User Review: CamelBak Fourteener
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $130
Well-made backpack that holds its shape and controls the load very well. Mesh back pad gives almost framepack rigidity while keeping your back cool. But the control comes at the cost of too many buckles, straps, zippers and fiddly-bits.
- Good support
- Easy to lose stuff inside
As an "old school" backpacker, canoe camper, and road biker, I never really bought into the wearable water bladder idea. A water bottle was always in easy reach, and the visual reminder of my need to drink seemed a good idea. But a Scout wilderness survival weekend seemed to put a premium on having a steady supply of water and staying mobile, and I needed a new daypack, anyway, so I took the plunge.
It was the perfect decision. The 100 fl. oz bladder was plenty to keep me going between access to water points, and the pack itself was superb. The mesh backpanel supported by thick columns of foam kept the load away from my back no matter how much I overloaded it, and the hipbelt gave almost as much support as a internal frame. At one point, I had the bladder full, two one quart bottles in each of two side holsters, and a 2 gallon MSR dromedary bag strapped into the helmet pouch -- and the pack handled the load with ease.
The pack also has a myriad of pockets, with two sets of compression straps to keep it all under control. The bladder fits into a padded pocket closest to your back, with a rigid layer between that and the rest of the pack -- keeping the bladder safe from pinches and punctures, but also incidentally helping with the weight control. The bladder itself is kept in place by hooking the wide opening on a sort of shelf inside. At first inspection, it seemed unreliable at best, but in practice with a full bladder, it worked well enough. Still, every Camelbak bladder has a hang tab at the top, and I don't understand why a Camelbak pack doesn't make use of that.
The main pocket is spacious, and there are three additional storage areas: a small, felt-lined pocket at the top with a "waterproof" zipper that's probably meant for electronics and an outer organizer pocket with a clip for keys, a pair of mesh pockets, and another zip pocket behind them, while between these two is a space open at the top for stashing a helmet or the like. There are also water bottle pockets at each side, a feature I found comforting as a newcomer to Camelbaks in general, and made use of for keeping flavored drinks on board, as well as the water in the pack itself.
All in all, the capacity and support of this pack is great. However, getting in and out of it was overly complicated. Part of what made it so great at carrying a load is the top-and-bottom compression straps, but the bottom ones went right across the bottle pockets, and the top ones crossed the zips for both the main compartment and the bladder pocket. This arrangement meant that the water bottles were perfectly secure, but it limited the compression one could get with bottles in the pockets, and both sets turned the seemingly simple task of refilling water or getting something out of the pack into a major production. The straps also created a sort of "false bottom" effect in the main pocket, allowing small items to disappear.
Another concern is that some of the materials feel thin. I know that Camelbak is often criticized for its heavy gear, and is probably trying to save weight wherever it can. But, honestly, when carrying five gallons of water, am I getting any benefit in weight from extra-thin nylon? The pack support system is so well-made, I think it could afford beefier material.
Overall, a good pack, and I'm glad I bought it, but I hope I don't have to replace it too soon.