The Camelbak Chase Protector Vest
This Is Spinal Wrap
Saying that I had an excellent experience with Camelbak's original Chase Bike Vest is an understatement. The product is the hip-pack-killer anytime I'm carrying more than my wallet, emotional support jacket, and some extra gloves. I love how the Chase vest stays put descending, puts my cellphone in the best possible position if I should need it on the solo ride emergency, and holds exactly the right amount of gear - including my 4/3 camera - without getting unwieldy. In fact I've recommended the Chase a number of times to riders looking to take water, tools, and snacks along on their DH bikes .
I know that hip-packs are for everyone, and backpacks are not, and Camelbak's bike vests are an exceptional example of neither. Camelbak quite obviously sees the vest line's potential beyond marathon XC racing and bikes-sans-bottle-mounts because this latest vest option includes a CE Level 2 back protector.
At first, explaining the combination of a hydration vest - popularized by runners and long-distance XC riders - and back protection sounds a bit strange but with familiarization comes infatuation as I usually don't ride with a hydration bladder. I've popped a bladder once falling on my back wearing a pack, and given the awkward shape and rigidity of some of the items I carry - like a camera - the idea of the back protector separating me from my sh*t during a crash is appealing.
Compared to the original Chase Bike Vest, this protective model is more than twice as heavy (780-grams v. 330-grams) empty but it's important to note that doesn't just come down to the back protector. The Protector-Vest has more than double the storage capacity - which is way too much for this layout - and has room for a bladder with an extra 1/2 litre of liquids (2L v 1.5L). It even has a helmet holder and while that's not a feature I'd bother with, it's a great place to store a wet jacket when the tap turns off.
The Protector-Vest is much better laid out for mountain bike gear storage compared to the original Chase, which was re-purposed from Camelbak's running lineup, but I'd go as far as to suggest it has double the volume that it should in terms of being able to load the design with crap. My concern is that, for future products, Camelbak will compromise the best aspects of the vest - airflow and the mesh harness - in order to improve the ergonomics of the Protector Vest when it's loaded. If you need to carry a backpack load of stuff then wear a backpack.
Thanks to the 3D ventilated mesh harness, the vest is amazing at staying in place in even when using my best dance moves to keep the rubber side down on janky trails. It breathes better than any backpack you've tried. My usual load is either the same as my hip-pack or when I'm carrying my camera or extra water, I'll make sure the majority of my tools are in my frame bag & on my bike. If there's going to be heavy rain I'll also pack a real rain jacket and if there's a solid chance of lighter precipitation my Goretex vest comes along. I'm a notorious over-packer so I have to really stay on top of myself. Last week I pulled five pairs of gloves, two multi-tools, and a full bottle of water out of the Chase. The performance was much improved after.
I wish there was a built-in weatherproof compartment, or that the whole bag was weatherproof, but not if it would have any effect on breath-ability. There is no back pack that breathes as well as the Chase and I'll happily stuff my vulnerable gear in a dry bag for really wet days if that's what it takes to keep it that way.
I'll also make a special mention about the dual-sternum-strap and lack of a waist belt as it's the thing I get most often asked about. I love not having a waist belt, and wouldn't want one on any pack except where they stabilize loads under maximum effort. The Chase stays put beautifully, better than any pack I've used, and a waist belt is absolutely unnecessary.
Between Two Vests
Three pocket jerseys aren't my thing. Merino jerseys sag ridiculously with any amount of weight in them and standard road jerseys that combine stretch and support feel awful as soon as I start getting my sweat on. When it's raining in the summer I'll wear the Chase vest over my Goretex vest. On a warm day, I'll just wear it over a Merino T. It's those crisp days that I'm getting excited for because this season I'll be sporting the Chase Protector Vest over a nearly-new, fairly-old, CoreRat vest that my friend Sarah found in her closet!
Thanks to the Chase vest's birth as a marathon-XC product, with easily accessible snacking and just the right amount of space, it sits perfectly above the Cordura pockets of my CoreRat. Doing short rides without any packs the CoreRat actually has plenty of space to comfortably carry my wallet, phone, and snacks, but even when combined with the Chase vest there are plenty of lightweight things to shove in those pockets so that I don't need to remove my pack to access them.
Whether it's climbing hard out of the saddle or bouncing down grotesque rooted corners, the Chase Protector Vest is splendidly still no matter how much body English I introduce to our relationship. Thankfully I haven't had to use the back protector to date but I'm completely sold on the idea of having the protective barrier between my camera, tools, etc, and me if I do crash on my back. The Chase, with the right load, feels so light on my back that I don't count any extra grams from the protector as a concern.
If you love your hip pack, wear it. If you love your backpack, wear it. If you haven't found an example of either that works great for you then try on a Chase Bike Vest. Having used both models, I'd recommend the fit and features of the Protector version. I am still occasionally wearing a hip pack for very light-load days, especially when it's very warm, because I have the luxury of owning both. Ii I was going to have just one pack for riding then this would be it.
When I found out the vest, including a 2L bladder, is 200 USD it gave me a moment's pause. That seems like a lot of scratch, even with the best-in-class airflow and the back protector. A couple more rides in and I could frankly say that if this went missing tomorrow that I would buy a replacement right away. That's despite owning a few other packs - hip and back - that can do the job.
You can check it out here and if you've tried out a Camelbak vest, love it or hate it, I'd like to read your experiences in the comments below. My brother is already a full-time Chase convert; it's the hip pack and backpack killer and I have a few friends I'm trying to convince to try one out.