Redesigned for 2018, the new KUDU range from Camelbak combines a spine protector and a hydration backpack all in one. We gave the big 20L version to our main man in the Lake District, James Vincent, to put to the test during some big days out on some of the steepest, rockiest and gnarliest terrain he could find in Cumbria.
First spotted at PressCamp earlier this year, the Camelbak KUDU 20 sits at the top of Camelbak’s extensive range of cycling specific packs, in both size (20L) and spec (lots of bells, one whistle). While there are other packs in the range of a similar size, the KUDU series feature integrated back protection, and for 2018, has been simplified to just a 10L and 20L model (that’s water capacity + storage), with several key features of the packs getting a bit of an overhaul at the same time.
As the bigger of the two packs, the KUDU 20 is most definitely on the larger end of the scale for cycling packs, with numerous straps and expanding pouches covering the surface of the pack, along with the obligatory rain cover buried at the bottom. Unloaded, Camelbak claims the pack weighs a not-inconsiderable 1.5kg, which means it needs to be designed well to distribute it’s weight as broadly as possible.
Unzipping ¾ of the way round to allow unfettered access and running the full length of the bag, the vast main compartment also has a small zippered mesh pocket for phones, keys and other essentials.
On the outside, there’s a secondary compartment with a couple of mesh dividers that’s ideal for tools, a soft-lined glasses or goggle pocket, and an expanding pouch for strapping helmets and body armour to. On each side of the pack are two large mesh pockets, and not to be left out, the waist belt has two decent sized zippered pockets as well. The KUDU also comes with it’s own nifty little tool roll, which means all up, there are a load of storage compartments that offer a ton of flexibility.
While the pack is designed to accommodate a 3L bladder, as with previous versions of the KUDU, Camelbak don’t supply one. If they did, the recommended retail price would go well over the 200 quid barrier. So it’s either a BYO deal, or you’ll have to buy a new one. In our case, we were supplied with a 3L Camlebak Crux bladder that sells for £39.99. On the bladder itself, it’s arguably the best hydration bladder going, with a detachable hose, an excellent bite valve, and a nice wide-mouth opening that’s easy to fill.
To keep all this load stable, you get two sternum straps (one with a whistle), and a large (but flexible and comfortable) Velcro waist strap. Excess strap material is kept neat and tidy with some nifty bits of Velcro – it’s the little details that make all the difference, and it’s obvious that Camelbak has really sweated the small stuff on this pack.
I gave it my best shot at filling the pack on a couple of rides, but try as I might, I couldn’t sensibly find its limit. It was only when things had gotten silly and with a full bladder (the pack, not me), that the KUDU started to feel a little overinflated and uncomfortable. At all other times, it remained supremely comfortable and stable when riding.
To give you some idea of the amount of kit I was able to pack in to the, err… pack, here’s a list:
- Fully loaded tool roll
- 3L of water
- Spare jacket
- Base layer
- Shock pump
- Topeak Mountain Morph pump
- Basic first aid kit
- More snacks
- Multi tool
- Compact camera
- 2x inner tubes
- Survival blanket
And all of this was stashed inside the main compartments, and there are still a couple of expandable pockets on the outside of the KUDU that you can stuff things into if needed, including straps for pads, full face helmets and the like. I’m still looking for the kitchen sink attachment, and quite frankly I fully expect to find one!
I didn’t get to try it out, but I reckon with some careful packing, you’d be able to load the KUDU up and head off for an overnight stay in the hills – it really is that capacious.
On the flip side, one unique feature of both the KUDU 10 and 20, is the ability to split the pack in half and remove the main bulk of the bag. This is ideal when you’re out for a shorter ride where you don’t need the full load carrying capacity, but still want the reassurance of the back protector.
For shuttle days or hurtling quick laps at a trail centre, this adaptability means you don’t have to carry the entire pack if you don’t need it.
Even in shuttle-mode though, there are still a couple of mesh pockets to hold a tool roll and other essentials, and of course you still retain the waist strap storage for the stuff you want within easy reach. The best aspect of these waist straps is that you can access them without having to undo all the straps and take the pack off your body.
One thing to note though is that because the bladder stays with the main bit of the pack, you’ll need to (a) carry a water bottle on your bike, (b) fit a soft bottle inside one of those mesh pockets, or (c) go full camel-style and smash your beverage of choice at the bottom of each run before heading back up.
Oddly though, I actually found the KUDU more comfortable to wear with the full pack strapped to my back. That’s not to say it was uncomfortable, but without the weight of the main compartment pulling it down, I found the back protector section on its own had a tendency to ride up my back into an awkward position.
Normally, I’d suggest that carrying as little weight as possible on your back is a good thing, but seeing as the KUDU’s support system and padding is so very good, and the weight is so well distributed (meaning the pack hardly moves around at all even when fully loaded), you’d have to have a pretty strong reason to separate the two. But the option is there anyway.
Last year, I tested several bags with built-in back protection and the one thing I found was that fitting a protector to a pack generally compromises the fit and comfort of wearing said pack to varying degrees. But the Camelbak KUDU breaks this trend and is hands down the most comfortable and stable cycling pack I’ve ever used – back protector or not. It also features some incredibly well-thought-out storage, and the fact that you can remove the bulk of the pack and go for a quick spin but still take the essentials with you, is the icing on the cake.
Downsides? It’s not a cheap pack, and it doesn’t come with a bladder as standard. You do need to remember it has a CE-certified back protector though, which is responsible for a large chunk of the cost. If you don’t feel you need that protection, then there are plenty of other Camelbak options that don’t use a back protector. If you’ve had a bad spill in the past though, or you simply feel more comfortable with the idea of covering your spine with something that’s designed to protect it, then this is one of the best options going.