Review: Camelbak KUDU 8 Hydration Backpack

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The Camelbak KUDU range has been available for nearly two years, but up until very recently, Camelbak only offered the KUDU in 18 and 12 litre versions. For the 2017 riding season however, Camelbak has now added a smaller, lighter and more compact version called the KUDU 8.

You may have already seen it in Fresh Goods Friday, and Chipps also reported on the new KUDU 8 back at PressCamp, but after having played with one over the past couple of months, I thought I’d bring you my thoughts on the compact hydration pack from Camelbak.

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The KUDU 8 is available in three colours, including the ‘acid green’ colour that we’ve had on test. My eyes are burning!

The Camelbak KUDU 8 Backpack Features:

  • 5 litres of storage space
  • Designed to fit a 3 litre hydration bladder (not included)
  • Integrated back protector
  • Wide profile waist straps
  • Dual sternum buckles
  • Internal tool roll (included)
  • Storage compression straps
  • Hidden waist storage pockets
  • Flexible overflow storage compartment
  • Available in three colours: Black, Green & Orange
  • RRP: £139.99
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Secure strapping on the KUDU harness. This pack ain’t going nowhere.

I’ve already got extensive experience with the bigger KUDU 12 hydration pack, so I was already plenty familiar with the KUDU concept. If you’re not, the big story with the KUDU is its integrated back protector. I’ll get onto the details of that below, but in essence, Camelbak wanted to combine the versatility and functionality of their hydration pack system with a layer of back protection.

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Two adjustable sternum buckles keep the harness snug.

It’s still a backpack with integrated hydration, but with the addition of a special back protector plate, the KUDU becomes an ideal option for riders wanting more protection for riding higher speed trails on more technical terrain. It’s also why the KUDU harness comes with two sternum straps and a large profile waist buckle. This is a pack that is designed to be snug and close fitting, so it doesn’t move around in the event of a crash.

camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
The KUDU has external compression straps, so you can cinch it down when you’re not at full capacity.

The KUDU doesn’t have masses of storage space compared to its bigger brothers, with just 5 litres of cargo volume for you to pack with tools, spares, an outer layer, some food and a POV camera. If you’re looking for an all-day riding pack to add in extra layers and carry more food and more spares, then consider the bigger KUDU 12 or KUDU 18. The KUDU 8 on the other hand, is a lighter and slimmer pack that is less noticeable to wear, and only equipped to carry the essentials. This makes it a great pack for racing.

camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
Each waist strap contains a hidden pocket. The right side (pictured), uses an elasticated closure for quick-access items like bars and gels.
camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
The left waist strap is zippered, so it’s more secure. I used it for a multi-tool or a POV camera when I wanted easy access to either one during a ride.
camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
Both of the sternum buckles contain integrated whistles. Which is great, because I can’t whistle to save myself!
camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
The main compartment in the KUDU 8 has a wide-mouth zippered flap, so it’s easy to get at the contents at the base of the compartment.

The KUDU 8 only has one main compartment, which I like because it keeps everything centralised. The main compartment has a wide-mouth zippered compartment, so it’s easy to load and unload gear, though you will have to undo the two top compression strap buckles to get in there.

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The Camelbak tool roll is included with the KUDU 8, and it comes with its own storage sleeve inside the main compartment.

There’s a mesh harness inside the main compartment for tucking in things like pumps, and there’s also a dedicated pocket for the included tool roll.

camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
The mesh construction allows you to see inside each of the three zippered compartments in the tool roll.

I like the Camelbak tool roll. I own a couple of Camelbak hydration packs, so I just have one loaded tool roll that I swap from pack-to-pack as I need them. It’s also a great idea to be able to store smaller loose items like spare chain links, derailleur hangers and cable ties.

camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
The KUDU pack doesn’t come with a bladder. Unless you’ve got one already, you’ll have to buy one of those separately.

Unlike most other Camelbak mountain bike packs, the KUDU range comes sans bladder in most regions in the world (UK included). The reason? The KUDU isn’t a cheap pack because of that integrated back protector, so in order to keep the price a little lower, Camelbak has skipped the bladder. This is good news if you already own a Camelbak pack (like me), as you can simply fit it into the KUDU 8. If you don’t, make sure you factor in the £39.99 price for a 3 litre Camelbak Crux Reservoir.

camelbak crux reservoir hydration bladder
The Camelbak Crux reservoir is new for 2017, and comes with some improvements over the previous Antidote reservoir.

