There was a time when POC came off as a little over-protective. In fact, protection was the only thing they did. They were always like, "Safety" this and "No compromise" that. They were like first-time parents of an only child. But like all parents eventually do, they learned to relax and get comfortable once in a while.
And it's had an impact on products like the Spine VPD Air Backpack 8. It still has its protective side, with a panel of VPD foam (or "dough" as that "D" refers to) running the length of the pack. But otherwise, it's a lightweight, slimmed-down little number. Slimmed down because of minimal, thin-skinned overall design. Slimmed down further because neither the 8- nor 13-liter versions of the VPD Air uses a waist strap.
To help keep it locked down, Poc splits the lower half of the shoulder straps in two and connects them at separate points on the pack for another dimension of support. Likewise, the chest strap gets doubled up, one just above and one just below where you'd be used to it being.
The pack features some narrow, easy-access pouches on the shoulder straps. One, POC calls a "mobile phone pocket," but they must mean a Nokia 3310, because my iPhone was far too wide to fit. But it did slide nicely into a stealthy, small zippered pouch on the side. In the one main compartment, you'll find the requisite small sub-compartments, but you won't find a bladder. That'll be up to you, which stings a bit on a small, relatively simple $150 pack.
Nearly every time I would put this pack on, I'd reach down to my hips, looking for the buckles out of sheer habit. If you're as used to belts on your bags as I am, It's an awkward feeling to go without one. It's like that sensation when you start pedaling and immediately realize you aren’t wearing a helmet. So on my first ride with the VPD Air, I brought an extra strap that I could rig onto the pack in case it wouldn't stay put. Surprisingly, I never ended up needing it.
Once I added a full 3-liter bladder, it didn't take much to fill the pack to capacity. But even fully loaded, it was only on the steepest descents that it would slide up and out of place. That's partially because it already sits relatively high, but mostly because, once adjusted, the existing straps will keep it in the best location to stay as stationary as possible.
On rides that require a lot of luggage, and take you primarily on steep, rough descents, waist straps are worth the extra discomfort. But I can't remember a single pack I've owned without one, and I'd taken that discomfort for granted. So much so that I've often opted for oversized hip packs like the CamelBak Palos, but now I'd much rather let my belly breathe a bit and use the 8-liter VPD Air for rides too big to go packless, but too small for a traditional pack. And of course, it's a POC, which does make me feel safer.
$150 / pocsports.com