15 March 2010

bikefix Exclusive Review: Wingnut Adventure pack

It’s embarrassing how many hydration packs I have hanging in my garage. How many hydration packs does a person need? Quite a few in my case, because every time I buy one and spend some time on the trail with it- I always find a few different things about it that bother me. Inevitably, I’ll see a new hydration pack that looks like it might be better, and so I get that one. Before you know it you have a garage full of packs. The Wingnut comes close to being the last pack I will need to buy though. It was recommended by an ultra-runner friend, who now mountain bikes quite a bit. When we saw Wingnut at the Interbike trade show, we talked to them for a while and they convinced us of their packs' superiority.

In the past, one of the biggest issues for hydration packs was that they held the weight up high on the back. This has a few negative effects. The first is that packs that sit up high are usually not held on that tight (for lack of a proper waist-belt) and this floppiness is particularly troublesome on downhills and technical sections where small changes in your center of balance make a huge difference in your riding. In a similar manner, weight up high just makes it harder to maneuver your torso during riding. If you carry a lot in your pack like I do, a simple torso twist (to avoid a tree or something) can become exaggerated as the weight of the pack pulls you further over than expected. Believe it or not, I have had some scary moments on my bike because of this. The Wingnut is the second pack company we have reviewed that has tried to address this. The first was Ergon, which went the route of a traditional (for backpacking anyway) structural waist-belt. Wingnut has a simpler system- They just hang their packs lower (and wider) than others.

Wingnut's is a simple solution that works very well. The shoulder straps are longer than other hydration packs' and they drape over and down the back a ways before the pack is attached. This keeps the weight low- from a little higher than the middle of your back down. Just as importantly, the pack gets wider as it gets lower, so the bulk of the space, and therefore weight, is much lower on the back than with other manufacturers' packs. This feels so much better than everyone else’s packs it’s shocking. It actually makes you feel lighter, and Wingnut’s claim that it reduces fatigue is completely believable and can be readily felt after a long ride. The waist belt provided does a good job of keeping the bag centered, although every once in awhile it starts to slide over a bit and I have to cinch down the waist belt. The biggest issue I have had with the Adventure is on really steep descents. If the grade is steep enough, the pack can slide forward towards my head. This is actually more disconcerting than on traditional hydration packs because many of them are already up next to, or touching, my helmet. I’ve been thinking of ways to rig it myself so it won’t do this, but a manufacturer’s fix would be better. Another small, but noticeable, problem with the low-slung design is that the pack bumps/catches on the nose of the saddle when I come to a stop and take my feet of the pedals, but am still straddling the bike. Obviously, there is a behavioral solution here, but I find that the straddling position is the most comfortable for me on short stops. This problem is exacerbated by the bungee type compression cord that runs down the back of the pack. I have tried to mount the bike many times now while “hooked” on the nose of the saddle and the charm has worn off. Luckily, it’s annoying enough that I now almost always remember to turn my back to one side first before trying to mount the bike. Smaller Wingnut bags probably do this less, as would versions without compression straps. The pack feels so good that it’s a forgivable fault and one I’m willing to live with.

The absolute coolest feature besides the Adventure's low hanging design are its “Sidewings.” The Sidewings are triangular shaped pockets (both zippered and mesh/drawstring) attached to the side of the pack down low. They also serve as the attachment points for the waist belt. The awesome part is that the wearer can reach into either the zippered pocket or the mesh “drop pocket” without taking the pack off. This gives the rider four pockets to hold things that don’t require him, or her, to remove the pack to retrieve. I love this feature more than I ever thought I would when listening to my friend talk about how great it was. I don’t know about you, but I have kept riding when I knew I should stop and take care of something (like eat, or make a minor adjustment) just cause I didn’t want to deal with taking my pack off. Thanks to the increased snack access, I eat more regularly during rides now.

Wingnut's Adventure pack has two main compartments apart from its Sidewings- a big one for the water bladder, and another really big one for everything else. There is a big mesh drop pocket on the back of the pack which the compression straps help secure, plus extra space above that to jam even more stuff under the compression straps. The Adventure model is one of the company's biggest packs and is probably overkill for most riders (but I have that Boy Scout be prepared mentality). It holds 1600 cubic inches of stuff and is made of light but tough fabric used in the Sailing industry, which has so far held-up just fine. I don’t have a feeling one way or another about this, but it is worth mentioning that the bladder hose is routed low and comes out under the rider’s arm and then up. The pack doesn’t come with a bladder- something I have extolled the virtues of in the past because it lets the consumer pick which brand they want to use. However, the price of the Adventure pack is high enough that I think they could offer 2 or 3 different bladder options and include your choice in the purchase. All of Wingnut's packs are a bit pricey, but guess what? It’s a good-old-fashioned American company who actually make the packs in America. It is also a top of the line, high quality pack, so I can understand its $145 price.

So far this is my favorite pack for riding. The few problems are only small annoyances, which I have mostly learned to deal with, but the comfort and design far outweigh these petty issues. I highly recommend this pack and if you tend to carry less gear than me, I’ll bet the other packs by Wingnut are just as good if not better. Dan (of Bikeworks Albuquerque fame) has a smaller model, which he loves. Perhaps we can get him to write something for us....



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