by Marc Basiliere
June 10, 2014
A massive leap forward for hydration brand?
A massive leap forward for hydration brand..
While the company’s hydration bladders are among the best in the industry -and specified in dozens of other companies’ bags- it’s no secret that Hydrapak’s hydration packs have long been several steps behind the competition. While perfectly functional on the trail, recent Hydrapak offerings came up just a bit short in terms of bells, whistles, and (at times) construction, making them a tough sell on the shop floor.
Rather than throwing in the towel and resigning themselves to building reservoirs for others’ packs, Hydrapak redoubled their efforts, first showing the Bishop line at Sea Otter a year ago and releasing final product the following autumn. Our 12L test sample arrived in October– and has been in constant use in the eight months since.
Clearly having taken a long, hard look at the competition, it’s safe to say that Hydrapak is now only 1/2-step behind the competition. And that’s proving a very good thing. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen elsewhere: perforated foam shoulder and waist straps and corrugated back panels are available from other brands, as are catchall outer pockets with bicycle-inspired graphics. But taking the time to see what works well -and might be improved- has allowed Hydrapak to execute these features extremely well.
The Bishop’s deployable rain cover is nice to see in a pack hailing from Southern California, and organising side and waistbelt electronics pockets help to keep everything in its right place. In a nice (and soft) touch, the fleece-lined electronics pocket is waterproof, just fitting a mid-sized (4.7in screen) mobile phone and small wallet. The stretchy back helmet/jacket/trail trash pocket is bordered with acres of reflective trim, adding a touch of security for unexpectedly long days.
With a claimed 12L capacity, the Bishop seems to hold more than others in its size class, even without taking the external pocket into account. The corrugated Air Tread back panel is built around aluminium stays, providing plenty of structure when stuffed, while hardly contributing to the bag’s 1.2lb dry weight. Not as well ventillated as bow-style packs, the Bishop is possibly the most comfortable traditional pack on the market, keeping the rider cool and its contents’ mass close to the body. Further improving fit, the aluminium stays can be bent to hug the back or improve ventillation as desired. Slightly bouncy Thru Vent shoulder straps are remarkably comfortable under large loads without ever being hot or bulky and have become this tester’s favourites.
Organisation in the main compartment is good, with a handful of pockets keeping smaller items easy to find. There is plenty of room alongside the bladder in its dedicated pocket to keep a tyre pump, shock pump, and saw easily accessible. The Bishop ships with Hydrapak’s flagship ShapeShift reservoir. A clever (if fiddly) internal baffle allows the bladder to go from 3L sausage on the biggest days to a thinner 2L double-sausage for less ambitious outings. The Blaster (bite) Valve has been drip-free, reliably providing plenty of flow and an easy lockout without requiring any strange oral contortionism in exchange for a sip.
Demerits (and and they are minor) come only from the side and waist pockets’ curved zips, which are very difficult to close (and only slightly easier to open) while riding. At least one pair of open-topped pockets would make accessing snacks, mini tools, or a small camera much easier. That’s really about it.
With the Bishop, Hydrapak have taken ideas from across the industry and executed them as well as or better than the originals. Comfortable on big days without ever feeling too big for after-work blasts, the Bishop (and larger 15L Bishop EXT) are worth seeking out. Sadly, we have no estimate on UK availability.