Hydro Flask was started ten years ago in Bend, Oregon. They are well known for insulated water bottles that keep water cold, coffee mugs that keep coffee hot, and beer growlers that keep beer delicious. The Journey Series is their introduction into the hydration pack market. The selling point for this line of packs is a claim that they will keep water cold for over four hours. The Journey Series comes in two different sizes; a 10 liter that retails for $165, and a 20 liter pack with an MSRP of a cool 200 doll hairs. Each pack size is available in two sizes to fit different body types, and three different color schemes to bring out the color in your eyes. This review will focus on the “supersize me” 20L pack in a pleasing cobalt blue. I’ve been using this pack every day to commute, and for some longer rides.
Fit and finish is much nicer than I expected. Tidy stitching, well thought out seams, and an overall clean appearance made a good first impression when I opened the box. The large version of the 20L pack weighs in at 3.6lbs empty. The outer fabric has a tough waterproof coating that works with the coated zippers and taped seams to keep gear dry. I only experienced one leak, and that was from the tiny gap at the end of the cell phone pocket zipper on the end of the pack. There wasn’t much water that made it in, but if I didn’t have a waterproof phone case there would be a plastic baggie stashed in there for backup. I am a fairly small person, which was confirmed by the size charts provided on the Hydro Flask website. Ideally I would be using the small version of this pack, but I was easily able to adjust the many straps so I had a comfortable fit. I never, felt that the pack was unstable, even while bouncing through chunky stuff with a full load.
A taillight loop is mounted to the bottom of the back support, but I had trouble finding a light that would fit it without being aimed straight down at the ground from hitting the main part of the pack above it.
The few interior pockets are somewhat awkward sizes. A few times I had to do some work to get to tools that I had stashed. I solved this by just using a tool roll and tossing it in the main compartment. I usually prefer more organization in my packs because I need more organization in my life. I often found myself digging around the bottom of the bag to find what I needed, because it was such a large space without many options to secure loose items. How large are we talking?
Without any water in the bladder, I was able to fit 32 regulation 12 oz cans of gnome fuel. The zippers were able to zip up smoothly even with that load, and it wasn’t uncomfortable on my back. When they say you are able to haul all your favorite gear with this thing, they mean it!
The 3 liter (100oz) water bladder is housed in a reflective neoprene pocket in the main compartment of the pack. The flap that closes the neoprene pocket doubles as a small stash pocket, accessed through a zipper on the exterior. It would be good for keys and a few snacks. Between the layers of the bladder is a thin layer of insulation. Sealing the bladder is a simple affair, accomplished by folding the top at a seam and sliding a plastic keeper over a set of ribs.
A quick connect plug allows for hose removal without spilling water all over. The other end of the hose has a movable magnet that can be positioned on any of the webbing straps for convenience. I found placing the magnet on the sternum strap to be the least obstructive placement. The bite valve has a rotating barrel to stop the flow of water, which I only used when I wasn’t wearing the pack. Having a well designed bite valve allowed for good water flow, but only when I wanted water to come out. I appreciated this feature after many years of bite valves that dripped on my leg.
The suspension system is separated from the pack body using foam blocks, and has a large mesh area in the middle to allow plenty of airflow. I’m sure everyone who has purchased a pack has seen all the marketing surrounding the massive airflow that a pack creates to fight back sweat. I won’t say this pack entirely eliminates swampy back syndrome, but it sure was close. Even on the days that I overdressed and had to race a train across town, my back wasn’t any sweatier than it would be if I didn’t wear a pack at all. If I had a crosswind, I could even feel a breeze on my back.
This space allows less heat to transfer to the already well insulated water bladder. At the end of a soggy all day ride with a 17 pounds worth of water and junk in the pack, I started to feel a couple pressure points develop under the foam blocks. I can’t knock it at all for that, because I was very comfortable for the first 115 out of 125 miles.
Now for the really exciting part, that fancy water keeper colder system that claims to keep water cold for over 4 hours! Our weather in Wisconsin hasn’t been conducive to testing this type of feature very effectively, the mercury has barely even tickled the bottom of 70 farfignewtons so far, as it is only the end of April. I tried my best to get that water warm. I took off for the aforementioned 125 mile ride at about 10 bells with a very full pack. Lots of extra clothing and gear was stuffed in, but the zippers still closed smoothly. On the side of the bladder are some marks to indicate how much ice and water it is designed to take. (about ⅓ full of ice, then all the way to the top line with water to reach 100 oz total) I followed those guidelines very carefully in the name of science. There happened to be some extra space in the neoprene sleeve that holds the bladder; just enough for a couple of cans and a few slices of cold thin pizza. I rode all day and well into the night in about 55 degree weather. At some point I added some cheese curds to that little makeshift cooler, because this is Wisconsin and that’s how we roll, and I topped off with tap water a couple times. When I finished at 2AM, I still had a few remnants of ice floating around, and the water didn’t taste like plastic. On shorter rides in the upper 60’s, I would only use about a half bladder of tap water. In any other pack I have used, that would be body temperature in a couple hours. The Journey pack was able to keep that water almost as cold as it left the faucet for 4 hours.
With how well this pack is built, I don’t see many potential failure points. If something were to go wrong, Hydro Flask offers a limited lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects. The biggest thing I would change with it would be adding a few easier access pockets on the waist belt or the sides of the pack. I need a lot of food when I ride, so I spent a lot of time digging for more snacks in the wide open pockets.
I really enjoyed having cold water at the end of long rides. Plenty of storage space, although unorganized, was still appreciated for those days when I had lots of junk to haul. I definitely see myself using this on big rides to haul extra camping gear without getting a sweaty back, and on cold rides in the winter to carry bulky layers. I spent a lot of time lugging this pack, and it earned a solid 4.5 spicy gnomes A little more organization and a useable tail light mount would net this a whopping 5/5.
Here’s the dubya dubya dubya dot: https://www.hydroflask.com/20-hydration-pack/color,cobalt,a,92,o,53