Review: USWE Explorer 26 Backpack

Sep 26, 2018
by Daniel Sapp  

For the last several years, I've avoided backpacks as much as I can, choosing instead to attach a water bottle and most of my gear directly to my bike. However, there are limits to that method, and for big missions a pack is still necessary, which is where something like USWE's Explorer 26 comes in. It has a generous amount of room, but is designed to stay in place and not be overly cumbersome, even when it's loaded up with enough gear for a night in the woods.

The Explorer 26 is classified as an "adventure pack" - designed for, as they say, "heavy all day long adventures." It utilizes USWE's heavy duty suspension system, has a spot for a hydration bladder, gear, a rain cover, and a multi-size adjustable backplate. It sells for $150 USD
Explorer 26 Details:
• 26L capacity
• Size adjustable backplate
• Rain cover
• Hydration bladder compatible (not included)
• Colors: Black, Green
• Weight: 1069 grams
• MSRP: $150 USD

Two straps across the front are comfortable and secure the bag.
The back of the pack is adjustable to three different lengths to fit your torso.


What sets the Explorer 26 apart from other similarly sized packs is the fact that there's no waist strap. Instead, USWE use a 4-point suspension harness comprised of two curved shoulder straps that are fastened in the middle by a thick strap across the chest and a one click buckle. There are adjustable straps that go from the main shoulder straps across the top of the pack to the front of the bag to help keep the pack secured, and there's an additional elastic chest strap above the main strap. The side straps have some elasticity built in for comfort and are also adjustable. The backplate has the ability to adjust between three different sizes so that users can fine-tune the bag to their body.

There is a spot for a water reservoir, a large main compartment, and then a smaller compartment for organizing gear and essentials. Additionally, there's a media pocket with a waterproof zipper and a water-resistant pocket for a phone. For those times when the rain is more than just a passing shower, there's a rain cover that stows away beneath the bottom of the pack.

Adjustable straps to keep things where they should be.


Taking the time to adjust the Explorer 26 to fit your body is crucial. I found that my 5'10" frame meshed well with the pack's back set in the medium position and within a few minutes of other minor and simple adjustments I was off riding. The majority of my time with the pack was spent pedaling up steep mountains loaded down with camera and food supplies for a full day of filming. When climbing the pack is comfortable and breathes as well as most any other bag I've used...let's be real, nothing on your back, especially in muggy weather, is ideal. The straps don't dig into me in any way, and although I was at first hesitant about the large strap across my sternum, it was barely noticeable.

Descending is when a bag really needs to earn its keep, and the Explorer did just that. Even with several kilos of gear just tossed in the bag, with no regard for properly loading the heaviest items first or when the bag was only half full, things stayed in place. I felt very stable riding with it on, even in sketchy terrain, and there was minimal movement side to side or up and down. The lack of a hip belt was noticeable - in a good way - and although I feel that having one could have helped negate the very small amount of movement that there was, without it, the pack still sits more securely on my back than most others I have used.

The bag is not small but I'm probably not riding with a backpack unless it's for an extended excursion into the forest. The main compartment here is holding a tube, pump, Jetboil, fuel, coffee, coffee cup, ENO hammock, sleeping pad, rain shell, a small camera in a Pelican case, and some food with room to spare. The smaller outside compartment holds a multi-tool along with a few other trailside repair necessities in the zippered pouch, a knife, water filter, and then a headlamp and my keys in the other zippered pouch. There's room for more but this is enough for a quick overnight in the summer.

Pinkbike's Take
bigquotesIf you're going into the woods for an extended amount of time or need to haul extra gear, the Explorer 26 is worth considering. It gets the job done with minimal fuss, stays put even on rough descents, and makes it easy to focus on riding rather than worrying about your pack shifting and flopping all over the place.Daniel Sapp


  • 26 8
 Hiker (on foot, on bike, on skis etc) with 10 years experience here. So this backpack is not meant to be loaded anywhere near heavy? because waist strap is there not only for stability, but usually mostly for transferring the weight of the bag on your hips, not your shoulders. Carrying 3l of water, a tent, a sleeping bag and a six-pack of beers on your shoulders for a day is out of the question. Waist straps also mostly (on good bags) have pockets for those tiny useful things, that you need instant access to.

