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Accessories

First Impressions: Bontrager Rapid Pack Hydro

Our favorite bum bag just got a bigger, bladder-equipped brother.

Pros

-Carries contents close to body for a secure fit
-Centrally-located bottle pocket for perfect balance
-Stretchy pockets hold items tightly and expand for bulky bits

Cons

-Inherent issues with bladder hip bags still exist
-Hose magnet is not secure


Price

$90

Brand

Bontrager


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Bontrager’s Rapid Pack has been our favorite hip pack ever since it came out sometime around 2017. We’ve tried countless others since first falling in love with the Rapid Pack, yet none quite match its bounce-free fit, comfort, balance, and surprising storage capacity. At first glance, it appears to be a super minimalistic bum bag, but the stretchy panels on the pockets expand to fit quite a bit of gear. And, with the centralized bottle pocket, the pack remains balanced and always secure. It’s a really, really hard bag to beat.

Which is probably why it has remained basically unchanged since it came out. Don’t mess with a good thing, right?

Bontrager Hip Pack

But stagnation isn’t really Bontrager’s thing, so they messed around anyway. Luckily, the trusty ol’ Rapid Pack stays in the lineup, alongside the brand new Rapid Pack Hydro.

It has the same layout, form factor and uses the same materials as the standard version, only it’s scaled up in size a bit and includes an integrated 1.5 liter hydration bladder. Did the Rapid Pack just get better?

It probably depends on who you ask, because bladder-equipped hip packs, generally speaking, are not universally loved. Actually, I can’t think of a single person I know who prefers a bladdered bum bag. But, what if you integrate one into what’s already the best one we’ve worn? Does it suddenly become amazing?

Bontrager Rapid Pack Hydro

Yeah—nope. It’ll still really depend on the person. What I can say right off the bat is that the Rapid Pack Hydro is definitely a category leader. Among hip packs with bladders, this one is right up at the top. It’s more secure than other designs, because just like the original Rapid Pack, it holds stuff close to the body. The organization is stellar, and it features the same elastic panels on the pockets, which pull double duty keeping contents from rattling, while also expanding to fit bulkier items, like a wind breaker for example.

And, even though it holds 1.5 liters of fluid in the bladder, the Rapid Pack Hydro still has the centrally located bottle pocket that makes the original version so awesome. Basically, what that means is that even if you’re a steadfast hater of bladder hip bags, this thing is still an option. Of course, you can’t buy it sans bladder, but you don’t need to run it. Without the bladder, the Rapid Pack Hydro is essentially just a larger-capacity version of the original—which is really sweet.

Bontrager Rapid Pack Hydro

I mention this because, well, adding a bladder to the best bum bag on the market does not solve the inherent issues that come along with bladdered hip packs. First of all, since the bladder is basically a constantly deflating bag, you’re always needing to tighten the hip belt to accommodate the shrinking volume and keep the pack from bouncing. And the pack does want to bounce. Even though the Rapid Pack is one potentially the most secure pack on the market, adding a big, heavy, shape-shifting bladder does make it less stable. It’s still more stable than most pack in this category, but riders should know it’s not quite as bounce-free as the original.

The next challenge with bladders is what to do with the hose. Backpacks have an inherently integrated way to route the hose, but hip bags don’t. In order for the hose to reach up to your mouth, it has to be long, so the best way to store it is by wrapping it around the body. For some, the big, looping hose becomes more cumbersome than it’s worth. In most cases, including the Rapid Pack Hydro, the hose is held in place by a magnet, which also has issues. Magnets always get buggered up with magnetic material in the soil over time, which reduces the strength of the hold. Even when new, snagging the hose and pulling it off its magnetic perch isn’t unheard of. And, having a long hydration hose flapping around mid-descent, frighteningly close to the rear wheel, actually borders on dangerous.

Bontrager hip bag with Hydrapak bladder

Unfortunately, the Rapid Pack hydro doesn’t solve the hose management issue inherent to packs with bladders. The magnet is strong, but the one on the pack I received for testing actually just comes unhooked from the bag itself, making it basically useless. It’s not the end of the world—I can figure out a way to secure the magnet or just order an Osprey one (they make a more secure strap-mounted magnet).

Another solution would be to just run the thing without the hose (it quick-releases from the bladder) and use the water in the bladder to refill a bottle that’s stored in the bottle pocket. This is my preferred method, though it does remove my ability to have a cold wobbly-pop at the top of the climb. My buddy Mike gets full credit for the idea of using a Yeti koozie to carry a single beer to enjoy, ideally at a grand view when the climbing is over.

Personally, I’m less likely to love bladdered hip packs, but as mentioned, this one carries the weight better than most. Though it doesn’t delete the issues many riders have with this type of hip pack, it’s still a category leader.

 

Photos: Ryan Palmer

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