protect items like your glasses or phone. The organizer pockets on the front of the bag are well-sorted and convenient to use. A rain cover and helmet holder deploy out of the bottom of the bag when needed.

Two minor gripes. First, while including a zipper on the roll-top closure provides an extra level of security; it also adds another step to the process of opening and closing the bag. Second, I’m a big fan of waist straps on backpacks designed for riding, and wish this bag offered one. The added stability is welcome for anyone who likes to jump the occasional curb on the way home from work. Ultimately, this bag’s positives far outweigh those minor drawbacks.

More info: thule.com

Ortlieb Velocity – $115

Tester: Katherine Fuller

Ortlieb V Duo

This bag has seemingly been around forever, which is about as long as I think I’ve owned mine. While the Velocity is not new, it’s notable if what you want is a waterproof, indestructible, cavernous bag that is as simple and reliable as they come. Think of it as a pannier for your back. Capacity is 20 liters, or 1,220 cubic inches. If I’m stocked up on basics, I can stuff a week’s worth of groceries in there.

The Velocity features a stiff but padded back, padded shoulder straps, and beefy chest and waist buckles. The placement of the back foam allows for some welcome air circulation. Inside, there’s a small organizer pocket helpful for a wallet and keys that snaps to the rear of the pack (the snaps means it’s removable). There is a useful handle at the top, a place to clip a light on the back, a little reflective logo on the rear and not much else. But what else do you need?

I carry my laptop in it only after encasing it in a padded cover as there is no laptop compartment. Without anything else in the bag, the laptop will flop forward and back inside the pack, so make sure to at least stuff a rain jacket in there, or something else that will hold the computer in place.

Notably, the roll top closes best if you roll it toward the back even though rolling it down toward the front is more natural. Rolling it toward the front will cause you to think the Velcro strap isn’t long enough. If you still think that, Ortlieb sells a Velcro strap extender, as well as a cellphone holster for the shoulder straps.

In all, I really like the Velocity, which is why I bought it with my own money a few years ago. I was overwhelmed by choice in commuter packs and settled on this because it’s waterproof, unpretentious, unfussy and comfortable when loaded down. I use it all the time.

More info: ortliebusa.com

 

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Review: Timbuk2 Especial Raider Backpack

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The Timbuk2 Especial Raider is a super-lightweight backpack (weighing less than one pound) specifically created to carry your clothing from home to office by bike. Designed in collaboration with Mission Cycling Club, this pack was graced with an award from the Industrial Designers Society of America shortly after its launch.

I’m generally a curmudgeon about items this specific and while I can empathize with the design inspiration—cyclists sick of using bulky and hot hiking packs to schlep their dress whites to work—I tend to lean toward universal gear.

And yet, it works. While I no longer have a daily commute, I remember the shower-stall dance of trying to keep clean clothes off the floor or in one place. The internal organization and built-in hanging hook of the Especial Raider makes this easy even in small, cramped spaces. The outside mesh pockets can be used to briefly stash your deodorant and socks while you’re hopping around in your shower shoes trying not to touch the walls. Count me impressed.

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Inside, you’ll find a removable back board that provides stiffness and keeps your folded clothes from collapsing to the bottom of the bag. It includes a big Velcro strap to use in securing garments in their own, closed pouch, keeping them separate from everything else. Shoes get their own pockets that allow you to face their dirty soles away from other items and keeping access to other items free and clear. Despite a small profile, the pack is rather cavernous even after your workwear is secured. There’s plenty of room left for a rain jacket, a few toiletries, brownbag lunch, tablet and small purse. Just don’t overload it with a bunch of heavy items before a long ride or it won’t be particularly comfortable.

Outside, there’s a top pocket with an internal key clip for small items and mesh side pockets for a water bottle, a (well-sealed) coffee thermos or just a place to stash that fresh croissant you picked up along the way to the office. The bottom of the pack is made from a much tougher material that is covered with reflectivity and wipes clean simply with a wet paper towel. There’s also a place to clip a rear light.

