‘How much protection should I wear while riding?’ is a hard question to answer these days. While some trail riders balk at the idea of wearing anything on their back, others will thank the heavens for protective packs like EVOC’s Neo 16L. Just ask my friend, who had a serious crash this spring and bought herself one of EVOC’s protector packs before getting back on the bike.
I’ve been riding the Neo 16L since mid-summer. It’s definitely a heavy pack and it will make your entire back sweat, but that’s the only price you’ll pay for spinal protection. I was impressed that the pack was more comfortable than expected, and its construction quality got it through several months of riding with no damage whatsoever.
Airshield spine protector:
EVOC’s Airshield spine protector achieves a Level 1 or 2 spine protection rating (depending on temperature). This pack must be worn in the correct position for the protector to do its job, so be sure to adjust it according to EVOC’s instructions. The adjustable shoulder straps allow you to position the bag correctly, and the height-adjustable waist band keeps it firmly in place as you ride.
Should you ever damage the Airshield spine protector it is replaceable, but not by you; the bag has to be sent in so EVOC can do the job. The good news is, if the need arises EVOC will replace the spine protector for free.
This 16L pack offers tons of room for cargo, and has lots of different pockets for dividing up your stuff. The main pocket carries a bladder in its own sleeve, and offers a lot of room in front of it. I was stoked to find my DSLR camera and compact tripod fit will inside the Neo 16L (with water in the bladder), and there’s still ample space for an extra layer and more. There is one small zippered mesh pouch hanging in the top of the main pocket for keys, etc.
The next biggest pocket sits behind the helmet carrier, and is clearly designed for carrying tools. On the flap there are two zippered pockets, and the inside offers five mesh pouches and a pump strap. With its top-to-bottom zippers, this pocket can be opened nice and wide.
The Neo 16L also has a soft-lined pouch for sunglasses or smartphones, mesh pockets on both sides, and two small pockets on the waist strap. With all these pockets and a lot of cargo space, this pack will haul everything a recreational rider should need, and could be an ideal option for guides or bike park instructors.
I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the heaviest, hottest pack I have, but bear in mind it is the only one in my closet that offers spinal protection. I will say EVOC has done their best making the pack as comfortable and cool as possible. The shoulder straps are well padded to help saddle this large pack’s weight, and the protector itself feels like a massager on your back. The raised blue pads are soft and flexible, and the protector readily conforms to the shape of your spine.
I never finished a ride without my whole back covered in sweat, but I’m not sure that could be avoided with such a large pack. EVOC’s spine protector is basically a grid, and when the wind hit me from the right angle I could feel air flowing through it. This provided an occasional blast of cool air, but ultimately this pack covers a lot of your body and is pretty warm to wear. I even found my jerseys would be sweaty behind the waist strap, which you have to keep snug to ensure the spine protector can do its job.
The wide waist strap stabilizes the pack very effectively, preventing the spine protector from shifting around on your back and keeping the loaded pack feeling very stable while you bounce down rough trails. Compression straps on the helmet carrier also help keep the pack as compact as possible, with your cargo’s weight held securely against your back.
One thing I really like is how this pack doesn’t eat your jersey! Thanks to its big waist strap, the Neo 16L is the only backpack I have that doesn’t force me to repeatedly pull down the back of my jersey throughout a ride.
One thing that didn’t impress me was EVOC’s 3L bladder. It did the job of holding and delivering water just fine, but the bladder has no firm edges or baffles, so it just turns into a big tube when it’s filled. Because of the spine protector you don’t feel the bladder’s round shape on your back, but it does jut into your cargo space more than a flatter bladder would. A Velcro hook keeps the bladder from sagging inside the pack, and you’ll want to use it since the bladder won’t support itself.
I should note that a bladder isn’t included with this pack; you’ll have to purchase one separately. Considering the price of the Neo 16L, I think EVOC should sell them with a 3L bladder included.
Since the first pack I tried that had a magnetic hose attachment, it’s been my preference over any clip or buckle. I was happy to see EVOC put one on the Neo 16L. It’s so easy to reattach the hose that I never have to look away from the trail, I just wave the hose close to the buckle and the magnet pulls it in.
The Neo 16L has proven to be a very durable pack with no rips or tears, no broken zippers or buckles, and no bladder issues to report after a few months of use. It does come with a rain cover stashed in the bottom, but the pack’s fabric will resist light rain without it.
EVOC holds your safety as a top priority, so the Neo 16L includes reflective graphics on the back panel, a whistle buckle on the sternum strap, and they’ve even sewn in a panel with emergency info inside the main pocket.
After several months of riding the Neo 16L I’m impressed with its carrying capacity, quality construction and comfortable, secure fit. It is hot and heavy (at 4.12 pounds with an empty bladder and no cargo), but that’s the compromise for the spinal protection it provides. I think a nicer bladder would be a great upgrade for this pack (and I think one should be included!) but otherwise EVOC has built a solid pack that I’d gladly recommend to anyone looking to protect their spine.
The Neo 16L comes in Carbon Grey (as tested) or Gold, and retails for $300. A 3L bladder will cost you an additional $35. The pack comes in S/M or L/XL sizes, which both offer 16L capacity but have different sized spine protectors. Check out EVOC’s website for sizing guidelines.