Hydrapak Laguna – hydration pack review

Hydration Pro Reviews

Let’s have a bachelor party! With chicks, and guns, and fire trucks, and hookers, and drugs, and booze!

Now that I have your attention!

Water is a pretty essential substance for any bike ride of more than a couple of miles, but how do you carry it? I do have a few friends who are camels and never seem to need water, but they are a rare breed. It reminds me of a famous quote “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

Roadies of course use water bottles. I love how they toss them to the side of the road in the Tour de France. Although mountain bikers also use water bottles, where do you put all the necessary stuff for a longer ride? As the late George Carlin said “That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know?” and of course the famous “Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?” When I first started biking I used to have a small pack that attached under the seat but it couldn’t really carry much except an inner tube, an energy bar (we called them candy bars then) and a tool kit. Now we use a day pack that has a water bladder in it and we call it the hydration pack. Hydration bladders have been added to full sized backpacks now and they have become ubiquitous in a lot of sports, military applications, etc.

So what the heck is the original source of a hydration pack? Whose idea was it? I need to research its origin. Wikipedia states “A hydration pack is a type of hydration system built as a backpack or waistpack containing a reservoir or bladder commonly made of rubber or flexible plastic.”

Heck it’s a freakin’ modern bota bag! Some of us used bota bags at rock concerts and such in the old days. The Linda Ronstadt song from the Abyss is stuck in my head now “And if you give me weed, whites and wine. And you show me a sign. And I’ll be willin’ to be movin’…”.

Camelbak itself has become a generic trademark itself and is used to describe a hydration pack, much like Chapstick is for lip balm. Many times you will hear any hydration pack referred to as a Camelbak, talk about making your name synonymous with a product. I bet many companies would like that kind of marketing!

I was intrigued by the Hydrapak system when I checked it out at Interbike in 2007 because the water bladder system is a variant of what rafters and kayakers use for dry bags. I used dry bags for many years on the river and they are a great tool and very functional. Of course they were meant to keep water out and not water in!

The Hydrapak bladder is a nifty system that has a plastic slider closure for the top of the unit and it allows easy fills since the entire top opens wide and it can be turned inside out for cleaning. Very handy indeed!

It has a quick connector to attach the drinking hose, so it makes it easy to take the bladder out of the pack for cleaning and filling.

Hydrapak is based out of Oakland California. They started out in 1996 making ‘personal hydration systems’ for cyclists. Is that a marketing term or what? “Brian, did you bring your personal hydration system with you on your ride?” ” Yes, Mom I brought it with me.” They took input and feedback from athletes, cyclists and testers to refine the Hydrapak product line to create a hydration system that met customer needs. In 2001 Matt Lyon bought out the company and with his management and leadership skills they have continued to be innovative and are pushing the boundaries of hydration systems.

I tested the Hydrapak Laguna pack which has a 100oz/3liter bladder, 500cu in/8.2liter of storage and weighs 1lb 50z/.59Kg. It’s the top of the line for Hydrapak’s cyclist oriented hydration packs.

One of my fave features of the pack is the handy shoulder strapped mounted cell phone pocket – Very handy for either a cell phone or a camera. Why don’t more companies have something like that which comes standard? The cell phone was in the pocket when I was on pager duty for work but it lately has been replaced with a camera and it makes for handy quick shots with no need to take the pack off.

The pack has a compression strap system made of flexible plastic Hypalon that at first was a bit weird and stiff to work with, but after getting the hang of using it I found that it kept any sort of load nicely balanced. It makes a nice X across the pack and compresses the contents of the pack just right. It has enough pockets and placement spots for just about anything. The pockets are nicely laid out and are very useful. The top fleece lined pocket is nice for your iPod, glasses or anything fragile. Most manufacturers have added a plethora of pockets to their packs and this one is no exception. I would have liked one pocket on the inside that had a zipper.

The water tube is very stiff plastic which is handy because it keeps the hose from bouncing around and getting in your way while riding. It’s an easy reach to grab to hose and take a drink. The bite valve is easy to shut on and off while you hold it to your mouth. That is also a good thing since the bite valve liked to dribble so it was handy to shut it off. I have 2 of their valves so it was not a unique issue, they both dribbled the same. I ended up swapping out to a Nalgene bite valve.

Like most larger packs, it has a expansion zipper that allows it to morph to an impressive 800 cu in/13.1 liters – More than enough for a gonzo ride. The expansion zipper rolls an entire 360 degree around the pack so it makes a nice uniform space.

The pack is very comfortable even with a full load of water and gear. The waist belt is nice and wide and helps distribute the load across your torso. Most packs seem to always use a skinny little waist belt. Sort of reminds me of the skinny ties I used to wear in the early days of New Wave and Punk. How come The Jam never got big in this country? One of my faves is their song “That’s Entertainment”. The pack has a padded ventilation system on the back called ‘Air Chairman’ that is supposed to create cooling airflow. It’s a bit hard to judge that feature because like most every pack I have used you end up sweating like a pig dog. Ok, there is some discussion that neither pigs nor dogs sweat, but hey it’s a cool saying.

Another very cool feature is the helmet storage net that expands out from the bottom of the pack. A great place to carry your helmet when you park your bike and are out walking, etc. It will be handy at this year’s Interbike!

Bottom Line:
I really liked this pack. The water bladder system is the best on the market. The pack itself is nicely engineered, ergonomic, comfortable and has many excellent features such as the cell phone pocket, a wide waist belt, the nicely hidden helmet net, the Hypalon compression strap, the stiff water hose and the gear storage expansion. Its only demerit was the bite valve which dribbled when left open. Not a real big issue since the valve is easy to shut on and off while you hold it to your mouth. All valves from any company seem to like to leak after a period of time, but this one did it from them start. The easiest remedy is to swap out for a Nalgene bite valve.

-Hydration bladder: easy to open, fill and clean with a quick disconnect hose
-Cell phone pocket
-Helmet net: hidden until you need it
-Expand storage by 60% using a 360 degree zipper
-Stiff drink tube
-Pockets and storage
-Bite valve is easy to shut on and off while holding to mouth
-Wide waist belt
-Hypalon compression strap: nicely balances load

-Bite valve leaks/dribble
-Waist belt loops to hold excess length can move around
-Hypalon compression strap is difficult to use and a bit stiff

Value Rating: 5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Overall Rating: 4.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Laguna 2008 stats:

Fluid capacity: 100 fl.oz. / 3.0 l.
Gear volume: 500 cu. in. / 8.2 l.
Empty pack weight: 1 lb. 5 oz. / .59 kg.
Color: Charcoal
Price: $79.99

Hydrapack Website: http://www.hydrapak.com/

About the author: Brian Mullin

Brian likes to push the limits in all the sports he obsesses in, whether it's mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, skiing, or sport climbing. He takes those same strengths and a good dose of insanity to his reviewing and writing on mountain biking products, creating technical, in-depth articles. Whenever he's not on the bike, he might be found watching MotoGP racing, otherwise look for him out on the trail.

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  • Carl Martens says:

    Something a lot of people don’t consider is the ease of cleaning a bladder. The ability to turn this bladder inside out is a nice feature. Something I look for in a hydration pack is the opening of the bladder…to small of an opening means no ice and a harder time cleaning. I’ve used this pack as well as a CamelBak Mule, but my favorite is still Northface’s Megamouth. Although it isn’t tailored specific to a mountain biker, it is a great all around pack.

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