So what is the benefit of not having a waist strap?
  • 15 0
 I found out that my hiking backpack (50l) doesn't transfer much weight to the hip belt while I ride a bike becuase my back are in completely different position. I rode 2000km with 6-7kg base weight of backpack - 28l "daypack" (with water and some food it has been close to 9-10kgs) and it wasn't very comfortable (especially for my butt and shoulders). It was my first big bikepacking experience and I would add on bike bags a bit to have just about 10l backpack next time. But I made it anyway and have tons of nice memories.
  • 13 0
 I'm not suggesting this design is or isn't effective, but it's all about fitness for purpose.

riding a bike is completely different to hiking. most of the weight is going to be on your back somewhere given the riding position (i.e. bent over at around 45 deg more or less) whether you like it or not, your hips move differently, your lower back is arched with opposite curve to when you're walking, and maybe most important, your waist is compressed at the front and not in a good position to transfer any weight from a hip belt to your hips (no or less room for the belt). plus it's a pain in the ass to move around on the bike when there is stuff around your hips. in my experience every riding backpack with a waistband is uncomfortable to pedal with it set at any level of tightness required to bear some of the load (hence my waistband is loose on every riding pack I've had).

i have a lightweight camelbak (10l thing) for endurance racing without a waist belt and it's infinitely more comfortable. it also has pockets on the shoulder pads at the front around chest height, which are easier to access than waist pockets. I wouldn't try and carry a tent in it, but the design principle seems to work.
  • 2 0
 double post, sorry
  • 4 3
 Style matters. Waist straps don`t look cool.
  • 8 0
 @reds: True, and it also frees up your waist for sporting a hip-pack along your backpack. #allthestyle
  • 1 0
 I have the smaller version and it's great the strap system is the best one I ever had highly recommended.
  • 1 0
 Totally agree with you! When I am riding uphill I always release the shoulder straps so the weight fall down to the hips. Just looking at this bag makes my lower back hurt.
  • 2 0
 @rideRB: a regular hiking backpack is at least 50L (mine is 85L) and is certainly not suitable for biking. I use a 35L "daypack" loaded to 20...22kg for 3 nights in remote outdoors. Always carry it on my hips, never had trouble with cycling position. I guess preferences will differ between people, but I find it much better to transfer the weight of the bag almost directly to your rear wheel instead of putting your shoulders, elbows and wrists to extra work. That is the way it works for every kind of hiking, and cycling is no exception.Maybe it is not as critical for a 26L pack though, since you really cant load it that heavy at that capacity.
I am using a Fjällräven Friluft 35. Hundreds of kilometers of trails with it, no complaints.
  • 5 0
 @telephunke: After riding for several days straight in the Chilcotins I have e to disagree. Maybe it's because I have broken both collar bones in the past and find shoulder straps less comfortable than others. But carrying 30 lbs or more of gear on your shoulders all day long while trying to ride up and down mountains sounds miserable. I utilized my bags hip straps as much as possible, to the point most of the weight was actually being supported by my hips and this made the journey much less painful for me.
  • 2 0
 @megatryn: comment of the day for me
  • 1 0
 I use the Race Face beer can tube.
  • 1 0
 Most of the time Ray Jardine's philosophy on backpacks is great. If you feel you need a hip belt to support the weight of your backpack you are either weak or you're carrying too much crap.
  • 1 0
 @acali: brave statement. But you obviously have never hiked with a 85L bag for 7 nights. Ray Jardine will tell you to hike in sneakers, but everybody else uses a hip belt and hiking boots for a reason.
  • 14 0

Definitely more playful and infinitely better for jumping
  • 1 0
 Yes, it's definitely needs to be poppy and playful.... Like a blown damper. And needs a gear box too...
  • 1 0
 Came here just for this
  • 13 0
 Dual chest straps are awesome if you don't have breasts!

