Most bikers and hikers know or have a CamelBak. What many don’t realize, however, is the ones in most stores are ‘consumer grade.’ I’ve used them and they work great, but after a friend of mine showed me his military CamelBak (the “Viper” model), I purchased one and love it.
Instead of nylon, this pack is made of Cordura. It has never gotten scratched or torn despite some unplanned stops while biking (i.e. falling over). I landed on my back once; just got up, shook my head and continued on — no damage to the CamelBak at all. Tough stuff.
Instead of a thin blue tube, on my Viper, the tube is made of a harder plastic that’s not quite as bendy. It’s also sheathed in a neoprene cover, which keeps the water in the tube from getting as warm (with an uncovered tube, you get a mouthful or two of warm water at first). Instead of a bite-down nozzle, mine ends in an on/off switch (a rotating stopper). Plus, the removable mouthpiece comes with a rubber cover that can be removed by the teeth or thumb while on the go. You never get a dusty mouthpiece.
Some CamelBaks are flat to the body, mine has two foam inserts along the side, which creates a recessed portion in the middle that reduces sweat build up. This bag weighs almost two pounds (without water), which is heavier than the classic CamelBak, but it also holds 102 oz. — 30 oz. more than that same classic CamelBak. Also, some CamelBaks have a lot of available space for gear. The Viper doesn’t have a ton of room, but I can still store a pump, patch kit, tire removal kit, a shirt, wallet and keys.
The feature I love the most — and it’s the simplest — relates to the straps. On every backpack I own, the straps are too long to provide for adjustment. On my Viper, the straps are also adjustable — but they’ve included is a little piece of Velcro. It’s three times as wide as the roll strap, so after you adjust the strap just right, you roll up the strap around this Velcro strip and it closes on itself. Once you get it fitted right, you never have to deal with long, annoying straps all over the place. There are also d-rings on both sides of the shoulder straps to keep the tube from flapping all over the place, and a front chest strap.
My particular model typically costs half again as much as the consumer equivalent, but it’s the CamelBak as it should be. The way I look at it, if you already have a CamelBak you like and use, great. For me, these are not ‘consumption’ goods — I wanted one to last decades. And I know mine will outlast my biking life.