Camelbak Octane 16x Rucksack Review

16th Feb 2020

Camelbak Octane 16X Rucksack

The first ‘proper’ mountain biking pack I ever owned was an early model Camelbak rucksack with a built in hydration system. It was such a game changer for me as being able to drink on the go made life so much easier and hands free is definitely the way to go. It also allowed a decent amount of liquid to be carried for long excursions, allowed the weight to be supported comfortably on my back and shoulders and was far less prone to getting coated with mud when out in challenging weather.  I may still use a frame mounted water bottle on short rides in drier weather, but a hydration pack wins the day in every other circumstance.

Of course, that was what Camelbak founder Michael Eidson envisaged back in 1989.  He was competing in a bike race in the baking heat of Texas and felt it was dangerous to take his hands off the bars to drink.  He wanted to create a hands free system and so filled a medical IV bag, stuck it in a sock and pinned the sock to the back of his jersey. Then, by trailing the tube over his shoulder and pinning it in position, he had just invented what would go on to be the industry shifting Camelbak.  

The product worked superbly and within a few months he was selling them commercially - the rest is history.  Over the intervening years their popularity has continued to grow rapidly and nowadays Camelbaks are popular with all types of sportspeople, military personnel and within industry.  The company also produces water bottles, water purification systems and a broad range of packs and other storage accessories.  

Since my first use of their products I’ve continued to be a big fan of the brand and was delighted when they sent across one of their Octane 16x Hydration Packs for review.  Having used it for a variety of activities over the few 6 months, here is my review.....

Features

The Octane 16x is, as the name suggests, a 16 litre capacity pack designed to suit a variety of activities.  Camelbak define it as a pack for running but also describe it as a multi-sport option and, having tried it for running, mountain biking and hillwalking, I certainly agree they have hit a sweet spot in terms of features for different activities.  The one I received was in their atomic blue and black colours but the pack is also available in a lime punch and black colourway.  

There is a main zipped compartment that will happily swallow up plenty of clothes and equipment.  Alongside that Camelbak have incorporated a clever expandable zipped front panel that allows significant additional equipment storage.  There are then additional zipped pockets on the shoulder straps and hip belt.  

The shoulder straps, hip belt and back panel all feature a highly ventilated stretchy mesh material called 3D-Vent Poly Mesh and the hip belt incorporates wrap around wings to provide stability and support.  There is a carrying system for trekking poles and, although I don’t see this being a top choice as a winter pack, this attachment system could also double up to hold an ice axe.  The supplied Crux hydration bladder is 3 litre capacity.

In Use

My main use for a pack of this type would be for mountain biking, but I can also see its use as a running and hillwalking pack.  For me, though, it’s all about biking. It is the sort of pack I use for much longer rides or in guiding situations where I have to pack more kit.  16 litres is quite a sweet spot in terms of size.

But, once a pack of this size is jammed full, that can add up to quite a lot of weight. So, to be effective, it needs to carry well. You can tell a lot about how much a pack manufacturer knows about good design by how well the back panel and harness are designed. As mentioned above, the back panel and shoulder straps of the Octane feature an interesting mesh material that I was initially rather sceptical about - I particularly wondered whether on the shoulder straps it could deform under load.

I should have known better.  Camelbak have got this just right.  The shoulder straps are really comfortable and breathe exceptionally well, but are also supportive even under a heavy load. I also really like the sculpted shape which I have found to be both fitted and yet unrestrictive - an essential feature for high output and athletic activities. There are elasticated pockets on the shoulder straps that are perfect for items like energy bars or a compass.  On muddy bike rides I also like to tuck the bite valve of the hydration bladder into one of these pockets to offer some protection. 

The rest of the pocket system has also been well thought out.  The waist-belt pockets are accessible while the pack is on and provide the perfect place to store a compass, snack bars, sunscreen or similar small items.  It can be a little tricky to get these opened and closed when the pack is worn, but it just takes a bit of practice to get the knack of it.  They are actually well designed and suit the type of fast and light users who will leave their pack on most of the time.

The final storage element is the front zipped extension pocket.  This is great. The pocket offers significant additional storage and is perfect for those days where you are likely to take off and put on layers quite often or you are starting off with lots of food but your storage requirements will drop as the day goes on.

The fabric is lightweight 70D diamond ripstop nylon and, while this isn’t going to survive battles with rough rock, it is holding up very well to the uses it is intended for. Similarly, the mesh is holding up to use.     

Very few packs on the market can claim to be waterproof and the Octane certainly isn’t designed to be more than water-resistant.  When I’m riding in very wet conditions I pack essentials into smaller lightweight dry bags inside the main bag.  This helps organisation and stops me worrying about things getting wet.  But, the pack does have a reasonable amount of water resistant which will be enough for many users.

The supplied Crux hydration bladder offers 3 litres of liquid carrying capacity and it works perfectly.  I mean, why wouldn’t it? Camelbak have built their reputation on producing top quality hydration systems.  The bladder fills via a secure and beefy wide neck leak proof screw cap opening which makes filling a breeze and also makes it simple if you are adding ice cubes or hydration tablets.  The wide opening also makes it simple to fill the bladder from something like a stream or if you are decanting liquid from another container. 

I should say that I’ve had one mishap where I thought the screw cap was on securely and in fact I had managed to cross thread it and liquid leaked into my pack.  It was user error, but something to be aware of as it looked like it was properly secured.   

The other key feature of any hydration system is the bite valve that will deliver your liquid.  It is essential that any valve seals efficiently, can be easily operated with no hands and delivers a good flow of liquid relatively effortlessly.  Well, the Camelbak bite valve design has been around for a long time and is one I’ve used for years.  My view on it, simply put, is that it is the best on the market. In the case of the new model bite valve and wide bore tubing Camelbak claim it offers 20% more liquid per sip.  I can’t say if this is definitely the case, but it certainly pushes the liquid out with gusto. 

It ticks every box and is a joy to use, is simple to clean and is reliable.  I’ve retrofitted these valves on many hydration systems from other brands and think there is little on the market that is comparable. Camelbak have also added Hydroguard technology to inhibit the growth of bacteria in the reservoir and tube and the Crux has a carrying handle, clips to secure it inside the pack (very useful when the pack isn’t full and the bladder can slip down) and an on/off lever allows the flow to be closed to the valve if needed. The bladder also features Camelbak’s Quicklink system which allows a quick disconnect between the drink tube and bladder - very useful for quick refills.   

Summary

The Octane 16x is a superb high performance multi-sport pack that will suit many user types, is built to Camelbak’s exacting standards and has intelligently designed features to suit the fast and light brigade. Oh, and of course it also features an industry leading hydration system.  Camelbak have really hit the sweet spot with this pack.  The Octane 16x retails for £124.99.

Posted by Paul