Fast, Light and spacious, is it even possible? In todays market it’s not readily possible, so if you are like me and love a good hack, read on. Looking for a small cycling specific design to use in the summer on some longer miles but not be burdened by ultra sweaty back or a distracting wobble sak ? I have needed a summer backpack hack for a while
Read my journey of how I got to a design that works!
I have wanted to carry a spare change of clothes (trousers and t-shirt) and have something very minimal, yet secure for aggressive climbing and small enough that the carry method doesn’t overheat like a large backpack. What’s out there?
Let’s get this out of the way, I don’t like fanny packs… why? they move around when riding hard and I don’t like feeling weight and entrapment of heat at that part of my body. This put me wanting to find a small backpack or sling bag. It had to fit multiple criteria.
- must be small enough to carry just trousers, t shirt, watch wallet, spares and a phone.
- must accommodation for clipping a safety flasher
- must be lightweight
- must have high stability for hard efforts or climbs on the bike.
- must have a stabiliser strap (if sling bag)
- must be $80 or less, preferably less.
- Ideally good venting on the back
- Ideally a flexible option / design feature incase I want too stuff a windbreaker or more snacks
- Ideally good visibility colours
Knowing critical Capacity is key
Understanding your capacity is key. Its a fine balance between too big (which defeats the objective) and too small (which can limit flexibility) .You don’t want something too small that you can just barely get away with. You want something that has a little flex yet still falls within your parameters.
Judging capacity remotely on the web is difficult. It’s of greater benefit to try stuff things in bags in the shops to get an accurate feel than evaluate online.
Basic small backpack $30+
Chrome Industries Kadet $90
AER Daysling 3 $79
Camelback Classic Light $70
CamelBak Rouge Light $80
Amazon Water Buffalo Pack $30
Most small backpack $30+
These might seem to work, but they don’t. they fail on a couple of large points. Normally they are not well shaped for cycling and don’t have sternum straps meaning the pack will move around a lot, often the footprint on your back is large meaning overheating and sweat is going to happen. And the large issue is the space is not designed for a cycling load. With this in mind I decided to look for more cycling appropriate items.
Most small sling bag have similar issues, most don’t have a stabilizer strap which is essential for riding and most don’t have any head / sweat management.
Chrome Kadet Sling Bag $90
This sling bag has a single padded strap that sits over one shoulder and the bag lies diagonally on your back. It has an additional stability strap to help stop it sliding off one side. The Cadet is a great size, it has a 9L capacity with basic yet flexible storage and good / great and construction. It’s made from durable materials. It can stash a pair of trousers and a t-shirt easily and has a front pocket for keys phone etc.
The Downside: It’s heavy at 1.3lbs, all those metal buckles add up. Even with the stabilizer strap it moves around under hard cycling efforts and it doesn’t have any air management at your back, meaning it sits direct and has no air flow. It may also feel a little strange, as it sits high up on your back. Chrome are currently an online only place, so it’s difficult to check it out before buying without doing the whole return thing.
The Upside:The u lock holder is nice and adds some versatility of use. The internal pocket organization is also nice, plus it come in many colours along with a reflective version which is $100
Bonus: It’s made from super durable, yet heavy materials. Cordura and PVC. This bag will last a long time.Chrome Kadet Sling on Amazon
AER Day Sling 3 Max $95
From a size perspective this seems great with a 6L capacity and lighter weight at 0.8lbs. This bag has a nice magnetic latch on it made by German company Fidlock, quite impressive. AER are made from high quality materials in San Fransisco. the rest of the bags in my test are made overseas.
Although I enjoy the aesthetic of AER bags, I chose not to move on with this one because of lack of cycling specific features. The big one was a lack of stabilizer strap, I knew I would detest this sling after 3 rides. If you can live without the stabilizer the AER packs would be top of my list. There is also X-Pac material versions of many of their bags.
I had considered backpacks from AER but all were too big for my needs, nice design’s yet too big.
CamelBak Classic Light $70
Guess what? if you pull the hydration out of a bike hydration pack, you have a bike pack.
The CamelBak have a whole range of packs, like any good marketing company they have way too many models. I narrowed this down by capacity and overall size and suitability to my needs.
