FINDING THE PACK – WHY THE CAMELBAK OCTANE XCT?
For Mountain Bike rides and trail runs lasting longer than about 2 hours, a hydration pack is essential. And at the very top of the hydration pack pyramid, is Camelbak. It’s a name so synonymous with hydration packs that most people who use them almost automatically call hydration packs Camelbak’s, much like most people call vacuum cleaners Hoovers.
I bought my first Camelbak Classic, a very simple and early 2 litre version about 5 years ago when I started running long 2-3 hour training runs for my first marathon. It has served me proudly since then and still works perfectly to this day with no perishing of fabric or bladder despite some serious mileage. It’s a very simple pack however and after seeing some Mountain Bikers with more complex looking packs, I knew I might need to avail myself of something more specific. What exactly that was, I wasn’t quite sure.
When I went on one of my first ever MTB rides with my brother-in-law, I wondered why the hell he’d want a hydration pack on his back. Surely the one massive joy of cycling is that you can place water bottles in cages on the frame? No need for a bulky pack then. That is until of course your mouth feels like the Sahara desert and you’re locked into a long piece of technical single track and you realise that the only way you’ll successfully have a drink without going Arsse over Tits is to pull over and stop to remove said water bottle. Ah, it suddenly made sense; the drinking valve perched conveniently near to your mouth and easy to access with a bow of the head.
And what about the myriad of different tools you might need on a Mountain Bike Ride (multitools, bombs, chain links etc) – where would they go other than into pouches on cycling shirts, pockets of shorts – the weight of which would make them extremely uncomfortable, or onto the frame itself. Well into a Camelbak if you have one.
And so my search for the right pack started. I rather accidentally ended up speaking to Rory Garton at the Multisport Basement in Sunninghill after stumbling upon the shop during a Saturday shopping excursion. It was pretty clear from the offing that the Camelbak Octane XCT model was the model of choice for Mountain Biking and shorter distance trail runs. Bingo. I was ticking 2 boxes with one purchase and in the world of sporting equipment that never happens.
ROAD-TEST – THE KALAHARI CHALLENGE – 2 DAY MTB RACE – GABORONE (BOTSWANA)
And so it was to the 2 day Kalahari Challenge (KalChall for short) Mountain Bike race in Botswana a few weeks later where I’d get to try out the new camelbak.
So the night before the race I carefully planned what I’d need to take with me and set about fitting it into the pack. After laying all my bike tools on the bed, my first thought was that the main compartment on the back of the pack might be a little small. A spare tube definitely couldn’t fit in there with the other tools. Great trick I learnt – tape the tube to the frame with insulation tape. Easy to access and plenty of space saved.
I keep all my MTB tools in a very clever little case called a Pocpac (check out http://www.thepocpac.co.za/shop/mtb2-pac/) which along with a bike pump, a comprehensive tubeless repair kit and some bog roll in a ziplock bag, all fitted perfectly into the main compartment. Voila.
The Camelbak Octane XCT then also has a quick-access storage pocket on each side of the straps that secure the pack to your torso. These are a lot roomier than they look on initial inspection and I was able to fit a sizeable amount of energy bars, gels and other general paraphernalia into each side.
Would all that stuff fit left into that little gaatjie on the right – YES it did.
At the start – From Left (Mega-Oke, Ultrabloke and Robin)
Happy the pack had managed to accommodate everything I needed on the ride, I decided it was time to hit the hay. The morning involved the usual frenetic scurrying around the house and heading off to the start at the Wharic Rugby Club. When I kitted up, I was quite surprised at how light and comfortable the pack felt. The straps that come across your waist are something I don’t have on my Classic model and once those, the shoulder straps and the chest straps have all been adjusted to suit you, the pack fits snugly and more like a vest (the term they are giving to sleeker fitting packs) than a pack. The extreme comfort and light feeling may have also been due to the fact that I hadn’t put a drop of liquid in the bladder.
This major Faajment (a politer French pronounced version of F*&% Up) was only established about 2 minutes beyond the first water point at 20km’s when I sucked on a particularly dry bite valve. It was a bit of an issue too given that I’d just finished quaffing the only other liquid I had on me – a 750ml bottle containing my 32Gi Endure drink.
I headed ever onwards, glad I’d read Tim Noake’s ‘Changing Belief’s book and fairly certain I’d make the next waterpoint at 40km’s without dehydrating. I grabbed a bit of nutrition from the quick access compartments a couple of times and was impressed how easy it was to get something out single handed. The positioning of the compartments was great. What wasn’t so great was that I passed the 45km mark without any sign of the waterpoint I thought I’d heard would be there. Two Mental notes to self:
- Listen to the race briefing AND
- Read the bloody race details blurb sent to you before the race.
