An oversized hip belt helps keep the pack snug against your waist.
Why You Want:
You’re looking for a medium sized, feature-rich hydration pack that will capably carry everything you need for those 3-4-hour mountain bike rides. And it will fit well and look good, too.
Where to begin? The list is long. But because I sweat so much when I ride, first shout-out goes to what Osprey calls the AirScape back panel. Basically it’s pliable molded foam wrapped with a layer of thin mesh. The net effect is the back of the pack subtly forms to the shape of your back (because the foam is pliable), while also providing ample ventilation (because it’s ridged). That means your jersey doesn’t end up feeling like a wet towel draped over your shoulders even on long, hot days in the saddle.
Adjustable shoulder straps get a similar treatment – foam covered in mesh – providing more comfort and ventilation, while the stretchable sternum strap and wide hip belt keep everything in place. That’s a feature that can not be over-emphasized, because the worst thing a hydration pack can do is start flopping around when you’re in the middle of a tricky descent.
Next it’s all about pockets – and there are a lot of them. Up top on the back is a small, soft-lined, zippered stash spot that provides the perfect safe zone for scratchable items such as smartphones, sunglasses or your digi-cam. Just below that is the main cargo area, which has ample open storage space, plus a pair of narrow vertical sleeves for a pump or shock pump, and a wider mesh pocket to help keep tools organized.
The AirScape back keeps you cool and comfortable and the main cargo compartment has a pair of vertical sleeves for your pump, a mesh pocket to stash clothes, plus lots of open space for everything else.
Below that is yet another zippered pocket with two more mesh stash spots and a plastic clip for your car keys. Finally there’s an open elastic pocket on the lower back that’s great for stuffing away trash. And each side of the hip belt has small elastic stash pockets, plus there are two more elastic pockets on either side of the pack itself.
In total the Raptor 14 has space for 854 cubic inches of stuff, according to Osprey. And it will even carry your brain bucket, thanks to its nifty LidLock helmet holder, which is simply a curved piece of plastic attached to an elastic bungee cord.
And there’s more… The included 100oz bladder, which is made by Nalgene, has a semi-rigid structure, a wide-mouth opening, and a handle. This means it’s both easy to fill, and because of the slight rigidity, the bladder doesn’t wobble around even when the water inside is sloshing like the Bering Sea. Plus the large screw-on cap makes it easier to clean the inside of the bladder, which has it’s own sleeve in the pack away from the rest of your gear.
The drinking hose itself is clear, making it easier to ascertain cleanliness. And the 180-degree valve turns on and off with a simple twist, and has a built-in magnet that clips to the sternum strap so you don’t have to fish around when you need a sip of water.
Last but not least, there’s a spot on the back of the pack to clip a blinky light, and the pack is constructed with rugged 70x100D nylon shadow creek fabric, which is tear resistant.
All these features come at a price, in this case around $109, which for some may be a hill to high to climb. These features also have a little heft to them. Completely empty, our Osprey Raptor 14 tipped the scales at 1100 grams. A CamelBak M.U.L.E. with the same sized bladder but about 200 fewer cubic inches of cargo space weighed in at 825 grams.
I also found that adjusting the waist belt can be a little wonky due to what I would best describe as a subtle case of over-engineering. Finally, the hydration hose does not detach from the bladder, a feature that many of today’s pack do have.
Long gone are the days when “hydration pack” was a euphemism for clunky backpack with floppy bladder jumbling around inside. Today’s cycling’centric water carriers are full of both function and form, and few packs boast more of those features than the Osprey Raptor 14.
While I love all the pockets, the easy to fill bladder, the LidLock, and the ventilated back panel and shoulder straps, it’s the overall stability and fit of the pack that impresses most.
Sturdy construction and massive adjustability are some of the highlights.
Just like your bike or your shoes or your chamois shorts, fit comes first with hydration packs. And it’s here where Osprey’s three-plus decades in the backpack business shine through. With two sizing options (S/M, M/L), the pliable back panel, and adjustability of shoulder, waist and sternum straps, it’s easy to achieve a fit that’s snug enough for the rowdiest downhills, but not too confining when the trail tilts up and the lungs expand.
All this was put to the test this past Memorial Day weekend when I lined up for the bruising 64-mile Full Growler cross-country race in Gunnison, Colorado. This true test of mettle had both lots of climbing (8,000 feet total) and tons of tricky singletrack (If you’ve never ridden at Hartman Rocks, you are missing out.).
Throughout my 7.5 hours in the saddle, which included a rear puncture, mild back spasms, leg cramps, and more near misses than middle school basketball game, the Osprey Raptor 14 did it’s job, staying comfortable and securely in place no matter what the trail threw at me.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5