As with many riders of late, the allure of pack-free riding drew me in as the prospect of riding without one became easier. I crammed tubes, food, phone and tools into purpose-made base-layer vests, compartments on the bike and deep jersey pockets, and went into camel-mode to avoid carrying extra water. Boy, was it liberating.
Before long, though, I started developing anxiety about running out of water on rides without known refill stops. The weather is sunny and warm for most of the year in Southern California and our trails are dry and exposed, so the risk of dehydration is real; I realized that my self-imposed rationing was leaving me parched on rides longer than an hour or so.
Enter the Dakine Low Rider. Quickly jumping on the bandwagon to another re-emerging trend–the hip pack–I decided that maybe it wasn't the pack I resisted so much, but where its weight was distributed on my body. With 5 liters of space, including a 2-liter hydration bladder, the Low Rider's size and water capacity is ample for a multi-hour ride, and the hefty buckle and wide straps keep the load secure, even with the pack in its fullest state. When the Low Rider is stuffed, it definitely looks bulky, but it doesn't shift excessively under movement. A mesh-and-foam panel adds comfort where the pack rests against one's back, internal organizer pockets keep gear in place and the external compression straps provide space to stash a light rain jacket or extra layer. The design is slightly annoying in that you have to unhook the external straps to access the main zipper pouches, so if you do have a jacket stored on the outside, it takes some crafty hand movements to keep it in place while you dig around inside the pack.
After nearly six months of riding, the Low Rider has held up well: The nylon ripstop outer shell and plastic buckles and straps are all intact. Although the bite valve on the Hydrapak bladder tore and started leaking within a couple months of use, that piece is easily replaced (or swapped with another bite valve from another pack, which was my quick fix). I used the Low Rider exclusively over this time period, save for an overnight bikepacking trip and a full-day remote ride that required food for the day, two spare tubes and tools. For everything else, the Low Rider excelled–on shorter rides, I lightened the load by filling the bladder partially and carrying a full water bottle on the bike, which also helps further stabilize the pack because its weight is more consistent throughout the ride.
Hip packs may be another passing fad, but I'm content to continue using the Low Rider long past its 'cool' expiration date.