This month we are looking at four popular hydration packs, otherwise known as our Hydration Pack Hitout. We have reviewed two Camelbak offerings, the redesigned for 2014 Molokai and Tahoe LR, the Vestpac Wilson Pac and the Dakine Sweeper. The Molokai and Wilson Pac are your traditional over the shoulder hydration pack design while the Tahoe LR and Sweeper are waist packs.
We also chose these four packs as they are marketed for SUP use instead of being a pack that is for running or riding that can be used for SUP. In my experience not all "multi-purpose" packs work for SUP. My chafed and bleeding shoulders will attest to that.
For the purposes of the review we have also put together a 2 litre capacity "dry bag" that contains what I deem to be the bare essentials for me to go on a paddle. In the picture below there is $8.80 in change, my phone, car key, packet of chewing gum, lip balm and my wallet containing a credit card and drivers licence.
Here is a quick breakdown of the main features of each pack
For each pack I have broken down capacity to include amount of water the bladders can hold as well as the storage capacity. The figures above are directly off each of the manufacturers website, links for each are at the bottom of the review. What is not included in the data for the Molokai are the two hip pockets or the mesh "stash" pocket on the back. Also there is no capacity details for the Vestpac front pockets or the Dakine gel pocket.
At 2 litres, the redesigned Molokai has the biggest water capacity of the four packs. It also has the biggest storage capacity. As you can see it easily swallows the waterproof bag of goodies and still has the other pockets free. It has an elastic stash area or as Camelbak describe it "stretch overflow storage" on the back of the pack where you could place something small and rolled up like a poncho or you could carabiner/zip tie additional supplies there. It is also compatible with the hugely popular belt style of PFD. What that means is that it can be worn at the same time as a belt PFD without it getting in the way of a deployment or being uncomfortable.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Wilson Pac will hold 1 litre (Note: there is now a 1.8 litre bladder that will be available here in April. RRP in USA for US$29.95. It comes with an upgraded nozzle and magnetic clip see here and in photo to right) of water and has 1 large zippered pocket on the front with another 2 smaller pockets behind it and inside one of these pockets is a key ring holder. The smaller pockets will hold a iPhone 5s in a Lifeproof Case comfortably, but I would tether the phone in case it slips out of the pocket. Slipping gels or a banana into these pockets is also possible. I would suggest a small to medium banana. The large zippered pocket will take the dry bag of goodies but does not leave room for much else.
The Dakine Sweeper is a waist pack with a lumbar reservoir. It comes in the middle of the Wilson Pac and Molokai at 1.4 litres of water. It also has a deployable water bottle pocket for those that need that extra 700ml of water. The Sweeper also has a zippered gel pocket that is located on the right hip. It is the perfect size for some gel packets or a couple of biscuits if your refuelling technique is a bit old school. The Sweeper doesn't have a separate storage area for additional items like our dry bag of goodies, however you can manage to get it into the same compartment as the water bladder. Is that ideal, probably not but it is possible.
Last but definitely not least the 2014 redesign of the Tahoe LR. This splits the difference of the Wilson Pac and Molokai exactly at 1.5 litres of water. The main compartment has a divider between the bladder and storage area. What stands out is the amount of room in this bag. The specs from Camelbak say that it is designed to carry an inflatable PFD so we put it to the test. In addition to the cavernous interior the Tahoe LR also has "stretch overflow storage" and two mesh pockets with Velcro closures either side of the main compartment. If you close them up correctly then nothing should fall out of them
Zips, Clips and Straps
On the back of the Molokai as mentioned before there is the stretch overflow storage but instead of a semi enclosed piece of material it is elastic straps tethered by reflective loops. The zip closure has been slightly modified to include a moulded loop that is much easier to get a hold of with cold, wet fingers than the previous years design. There were plenty of strap loops deliberately spread around this pack that will enable the user to re-route their water straw wherever they prefer.
This is where I absolutely love the Wilson Pac. Because the straps are elastic you can really get this pack nice a comfortable on your body and because they are elastic you can breath easily as they are not restricting your ribcage. The clips are simple and easy to pop on and off no matter how slippery your fingers may be. The zipped pocket is easy to open and close due to the easy pull tab.
