I’m not really a hydration pack person. If I have the opportunity to don a bottle and a hip pack, or just use my bike’s trendy in-frame storage box, I’ll take it. I generally find packs to be stiflingly hot and bulky. It’s a pain to sync all the adjustments, they cause back pain, and they throw off my center of gravity in high-speed technical terrain or while in the air. But, on all-day adventures, having some extra space–and extra beverage–is a necessity. So, riding with a pack becomes, well, necessary.
The LR, in CamelBak’s Skyline LR, stands for Low Rider, which basically puts its reservoir down low on the lumbar section of the back. This allows more of the pack’s weight to be supported by the hips, which, in turn, alleviates some of the strain on the shoulders and back. This isn’t anything novel or new, really, but it definitely was nice not having a sore back during longer rides with a full load of water. The Skyline has a very hip-pack feel to it on the bike, but the shoulder straps prevent it from hula-hooping, or falling off my ass on longer stretches of chunky trail. The lower-slung weight puts the overall center of gravity in a spot where it has less effect on rider body english. This was most noticeable for me in fast, weird rooty rock gardens. It’s not that other hydration packs have thrown me off the bike, but more a feeling of extra surefooted confidence in these sections. It’s a subtle feel, but definitely there.
The column-style back pads were raised enough to keep the pack propped up off my back and allow a good amount of air to flow. The straps are all made of a super-airy and quite comfortable 3D mesh. I rarely felt that the Skyline was compounding any overheating, and didn’t notice any big sweat patches that I experience with most other packs, and even some hip packs.
The overall layout of Skyline is well thought out, and it makes good use of its 10 liters of storage. The top pocket is just the right size to hold a set of keys (there’s an internal key hook for extra security), a wallet, a phone or one of those fancy wallet/phones. The side pockets are easy to access on the fly and are surprisingly unobtrusive, even with odd-shaped or somewhat bulky items in them. This is because these pockets are on a sort-of floating system that loops through the main buckle to the hip strap. This setup also creates a bit of separation, increasing airflow and keeping the pack’s main-pocket cargo in place and compressed. Speaking of, the main storage area has one sewn-in internal pocket and has enough room for a light jacket, snacks, lunch, pump, and the included tool roll-up.
It’s nice to see a tool roll-up included. It eliminates the need to rummage through and dig several separate things out of a pack just to fix a flat. Just pull out the roll-up and you have what you need: patches, plugs, levers, tube, CO2, multi-tool, etc. However, I generally prefer a little bit more flexibility in my roll-up. Part of the Skyline’s roll-up has dedicated pockets for CO2, which basically ends up as dead space for me, as I probably have (full) CO2 cartridges less than 10 percent of the time—maybe I should be better about keeping a stock, but also, I shouldn’t be pigeon-holed by the roll-up. I’d like to see a single, more open, pocket replace the CO2 pockets, and perhaps just elastic straps for securing CO2. Even so, the roll-up is very much a nice feature.
Outside of the slightly pigeon-holed roll-up, my only other minor nit-pick was that the shoulder straps are a little finicky to adjust on-the-fly. I found they loosened a bit too easily and were tricky to micro-adjust while riding. They held adjustment well, though, and were easy to adjust off the bike.
The Skyline can be obtained for $135, which is comparable to other higher-end hydration packs. I thought I’d sworn off hydration packs a couple years ago, but I’ve found myself instinctively reaching for the Skyline, even for quick after-work rips. It offers more ride stability and storage than my go-to hip bag and, of course, easy access to hydration as well.
Functionality, in style