Deuter Hydro EXP 12
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Deuter Hydro EXP 12

Expandable day pack loaded with logical features and classy touches.

Likes: Practicality abounds. Zippered waist belt pockets allow instant access to energy bars or a slim digital camera without breaking stride. Zippered expansion section grows from 700 to 850 cubic inches, accommodating a second bladder if need be. Six-inch-tall mesh side pockets are ideal for a bike pump or bananas. Three progressively larger zippered compartments with numerous pockets for organizing smaller items. Two foam “Airstripe” back columns create a three-fourths-inch deep channel that keeps the pack off your spinal column.

Dislikes: The bladder clip should have a tether so it doesn’t get lost.

Price: $99. (303) 652-3102;
Ergon BD1 and BD2

Radical design keeps most of the pack off your back.

Likes: Comfort. This may be the driest (least-sweaty) backpack ever made. Whereas other hydra-packs are literally bags hanging off your shoulders, this one uses a two-section, plastic frame joined by a swiveling ball joint, which lets the cargo bay pivot with you as you move. The frame puts your skin in contact only with the hip belt, shoulder straps and two padded struts resting on the back side of your rib cage. Includes a helmet/jacket holder.

Dislikes: Incredibly, the pack doesn’t come with a bladder. You must use your old bag or buy one, pushing the total bill close to $200. Also, a lack of belt pockets limit on-the-fly food access, and there are few zippered pockets to organize food and gear.

Price: $159.99; (877) 573-7466;
Octane 14+

Plus-size cargo specialist for dawn-to-dusk


Likes: Massive zippered belt pockets are big enough to hold a grapefruit, a couple of peanut butter sandwiches or a video camera. Large expandable cargo hold (958 cubic inches, rising to 1,410 cubic inches) easily holds a second bladder and lots of gear. The 100-ounce, antimicrobial bladder is accessed through its own zippered, waterproof compartment, assuring easy refilling.

Dislikes: No real attempt to provide a flow-through air design; your back gets pretty sweaty.

Price: $95; (800) 767-8725;
Gerber Serra XC

Only hydra-pack with a solid, non-bag bladder.

Likes: The curved, shaped 100-ounce bladder, made of pliable hard polyethylene (like a milk carton) can be cleaned in a dishwasher, unlike the bag bladders. Like the CamelBak, it unzips from the front, making it easy to fill without disturbing other contents. A neoprene sleeve over the hose keeps liquid cool in the heat, and from freezing in winter. Small pockets built into the belt each hold an energy bar or a couple of gel packs. Handy, larger-size pockets are on the pack body. Includes cellphone holder on strap and clever pull-out rain cover. Has 755 cubic inches of cargo capacity; 940 cubic inches counting the open pockets.

Dislikes: Though novel, the rigid bladder still sits flat against your back, so it’s sweaty. Ironically, with only a 2 1/4 -inch opening, cleaning the bladder by hand is harder than the 3 1/4 -inch CamelBak. Items can possibly fall out of the zipperless belt and side pockets.

Price: $88. (800) 443-4871;