We test the Camelbak Octane 10 backpack

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There is a lot to be said for having the right equipment. The trouble is, what is right for one event or purpose, isn’t always right for another. The Camelbak Chase Bike Vest has been really popular not just amongst our team of riders, but globally as well. The Chase Bike Vest is stable, can carry 1.5L of fluid and probably sneak a small bidon in the stretch pocket, and has room for just about any spares you need, food via the front pockets and a light jacket. But for events that get longer, sometimes the Chase Bike Vest can be a little under-gunned.

Cape to Cape MarathonMTB

The Camelbak Chase Bike Vest suits a wide range of races. Photo: Tim Bardsley-Smith

There are a whole lot of longer events, challenges or exploits that require more fluid and equipment than the Chase Bike Vest can carry. The most recent Camelbak MULE was a good option for those, and that is what I used at the Snow Bike Festival in January thanks to the extra storage making more layers easy to carry.

Through the middle of the year I was lucky enough to go on holiday and ride in some of my favourite areas, like the Engadin Valley and Alta Valtellina. You can make plenty of big loops in big terrain – and while I never really put the ideal loop together this year, it served as a great time to test out the Camelbak Octane 10 which should be ideally suited to  arduous stage races like The Pioneer, which is the next big goal on my calendar. The Camelbak Octane 10 has got volume, 2L + fluid capacity, low weight, great stability, and easy access pockets.

The Pioneer has a pretty epic gear list, and it grows from a mandatory list to an emergency list (that is still mandatory) if the weather doesn’t look so good. This includes warm leggings, hooded waterproof jackets, spare base layers, warm hats, warm gloves, plus your regular first aid kit, spare tubes, pump, patch kit, Spot tracker, multitool, levers, quick links, food for the day – there is a bit to haul even if you go super light.

Things can get epic at The Pioneer Photo: Tim Bardsley Smith

So when I was looking at options for something that could cope with the extra equipment needs while retaining many of the Camelbak Chase Bike Vest features, I stumbled upon the Camelbak Octane 10. I’ve had the orginal Octane XCT since the 2011 Crocodile Trophy, and even used the same one at the 2017 Crocodile Trophy and at The Pioneer in 2017. And they were good. They do have their main pockets on the hip belt and this does prevent access to jersey pockets – which can be a downside. The big benefit of the Chase Bike Vest is the access to pockets on the straps, as well as from your jersey as the bag sits higher.

The Camelbak Octane 10 blends the best parts of both bags. The Crux Reservoir is a 2L model, which adds 500mL from the Chase Bike Vest. It can also carry the Camelbak soft Stow bottles if needed, or just slide a normal bidon into the stretchy pocket on the back. There’s room to put a walking pole there too if that’s your bag. I suspect it could take a light ice axe too if you needed it too, and had a cap on the head.

Camelbak Octane 10 review MarathonMTB

The straps are lightly padded mesh, just like the back. So it breathes pretty well while handling a bit of weight. The main pocket is under the flap, secured by a single, central lightweight clip and strap. There’s quite a long neck with drawcord so you can overstuff the bag if needed. I did so a number of times in Livigno, when coming back from training rides hungry and hitting the supermarkets.

There is only one main compartment, and it’s lined with bright yellow material so small things can’t hide too much. To that end, there is also a flat mesh pocket up top against the back. This is the perfect place for your multitool or spares you don’t really want to get to in a hurry, like a derailleur hanger. The reservoir has its own flatter pocket which can be accessed easily from the top or side of the bag. There is also a side entry pocket that has a key clip – it’s ideal for maps and small items.

Camelbak Octane 10 review MarathonMTB

The shoulder straps are thin and broad, and are pared down when compared to the Chase Bike Vest. While both can fit a Stow bottle in the stretchy mesh, only the left hand side has a deeper zipped pocket. In this regard, I prefer to Chase Bike Vest for accessing bits and pieces. I’ve lost a few gels on the Chase trusting the open pockets. Still, I carried my Wahoo ELEMNT in the mesh pocket on the Octane 10 for 4 weeks of riding and still have it. The pockets are a little deeper, and the so the security seems a little better.

Camelbak Octane 10 review MarathonMTB

Like the Chase, there are two narrow sternum straps instead of a sternum and waist strap like many hydration backpacks. These can slide up and down to fit people and different genders comfortably – but I’d say really large or broad riders might find the fit restrictive. While I have lots of strap to pull in for the length of the shoulder straps, I’m at about half of the strap’s length adjustment with a 90ish centimetre chest. What is cool is how the top buckle is also a whistle – quite useful if that’s part of your mandatory kit, as it is for The Pioneer.

There are guides for the reservoir hose on the right, and you could swap these to the left but they are also the end of the sternum straps, so then your whistle would be upside down. This would make little difference except for aesthetics – unless you choose to use the whistle when commuting or to alert other trail users in a novel way. Or if you live for the rave and plan on taking hands free hydration to your next bush doof, and you prefer left handed Bite Valve access. If that’s the case, this might not be the best setup for you.

Riding with the Octane 10

I did plenty of hours with the Octane 10, with it barely full and with it carrying a DSLR and clothing on some rides. It rides as you would expect – best suited to bulky and light loads as opposed to super heavy loads. The materials and straps are all really light, not the heavy duty materials that are commonplace within much of the Camelbak mountain bike range. But to me, this is what makes it ideal. This bag with reservoir is 570g. Take the reservoir out and it is only 360g.

That is super light for a bag that can carry jackets, food and gear. I actually used this bag without the reservoir more often than with it. Not because there is anything wrong with the reservoir, but I used it lots in Europe in some colder and wetter conditions where I was never concerned about needing more than 750mL of fluid that I could carry on my bike. but I did want a rain jacket, or my companion’s rain jacket as well, plus a buff, warmers, some food and so on.

The stabilisers on the side help keep bigger loads in place, but like I said, heavy and square objects just don’t really work. I’m unlikely to use this bag for a DSLR and a couple of lenses again!

If I was heading out to buy one bag for endurance mountain biking, an the odd shorter stage race and long training ride I would recommend the Chase Bike Vest. What the Octane 10 really suits longer days, crapper conditions, or finding the right balance in a pairs race. And that is exactly what I will be using it for at The Pioneer. I won’t use it every day, but with this bag and a Chase Bike Vest, Imogen Smith and I can mix and match, where I will haul more gear and fluid to keep less weight on her back and legs. While it is glaringly obvious that she is fitter than me, I have the gift of testosterone. And I don’t want to stereotype, but that does have advantages based around strength and recovery.

In the prologue, we will likely be ok without a backpack of any kind (remembering that the biggest fuck you can make in a stage race is not finishing a stage due to not carrying the right spares), and on a faster stage I might take the Chase while Imogen runs on pockets, as I’ll carry the mandatory gear. If we have mandatory emergency gear, I’ll use the Octane 10 and Imogen can use the Chase – or maybe it all fits in the Octane 10. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Octane 10 is a versatile bag and would suit someone into multisport as well. I’d commute with it if I didn’t work from home, and also used it for day hikes in the Dolomites. This bag is really worth considering if your adventures are a little longer – or if you just need to carry more things. What it doesn’t do is offer a tiny pocket for everything you might take. Camelbak make other bags for that. This one is about simplicity – and they have done a great job.

The Octane 10 sells for $149.95 in Australia – a great price for such a versatile hydration pack.

Note – we are sponsored by Camelbak, and offer reviews on the bags we think are really worthwhile for people who read this site.

MarathonMTB Livigno Diary Training

Bag in hand at check in….

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