As soon as the bottle and cage started making a comeback in the MTB scene, hydration pack brands started drawing up interesting new designs, particularly more streamlined offerings like Camelbak’s Chase Bike Vest or Podium Flow Belt. Smaller backpacks or hip packs won’t leave you a sweaty mess, but can still carry both cargo and water.
I met up with the Camelbak crew at Crankworx this summer, and left with a few items to test. I’ve been riding with the Chase Bike Vest and a Podium Flow Belt (with a Podium Dirt Series Chill water bottle) for the last few weeks, so read on for my impressions of each…
Chase Bike Vest:
When I first got the Chase Bike Vest, I wondered if it had anything more to offer than any smaller hydration pack – but after a few rides I decided there are some advantages to this vest/pack’s unique design.
The vest creates a pretty small footprint on your upper back, which makes it one of the coolest hydration packs I’ve worn. The front straps and pockets do cover some area on your chest, but the minimal extra heat up front is worth the trade for keeping most of your back in the open air. Camelbak’s 3D Vent Mesh is used on the straps and backside of the pack. This keeps the straps light, airy and soft to the touch, and lets a little air creep in under the pack.
The most useful feature of the Chase Bike Vest is the front pockets. These pockets are oh so handy for storing items you want to access often or quickly, like your multi tool, energy blocks, or a tire plugging kit and Co2 pump/canister. With ample storage up front, I rarely needed to remove the vest during a ride – and that convenience was enjoyable!
This compact pack also carries an impressive amount of cargo. There are lots of pockets and pouches to divide stuff up, but size-wise there are limits to what it can carry. A thin, compactable outer shell is no problem. A tightly wrapped tube would fit, and there is a pump strap in the external pouch (but a shorter pump would be ideal).
The Chase vest’s Crux reservoir holds 1.5L of water, and has a shutoff valve on the mouthpiece. When it’s fairly full the bladder does feel a bit round on your back, but the pack remains stable through a ride. I wasn’t a big fan of the dual hose clamps, and I wonder if that’s necessary… Dealing with two clamps made this pack the slowest and least convenient hydration pack to drink from I’ve tried yet. A few times during my rides I just clipped the hose into the lower clamp, and it never fell out.
I think the Chase vest does benefit from having two sternum straps. There is some extra weight up front, and the dual straps keep the chest pockets from jumping around. All in all I was pretty impressed with the Chase Bike Vest. With its small footprint, decent storage and those easy-access front pockets I’ll be keeping this pack handy for shorter rides.
The Chase Bike Vest retails for $100, and comes in Black, Red/Blue or Grey/Orange.
Podium Flow Belt:
The Podium Flow Belt is a simple hip pack that carries Camelbak’s Podium water bottle. The sleeve that carries the bottle is constructed with a firm layer that keeps the sleeve in shape when you try to ram the bottle in, and it does help. Once in place, the bottle is securely held by a simple elastic loop.
Storage-wise, this pack offers one main pocket and one smaller zip pocket on the front. The main pocket has two mesh pouches and a key loop inside, and offers enough room for your small basics and maybe a tube or compactable shell.
There’s nothing fancy about the Podium Flow Belt’s waist strap, but it does the job. The air mesh padding across the pack’s backside allows a bit of air to flow, but won’t prevent the inevitable sweat patch from forming underneath.
I have just one complaint about the Podium Belt; despite the angled bottle sleeve, I still found the tall Podium bottle sits high enough on my back that pulling out or replacing it was a bit of a stretch for me. It wasn’t impossible, but took more twisting than my other bottle-carrying hip pack does.
Other finishing touches include reflective details and zipper pulls. The Flow Podium Belt sells for $45 with a 21 oz Podium bottle included. It is available in Black, Camo/Brown and Burgundy/Blue.
Podium Dirt Series Chill 21 oz water bottle:
I was pleased to get my hands on a Podium Dirt Series Chill water bottle, as I didn’t yet have any insulated bottles in my collection. After a few late summer rides, I can say the Podium Chill will definitely keep your water cool for much longer than a traditional bottle will. Sorry that’s not very scientific, but I can say the insulation helps!
One of the main features of the Dirt Series bottles is the Mud Cap. The cap will keep the bottle nice and clean, but once I started climbing I often left it dangling just to make getting a mid-ride drink quicker and easier. While it’s not difficult to remove or replace, it is an extra step each time you need a drink.
The cap lets a good amount of water flow, and Camelbak points out the Podium bottle is easy to squeeze; it is a double-walled bottle, but you wouldn’t notice when you squeeze out a shot of water.
Throughout my test rides, I had no issues with leaks or drips from the Podium bottle. The lid is lockable for extra leak prevention, which is great assurance if you’re tossing this bottle in a backpack for a hike or trail building excursion.
The Podium bottle is BPA, BPS and BPF free, and its lid components can be fully disassembled for cleaning. MSRP is $17, and color choices are Black, Orange/Grey or Burgundy/Blue.