The Classic light is light, weighing in at 7oz with a hydration system. Already thats 1/3rd of the weight of the Chrome! After riding all winter with a heavy pack, I like the light weight feel, saving 1lb is a big deal when you are minimal carry.
It has one main compartment which is longer and tapered in shape. Plus a small side pocket. The side pocket is good for keys, wallet etc. The main compartment is said to be 2L, but I think it might be a hair bigger with the hydration removed. The back area has been designed for airflow and circulation by using materials with channels (CamelBak have fancy words for it) and the straps are light and meshy, ideal for warm days. It also has reflective graphics and an external loop to attach a flashy led light.
The downside: the main downside here is the width of the zipper from the main compartment. The zipper is 6.5″ wide and the only way inside too the large compartment, the actual compartment is wider once inside, so it can feel awkward to load. I would have liked the zipper to be wider to be enable easier ease of use. Rolling your clothes is the best way , they go in fine but it could have worked a little better.
Bonus: If you are like me, you consider colour and dusk / dawn riding. I like that this model comes in a neon yellow. The additional bonus of this design is it’s very streamlined for minimalism and aerodynamics. If you believe in such things, this also comes in a female specific design, in the shoops when comparing directly it was very difficult to notice any differences other than offering of colour, but there maybe some slight shape changes in the strap, its really hard to tell.
CamelBak Rouge Light $80
The Rouge is very similar to the Classic Light but a smidge large and a few features that maybe more versatile. The construction is the same, overall similar footprint size. The main difference is there is a stretchy large pocket that covers the whole back. A stuff area so to speak. It’s open at the the top, but tapered, if you put something in there it will stay no fear. The gear capacity on this model is said to be 5L and I think thats because it includes the stretchy pocket. The weight is 8oz and the zippered area is similar in size.
Downside: Same deal here, the width of the zipper to the main compartment may not be to your liking. Since they sell these in shops, I say go try it. I did, I took a pair of pants and a T-Shirt to R.E.I. and went to town trying it.
Bonus: theres a small extra pocket in the main compartment and an elastic pump loop on the outside stretch.
Water Buffalo Hydration Backpack $30
I also recently found this on Amazon. It might be worth the chance due to its low cost. It’s difficult to understand how much storage it has, but is similar to CamelBak’s solutions.
After quite a lot of thinking and testing I chose to go with the CamelBak Rouge Light. Overlooking the small zipper, it checked all the boxes of my needs and I also liked the flexibility of the expandable outer pocket, should I ever need to for a bit of extra capacity.CamelBak Rouge Light on Amazon
Here are some extra photos showing how I configured it. My basic carry was a pair of trousers, t-shirt, pump repair kit, keys, wallet.
What I liked
The air mesh back panel is very good feature since I know how hot and sweaty it can get, so this really resonated with me. I also liked the minimalism and mesh construction of the shoulder straps for the same cooling reason.
I found that I could get most of my stuff in the main compartment, which is great, because it left the expandable outer pocket as an extra option for a windbreaker or an extra carry should I need. Experimenting with different ways to roll or fold clothes helps use the space more efficiently.
Now for the test of time…. let’s get some miles on this thing!
So far, i’m
really pretty impressed. My largest carry so far has been formal trousers, T Shirt, Underroos (is that how you spell it?) arm warmers, wind jacket. Repair kit, Hand-pump, Wallet and keys. This was pretty good and tucked down to a small size without the use of the external pocket. At this point, it is maxing the internal space, especially if you have long trousers like me!.
I’m impressed that it feels light and breathes well on the back. The sternum strap keeps it tight and the straps work well, aggressive climbing and body movement are no issue. Due to the small size you have to be considerate, you cannot over stuff it. Thus keeping it light.
One realisation, regarding the vertical side pocket on the outside is you cannot reach it without removing the backpack, I thought I was going to be able to, so it’s a bit disappointing there, as a key reachable pocket would have been nice. Also it’s kind of a “marketing pocket” as in, its a pocket useful for flat things. 3dimensional things don’t really fit well.
The pack sits high on the back, top of shoulders allowing full access to cycling jersey pockets.