For years I’ve held on to the same hydration pack – a Camelbak Mule. It’s been a great pack – and I really never had an issue with it. It took years of abuse in the mountain from this cyclist. I really can’t remember how long I’ve had it – but it was my first “real” hydration pack (we won’t mention that pseudo-camelbak-fanny-pack thing….).
My birthday rolled around late last month, and I held on to my birthday money until I figured out something worthy on which to spend it. It took me a bit, but I finally thought it might be time to get myself a new hydration pack. My reasoning:
- Over the years, I had cracked those snap/buckles that kept the straps secure (by inadvertently stepping on them while the pack sat on the ground)
- The past few weeks, my bite valve started tasting like the bug spray I put on – meaning those first few gulps of water were bitter. And it burned going down.
Sure, I could have just bought myself a new bladder/tube/bite valve; but, sometimes, it’s just time for a change (even though I have trouble with change – see my Pedal Dilemma).
So, I called up my local bike shop and asked if they stocked any Camelbaks. They told me they only carried Ospreys (of which I had never heard), so I thought I’d stop in and take an old gander. I stopped by the store a little later, and was shown a number of different colorful models.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I wanted a colorful hydration pack. So, I was leaning towards the black model. I’m not sure which model it was, but the price put it at the top of the line. I had to pick up some new mountain biking pedals, too – and this would have put me over my birthday booty budget (and I really wasn’t interested in spending $100+ on a hydration pack anyway).
So, I decided on the Osprey Viper 9 in a bright red color. A bit showy for me – but – it was the right size (and, more importantly, the right price)! So – here is my review!
The pack itself is lighter than my old Camelbak. In some ways, I wonder if it’ll hold up to the rigors of mountain biking. I encounter enough low branches on my rides that like to scrape the surface of my pack. Couple that with those times that I end up laying on top of rocks, roots and logs. I guess time will tell whether or not it holds up – but – I do have to say I like its lighter weight!
The underside of the Viper 9 that goes against the rider’s back is one part manly-looking skeleton and one part mesh. It allowed for a cooler feel on my back during the ride. I didn’t have the opportunity on my one ride to take off the pack for a few minutes (to change a flat), but I have to wonder if it’ll also help with that oh-so-cold feeling you get when you put it back on (after your sweat had enough time to cool – yuck!).
It took me a few looks to figure out the bite valve. I was used to the on/off feature of the Camelbak and this one was circular. At first, I thought there was a cap I had to take off, or, I had to open it like you do the top of a water bottle. It turns out, I just had to bite on it. It offers 360 degrees of bite – so there’s no fidgeting to find the right position to get water (of course, I never really thought that was a big issue with the Camelbak).
An interesting feature included for the bite valve itself is a magnet attached to the snap at the sternum. It was a bit awkward to get in place the first time or two. A few times of practice, though, and it held pretty good. It’s kind of nice to be magnetic, since it will hold pretty firmly but pull away if it gets snagged in something along the trail. Osprey markets the bite valve as “high H2O volume,” and the water flow was good (but I can’t say it was much different than the volume from my Camelbak).
Note to self and my cycling buddies: Warnings are posted that the magnet could stop pacemakers. Hopefully, one of us will remember that if/when the time comes that we have a pacemaker and are still riding mountain bikes!
An interesting feature of the tube of the Viper 9 is that it’s actually partially encased in the shoulder strap itself. It gets zipped inside – which keeps the tube from sticking out far enough for stray limbs to grab on. I just like the thought that went into that. You need to actually unzip the shoulder strap when you go to refill the tank – in a broad zipping motion that gives you easy access to that tank.
And, speaking of the tank, it’s even a bit different of a design. Instead of my Camelbak’s shape of the tank where you’d fill from the top and then try to cram the tank into the pack, the Viper’s tank is flatter. It was not as comfortable to fill in the sink (keeping in mind it was my first attempt which will get easier over time); however, the shape made perfect sense when it slipped seamlessly into the pack. The Viper 9 tank is 3.0Liter.
As for compartments, the Viper had the same amount of zippered compartments as my Camelbak Mule had – but I found some things that I liked better about the Viper:
- The very top compartment that is typically reserved for phones, MP3 players, etc. was a lot larger in the Viper. On my Camelbak, I’d struggle to push my phone (in its belt holster) down into the space. The Viper’s top compartment opened up wide. Heck! I might even be able to fit my whole belt in there, too!
- The next compartment down is the largest area (just like on the Camelbak). However, the folks at Osprey thought to put some neat little loops inside to hold things like the portable tire pump. Now, one can’t really easily lose a pump in those compartments, but it’s nice to know that the pump will always be at the same place (rather than just landing somewhere in that compartment).
- The next “open access compartment” is deeper on the Viper 9 than the Mule. This is usually where I keep the fold-up saw for use on fallen limbs (or to scare away an errant Bigfoot). The Viper’s compartment features adjustable straps on the side to account for more (or less) material in this section.
- The smallest section has your typical mesh pockets for easy stashing of energy bars and frequently-accessed tools. And the handy clip for your car keys always comes in handy (as it did on the Mule, too).
I don’t remember getting an Owner’s Manual for the Camelbak Mule, but the Osprey Viper 9 did come with one (and I actually read through it!). I thought it might be good to learn about some of the other features of the pack. In addition to the things I already mentioned, a few other features may be noteworthy to list:
- There are directions on how to customize the tube length if the stock length doesn’t work for you.
- At the top of the pack, there is a “LidLock Helmet Attachment.” While this looks pretty cool, it’s nothing I would use (since all of my cycling stuff stays in a neat cycling bin), but others may use it. That is….if they can understand the directions. The small black-and-white pictures and the instructions don’t help too much. Of course, as I sit here writing this, I took a few more moments to re-read it. I think I understand it now.
- A “Blinker Light Attachment” is featured on the pack. The black-and-white picture in the instructions is not clear. I think it’s the area at the bottom of the back of my pack, but not 100% sure. Since I don’t use a blinker light for mountain biking anyway, this is a non-issue for me.
The final thing that I should mention is that Osprey looks like they have a pretty good warranty program. Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee: Any Reason. Any Product. Any Era. states that “Osprey will repair for any reason, free of charge, any damage or defect in our product – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If we are unable to perform a quality repair on your pack, we will happily replace it. We proudly stand behind this guarantee, so much so that it bears the signature of company founder and head designer, Mike Pfotenhauer.”
I guess that should put to rest my worries about how it’ll hold up!
So, I’ve hung up my Camelbak for the new Osprey Viper 9 (yes – just hung it up…..still completely leery of change). It doesn’t look like I’ll be going back to the Camelbak, though. The Viper 9 has won me over! And I think it could win over most any mountain biker!