If you’re going to launch a hydration pack that’s designed to keep your water cold, Moab seems like one of the best places to do it. Even towards the end of the season, higher temperatures and the dry climate can make a cool drink as welcoming as a desert oasis. Which is why Hydro Flask’s decision to host us for a few days on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park was a perfect choice for their latest pack, the Down Shift 14.
Cold water on the trail
Almost exactly a year prior to this, Hydro Flask had us out to their headquarters in Bend, Oregon. It was there that they made their first move into the hydration pack market with the Journey Series insulated hydration pack. In addition to a look and color story that fit within the Hydro Flask family, the packs had another hallmark of the brand – insulation. Aptly named, the Cold Flow System combines an insulated neoprene reservoir sleeve with reflective coating that holds an insulated Hydrapak IsoBound reservoir.
That same Cold Flow technology carries over to the new Down Shift series, but everything else is all new. Hydro Flask wasted no time at all in taking feedback they received from the Journey series and using it to develop an even better pack that still keeps your water cold for hours. And to really put it to the test, we had three days on the White Rim trail to see if this new insulated hydration pack lived up to the hype.
While the Down Shift still uses the Cold Flow System, the layout of the reservoir has been redesigned to offer better weight distribution. In this case the 2 liter insulated bladder is squared off and tucked low in the pack to keep the majority of weight low on your back. The bladder is still housed in an insulated neoprene sleeve with a reflective coating, but the pouch is looser than the original making it easier to install the bladder.
What’s new for production?
It should be noted that the Guava colored packs we used for the launch were pre-production samples. The Sapphire (blue) pack in the photos is closer to production, and there have been some notable changes that weren’t included on the Guava packs we used. Most importantly, the overall size of the pack has been increased from 10 to 14 liters. That is an important change that will allow for storage of bulkier items like a jacket, spare clothing layers, or more food.
The shape of the pack has also been tweaked for production with a more rounded bottom edge for a more comfortable fit. Additionally, smaller changes like a revised hose port that allows for left or right hose routing while keeping the hose off your neck are welcomed. Furthermore, the magnet for the hose will be replaced with a mechanical clip, and the sternum clip will include a whistle.
The pack is much better organized than the Journey series with multiple pockets, elastic straps to keep items in place, a key hook, and a large outer fleece lined pocket for electronics or glasses. The pack still has a clean exterior with only two zippers and few accessory loops plus a small strap at the bottom for mounting a tail light.
When it comes to the harness, the Down Shift relies on an articulated back panel and mesh padding to keep the actual bag off your back. This seemed to work pretty well in the desert, though there was no denying the fact that you had something on your back. Currently, there is only one size of the Down Shift , but it seemed to fit a wide range of people fairly well.
The Down Shift uses a very minimal waist belt which is great in terms of breathability, but I found myself looking for the waist belt pockets found on many hydration packs. This is often my favorite place to stash snacks since it’s easy to access without having to take off the pack. A wider waist belt might also help support more of the weight from the pack, but overall the pack felt very comfortable over three long days on the bike.
Does the Hydro Flask Hydration Pack actually keep the water cold?
In terms of the Cold Flow System’s performance, it was surprisingly effective delivering at least cool water at the end of each day. Since this was a supported backcountry ride with guiding provided by Rim Tours, Hydro Flask was able to bring along a few bags of ice in their own Insulated Tote. Depending on the amount of ice we started with each day, the water was warmer or cooler, but no matter what the temperature of the water was still lower than the ambient temperature at the end of the day. I think the 4 hour claim is fair for keeping the water truly “cold”, but even hours after that the water was cooler than any standard hydration pack would allow.
I must say that I’ve never felt that having cold water on a ride was a necessity, but after experiencing in a place like Moab, it was far better than expected. There’s just something more refreshing about taking a sip of cool water vs. warm, plastic-y water from the average hydration pack. Granted, the hose itself is not insulated, so you’ll still have to either drink some warm water before getting to the cool water, or spit out the first bit.
Overall, the Down Shift seems like a vastly improved pack compared to the Journey Series. It’s lighter, better organized, easier to use, and more comfortable to wear. That isn’t a knock on the Journey Series so much as a compliment to Hydro Flask and their designers for making such a big improvement in design in a single year.
Who should buy the Hydro Flask Down Shift 14?
So who is the Down Shift designed for? Obviously, those who prioritize cold water in hot climates will greatly appreciate the design. It also seems like more of a pack for the enthusiast XC/Trail rider who isn’t looking for a pack with features like straps to carry body armor, massive storage, or a number of external pockets for quick access. But for a simple, comfortable pack that offers a cool aesthetic and two liters of cool water, the Down Shift is certainly worth a look.
The Down Shift 14 will be available starting in February with retail price of $135 in Sapphire, Guava, and Black.