|Lets get one thing out of the way right away: the FlashFlo LR has not been designed specifically for mountain biking. In CamelBak's own words, the bag is intended for "the fitness walker or hiker who prefers waist-mounted hydration.'' With that in mind, we wanted to spend some time using the FlashFlo LR to see if it also made sense for two-wheeled adventures, especially because we are starting to see more and more of these hip bags, otherwise known by their less formal name, fanny packs, being used by both racers and casual riders. Despite the questionable undertones that go along with someone who wears a hip bag, something that is probably due to people like our fathers wearing early canvas versions while also sporting leather sandals, these pint-sized packs might make a lot of sense for rides that don't go over the two or three hour mark. |
While there are a number of hip bag options to choose from when looking at the running and hiking market, as well as a few mountain bike-specific models on the horizon, most of them either offer no way to carry water, or employ a simple water bottle cradle design. CamelBak's $55.00 USD FlashFlo LR stands out in that regard in that it features a 1.5L bladder and a drinking tube, much like you'd find on a mountain bike backpack, that allows the rider to easily drink while on the move.
FlashFlo LR Details
• Intended use: walking/hiking
• 1.5L lumbar bladder
• 3.28L total storage capacity
• Main storage pocket w/ two mesh dividers
• Secondary storage in divided bladder pocket
• Keychain strap
• 'Diamond Mesh back panel
• 'Center Cinch Fit System'
• 'Camel Clip Bite Valve' positioner clip
• Colours: black, blue, pink
• Weight: 240g
• MSRP: $55.00 USD
Compression straps (left) help to keep the bag's fluids from sloshing around, and a clip is used to position the hose correctly (right).
The FlashFlo LR is constructed with 70D Diamond Clarus and 230 Taffeta with DWR and 1000 mm PU coating, with all that tech talk meaning that while the bag isn't waterproof, it is very resistant to allowing water to pass through. There are two separate zippered pockets inside, with the larger inboard pocket being home to the bag's 1.5L bladder, as well as a divider that allows it to also serve as storage for a larger items like a pump or some food. The smaller, outer zippered pocket is home to two elastic and mesh pockets that can each fit a tube, as well as plenty of space for other supplies. CamelBak has also included a nifty teether that you can clip your keys to in order to prevent them from falling out when you're digging through the bag looking for a gel while bonked on the side of the trail in the pouring rain.
There is enough room for two tubes and plenty of supplies, with two elastic topped mesh pockets to separate the bag's contents.
Being a hip bag, there are obviously no shoulder or sternum straps, with a large waist strap and buckle being the only thing that holds the bag to the rider. The strap extends off of wings from each side of the bag, a design that provides more support than if there was more strap length. CamelBak has added two more straps to the FlashFlo LR in the shape of twin compression straps, one on each side of the bag, that help to compress the bladder and to keep the bag's contents from rattling around.
Fluids are held in a 1.5L bladder that is positioned directly over the wearer's lumbar region (that's what the LR stands for
), with a slight triangle shape that allows its sides extend down into the wide lower section of the bag. It also features a number of CamelBak's bladder tech features, such as their wide, quarter-turn cap that makes it easy to both fill and clean, as well as their 'Big Bite Valve' nipple with an on/off switch. One thing you won't find, though, is CamelBak's 'Quick Link' hose attachment that would allow the hose to be removed from the bladder for easy filling with the push of a button.
The larger, inner pocket employs a divider to keep things separate from the bladder, and there is enough room for both a mini pump and a shock pump.
