By James Vincent
Knee and elbow pads have been a common sight amongst mountain bikers for years now, but for some reason back protection has remained the relative preserve of downhillers and freeriders. Now a mandatory requirement in several rounds of this year’s Enduro World Series and highly recommended in numerous other race series, things are changing. Racing aside, modern trail bikes are getting faster all the time, so it makes sense to consider looking after your spine even if you’re not chasing a race series around the globe.
What we have here then, are 5 packs covering all genres from minimalistic race packs, through to packs more suited to big all day adventures and everything in between, that all feature an EN1621-2 CE certified spine protector. Each manufacturer has gone for a slightly different type of insert, and some offer more protection than others, so without further ado let’s have a look at them in more detail…
Leatt DBX Mountain Lite 2.0
First up, we have an ultra light weight pack from body armour specialists Leatt. With a proven reputation in downhill circles and a range of industry standard neck braces on offer, it is of no surprise that this pack is all about travelling light and doing so at speed. The protection takes the form of a CE Level 1 certified, 4 layer foam insert, which like on all of the packs on test is easily removable.
It comes with a 2L bladder that slides into an insulated pocket to keep your drink at the required temperature, and apparently has 1L of storage, although I struggled to get much more than a compact multitool into the slim pocket.
After a bit of fiddling with the unusual shoulder strap arrangement, the pack didn’t move about when riding – in fact, I hardly noticed it – but I do question how dependable the protection is going to be in the case of an accident, because the pack slides from side to side on your back if pushed.
The other things I wasn’t keen on, were the insecure Velcro attachments to keep the hose in place, and the external helmet bungee cords – the clips kept on coming off, and when the lactic acid is burning and the clock is ticking, you don’t want to have to worry about losing a tiny piece of plastic.
Evoc FR Lite Team 10L
A different take on a minimalistic race pack in comparison to the Leatt, the FR Lite Team is a stripped back pack that doesn’t skimp on the essentials.
The large main compartment opens very wide to allow super easy access to the bladder pouch (bladder not supplied) and the removable Liteshield protector. Constructed from adaptive PU foam with a segmented EPS core, this is only certified to CE level 1, yet is wider than all the other inserts on test, giving extra protection to the sides of your back.
There is a slim front pocket, padded top pocket for your glasses and phone, and a couple of other pockets dotted around the pack, giving enough storage for afternoon rides.
To justify the Team moniker, there is a removable helmet strap on the front of the pack and a convenient hip pocket. As with all Evoc packs, there is a massive Velcro waist strap that really makes the pack hug your back and feels very secure, and it is one of the few manufacturers to offer different sizes so you can be sure of the correct fit. Because of the all enveloping nature of the pack (it’s quite long too), it does trap heat more than other packs, which while not a deal breaker, is something to be aware of.
Fox Camber Small 10L
A slightly more relaxed pack, the lack of compression straps makes this one is more suited to regular trail riding than out and out racing, but is compact and very lightweight, with massive padded waist straps to hold everything in place should things get too rowdy.
In spite of the compact nature of the pack, it still manages to cram in a full size CE Level 1 certified protector – this time a large orange pad of D30. Normally soft and flexible, this wonder material hardens on shock and spreads the impact before returning to its flexible state.
There are two main compartments in the pack, with plenty of dividers and mesh pockets to keep things organised, and a rather nifty helmet/jacket/kneepad pouch that stashes away at the bottom of the pack when not required. The supplied bladder has a detachable hose and a clip and slide opening – both of which combine to make filling, cleaning, and storage of the bladder much easier so it’s nice to see that they are becoming more commonplace. The only downside to the Camber is that it’s very flexible – the softer fabrics and D30 protector mean it can be a pain to load up, and you have to be careful not to over fill it, as the contents can push uncomfortably against your back.
Endura MT500 15L
Endura have a well deserved reputation for making no nonsense kit that doesn’t shout about itself too much, preferring to just get on with the job, and this pack is no exception. Officially the most protective pack on test, there’s a CE Level 2 Koroyd insert sandwiched between your back and the bladder. Yes, it looks like someone’s had some fun with a whole load of drinking straws, but this extra level of certification means that the protection absorbs twice as much impact as a Level 1 certified protector.
