Tested- Dirty Kanza, Monarch Crest Trail, Cycle to Saturn, + a solo bikepacking trip and most rides in between!
- Stays in place
- Comfortable throughout the ride
- Small part storage
- Large item storage
- Jostles against armpits when empty
Just over a year ago, in January of 2018, Camelbak announced their new Chase bike vest– dubbed as a minimalist hydration pack perfect for everything from enduro riding, to full days on the saddle. Over the course of a year, I had the opportunity to test this pack in nearly every condition, mixed with several styles of extreme riding.
Three days before driving out to Kansas, I purchased this vest. On the morning of June 2, I committed a crime I swore I wouldn’t commit again- use a vital piece of gear for the first time during a mentally exhausting endurance event. Leading up to the Dirty Kanza, I had been using a Deuter Race EXP- the same pack that I used in the 2017 Colorado Trail Race. Although this pack is phenomenal as a loaded up work horse, I simply just didn’t need the 3 liters of water or extra carrying capacity that makes the Deuter excel as a backcountry cycling backpack. After seeing a few people I trust swear behind the new Chase vest, I decided to give it a go. 10 months later, odds are that if I’m leaving for a ride, the vest comes with me.
It stays in place, and stays comfortable
Runners have known this for decades- the design of this bag doesn’t move when you do. While this makes a difference in long road rides and gravel races, nothing puts a bag through a better “shake test” than a proper mountain bike ride. My biggest qualm with most backpacks, is that they tend to jump around and smack your neck when riding over rough, loose terrain. This bag, is different. Much different. When weighted down not only does it stay in place, it gets forgotten about all together. Bonus: You still have access to all rear pockets!
Price and pockets
Coming in with an MSRP of $100, this is on the lower end of the Camelbak price sheet. With basic packs starting at $50 and going past $200, the features and storage available on this pack make it a worthy investment. Although it holds a relatively small 1.5L(50oz) of water, it seems to have plenty of spaces to stash away everything from well over a day’s worth of calories, to an emergency rain jacket. Two chest pockets give the ability to stow snacks, and even a Camelbak Stow Flask, should you want an extra 17 oz of water easily and quickly accessible. I find it to be the perfect size for a large pickle, seen here.
Poorly designed reservoir
This bag is so close to perfection, with one large but fixable problem. In my opinion, the reservoir is worthless. It fails at two points- the fixation to the inside of the bag, and the refill closure. Using a hook and loop system, the bag is supported near the top. While functional when affixed properly, getting it in and out can be a slippery slope to hurt finger tips (and the questioning of your ability to succeed at seemingly simple tasks). There’s no reason why the loop can’t be any bigger, and seems to cause more trouble than it needs to.
The second issue, is the closure of the reservoir. No matter how careful I am, it rarely seems to thread on correctly the first (or second or third) time. I felt slightly better after realizing I wasn’t the only person having issues, following several customers returning to the store wondering why the closure was so difficult to thread back on.
Storing larger items
Since the Camelbak Chase Vest isn’t necessarily designed around the ability to store larger items, it seems unfair to knock it for that reason. That being said, the stretchy stow-away stuff pocket that encompasses the back seems to provide few benefits. At first, this seems like the only place to store things such as a rain jacket, or extra layer. In reality, the stretch is nominal, and the position of it makes storing any larger, bulkier item a bit of a nuisance, throwing off the way the bag naturally sits on your back (due to the compression of the reservoir, and in turn, pressure on your back).
Jostling around when empty
My last critique is the movement of the bag when the bladder is completely empty. Without micro-adjusting the straps to an almost painful amount of cinch, the bag tends to jump up and down and rub the inside of the armpits- due to the harness system not having a waist belt. That being said, the point of this pack is to carry water, so this problem should rarely happen (and when it does, congrats! You should be nearly done with your ride)!
The only valid shortcoming to this pack is the reservoir- all other negatives can be overlooked, as they’re nitpicky problems that can be easily solved. While slightly annoying, this can be fixed relatively easily buy purchasing a different bladder. When the cost is considered and weighed against how stable of a pack this is, it jumps to #1 on the list of hydration packs that I’ve used over the years. Go grab on, and get out for a ride!