The Sweeper has a large side release buckle on the front which is one of the points to which you can tighten the pack up or loosen as required. There are also some cinch straps on either side of the main compartment to draw the bag closer to you. Drinking hose attachment/tether points are moveable around the waist band however the hose can only be routed one way out the top right hand side of the pack itself. The zips are again YKK on the main compartment and gel pouch.
It is not until you get your hands on the new Tahoe LR that you realise how much it has been redesigned. The biggest area being the attachment at the front of the bag. Instead of a large side adjusting clip like the old Tahoe or the sweeper, Camelbak have gone with a smaller clip and thinner straps. The clip is now "floating" in the middle of the two anchor points that are connected at the hip area. They have also moved the adjustment points from that clip to the top of the hip join. This provides a much snugger fit and the thinner straps didn't seem to cut into my bony hips like it's closely related cousin, the Camelbak Flashflo LR or the Sweeper. Thought has also gone into the rear adjustment straps. Instead of the usual folded over strap that is stitched, the pack now has what I can best describe as thumb loops for easy location and tightening or loosening whilst paddling. The really interesting feature of this pack though it the neck lanyard. It is adjustable so the nozzle can be moved closer to your mouth but I couldn't get it to a position that allowed me to do it hands free. The lanyard doesn't rub on your neck and is comfortable but it leaves the hose either dangling out far enough to hit your arms, annoying. If you tether it at the hip the hose is then not long enough to reach your mouth, also annoying. It is a start though.
The new build of the Molokai is noticeably lighter that last years version camelbak. They have also gone away from the Lycra like material on the inside of the pack to a more breathable mesh material. The ladies that I paddle with tried it on and were surprised by how well it fit across their chests. Initially they thought it would be quite restrictive but were very surprised by the freedom of movement it provided.
The Wilson Pac is a one size fits all construction. My wife was a little dubious about how this pack would fit, but found it to be the most comfortable of the packs. My Dad also had a try of this pack and really like it. His comment of "I completely forgot I was wearing it" rang very true with me. Between the three of us we all have very different shapes and all thought it to be very comfortable The design has stayed the same for a while now mainly because it works well. It is very comfortable to wear and works well wearing it over the top of either a shirt, singlet, bikini top or completely topless. You will earn a unique tan line though if you do decide to go topless.
The Sweeper is very, very comfy. I did find that the straps cut into my hips a little but nothing too serious. It feels fine when doing step turns and doesn't slosh around to much disturbing your balance. There is plenty of padding against your body which in hot weather could be an issue but not whilst I was using it.
As you can see by the pictures the Tahoe LR is a big bag. Because of the thought that has gone into the placement of the straps it is a comfortable bag for long paddles that require you to take something a bit bigger than the Sweeper. It is due to the larger size that it if you do not sort the "trimming" of it there will be some wobbling and movement as you move around the board. Once this is done though there is minimal movement.
Ease of use
All of the packs reviewed are relatively easy to use with the Molokai being by far the easiest due to being able to fill it without taking the bladder out. The Sweeper can also be refilled with the bladder inside the pack but instead of a screw cap closure it uses the fold and slide seal on their pack. Just don't over fill as you will end up with a wet butt and or back. The Wilson Pac and Tahoe LR are much easier to fill if you remove the bladders completely from their pacs and feature the same sort of screw cap that you see in most packs these days. The Wilson Pac also has a unique bit valve that can be rotated 360 degrees (really only useful for around 280 of those due to the position of the hose). I find this pretty handy when employing my very technical bonsai wire and para cord hose-to-mouth-no-hands-off-paddle-thingo (patent pending).
Practicality & Extras
For extras Molokai and Tahoe LR lead the way although I am not completely convinced of the usability of some of it. The hose mounted emergency whistle is a great idea. If you get into enough trouble that you are contemplating blowing the whistle then not having to forage through you soaked bag is a bonus. On the back of both of these packs is also a small notched area that I figure is for attaching a clip on light. If that is what it is for then great job. There is also some reflective patches on the stretch storage area. The paddle holster I am not so sure about. In the environment that is the flat waters of Canberra I can't see the benefits. In the ocean I can but like I said I am not completely convinced. If someone has used the paddle holster on any of the packs that have it I would love to hear your thoughts.
