In a very short period of time Osprey has firmly established itself in the mountain bike market with its range of smartly designed hydration packs, putting many years of experience in the outdoor sector to great use in a growing lineup of bike-specific backpacks.
First to come in 2009 was the Raptor, a pack available in several different sizes and which has been well received. We were impressed when we passed our verdict. Keen to capitalise on the success of the Raptor then the company did the natural thing and released a smaller, more compact version of the pack, in the shape of the Viper.
Gender-specific (there’s the Verve for women cyclists), the Viper cuts down on some of the features found in the Raptor which results in a smaller price tag as well as being a bit lighter to boot.
But it’s the smaller sizes, starting with a 4-litre capacity offering and rising to 13-litre through four sizes that is most appealing. For riders who don’t want a wardrobe-swallowing pack with just enough space for the essentials – we’re talking a pump, tube, multi-tool and a bar or gel here – the Viper is spot on.
We’ve been testing the 10-litre and have been highly impressed. The extra capacity of this larger pack means there’s plenty of space in the main compartment for all the essentials we need on a rider lasting a couple of hours, or more, and we’ve been able to stuff a lightweight jacket in there without any protest. And if you do run out of space (at which point we would be asking questions of how much kit you think you need to lug around), there’s a sleeve on the front under which a jacket or top can be stuffed.
Compared to the Osprey, it feels a lot smaller on the back, which is a massive bonus on shorter faster rides where we don’t want to feel encumbered by a large bulky pack, and it’s also noticeable lighter too.
One of the key features the Viper doesn’t inherit is the Raptor’s AirScape back panel, a nifty feature that helps to spread the weight of the back and goes someway to prevent a nasty sweat back, but due to the smaller size and lighter weight the Viper didn’t present any problems in this regard – even on a hot ride around the Mendips last week with temperatures approaching 30 degrees Celsius, it was perfectly comfortable. The pack happily stays planted on the back, even with the chest strap to hold it in place.
Fortunately you get the excellent 2-litre HydraForm Nalgene reservoir in the Viper. It’s easily one of the nicest bladders we’ve used, being anatomically shaped with a high-density foam panel bonded to it that stops it flopping about when you’re trying to fill it up in the sink. A moulded plastic handle running from the bottom of the reservoir up to the oversized filler cap is something we appreciate more and more every time we use it, which also makes it a doddle to slide the bladder into a loaded pack.
Something else we appreciate when on the trail is the magnet incorporated into the left-side shoulder strap about halfway down and keeps the end of the bladder hose from flapping about, making it convenient and easy to grab when you need a quick swig of juice.
Atop the Viper is Osprey’s unique LidLock, an system that can be used to attach a helmet to the pack when not in use, for example if you’re on the uplift or in the train on your way to the trails. It’s not something we’ve ever found ourselves using and we wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t there. Inside the main compartment are a couple of smaller pockets so you can try and keep the contents organised, and the whole lot is lined with a soft material to protect your more valuable essentias. Lastly there’s a pocket handily designed specifically to hold an easy-to-access bike tool.
It's available in three colours - Thunder Cloud, Electric Sky and Supernova, and costs £65 for the 10-litre sample we tested.
We really liked the Raptor but the Viper with its streamlined design, smaller sizes and compact shape is better suited to most of our rides, which typically only last for a couple of hours anyway. We didn’t miss any of the features dropped from the new Viper but did appreciate the saved £15 in our pocket.