50km’s came and went, as did 60. At this point we were approaching mid-day and I was feeling pretty parched. Having also experienced his own Faajment in the loss of a waterbottle earlier en route, Robin the Boy Wonder had a little panic attack and pulled up on the side of the road mumbling all manner of expletives about how incredibly stupid it was to have such a big gap between water points. After grabbing some water from a mate he and I were delighted when we hit the water point just a few km’s later at the 65km mark. I also suggested to Robin’s cycling partner for next years ABSA Cape Epic that he seriously consider sending young Robin for a couple of sessions with an Anger Management coach before that infinitely longer and harder challenge.
Ultra (left) and Mega on the trail.
Given our earlier deficiencies, I ensured that we filled every millilitre of the 3litre bladder. The first thing I noticed was how easy the cap was to open. My old Classic requires a good few turns to open or close whereas this on required just half a turn. Nice and simple.
After gorging myself on about 100 jelly babies, some USN products and chocolate we left the sanctuary of the water point and headed onto a nice long solid dirt road section. The slight incline and steady headwind made it hard going and my first sip from the Octane XCT about 20 minutes later was great. And I couldn’t find fault with the pack for the rest of the 35 odd km’s to the finish. Even with the 3kg’s of water in the pack, it still felt really comfortable.
Day 1 – TICK. 104 km’s of Botswanan terrain safely navigated.
We spent a great afternoon in a wicked campsite out in the middle of the bush, complete with warm showers, post-race massage, a few beers and some lively banter before packing it in for a good night’s sleep on some comfy beds.
A good dirty day out.
A smilier Boy-wonder. Nay – a happy camper.
On day 2 I made certain I filled my trusty Camelbak bladder and looked forward to another day in the saddle. I’m not the most observant chap in the litter and most often I wish I’d take better notice of certain things. Case in point – I thought the criss crossing cords on the back of the pack that make it such a distinctive one amongst its peers was purely there to give it a funky aesthetic sheen. What I realised when I was back in Joburg when watching one of the excellent product videos on the Camelbak website (check it out at www.camelbak.com) is that the elasticated straps are for storing what in technical terms appears to be called a shed-layer.
What you may ask is that? Let me explain – The crisp morning has turned into a warm day, you’re too hot, you don’t know what to do with the annoying gillet / jacket you now want to shed (shed-layer – get it?). What do you do? BOOM. You put it under the cords and tighten it in there using the fastener.
Beautiful crisp morning sunrise in the bush.
Watching the video about the camelbak octane xt, I learnt that there are quite few other technological developments that have gone into it. Just a few of the standout features for me are:
- The shape of the bladder has been flattened considerably to give it a better weight dispersion across the back.
- The opening and closing of the water cap / fill port has been simplified into a simple quarter turn – even less than the half I thought it was.
- The drying of the bladder can be aided by two brilliantly clever little pieces of plastic (officially called ‘dryer arms’) that fold out from around the water cap and kind of hold the bladder shape open so that the inside can dry. These are almost impossible to find without watching the video and even then it took me 3 takes to work out exactly where the hell they were coming from.
- The ‘customisation’ of the positioning of the drinking tube in that the pack allows for the tube to be fed over the shoulder OR out of the side of the pack and up from below. Fargggin clever that one. I’d never considered there could be an alternative way but am damn sure going to give it a try now.
On the road – Day 2
On the less technical but still impressive side of the pack features are things like a little pouch in which to store the bite valve so that it doesn’t drag along the floor or touch other unsavoury places in transit. A priceless feature for an OCD like me (see my other post on Pre-Race Paranoia) . There is also a little hook on the pack to hang it up easily in a cupboard. The good folk at Camelbak seem to have thought of everything that would make owning, using and maintaining a pack of this kind easier and more efficient.
Aside from a slight tweek on my right knee, the 80km return trip to the Wharic Rugby Club that made up Day 2 was a thoroughly enjoyable affair, made all the more pleasant by my new Camelbak.
The Camelbak Octane XCT really is the perfect hydration pack for a day’s Mountain Biking adventure. It’s undoubtedly the reason Rory Garton recommended it so readily and why I saw it on the backs of so many other riders over the 2 days (except for the Purple/Pink version which is vrek lelik in my humble opinion). With the distinctive criss crossing cord through a central metal ring on the back, it’s impossible to mistake it for anything else.
It’s comfortable, lightweight, has enough storage in the 3 compartments to fit everything you’ll need for a long day in the saddle and most importantly has a bladder that is easy to open and close, customisable and easier than ever to maintain.
As with other Camelbak hydration packs, it comes with their Got Your Camelbak lifetime guarantee on the pack and reservoir
It’s a good-looking beast too (at least in the black and blue versions) – all the more important in today’s looks obsessed world – and I can only imagine the Purple/Pink colour has been created to appeal to our fair kinswomen.
Altogether in my own sophisticated technical jargon it’s what you call ‘money well spent’ or a ‘no-brainer’. I’m looking forward to taking this baby on my next trail runs where I’m certain it will perform just as well. Also have a shiny new version of its bigger brother the Octane 18X which I can’t wait to road test on my longer runs and eventually in Novembers Salomon Sky Run.
Finished and klaar. The boys wiff their medals
Happy man on the floor doing post-race stretching.