Apart from the hose clip that comes with the Wilson Pac, which allows you to attach it to the straps, there are really no extras to talk about. Practicality wise by it being so simple it works very well. The hose can come over the left or right shoulder or under either arm if you wanted. The clip, despite looking simple and possibly fragile, is super robust and has not skipped a beat. Apart from being used on this pack it has been deployed onto other packs after their clips were lost or broken.
The Sweeper's gel pouch and deployable water bottle holder are it's extras. Whilst I am not a fan of gels I know heaps of people that are so this must be a welcome feature for them. It is easy to get to but will still require you to slow down possibly to a halt to open and close. It could take a very small dry bag in a pinch. Practicality wise the hose is spot on in length and doesn't require any bending or hunching over to get the nozzle to your mouth.
Some people like bags on their hips, some like them over the shoulder. That is why we picked two designs of each. As you can see there isn't a clear winner of the four reviewed but there are winners of the different varieties. If you like have all of your gear around your waist then I would look no further than the Camelbak Tahoe LR. If you to carry the weight up on your shoulders, then get the Vestpac Wilson Pac. At the same time, if you don't need to take anything out with you, other than water, then check out the Dakine Sweeper or the Camelbak Molokai.
For me the ability to take what I deem as my bare necessities and do it comfortably, it is a toss up between the Tahoe and Wilson Pac. If I am going to be doing any type of training where timing, pace, HR zone information is required (I tuck my iPhone into one of the 2 pockets so I can hear updates), the Wilson Pac is my go to pack. If I am looking at doing some distance paddling and need the extra water and some extra food for arguments sake, I would take the Tahoe LR.
I am not a high viz kind of guy. All it reminds me of is my first and only time as a traffic controller (lollipop traffic dude). Makes me itch just thinking about it, but I had a conversation with a mate and he talked about there being a need for high viz gear in certain SUP applications. He went on to say that with more and more people doing downwind paddles this was something that manufacturers should be looking at. Camelbak have provided much brighter offerings this time around, with some reflective patches, but possibly producing a pack that has a stowable, high visibility patch or elastic cover could be safety conscious decision by manufacturers. It will no doubt come to add precious weight to the weight conscious but in the instance of a sea rescue something that weighs an extra 250gms might be worth a look. There are plenty of examples of these types of designs for cyclists hydration packs.
Now if someone would only bring out a hose/nozzle that will sit far enough away from my mouth so that it isn't smacking me in the head on every stroke I would be very, very happy. I know that you can purchase some wire wrapped in neoprene and fit it yourself but when you are dropping between $100 - $150 already on a pack, an extra $40 is a bit much in my opinion. Beside have you ever tried to fit a neoprene sleeve to a hydration pack hose? Anyway, please Camelbak, Vestpac, Dakine or anyone else for that matter, please make us SUP'ers a pack that delivers us water in our mouths while we continue to paddle. It would be really appreciated.
A big thanks to Brian Lo of Sea To Summit for providing the Camelbak Tahoe LR and Molokai packs so that we could review them this month. Thanks also to Rob Cribb of Watershack for updating me on the latest regarding VestPac details. I would again like to thank Scott Hunter and Aidan Lewis from Wetspot WaterSports, Fyshwick for allowing me constantly ask them questions and check out everything in the shop.
If you liked this review then you might also like our previous months review of the Flying Objects Travel Cover SUP Race.
Dakine Sweeper 4 out of 5 Smiling Cavemen
Camelbak Tahoe LR 4.5 out of 5 Smiling Cavemen
Camelbak Molokai 4 out of 5 Smiling Cavemen
VestPac Wilson Pac 4.5 out of 5 Smiling Cavemen
For local stockists of the reviewed packs contact your local SUP store or contact the following
For Camelbak contact Sea To Summit 08 9221 6617 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For Vestpac contact Rob Cribb www.watershack.com.au or 0411 399 459
For Dakine contact GSM (Operations) Pty Ltd 07 5589 9899 or email@example.com