- Source Whistler hydration pack
- £74.99 (blue/black; red/black); £79.99 (camo)
- Fisher Outdoor Leisure
There aren’t all that many products that have crossed over from mountain bikes to dozens of other sports, but the hydration pack is prince amongst them. To be fair, the bloke who invented the Camelbak did so after a road event, but it was mountain bikers who really took the idea to heart, and now there are stacks of brands to choose from.
Source packs have been around for a while, but have been playing “musical distributors” in the UK for most of the time. With any luck the brand’ll have settled at Fisher Outdoor now. Naturally there’s a range of packs of varying capacities, but the Whistler stands apart from the rest of the range thanks to its overtly freeridey intentions.
You may be wondering what distinguishes a freeride pack from any other pack, and if the Whistler is anything to go by there are two key elements – the ability to attach a full-face helmet and pads to it for the pedal to the top and unusually sturdy fabric. The camo colouring is clearly not an essential freeride characteristic, as more straightforward red and blue options are available (and slightly cheaper).
The Whistler has a cargo capacity of 25litres, which is definitely at the larger end of the spectrum. The space is divided into three main compartments and a myriad of subsidiary pockets. There’s almost too many pockets – we keep being sure we’ve got some Park patches or something in there somewhere but can’t remember which pocket they’re in. The compartment with the reservoir in it has a Velcro-flapped pocket inside, the main compartment has an open pocket, a zippered mesh pocket and a kind of pump pouch in it, and the front (or outermost) compartment has one open mesh pocket and one zippered one, plus a detachable key holder. Then there’s a mesh pocket on either side of the pack on the outside, plus zippered pouches at the base of the waist strap. All of the compartments open usefully wide – if you unclip the pad straps the outer one unzips all the way round and flaps right open.
The reservoir itself is a 3litre roll-top affair. A Velcro strap inside the pack fastens through a loop at the top and stops the reservoir falling to the bottom and scrunching up. The hose is Source’s distinctive weave-covered design, which adds some insulation and prevents sunlight from encouraging goober growth in the tube. A plastic cap covers the mouthpiece for transport (or riding through cow fields). The choice of left or right-hand hose exits is a nice touch.
Tucked away at the base of the pack is a little pocket with a rain cover in it, in air-rescue-friendly bright yellow. It just hooks over the outside of the pack and is held in place by a bungee cord – not very sophisticated, but it didn’t fall off and kept the rain out, which is about all we ask of these things.
A foam panel gives the pack a bit of rigidity (it comes out for cleaning), while Source’s “Cool-Dynamic” back system has the pack resting on your back via six pads, allowing air to flow between them. The shoulder straps are comfortably padded and there’s waist and sternum straps to keep things steady. Inevitably, if you fill a pack of this size to capacity the straps will be working overtime to keep it steady, but they do an entirely acceptable job of it. And when you’re less laden, the accessory straps pull everything in for a lower profile.
The camo version uses a slightly beefier fabric than the plain colours, and it certainly feels suitably robust – we’ve clouted it on a few low branches and thrown it carelessly at chainrings in the back of the car and it’s shrugged it all off. As for price, it’s towards the upper end of the range but still competitive for something of this size.
Positives: Feature-laden, plenty of usable space, a pocket for every occasion, versatile, robust.
Negatives: Easy to forget what you’ve got in it, unsubtle rain cover, can shift about a bit if heavily laden.
Our only real quibble with this pack is a slightly wayward tendency if you’ve got a lot of stuff in it, but the same is generally true of large packs so we’re not too bothered by it. Most of the time it won’t be that full but you’ll have room to spare. For those of a freeridey persuasion, the ease of carrying pads and things on the outside is a boon, but the straps are useful even if you don’t need to carry such extreme accoutrements. Recommended.