Ever since I began to consider hydration the first name was: Camelbak. Everyone who I knew when getting into cycling before this whole running disease swore by Camelbak. I have gone through, i.e. beat to a pulp, two other hydration systems I used for mountain biking and can attest to the quality and durability of their products. My favorite Camelbak, still in full service, is still my black Transformer (100 oz) pack which is my go to for travel and general outdoors activities. So when looking for packs for my long trail runs Camelbak was a shoe in, but which one? I wanted something minimal that would allow me to carry a lot of water, but only the essentials for the run…I find the more space I have the more junk I throw in it; the XCT does not disappoint. And being a newbie to the whole running/ultra running/ trail thing I figure another beginner would like to have an idea of what to expect.
First Impression (straight from the box)
When I received the package and saw the pack I was concerned with the material. The black material outer, not the mesh against the skin, seems so fragile that it will rip. It was like touching a windbreaker or poorly constructed board short (sorry can’t describe it any better). Adjusting the pack was easy and it was comfortable felt snug 2 minutes flat. I really like the new Antidote Reservoir instead of the old Omegas. Not that I did not like the old version but the Antidote is lighter, closes faster (quarter turn), the tube separates in order to clean faster. I will probably change the bite valve to the straight military style like my TransFormer, maybe, but that’s just my first thoughts.
Pack is according to Camelbak, has a 100 oz. bladder which for me is about 2.5 to 3 hours on a trail. Cargo capacity is 200 CU in; honestly I don’t know what that means. I just know I can put stuff in it for a long run, but not so much that I would take this for an overnight trek, but for sure a long run. It has a belt (2 side pockets), large pocket (near the bladder), some reflective materials, and a larger bungee cord where you can lock down a jacket or gloves. It weighs 11.2 oz. without water.
Fit options are two…a little loose so the belt is around the waist. Leaving it loose will cause it to move a lot when the 3L bladder is full and running downhill, could throw your pace off. Also leaving it loose seemed to put more pressure on the chest strap and make the side pockets a mission to get to while going at any reasonable pace. On the up side a loose fit I find lets me feel less constricted and if I know the trail well I usually go this route.
The other option is to have it on tight, and the belt will be a little above the waistline or right at it. If you are not used to adjusting gear on the run then this may not be the pack for you. I use the tight fit to really focus on form and I find that the belt keeps me honest. Once my form goes to trash the pack feels very uncomfortable. Also when keeping the bag tight I can feel when I am running low on water and that’s a benefit since you know you must start rationing it to make it to the next aid station, whether that be home, or a 7-Eleven.
The zip bags on the side are a fairly easy to use. I know a lot of reviewers have said that they are pretty far back there and it takes some pulling stuff in and out to get to what you want. I read reviews before getting anything anyway… I decided what to put in there at the start of the run. Right side, assortment of GU, Honey Stingers or Cliff Shots…picking a random flavor was kind of exciting (like the lottery) and gave me something to think about on the trail. Left side I put a camera, and salt caps in a plastic bag.
The back pocket (outside bladder towards the middle) is large enough for a blackberry, wallet, and cliff bar comfortably. You can always put more stuff in there with the bladder, everyone says you shouldn’t but Camelbak is the premier quality bladder, unless you are putting sharp #2 pencils in there it should be fine to throw in a windbreaker, extra sox or whatever you may need. (sox may be a bad idea if the bladder starts sweating – but whatever experiment that’s the fun part)
I did not get any hotspots with it either on the belt or on the shoulders and my first run with it was 5 hours. I will say that when the trails get technical or I had to jump over fallen trees having the pack be tight to my body was nice because I did not have to worry about it snagging anywhere.
However, definitely the bag can benefit from additional shoulder or strap pockets. This would give some variety to the available nutrition and electronics you would want to carry and it would make the pack more appealing since it would allow for longer runs, because honestly you can carry more food in the back but who wants to take off a sweaty pack after three hours and then throw it back on and keep heading out?
The pack itself is billed as minimal and that is exactly what it is. If you consider yourself a minimalist and want to go out there with the bare essentials this is a good choice. The bells and whistles are that it works, stores what you need, lots of water (for us crazy sweaty people) and it lets you run hands free for a long time. . I would recommend this bag for both hikers and trail runners.
It is also a good choice for those runners who just like taking random turns. The pack being 3 liters definitely gives you the confidence to get out there and explore different routes that you may not if you were limited to 1.5 liters as you are with many other packs.
(pictures are from http://www.camelbak.com and http://www.runningwarehouse.com <—awesome prices and service.)