With Spartan Super & Beast fast approaching, hydration packs are something that must be seriously considered by all racers.
As someone who has moved away from Camelback, I wanted to present an alternative company’s offering, in such, the Osprey Viper 7 pack.
Osprey has been making packs for a number of years, and one of the greatest things to say about the company is they stand behind their product. All of their packs have a lifetime warrantee – absolutely no questions asked – be it 20 years old or last season, if it fails, they replace it! How can you argue with that commitment? Even better, they warrantee their bladders for life as well! I have 3 different Osprey packs and a messenger bag, so I feel I can comment well on their quality – every pack has perfect stitching, buckles in places that make absolute sense when using and many small features you might never notice, but for one time when you go ‘oh, wow, that’s absolutely perfect!’.
Onto the Viper 7! It is essentially a 2 pocket pack with an exterior compression strap and a 2L bladder.
The pack has a general oval shape, widest across the middle with tapers at top & bottom. There is a thin/firm framesheet – basically a bendable plastic that holds the pack shape whether loaded or not. There is a single eyelet in the bottom for water drainage. The main pocket unzips from the very top of the pack almost halfway down the sides, allowing a larger item to be stuffed in easily. Inside the pocket is a central mesh pocket against the back of the pack as well as 2 larger nylon sleeves that are mostly meant for a bike pump/tire tubes, but I’ve found they work well to shove a pair of trekking poles – as long as you realize they will be sticking up out the top of your pack, but zipped up tightly, they don’t move too much.
Also in the main pocket is a key hook on a short leash.
Below the top of the main pocket is a smaller pocket meant for glasses or phones. It is lined with a fabric designed for scratch proof, so glasses in by them selves are no problem.
As far as running, I use this pocket to toss gels in as its quick to get to, and all of the zippers have a nice plasticized loop that’s easily grab-able wearing gloves or bare handed. Also on the front, just above this pocket is a plastic oval designed to hold a helmet, which while not very useful for running, does make it useful if you bike or like me, have used the pack while snowboarding – secures the helmet thru most any vent and a elastic pull to tighten it down. If you have no use for it, it’s an easy scissor snip away to loose an extra 3 ozs.
The last 2 features on the front are the elastic compression webbing and a fabric loop to hook to the bottom of the bag.
The webbing is thin elastic cord which stretches a good deal to accommodate a large variety of items – I’ve kept everything from a large towel found on a trail run (to take to the trash can at base) to a tub of GU brew and just a small towel for sweat mopping, or more frequently an extra rain layer.
The lash points of the elastic are all reflective, as is the logo for night visibility. The loop on the bottom of the pack is meant to hold a brake/marker light for biking, but can hold anything wanted or to hang a carabiner & keep stuff attached for movement to/from racesite (how I use it usually) or, to wrap the waistbelt thru, cinch down and keep out of the way.
The back of the pack is a perforated foam that allows a good deal of air travel with a cut out on the top were the bladder sleeve opens/seals with a Velcro closure.
The bladder pouch is one of the great innovations on Osprey packs. It allows the bladder to be inserted/removed regardless of the load in the pack – an amazing feature when you have to refill the bladder halfway thru a run/race/ride (Spartan Beast anyone?) While here, we might as well discuss the great bladder. The bladder is 2L in capacity is actually made by Nalgene and it incorporates a plastic back/spine to it. This back is what goes against the wearer’s back and means that no matter what the water level, there is no bladder blob against your lower back.
On the front of the bladder is a plastic spine from the drinking valve to the fill opening. This spine lets you put the bladder in & out of the pack under load as it lets you force it down w/out deforming. The closure is a simple twist down. It has yet to leak at all on me, but its not as quick/easy as the Omega ¼ Camelbak bladders. The tube is standard, and the bite valve is similar to Camelbak, bite down & suck – personal preference on which you prefer. Turning the whole bite valve 90 degrees locks or unlocks the flow, and it is moveable in either direction. The most ingenious thing on the valve lies in the magnet on the back of it, more on this in a minute.
The shoulder straps are open mesh and lightly padded – allow plenty of airflow and even better for us – quickly dry out. Both straps have elastic loops for routing the hydration tube and the left strap has a small elastic mesh pocket – it will fit an Iphone 4 for your tunes when running, but much bigger will stick out a bit.
The chest strap provides the reason the magnet on the bite valve is so ingenious – it has a magnet as well on the plastic buckle, which lets the tube loop and have the bite valve ready to grab right below your mouth.
After a few tries, reaching down and grabbing the valve with your teeth is easy – let it go near the chest strap & thwap, the magnet pulls the valve right on, leaving it ready to go again. Never again slow down to grab your hydration tube or have to pull a muddy hand on your tube! So simple & ingenious – how did no one think of this previously?
The waist belt is simple webbing, nothing special, just works if you want it. So, how does it work?
The good: – sits high on back & no lower back rub as I’ve had w/ other packs – does not move much unless really jumping, even without the waistbelt – bite valve/magnet is amazingly easy to use/ingenious – drains well and dries quickly – bladder is bullet proof , has never leaked and lets you slide it in easily – shoulder strap pocket is very useful – unbeatable warranty
The not so good: – bladder is not so easy to clean – have to work a bit to get the last water out of it/dry out – bite valve does not have a readily available cover like Camelbak – umm….if pressed, I guess the back padding could be more anatomically correct for better airflow, but with only a 7l pack, its not a big deal -pricy, but if you watch, they are often on sale at REI or Backcountry & the like – I”ve always found them for ~40% off
Conclusions: The pack has been thru 2 Tough Mudders, Beast, many trail runs, multiple days on the slopes and a kayak trip, but you would be hard pressed to tell its had any wear. And the most telling is, when I have a run or anytime I might need more water w/out weight, this is the pack I’m grabbing first!