Hydration packs for motorsports have come of age. In the not-too-recent-past, our options were largely repurposed daypacks built for hikers. Now, we have packs designed for many active sports, and the motorsports field has been gifted with varieties of packs designed for differing motorcycle activities. To that end, I have spent the better part of the last six months researching and acquiring three different hydration systems. For the street, based upon Ryan’s recommendation, I bought a Kriega R15. Because I can’t carry a hydration backpack when I already have camera gear strapped to my back, I strap a Hydrapak Hydrasleeve onto my camera bag, and while not an ideal solution, it sure beats not having water on hot summer shoots. For my off-road excursions with my daughter, I have come to depend on the USWE Raw 8 Hydration Backpack, and quite frankly, it is my favorite of the three. If I could, I would use it for all my motorcycling hydration needs.
The Raw 8’s strap design is what makes it such a great choice for off-road riding. Dubbed the “No Dancing Monkey” harness system, the Raw 8 is designed to disappear when it is on your back. While the terrain that my daughter and I are riding wouldn’t be anywhere close to gnarly, compared to truly experienced dirt riders, the Raw 8 has stayed put over a variety of whoops and washboard bumps that we’ve encountered. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
The Raw 8’s mounting system is the secret to its usability. The straps clip centrally over the rider’s sternum for a swing-free fit. This is augmented by the elastic in the adjustable straps that keeps the pack hugging your chest and back while you ride. This snug fit never feels like it restricts movement or breathing. Designed for enduro and off-road riding, the Raw 8’s straps have enough leeway to account for your body size and off-road gear. All of this allows for an even weight distribution of the load while riding and, most importantly, keeping the pack from moving around in rough terrain.
To help keep you cool, the straps have cut-out sections to allow airflow, while the back padding is constructed with raised wave sections to create channels for airflow. And it really works. If you stop for a few minutes and get sweaty, you’ll feel the cooling evaporation once you start riding again.
There’s more to the USWE Raw 8 than just the straps, though. The middle child among three siblings, the Raw 3, Raw 8, and Raw 12, I found the 8 to be the ideal compromise for a day in the dirt. First, there is the 3 liter hydration bladder that, once you learn the trick to opening it, allows for a wide mouth to ease the filling with ice and your favorite liquid. The wide mouth also makes it easy to clean and dry the bladder, which is important for its longevity. The top flap seals tightly with nary a drip. The long tube gives plenty of reach for drinking on either the left or right strap. When you’re not drinking, the retaining straps and clip keep the tube from flapping around. The only issue with drinking is that the tube is not insulated, so I just make sure to drain it completely after taking a drink.
The storage compartments are well thought out. The large main compartment offers enough room for the water bladder and whatever food you’re carrying to eat on the trail. For my excursions with my daughter, it’s held two sub sandwiches and some other snacks. If you want to carry more than that, the Raw 12 may be more to your liking. The two outer pockets are well thought out. The larger of the two is arranged to carry tools and perhaps a spare tube if you’re so inclined. The smaller pocket is perfect for a Spot Tracker.
The exterior of the Raw 8 is as full-featured as the straps and interior. There are dual straps for mounting a small stuff sack or perhaps clothing layers. At various points, front and rear, reflective materials are used for conspicuity.
In my time with the USWE Raw 8, I’ve grown so fond of it that I wish I could use it for street rides, too. Unfortunately, the snug fit that makes it so stable and comfortable on off-road rides means the straps can’t be adjusted large enough to fit over bulkier street gear. This is not a flaw. The Raw 8 was designed for enduro/off-road riding. Perhaps, USWE will someday bring this level of function and detail to the street market.
The USWE Raw 8 carries an MSRP of $140 and is available in Blue, Orange/Black,and Grey/Black. For that price, you get 8 liters of storage, a 3 liter hydration bladder, and an extremely comfortable fit. The Raw 3 and Raw 12 are $10 more or less, respectively, and give the number of liters of storage in their name with the same color options as the Raw 8.
Are hydration backpacks worth it?
That depends on how remote you’re going to be when you’re out riding. On street rides, you can always stop at the next gas station when you get thirsty. When trail riding, you don’t have that convenience. Then add the fact that dirt riders are often exerting themselves in hot weather to the mix. After a couple of rides with a hydration pack, you may wonder how you ever rode without one.
How do I choose a hydration backpack?
Hydration backpacks have been around for a while, but they used to be ones-size-fits-all in construction. Now, they are tailored to different activities. So, choose a pack that was designed for the activity you’ll be performing while wearing it. A small, snug-fitting pack is ideal for off-road riding, but you might want one that carries more gear and rides a little looser on the street. After you look at its functionality, consider how much liquid you want to carry. MO’s editors, being in the arid Southwest, tend to go for 2 liters or larger.
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