Words Lester Perry
Image Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $109
Distributor Southern Approach

Imagine, if you will, purchasing a nice new bum bag, fresh off the bike shop wall. You pay the assistant, fit the waist strap in place and waltz out the door with that ‘new bum-bag’ spring in your step. Strangers look sideways at you, the child walking toward you is ushered across the road by its mother. It’s then you realise you’re in a mountain biker version of the old “togs, togs, togs; undies” Tip Top advert, except the undies are, in this case, a bum bag.

Generally not so accepted in normal life, but very common when on a MTB or while sifting around a trailhead. As budgie smugglers would be frowned upon while strutting down the street, equally a bum bag may raise eyebrows.

Not since the mid-1980’s have we seen the prevalence of bum bags that we’re seeing in MTB parks currently. The bum bag moniker is gone, replaced by a more ‘PC’ name: the ‘hip-pack’. They come in all shapes and sizes; some include hydration bladders, others don’t; some have heaps of storage, and others are simpler, slim line and more minimal.

With the prevalence of eMTBs and long travel trail bikes, and their many frame configurations, we’re finding bikes have lost much of their ability to haul enough liquid for a big day in the saddle. Gone are the days of the classic front triangle able to fit two 900ml bottles. Many bikes now will only fit a single 500-600ml bottle or, in some cases, none at all. A full hydration pack is a solid solution, but these come with their drawbacks, and will likely be overkill for most rides. If you’re restricted to either a single bottle or, heaven forbid, none at all, then the hip pack hits that sweet spot between a single bottle hour-long ride, and a half-day epic with the need for a larger, full-blown hydration pack.

The CamelBak Podium Flow 4 Hydration Belt is in the middle of the range when it comes to storage capacity, with four litres on offer. The supplied 600ml Podium bottle fits comfortably in the centre of the pack. To either side, two zippered pockets with internal dividers keep the contents separate and secure. The fabric of each outer pocket is elasticated to effectively compress the load closer to the body and help stop the cargo from bouncing around too much. Throughout its four pockets, there’s enough storage for all your ride essentials, plus a phone and snacks – but not a great deal more; just the necessities. Along the base of the pack, are some loops intended to hold a pump – I’m not sure what sort of pump they used to model these off as I couldn’t get it to work adequately with my pretty standard mini pump.

Loaded up for a ride, the Podium Flow 4 Hydration Belt fits snugly around my waist. I fit it as low across my hips as is practical, to avoid it interfering with my breathing. The buckle closure is low profile and easily adjustable to fit a wide range of waists. Excess straps are kept from flapping around by elastic loops on the waistband, although these could easily be trimmed to suit the wearer. With room for everything in one place, I don’t need to trim the number of any of my tools or spares to be ready for every eventuality -just grab the pack and go.

One thing I rate about running a hip-pack, is how free and airy you feel compared to when wearing a full hydration pack. On a roasting hot day, a full pack limits your body’s cooling ability, a situation where a hip-pack wins out for sure. To maximise breathability next to the body, CamelBak has incorporated their ‘Air Support’ back panel -essentially a panel of open foam that spaces the pack off your back somewhat to help with airflow between the two. I’m a big fan of CamelBak’s Podium bottles, they’ve refined the design over the years and now that the nozzle is easily disassembled for cleaning, they last for years. The ‘dirt’ series bottle included, has the added touch of a rubber cap covering the nozzle – no more trying to blow dirt from the mouth before taking a swig. I like it! With the bottle sitting centrally on the Hydration Belt, it’s simple to reach from either side, although it’s not the easiest to do while riding. Maybe I’m a bit cack-handed, but I find I need to stop moving to reach it comfortably. Fortunately, my bike fits a bottle so, on occasion, I’m not carting a bottle in the hip-pack, instead stuffing a jacket in the bottle holster.

Even while loaded up, I find the Hydration Belt sits nicely on my hips, although, over a long ride there’s a slight creep in the belt and it needs to be retightened to stop it from moving around too much. Riding in a normal, semi-upright position, on a trail or enduro bike, the fact I’m wearing the Hydration Belt barely registers but, in a more cross-country style position – long and low in the front -if I’m breathing heavily, I do find it cuts into my midriff a bit; hampering breathing somewhat, even when worn low on the hips.

If you want to keep all your riding necessities safely in one spot and not be limited to what you can stuff in your pockets, or maybe just need to add to your hydration capacity, then CamelBak’s Podium Flow 4 Hydration Belt is a great addition to your riding kit.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

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