Hydrapak Big Sur Hydration Backpack Review

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to test out the Hydrapak Big Sur hydration backpack than an epic, three-day, 900-mile motorcycle trip with an old friend, up California’s renowned Highway 1 to Big Sur and beyond, on rugged, foggy coastal roads, through dense, mind-bending redwood forests, up, over and along mountain ridges, and across hot, arid valleys and deserts.

Like flossing, vacuuming and writing thank-you notes, staying hydrated during motorcycle rides is something I’m supposed to do regularly but occasionally (ok, frequently) forget about. Usually I don’t stop on rides unless absolutely necessary, to fill up on gas, scarf a protein bar or irrigate the bushes. Without a hydration pack, especially on hot days, I can’t possibly consume all the fluids I need on short breaks every hour or two. Taking regular sips of water or an electrolyte drink keeps my lips and mouth from drying out and restores bodily fluids lost through perspiration or leakage.

Hydrapak Shape Shift Reservoir
Hydrapak's 100-ounce/3-liter Shape Shift reservoir can be turned inside out for easy cleaning. Drink tube is 36 inches long.

The Big Sur is one of nearly a dozen different hydration packs made by Hydrapak, an Oakland, California, company that makes products for active folks, be they motorcyclists, bicyclists, hikers or  military personnel. The 1-pound, 4-ounce nylon (210D outer, 420D bottom) pack has a volume of 450 cubic inches and measures 18 x 9.25 x 4.25 inches. It includes a 100-ounce (3-liter) Shape-Shift Reservoir (bladder) with a Plug-N-Play connector and a Quantum Clip. Shape-Shift means the bladder can be turned inside out for thorough cleaning—it opens completely at one end, and seals by folding over and securing with a long sliding clip; the Plug-N-Play connector uses a push-button lock to easily attach or remove the 36-inch Hydraflex drinking tube; and the Quantum Clip allows the bladder to hang from a loop inside the backpack so maintains its shape. To keep harmful plastic chemicals from leaching into your drink, the entire system is PVC free.

The backpack itself is chockfull of useful features. The reservoir has its own dedicated zipper and compartment, to keep it completely separated from other gear. There are mesh-covered padded shoulder straps and back pads, a sternum strap and removable waist belt, a fleece-lined electronics pocket with cord port, two small external pockets and a large main compartment (including inner organizers and elastic tool loops), a loop to clip a strobe or other light and a small reflective panel to aid nighttime visibility.

Hydrapak Big Sur
The Hydrapak Big Sur combines the convenience of a hydration reservoir and a lightweight backpack.

Like a call girl’s overnight bag, I keep my Big Sur packed with all the essentials: sunblock, earplugs, bandana, protein bars, wet wipes, etc. The main compartment is roomy enough for a hat and fleece liner. Filling and cleaning the bladder has been a breeze (the large opening at one end makes it easy to pack with ice on really hot days), the surge bite valve provides good flow and the pockets and straps have been useful. The bladder’s 3-liter capacity is ideal for hot-n-thirsty days, though when full it adds 6.6 pounds of weight on my back. My only complaint is about the clever magnetic clip that affixes the drinking tube to the shoulder strap. It works brilliantly when hiking or biking at a modest pace, but blasting down the road at 70+ mph on a motorcycle with minimal wind protection, the magnet is easily overwhelmed and the drinking tube will end up flopping around behind me, making for a long, awkward reach to retrieve it.

The Hydrapak Big Sur comes in five colors (charcoal, white, red, green and blue) and retails for $99.99. Available online at www.hydrapak.com or from dealers.


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