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CamelBak pioneered an ingenious innovation 30 years ago, when its makers realized that reusable bladders could be stuffed inside nylon cases, attached to a tube, and worn around the waist or shoulders to eliminate the need for a water bottle.
The company's products seemed like a novelty when they came on the market. But they've become mainstream, and much duplicated. Still, CamelBak has kept way ahead of the competition with a flood of improvements and new designs.
Now comes the CamelBak Vantage 35, a top-of-the-line technical hiking pack built for for a major ascent, but enough with ease of use for a great day-trip feel.
The pack is packed with features from front to back, top to bottom.
The Vantage 35 is lightweight and comfortable, and hard to miss in its shocking green color that screams action.
Early versions of CamelBak's reservoirs had small openings and were hard to hold when filling, and made the pouch hard to clean. The company has fixed those flaws, and calls the reservoir that it puts in the Vantage 35 the "Antidote." The lid takes just a quarter turn to open and close, the hose snaps away easily from the pouch for filling. The large aperture easily accommodates brushes to swipe away slime.
Fill it with its three-liter capacity, and you'll have more than enough liquid to get you through long hard hours. The switch for the bit valve isn't marked by tiny, hard-to-read "on-off" markings like old versions. Now, the valve switch is an angled chevron shape that lines up with a companion angle, so it's easy to feel when the valve is "open," without looking.
The pack can accommodate hours of wearing. The panel that presses against a hiker's back features three large pads – two along the shoulder blades and one for the lower back – of lightweight foam at least a half-inch think that is scored with deep grooves to allow for air-flow and ventilation. The whole assembly is covered in mesh. The system screams "wear me."
The shoulder straps pivot on the top thanks to CamelBak's D-Fit system of plastic rings that allow motion.
There's all the loops and pockets you could ever ask for.
Only a few minor suggestions could make things better. The closure clips for both the primary compartment the top pocket tie-down are the same V-shape and gray color, but are slightly different sizes. Several times, I tried to clip together one small V and one large one. If the two clips were different colors, the confusion would be avoided.
Speaking of colors, some consumers might welcome a fabric color choice other than green.
But those flaws are a breeze to overlook.
The CamelBak Vantage 35 is essentially a flaw-free product that invites years of use. Yes, worth all the gushing. (MSRP $149)
David Nitkin looks to the outdoors for his endorphin fixes, and has spent his adulthood extending city roots into mountains and valleys.
A native of Boston, David's love of outdoor activities blossomed at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where the school's unique Outing Club encourages students to leave their dorm rooms in all seasons. The college requires incoming freshmen to strap on a backpack and head into the wilderness as a bonding experience that culminates with a breakfast of green eggs and ham at the Mount Moosilauke lodge to honor renowned alumnus Ted Geisel. If that doesn't make you go green, nothing will.
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