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See all of our Project 24.2 posts here! 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…
In the nearly twenty years since hitting the market, CamelBak have gone from making simple sausage-shaped bladder sleeves to well thought-out and- dare I say it- sexy packs. The Charge LR is no exception. The various lightweight materials seem well selected and assembled. Without much load bearing responsibility, the Charge LR’s shoulder straps are light, soft, and breathable with a slider-mounted sternum strap and provisions for left or right shoulder hose routing.The Charge LR’s outsized waist belt houses a 2L lumbar version of CamelBak’s latest Antidote reservoir (reviewed separately here). A big improvement over previous screw-type openings, the quarter-turn Antidote cap is easy to use and has yet to give me any trouble. Camelbak’s bite valve remains probably the best in the industry and the shutoff valve helps to prevent backseat floods. A pair of generously-sized hip pockets keep snacks and mini tools within easy reach and the body from the top of the waistbelt up is entirely devoted to nicely organized storage (7L worth all told). The external pocket is surprisingly deep, which helps the Charge LR to swallow a surprising amount of gear. Though the body fabric is extremely thin, it seems durable and the streamlined design should reduce the chance of snags. If not? CamelBak back the pack with a lifetime guarantee.Even with a full bladder, the Charge LR can carry more gear than its claimed 7L capacity would suggest. It also covers a good deal more back space than I would have thought. As a race day pack, the lumbar bladder pack is probably too big, inviting far more cargo than a 90 minute blast would recommend. For 2-4 hour races, the bag’s capacity is more appropriate. The hip pockets provide good snack access and the bag will easily accommodate shed layers or light batteries without complaint. In the absence of gravity, a pair of white straps (which can be seen hanging out of the waist belt) compress the bladder, driving water to the center, as it empties. This approach does work well but does require some wearer participation.
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.