Not so good for the other 48.1% of humans with boobs.
  • 43 0
 Closer to 80% having boobs nowadays ????
  • 3 0
 this is the downside, i cant ask the mrs to take the bag when we are using it for walking at any point!
  • 1 0
 @LoveTheRide-Thunderbolt: A+
  • 2 2
 Did you just assume a bunch of peoples genders?
  • 1 0
 I thought the same - and wondered how the reporting would have been had someone with breasts had reviewed it.
  • 5 0
 @rellinger: sure did, I worked off Biological gender (at birth) stats from Wikipedia, not Gender Identity. 48.1% Female, 1.3% Intersex and 50.6% male.
  • 4 0
 @darkmuncan: So you didn't assume at all then. You looked it up and delivered the truth. Very good, carry on.
  • 1 0
 @LoveTheRide-Thunderbolt: Especially in obese America.
  • 4 0
 If you're bikepacking, aren't you most likely using any one of the excellent on-bike bags that exist nowadays (even for full suspension bikes)? IDK...this seems like it's in a bad no-man's land. Not practical for bikepacking (since there are more comfortable and practical options), too big for long day rides (normal hydration packs suffice), and not the best for hiking because of the lack of waist straps.
  • 6 1
 This looks like a very tought out product... Espacially the straps. But I believe that 29l would make me climb better and descend aggressively.
  • 5 1
 29.99l would be better no?
  • 1 0
 Yeah, but it would be too flexy and way less playful.
  • 3 0
 I was curious about the USWE' system and I'm convinced that on then way down it's nice to not have a hip belt.

However while climbing I often unclip the sternum strap to allow my chest to expand and breathe easier while the backpack is still held in place by the hip belt.

How would that work here? Seems like both straps would have to be unclipped and then the pack would only rest on the shoulders.
  • 2 0
 So far, best idea for a pack for more than a bit of weight is the Camel LR series. Not only is the weight lower on your back, and very stable, the LR design is much less hot and constricting on your torso. Wearing a pack while riding is something I don't like at all but with the LR I do forget it's there at times. I'm sure the reviewed pack works well and it's good to see a different take.... There is more than one way to get the job done.
  • 2 0
 i have both the XC version for small excursions (i dont use waterbottles, they always jump off no matter what combination i use) and also a lizard 16 that i use for commuting and longer rides. Both have the single buckle where they cross over the centre, and is perfect for all types of riding. OK your back gets a bit sweaty, but you only notice this when off the bike and taking the bag off.
I commute with a laptop, food and clothes in the bag and you cannot feel the weight when on your back at all. it doesnt move around and never feel the need for a waist strap.
Since i had the XC bag, i have never considered any other bags. USWE are simply the best bags available for riding.
  • 3 0
 I use the waist strap to stop my pack riding up on my back over the drops and jumps and bumping me in the back of the head. Makes me wary of this design.....
  • 4 0
 I gotta have a waist belt on my pack. Otherwise, my mountain lion knifes' too slow on the draw.
  • 1 0
 I've been running USWE packs for over a year now. Before I got my USWE I was anti-pack because I hated the feeling of shifting weight around on my back and the way all other packs ride up in my armpits. I also really hate the sensation of being cut in two from waist straps/hip packs when bent over in an aggressive bike position.

The USWE strap system is spectacular. With 2L of water, a couple of bars, a pump and my emergency sawyer filter for filtering water on 6 hour+ rides in the backcountry, I have no movement and never have any need to unfasten the straps because I literally forget the pack is there.

I can see the argument for a waist strap for hiking/walking and with a heavier pack. But if you are minimalist like I am, the small USWE packs are the absolute best thing for mountain biking that I've ever tried.
  • 1 0
 Pack packs double as spine protection. I always wear one. I wear out lots of back packs. Because of crapy light weight zippers. Heavy duty zippers are better. Best packs use snaps for the main compartment with small pockets using zippers. Just as with climbing packs it's best if they are narrow in profile. For that price I would invest in a climbing pack around 30 litre capacity.
  • 3 0
 26 ain't dead! Long life 26!
  • 2 0
 I usually carry a 20kg trolley bag tighten at the rear of my bike...
  • 1 0
 is it stretcheable? i just use 27,5 and 29 now, man.
  • 1 0
 Do they also make a 27.5 or 29 version?
  • 1 0
 Made in China, eff that! Check for lead! Also plastics cause cancer!
  • 1 0
 at least they were honest about the fact no bag feels good climbing
  • 2 1
 Cool $150 Jansport...
  • 1 0
 I thought the same thing. Looks like a cheap school bag from the back. The strapping system and adjustability help a little but it still looks cheap to me.
  • 1 0
 26 aint dead

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