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CamelBak Spark MTB hydration rucksack 2014 review

Lightweight, small, and with a raft of innovative features, the CamelBak Women’s Spark hydration pack is my new favourite bag for trail riding.

A considerable amount of thought has gone into the design of this rucksack. Although marketed as the women’s version of the men’s Charge rucksack, this isn’t just a smaller, more feminine version – it’s been engineered to fit the female form.

The Spark is a narrow bag that I found sat nicely between my shoulder blades as I rode, without causing restriction of movement of the arms or shoulders.

It’s a little shorter than the Charge rucksack, 38.5cm in fact, which makes it perfect for the smaller rider, male or female, although I found it very comfortable and I’m pretty tall (1m73).

The shoulder straps themselves have been designed to sit close to the armpit, either side of the bust, which is immeasurably more comfortable than straps that sit over your boobs.

A pleasing flow of air comes courtesy of a channel between raised padded sections on the back of the pack, which helps reduce that sweaty back feeling.

Weight and construction

As far as weight goes, it’s described as ‘ultralight’ and boy is it! There’s only 635g of bag, though you’d not know it judging by how much you can pack in it. Obviously, once filled with your gear and 2 litres of water, it’ll be less light, but every little helps.

The fine fabric used in the construction is deceptively robust too, surviving a close encounter with a bramble bush unscathed.

The 7.5 litre capacity in the main compartment is plenty for fitting in the essentials for a trail ride or day out across country. I found I could pack in a light waterproof jacket, two inner tubes, pump and the usual tools, plus snacks, with no problem at all.

As well as the main compartment for storage, which has mesh pockets to help you keep the bag contents organised, there’s also a zipped pocket on each hip strap. This is ideal for anything you want to get hold of easily while riding, such as your phone or jelly babies stash.

I tended to use the overflow storage on the front of the Spark for stowing my jacket on a showery day; it stayed securely in place while riding, and was quick to get hold of if rain did threaten.

Antidote lumbar bladder

One of the main features of this bag is the innovative 2 litre Antidote lumbar water bladder.

Rather than a tall bladder that fits vertically inside the rucksack, Camelbak have opted for a long bladder that sits low along the base of the bag, and therefore low on your back, even wrapping around following the hip straps.

The idea is that it helps keep the centre of gravity low, and sits more securely around your waist rather than sloshing from side to side on your upper back.

In practice, it’s fair to say that I did notice the difference, with less weight on my shoulders. It’s a good option to investigate if you tend to get an achy back when riding.

The bladder has a large bite valve which, importantly, is easy to clean. Combine this with the HydroGuard construction and you can ensure you don’t get that build of crud in the internal workings.

The Antidote reservoir has wide, simple and secure opening for refilling. You don’t even need to take it out of the bag – just zip the compartment open, and you can access it easily.

CamelBak have really thought this bag through, incorporating straps that compress the lumbar bladder to keep it secure against your back when the water level drops.

It comes in two colour ways; the black and magenta which I tested, and a brighter blue and grey option.

Coming in at around the £80 RRP mark, it’s not the cheapest bag out there – but it does have comparable features to other bags at that price, plus the addition benefits of the lumbar reservoir and female specific design. I’d say if you’re looking for a hydration bag that will do you for years to come, it’s worth checking out.

The Spark also comes with the CamelBak ‘Got Your Bak’ lifetime guarantee – pretty good!

One downside is that this bag can’t be put in the washing machine, as it might damage the fine fabric and would nullify the lifetime product guarantee.

You can mop it down or hand wash it, but I’m quite lazy so being able to pop it in the machine would be ideal. I guess I’ll just have to do it properly (or, more likely, leave it muddy!)

VERDICT

One of the best things I can say about this bag is that after having ridden it for several hours, I honestly forgot I was wearing it.

It sat so comfortably on my back, with most of the weight low and carried on my hips, that it’s my go-to bag for trail riding now. I’m totally sold on the lumbar bladder.

There’s plenty of room for all the things I need to take out, and I can fit in sufficient water for several hours of riding.

PROS

– Low weight
– Designed to fit the female form
– Lumbar water bladder is comfortable and secure

CONS

– Hand wash only

Price: RRP £79.99 (available online from £59.99)
Colour: Pirate Black/Cerise, Capri Breeze/Frost Grey
More info: CamelBak

What CamelBak say about the women’s Spark hydration pack:

A women’s specific ultra-light, lumbar-based reservoir pack with MTB-specific cargo.

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