Review | Vaude Trail Spacer 18 – More Capacity Than Capability?

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Hannah tests out the Vaude Trail Spacer 18 – will its knitted construction hold up to miles on the bike as well as her previous pack?

My previous experience of a Vaude back pack was of one tested by Jenn before I arrived at Singletrack. It was passed on to me, and I used it every day to transport my laptop and lunch to work – often by bike, often in grim weather. When all the zipper tags had finally come off, before I got round to adding my own bits of para cord, I was offered this new pack to test, the Vaude Trail Spacer 18. So I said yes, and passed my old bag onto my dad (who added the zipper tags and is happily still using it – he really rates it).

Vaude Trail Spacer 18
Lightweight

The Vaude Trail Spacer 18 boasts eco credentials (as does all Vaude kit), but in an unusual twist, it goes beyond environmentally friendly fabric or ethical sourcing. This bag boasts that its rear panel is knitted, ‘Spacer Knit’ they call it, in a single thread – so there are no offcuts in the making of the back panel. No offcuts means less waste – a good thing, surely.

A previous version of the Trail Spacer was available in a smaller 8 litre version, this 18 litre pack is a new addition to the line up. As well as being less wasteful, the ‘Spacer Knit’ back claims to act be shock absorbing and to provide good ventilation. The straps are vest-like, and claim to be comfortable for both ‘speedhikes and fast mountain bike rides’.

On The Trail

As well as the main inner compartment, which contains a back flap into which you can insert a hydration bladder (not included) and small valuables pocket, there is a smaller top pocket, ideal for a phone. Two quite large side pockets are accessed by zips, and the front straps of the pack offer more pockets. Side compression cords compress the pack and help secure items such as water bottles into the outer side pouches. There’s also a flap/pouch of a pocket where you might expect to carry a full face on a more bike specific bag.

All of that comes in a very light package – the main pack’s fabric is very lightweight, and claims to be water repellent.

That’s a bunch of claims, how does the Vaude Trail Spacer 18 stack up in reality?

It’s so floaty light to put on, I thought I’d barely notice it was there – it weights just 0.72kg when empty. But, it’s floaty light and stretchy. When you put anything in it (maximum recommended load is 8kg), the bag doesn’t really have any of its own structure, so you have to set to with all the straps to squish and squash it down and get it moulded round your body. I found myself pulling and yanking on straps and cords and eventually getting it to feel approximately fixed on my back.

But then, I want to carry my laptop and my lunch. Maybe a clean T-shirt. And a small pump and multitool. And my phone, wallet and keys. Total weight, about 4.5kg. Pull, yank, stretch, compress. Getting ready for a ride with this on my back felt like I was trying to get a baby into one of those wraparound hippy slings you see. Except instead of a baby, there was an octopus.

Vaude Trail Spacer 18
Zips need two hands.

There’s 18 litres of capacity here. I went to buy 2 litres of milk. Which weighs about 2kg. By the time I’d walked (admittedly not speedhiked, I had children in tow) up the hill to my house, the concentrated weight of the pack was pulling my back so badly that I was really aching. I kept wrestling the octopus but no matter what I did I couldn’t get the weight of the pack to sit up and against my back. Even without much weight, with things like the bulk of waterproofs or surplus coats, the straps are just so stretchy, they keep growing like a knitted swimsuit. I’d regularly find myself with all the non stretchy straps pulled in as far as they would go, but still the bag would feel like it was stretching. And it invites you to add stuff – there are so many stretchy pockets, you can be stuffing all manner of children’s discarded hats, gloves, snacks, phones, about your person, and the outer pockets keep expanding to swallow them up. You’ll end up carrying a misshapen blob of a thing that looks like a Ghostbusters monster, but with so much capacity the temptation is there.

Vaude Trail Spacer 18
I’ve lost the mate for this strap.

On the trail proved just as problematic as on a walk. I regularly commute off road – leaving the laptop at work for the gnarlier routes. It never felt like it was really staying in place, and tended to rise up my back. On gentler scenic rides the front pockets on the straps were handy for popping my phone in. But the large side pockets needed two hands to do the zips back up again, so I found myself having to stop rather than being able to access them on the go.

There are a lot of little straps and loops on it – not all of which are immediately obvious as to their purpose, and they don’t seem to be terribly firmly attached. I’ve lost at least one. In addition one of the chest straps came off the runner, and the construction means I simply could not get it back on. And with all the stretch, you absolutely have to have the two chest straps done up, or it just slides off your shoulders – or on a steep descent it will hurl itself over your shoulder and bash your ear. Without a hip strap, these chest straps – both of them – are essential.

I think that while stretch might make for a comfortable pack in something smaller, at this capacity, comfort needs a bit more structure to it. The proportion of bag to my body just didn’t sit well with this level of flexibility, and rather than moulding to me I just found it never quite sat where I wanted it.

Vaude Trail Spacer 18
Lots of loops and straps.

For water repellency, it’s not terribly great. There’s no rain cover, and the fabric is much more lightly splashproof than actually waterproof. Certainly on my morning commutes, the spray from my rear tyre on a wet ride soaks through the bottom of the bag and into my kit.

What would this be handy for? Well, it is very lightweight and quite compress-able. You could certainly carry it with you stuffed into a corner of a pannier, and then whip it out and fill it full of shopping for example, if on a touring holiday, when you needed a bit of extra temporary space. I don’t think you’d find the experience terribly comfortable, but it would do the job. That’s quite a niche market though.

Overall

Vaude Trail Spacer 18
More capacity than it is capable of dealing with.

It’s not often I find a product I find myself not wanting to use. Or that I don’t want to review because I can’t find kind things to say about it, or identify who it would be good for, if not for me. But I’m afraid I think this 18 litre bag misses the mark. I can see that the smaller version could well work well and be comfortable, but I’m not convinced the stretchy ‘Spacer Knit’ technology sizes up well. Dad, can I have my bag back?

Review Info

Brand: Vaude
Product: Trail Spacer 18
From: vaude.com/en-GB/
Price: £140
Tested: by Hannah for 10 months
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