Shimano Unzen 4 Hydration Pack

Words Matthew Lee
Photos Kaz Yamamura
Date Nov 24, 2014

“I knew Shimano made shoes, but a pack? Really?” This was my reaction to the Unzen 4 Enduro Race pack when I laid eyes on it. I was well aware that they were in the footwear business, but their packs division was definitely below my radar.

The Unzen 4 is a minimalist pack aimed at enduro racers and riders who want to travel light on their rides with more than some jersey pockets for storage. The first thing I noticed was the “Rider Fit Cross Harness,” which is a fancy way of saying they have an x-style strap that is fastened in the middle, versus the traditional h-style backpack setup. It also features an adjustable strap piece, which allows riders with longer torsos to achieve a better fit.

The straps are secured together with a buckle that you’d usually find on a messenger bag, which is ideal for those of us who have a nasty habit of breaking the usual plastic ones.

While having only 4L of capacity, there’s room on the inside of the Unzen for all the race day essentials like tubes, pumps and tools. Each piece of kit has its own specific compartment, right down to the all-important flask pocket for mid-ride libations. Adjustable loops on the outside of the pack are good for carrying pads, and a microfiber-lined pocket on the top keeps sunglasses and other easily scratched items protected.

The back of the pack also sports a number of other nifty features like helmet and goggle carry points, as well as a stretchy pocket to stuff a jacket or extra water bottle in.

A side view of the pack reveals just how slim it sits against the body. Chunky expedition unit this ain’t.

The hydration portion of the pack consists of a 1-litre reservoir paired with a high-quality bite valve and hose. Shimano uses both a plastic clip and a magnetic attachment to keep the hose from flopping around.

Magnet and clip, shown together in harmony. It keeps the hose from swinging around wildly, and makes for easy drinking during climbs.

I’m a big fan of the Unzen’s fit. It hugs my torso without being awkwardly tight, and doesn’t bounce around during rough descents. Being able to ride hard without your own bag smacking you in the head is a definite plus. Dialing in the fit took a little bit of effort, but once it’s set, I never had to worry about adjusting the straps.

A closer look at the helmet carry straps and zips. The big rings make operating the zippers a simple task with gloves on – much appreciated as the weather has gotten colder.

Armour carry straps help you stay cool on long climbs and reflective elements keep you visible at night. The reflective strip also has a point to mount a light, for those who want even more visibility.

The microfibre lined pocket is the perfect size for a pair of sunglasses and a phone. Two things I don’t want mixing with the hard edges of my tools in the main part of the bag.

Shimano has also been doing their homework when it comes to laying out the pockets on their packs. The interior is accessed via zippers that are easy to use with gloves on, and once inside, everything has a secured spot. There may not be room for your charcoal grille and a tent, but for racing or essentials-only rides it’s pretty much perfect.

Taking a look inside the pack as best one can.

The trade-off in the minimalist design is the zippers. Unlike the vast majority of bags which have a zipper that goes up one side, across the top, and down the other, Shimano has opted to nix the middle step with a pair of parallel zips. Thanks to the smart interior layout and small capacity I was never left struggling to find anything, but I definitely took some time to warm up to it.

Pull back the zip on the right side of the pack to reveal the reservoir and strap length adjustment system. Thankfully, it’s set and forget.

Overall, I’ve been happy to use the Unzen on most of my rides. While I’m not out trying to beat the clock down the mountain, the minimalist design means I don’t have to choose between packing a water bottle and a prayer, or carrying more gear than a Kilimanjaro expedition. The fit is comfortable and apart from the strange zippers, the pack is well sorted.

Riders who are looking for something more than stretchy jersey pockets, and Enduro racers (you people exist, right?) would do well to have a look at the Unzen 4. The limited-edition yellow colourway can be found online for $90 USD in a number of locations, and the standard-colour blue will be available in the new year.

Does the thought of a minimalist pack tickle your fancy, or does your kit resemble the Packrat?

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