Tested: 3 months
This is one of the largest mountain biking hydration packs that Camelbak have ever produced. It really can Hold Alotta Water and Gear (H.A.W.G. – geddit?) in its 30.5 litre capacity (27.5l plus 3l bladder). One of the HAWG NV 30’s intentions is “multi day transalpine rides”. I’m afraid to say I haven’t exactly tested this intention as of yet. In fact, most of the time I’ve been using this pack in its 22.5 litre capacity guise (19.5l plus 3l bladder). The pack can be extended to the full 30.5 litre capacity by unzipping the all-around-the-sides-and-top zip. If you don’t need to use the full 30.5l space, just keep the zip closed.
I have used the pack in its 30.5l guise when I’ve had to commute somewhere with a full day’s riding kit and an overnight change of clothes. When it was fully laden like this it didn’t feel any more unbalanced or unstable compared to the more ‘everyday’ 22.5l mode. It didn’t hit me on the back on the helmet. It hugged my torso and waist snugly but with no noticeable bind spots on crumpling. Partly because the extra stuff I was carrying (clothing mainly) wasn’t significantly heavy. Which I feel is a fair enough test really. I think the full 30.5l space is intended to be principally used for carrying extra clothes on multi-day adventures, rather than anything of significant weight.
When out on proper mountainbike rides, with the pack set to 22.5l capacity, it’s been a very nice pack. Of particular note for me was how easy and capably it held a dSLR camera (in a toploading camera bag). It held the camera stuff stably and consistently at the top of the main chamber (with spare layers, inner tubes, pump etc lying underneath). The upper and lower side cinch straps are great for keeping things gently but securely in their place inside the main chamber even during rough rides. It’s refreshingly quick and simple to stash kneepads in (or even a helmet if you’re sweating to death on a long climb).
The HAWG NV 30 is essentially a fairly regular hydration pack with a (potentially) massive main chamber. The main chamber doesn’t have much in the way of features. There’s a open-mouth stash pocket on the rear wall of it and a velcro-tabbed mesh mid-pocket on the front wall. These have been good for stowing spare gloves and my wallet respectively. The front chamber is where all the compartmentalisation happens with one velcro tabbed mid pocket and two velcro tabbed half-pockets in front of that. There’s a key clip in there as well. On the top-front of the pack is a microfleece-lined pocket with a rubberised waterproof zip – ideal for a mobile phone and/or compact camera. Underneath the pack there’s a stowaway rain cover which has come in handy on a couple of Welsh downpour epics.
The pack is very comfortable to wear and has been one of the least-faffy packs I’ve ridden with. It doesn’t require constant readjustment of shoulder straps or buckles/clips to be undone whenever you want to get something out of the pack. The pockets are all easy to locate, operate and access. It’s been a very hassle-free pack to use. The two relatively generous zip pockets on the waistbands have been great. Multitool in one, sweets in the other. This really reduces the frequency of having to stop and remove the backpack for something. It’s never felt overly heavy or bulky. The nylon material used for the outer is a lightweight and pliable but the design and tailoring of the pack keeps the pack in shape and secure. The back panel has resisted folding back when the cinch straps are tightened, thus avoiding the pack turning into a round sausage shape – often the downfall of previous Camelbaks.
A final note about the bladder. Camelbak have always had the best bite valves (the lockable one here is similarly great) but their bladders have been a letdown. Not any more. The new Antidote bladder has got rid of the Geoff Capes-required screw-cap in favour of a kitten-strength quarter-turn twist-lock cap. Hurray. About time. Inside the bladder there is a baffle that prevents the bladder from bulging out at the bottom when full of liquid. It now keeps the water spread out evenly top-to-bottom with no teardrop bulging. This make it lie better with the contents of the main chamber, as does the new integrated ‘handle drop slot’ that holds the neck of the bladder securely at the top of the pack (the bladder goes in its own zipped sleeve pocket on the very back of the pack by the way).
Overall: At £140 it is undeniably expensive. There are many nice design features that go a little bit in excusing this. It’s also very well made and holding up to the rigours of riding very well. It’s not a bag for all riders but if you occasionally require a LOT of storage space (overnight bivvyists for example) then it’s worth considering. For me, as a rider who’s never without a dSLR camera, knee pads and a spare outer layer, it’s my ‘go to’ pack. It may be overkill for most rides but the thing is it just works and sits so well as and when I cinch it up or down to suit the ride’s load. It doesn’t feel like a massive bag on your back. And there’s less handbag swapping. Less faff on the trail.
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