Beatdown: Gregory Drift 14

We put the backpacking brand's first riding pack through six months of torture testing

Sometimes I get the feeling that our bikes are as good as they ever need to get. The last four bikes I tested were damn near perfect models for their respective categories. But I happen to feel very differently about hydration packs. They’re always not quite durable enough, or comfortable enough. The big pocket is always too small or the small pocket too big. Too many straps or too few. So I was excited to see what Gregory would have to offer. Gregory has been making packs since 1978, longer than any mountain bike brand has been making mountain bikes.

Gregory’s first foray into bike-specific hydration packs are the 20-litre Drift 14, the 15-litre Drift 10 and the 5-litre Drift 6, as well as the proportionately smaller women’s model, the Amasa lineup. I chose to test the Drift 14, and that was six months ago. Though it’s still not perfect, it’s going be my go-to pack for many big days to come.

The Shift RS feature allows you to adjust the hip pad, and therefore the whole pack to where you want it to sit.

What first drew me to the pack was the adjustable-height hip belt and pad. As has been done on large hiking packs, the Drift allows you to slide the hip support up and down about 4 inches. I’ve got a long torso, so it aided in sizing the pack for me, but it also let me control where I wanted the pack to sit on my back. The simple Velcro adjustment doesn’t add significant weight or take up any extra space.

The hip pockets, and the zippers that access them, are large enough to fit a small ride’s worth of bars in one and your phone in the other.

On the hip pad are some pretty large zippered pockets. Big enough to easily fit a large cell phone or several bars or energy gels. A couple months ago, I cracked the rather skeletal male end of the hip belt buckle, but to be fair, I did step on it, and I’ve since sewn in a new buckle. The unique chest strap buckle will likely survive my clumsiness much longer.

It took some getting used to, but the magnetic chest strap buckle is easier to close and quicker to open than traditional styles.

The magnetically-aided clip is simple, durable, and quicker to connect and disconnect than traditional buckles. I just had to clear dirt from it occasionally after setting the pack down in iron-rich soil, but that takes just a swipe of the thumb. My only real complaint on the straps is that the belt strap could be wider for a pack this size, but it’s meant to be light weight. In fact, at barely over a pound, it’s lighter than most packs this size.

Though would be nice if they buckled, instead of just adjusting, but the stowage straps are perfect for pads or bulky clothing.

The large compartment seems bottomless. Though I’d normally store bulky items with the external stowage straps under the pack, there was plenty of room for overflow inside. And it made sense that the pockets designed for bulky items like pumps or tubes were here, not forced into the small accessory pocket. Though I normally kept my phone in one of the hip belt pockets, there’s a padded case tucked into the inside wall of the small compartment.

In a dedicated compartment is included Gregory’s “3d” badder. It’s shaped to fit flatter against your back, and hangs on a plastic boomerang that keeps it structured and stable. But it lacks some convenience features of Camelbak’s bladders. The fill cap is a little small, and the hose isn’t quick-disconnect. But as long as you like the hose on your right side, the whole thing comes out more easily than any other pack I’ve used, zipping closed against both the compartment and hose exit at once.

I’m a fan of the low-reservoir packs Camelbak is making these days, but the bike-specific models tend to be light on capacity. The adjustable hip pad on the Drift 14 allowed me to focus the weight where I wanted, low and around my hips. It made the Drift 14 ride like a smaller pack. Of course, it’s not perfect, but the Drift 14 offers features lacking in other packs. It’s a perfect example of how our products improve with input from other industries.