Timbuk2 bag duo back

The machine-washable ripstop fabric is paired with an airmesh ventilated back panel, shoulder straps that have one point of adjustment and a chest strap, but no waist/hip strap. That is my only (slight) peeve with this backpack. On our last ride together, I had somewhat overstuffed the pack and was hammering along the bike path to make it home before sundown. The pack wiggled around on my back, sliding on my smooth wind jacket a little too much despite how much I cinched down the available straps. Even a thin, lightweight waist strap would be much appreciated.

Otherwise, I  have zero complaints; this thing is rad for it’s intended purpose. The pack lays flat once empty, making it easy to stash in a desk drawer or other tiny space for small-cube dwellers. Did I mention it is machine-washable? That’s significant for any piece of gear associated with an office. Once the pack starts to stink, toss that sucker into the wash as a courtesy to your coworkers.

Timbuk2 on back

Overall, the Especial Raider must be thought of as an ultralight pack. Don’t expect to also use it for hauling bulky and heavy items, on rugged mountain bike excursions through the woods or during downpours (it’s not waterproof nor seam-sealed but Timbuk2 does sell a waterproof pack cover that you might want to snag). It wasn’t designed for any of that. It was designed for bicycle commuters and, for that intended purpose, it is very successful.

The Especial Raider comes in several color variations of black, red and grey, and features a lifetime warranty. Considering Timbuk2 items trend toward being indestructible (my Timbuk2 messenger bag is nearly 15 years old), this backpack’s sub-$100 price tag is probably well worth it.

Price: $79 (some colors currently on sale)
More info: timbuk2.com

 

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Field Tested: Alchemy Goods Jefferson Messenger and Brooklyn Backpack

Years ago Alchemy Goods founder, Eli Reich, after losing his messenger bag to a thief,  sewed himself a bag from a material abundant in any serious cyclist’s home, used inner tubes. Soon after Reich’s friends demanded their own bags, and soon local bike shops took notice. Alchemy Goods was born soon after, and is now sold far and wide, including national retailers such as REI.

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We received two bags for review some months back, the Jefferson messenger bag, and the Brooklyn backpack.

Jefferson Messenger Bag – $156

Alchemy lists the upcycled material content of each of its products, and the Jefferson weighs in at 52 percent reused content. The rubber inner tube exterior is matched with a cordura back that doubles as an external document pocket, and a nylon interior with a padded sleeve that fits up to a 15-inch laptop. A few smaller interior pockets keep pens, cords and electronics organized and easily accessible. The unpadded shoulder strap has a simple metal bucket to adjust for length. Since the bag isn’t that large, I never missed a padded strap.

As a bag for riding, I would recommend this to more casual cyclists riding shorter distances. Without a cross-body stabilizing strap the Jefferson could easily twist off my back. But for everyday use on short rides and in the car, the Jefferson is a fine companion. In fact, on days I drove into work, this was a first choice, even over my favorite backpack.

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Brooklyn Backpack – $148

This bag is 45 percent upcycled, with a similar padded sleeve for a 15-inch laptop. Two zippered exterior pockets are big enough for a small tablet, power supplies, and other bigger things. An organizing panel on the inside keeps smaller items close at hand.

Basic padded straps are well matched to the size of the bag, but when loaded down on the bike, I wished for a sternum strap to take some of the load off my shoulders. Much like the Jefferson, this bag strikes me as fine everyday bag that works on the bike, rather than a bag designed specifically for cycling. My son took a particular shine to this bag, and has been happily using it at school, where it is the only type of its kind in his homeroom.

Conclusions

Construction of both bags is top notch, and pricing is inline with similar U.S.A. made bags using upcycled materials. For those looking for a more bike specific bag, Alchemy offers the Dravus messenger bag, with a padded strap, quick adjust buckle, and reflective material on the front flap. In addition, Alchemy Goods offers a range of bags and other goods, from inner tube belts and wallets, to billboards refashioned into tote bags.

 

 

 

 

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