If you haven’t heard about the new Crux reservoir, then Chipps’ PressCamp article is worth checking out for all the details. Essentially the Crux doesn’t stray too much from the previous Antidote bladder, but there are some improvements. For a start, the inner diameter of the drinking tube has been opened up to boost flow to the bite valve. Internal baffles have also been added to help the bladder keep its shape regardless of how full or empty it is (depending on whether you’re an optimist or pessimist).

camelbak crux reservoir hydration bladder
The shutoff valve has also been designed to a more simple on/off lever shape.
camelbak crux reservoir hydration bladder
The closure cap now flips up rather than down. There’s also an integrated pan handle that makes filling up much easier.
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Integrated back protection on the KUDU 8.

Ok, so back to the pack itself. Hidden behind the Crux reservoir is the Impact Protector. There’s an elasticated sleeve, and the protective back panel slides into that sleeve so it sits between your back and the hydration bladder.

camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
The Impact Protector plate is removable, but it’s so flexible and lightweight that you don’t notice it while riding.

The Impact Protector is what makes the KUDU a special pack for Camelbak. There are other brands offer packs with integrated back protection, including options from EVOC, Dakine and POC, and it’s a clever idea for encouraging more riders to better protect their spine and back in the event of a crash, without having to don a full body armour suit.

The Impact Protector is made from with a dual density construction to help absorb impact forces.

While the Impact Protector is removable, it was so cold during our photoshoot that I didn’t bother, so you’ll have to make do with the photos I took at an earlier date with the KUDU 12 I’ve also used. As you’ll see in the above photo, the Impact Protector uses a triple-layer construction that is made from a high density foam. It’s flexible, though Camelbak has added additional slits and ventilation throughout the protector to encourage further movement and breathability.

Additional slits and ventilation holes help to make the Impact Protector more flexible against your back.

“The protection insert or “Impact Protector” is a CE 1621-2 Level 2 certified protector, which means that it has been tested and meets the standard for motorcycle use (CE 1621-2 Level 2 is a much higher impact protection than Level 1). This flexible and lightweight insert is capable of withstanding multiple impacts and is located inside the reservoir compartment where it can be removed for inspection, cleaning, etc.” – Camelbak

camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
The grey layer is a firmer density foam, and the black layers are a softer density foam. The two combine to help decelerate impact speeds and absorb impact forces.
camelbak kudu hydration backpack reservoir dharco
I recently rode with the KUDU 8 during the Focus JAM launch in France, where conditions were hot and dusty. Photo: Christoph Laue.

In use, the KUDU 8 is a supremely comfortable pack to wear. Despite the extra layer of back protection, I regularly forgot that I was wearing anything other than a snug-fitting and lightweight hydration pack. The extra sternum strap and the wide profile waist belt ensure the KUDU 8 doesn’t move around on your back, and if you don’t have it full of gear, then the external compression straps help to tighten everything down to stop any gear from bouncing around internally.

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The KUDU 8 is lightweight, compact and snug to ride with. Photo: Christophe Laue.

The only thing that bothered me about the KUDU 8 was its lack of a pocket for your mobile phone. The other KUDU’s (and other Camelbak packs) come with a felt-lined zippered media pocket that is ideal for your phone or sunglasses, but that is a feature that is mysteriously missing from the KUDU 8, and it’s puzzling why Camelbak decided to omit it.


As I found with the KUDU 12, the KUDU 8 is a well-fitting backpack that happens to have excellent back protection in it too. Because the KUDU 8 is lighter and slimmer though, it’s even less noticeable to wear while riding. The only real limitation of the KUDU 8 is its storage space, so bear in mind how much gear you’ll need to carry and whether you’ll have to upsize to the KUDU 12 or KUDU 18.

The Impact Protector itself is excellent, and I would highly recommend more riders consider a pack with back protection if you don’t already have one. It’s flexible and light enough not to notice, and if you carry sharp objects around in your pack such as multi-tools and shock pumps, then having an extra layer of protection between your spine and those items is a very, very good thing. I had a solid OTB crash where I landed hard and flat on my back, but thankfully I had no damage or pain to speak of, when I wouldn’t have been so sure if I didn’t have the Impact Protector.

The Camelbak KUDU 8 isn’t cheap for a hydration pack, but once you factor in the CE certified back protector, it becomes very good value indeed.

Review Info

Product:KUDU 8
Tested:by Wil Barrett for 3 Months

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