The pack on test didn’t come with a bladder, but one is available as an option if you need it. The rest of the MT500 is equally tough – there’s a reinforced base that extends well up the sides of the pack, big chunky zips, solid metal clips and the obligatory waterproof pocket for your phone and wallet.
Inside the large main compartment are a couple of organising pockets, and a matching tool roll. It sounds daft to focus on such a small thing, but every time I reached for my tools on the trail there were plenty of admiring noises, and it’s gone with me from pack to pack on this test.
In spite of being so well featured, the MT500 manages to keep the weight down to well under 1kg, which your back and shoulders will thank you for at the end of an all day ride.
Dakine Seeker 15L
In contrast to the lightweight MT500, the Dakine Seeker is a heavyweight, coming in at over 1.5kg. However, the pack hides its weight well and once on, you don’t feel it. This is partly because it has the best suspension system on test, spreading the load evenly regardless of how much stuff you cram in, and partly because Dakine have cleverly put the hydration bladder low down at the bottom across your lumbar region.
CE Level 1 protection is provided in the form of Dakine’s proprietary DK Impact foam, which can also be found in their kneepads and works in a similar way to D30.
Constructed out of a tough, waterproof coated fabric, the Seeker feels very solid with lots of internal organiser pockets (including a soft padded glasses pouch), cleverly hidden straps for carrying extra gear on the outside, and a water tight roll top on the main compartment. Usually these are expandable if you need a bit more storage, but this design doesn’t let you do that and is a little bit fiddly. I would have preferred a full length waterproof zip instead, which would have saved weight and given some more clearance between the back of your helmet and the top of the pack, but this is a minor issue on what is otherwise a great pack.
Most of the packs on test are solidly constructed with no huge shortcomings and there were no major failures at any point throughout the test period. Without wishing to sound too much like a cop out, there really isn’t a bad pack here and they all performed well, although I’d say none were as comfortable as my usual (spine protector-less) Osprey Raptor 18. Aside from the Leatt which is a very specialised pack for a very specialised target audience, the only real differentiator on this test was the fit – by its very nature, a back protector needs to be as close to the back as possible in order for it to function effectively, and this is where I came across a common issue with the majority of the packs on test.
When loaded up under their maximum capacity, all the packs fitted nicely, but as the load increased, all the packs bar one, bulged along the spine to varying degrees, pushing into your body and making some of them uncomfortable. The exception to this was the Dakine Seeker – because the main portion of the pack is suspended away from your back via a mesh support system, the load has no effect on the fit. The pack did move about on my back though, in particular on steep descents, and because of the high roll top it would then hit the back of my helmet. Having said that – other testers didn’t suffer from the same issue quite as much.
Unfortunately the Leatt really didn’t do it for me – I wasn’t convinced by the waistcoat style harness, and there were a few niggles on the fittings that bugged me. The Endura MT500, Fox Camber and Dakine Seeker fall into joint second place and are incredibly difficult to separate for a variety of reasons – the Endura is lightweight, well protected and roomy, but the more rigid back insert adversely affected the fit. The Fox fits well, but can be a pain to pack and get things out of on the trail because the D30 insert is so flexible, while the Dakine Seeker is super tough and has great weight distribution, but is heavy, overly fussy (in my opinion) and moves about when riding.
This leaves the Evoc FR Lite Team as our winner; it is the best fitting pack on test, the back protector isn’t too rigid and uncomfortable, and it’s only real let down was being a fraction too small for my carrying needs but that’s negated by the fact that Evoc’s range includes bigger packs with the same protection features.
|Brand:||Dakine, Endura, Evoc, Fox, Leatt|
|Product:||Seeker 15L, FR Lite Team 10L, Camber Small 10l, MT500 15L, DBX Mountain Lite 2.0|
|Price:||£79.99 - £165|
|Tested:||by James Vincent for|