The pack hides its weight remarkably well when full of of fluid, which is to be expected given that there are no shoulder or sternum strap to apply pressure, and wearing the FlashFlo LR feels much more "free" than a regular backpack with the same amount of fluids ever could. None of that should be a surprise given that its footprint is quite a bit smaller than a conventional bag, but it is the bag's resistance to shifting did surprise us - we fully expected it to not only rock back and forth when using a lot of body English, but also to rotate around our waist. There was none of that when on the trail, though, with it feeling as invisible as five pounds of water and tools can be when strapped to one's waist. While it would be a stretch to say that we forgot we were wearing it, the bag is far more inconspicuous than a standard pack. Having said that, the top of the bag did have a tendency to rotate off of our back a touch when full of water, and this was especially true when in the saddle and hunched down low during a steep climb. No amount of tinkering with the waist of compression straps helped, but the fit foible also didn't make for any discomfort, and it doesn't happen when walking upright, which is how the pack was intended to be used. One fit tip that we found works well is to wear the bag slightly higher - just above your waist line - and a bit tighter than you would at first go with, a method that didn't lead to any discomfort whatsoever.
The FlashFlo LR shown at maximum capacity.
While you're not going to be stuffing a rain jacket inside, or strapping knee pads to the outside if it, the FlashFlo LR offers plenty of storage room for anything that you might need during a two or three hour ride. We had no trouble finding space for two tubes, a large multi-tool, two tire levers, both a mini pump and a shock pump, a spare derailleur hanger, an energy bar or gel, and even our phone, wallet, and keys. All of the above put the bag at pretty much maximum capacity, but it also was far from being ready to burst. The difference in storage between the FlashFlo and a conventional pack comes down to organization, with many bags offering some sort of zippered pouch arrangement that makes accessing things a bit easier than the FlashFlo LR's more open layout. That should only be a deal breaker for the most obsessive compulsive of organizers out there, though.
There are plenty of hip bags available that have been designed to either forgo fluids or carry one or two bottles (most have been designed with running or hiking in mind, though
), but the FlashFlo LR is one of the few models that integrates a bladder into its layout. Using a bladder obviously means that it requires a drinking tube, which poses a problem due to there not being any shoulder straps to serve as a locating point for the tube. CamelBak gets around this by way of a small black clip and strap that attaches to your jersey or jacket and holds the hose in place, and while it looks a bit fragile, we had no troubles with it staying put. The strap has two settings; one that allows the hose to slide up and down through it, and another that holds the hose more firmly, with us preferring the latter as it prevented the hose from migrating down and flopping around. For the same reason, it is also important to position the clip at the correct height on your jersey or jacket, as getting it wrong will make it difficult to get the hose into your mouth.
Wearing the bag slightly higher than you might think is correct at first actually made for a comfortable fit.
Being a walking and hiking-specific hip bag, the FlashFlo LR utilizes a drinking hose that is just the right length for someone to take a sip when standing upright, but not quite long enough for use on a bike - sitting on your bike and holding onto the handlebar results in a more stretched out position that meant that the bag's hose is too short to make drinking possible without tilting your head down enough to nearly lick your own nipple. It's hard to fault CamelBak given that the FlashFlo LR works well for its intended use, but a hose that measures a few inches longer would mean that it would work great for cycling as well. We solved this issue by swapping out the stock hose for a tube from one of CamelBak's mountain bike backpacks, a $9 USD mod that is well worth doing.
If we had our way we'd add some elastic mesh bands to the face of the bag, directly over the outer zippered pocket, that could serve as storage for a windbreaker that's folded up small. We're just heading into our fall season and many of our rides will begin in a jacket that will be shed after an hour or so, but the FlashFlo LR doesn't offer any way to store one once we've taken it off. It's a minor inconvenience but one that some riders are likely to find annoying. Pinkbike's take:
|The FlashFlo LR is an interesting bag in that it allows you to pack enough supplies for a solid ride, as well as a good amount of fluid, while offering more comfort and a far more untethered feel compared to the status quo. Those facts means that we'd likely reach for the FlashFlo LR over a standard bag for all but the longest rides, especially after we replaced the slightly too short drinking hose with one from a standard CamelBak backpack, a mod that is required to make the FlashFlo LR mountain bike friendly. Will hip bags replace backpacks anytime soon? Doubtful, as some of us are far too concerned with how we look while pedalling bicycles in the bush, but they certainly should be used more given how much sense they make. That said, we expect to see more and more hip bags on the market soon, so do yourself a favour and give one a try before passing judgement. - Mike Levy|