When it comes to long rides, carrying a pack is the best way to tote a significant amount of water and gear. The downside to carrying a pack is that added weight of gear can adversely affect your ability to move and react quickly on the bike. Low profile packs like the Airborne series from USWE Sports look like a viable solution to unweildly packs that swing around. After checking one out at the Sea Otter Classic, the folks at USWE sent one home with us to try on our home trails to see if we could really get rid of that dancing monkey on our backs.
The Airborne “action backpack” collection features 3 models of varying capacity in 3, 9 and 15L options. Starting with 70oz of hydration capacity for the 3L model, and 15 L for the largest, we decided the 9L model was the ideal compromise, a “just right” solution for carrying water and additional gear for longer rides.
The unique selling feature of the USWE packs is their NDM Harness design. Designed to be bounce free, it reminds me of a harness from a parachute.. well, ok, not that I’ve worn one yet. The NDM (which stands for “No Dancing Monkey”) does away with a waist belt for stability and uses a 4-point suspension design that hugs your torso to be as close to your center of mass as possible. Basically, it fits your body like a glove and uses adjustable elastic straps for maximum compression and comfort.
- Patented 4-point suspension harness technology
- Chest straps: allows tight fit and chest expansion (breathing)
- Shoulder straps: better fit and reduced pressure on shoulders
- Velcro straps make size adjustment easy and fast
- Multi-size loops for extra wide size range
- Volume: 9L
- Hydration capacity: 3,0L/100oz
- Weight: 595g (*excl. bladder)
- Dimension: H: 45cm x W: 29cm x 8 cm
- Size: Multi size adjustable: M-XL, Adult (Approx Chest 84-110cm)
- Magnetic Tube Clip: Keeps your tube in a secure and accessible position
- Accessible Phone Pocket at the front of the harness
- High-vent foam shoulder straps with ergonomic form-fit
- Ventilated back panel with anti-slip ridges
- Quick stash-pocket: Stash or shed a layer or rain shell
- Water resistant media pocket inside the main compartment (W: 12cm x D: 16cm)
- Helmet & Armor attachment points: Stow and secure full-face helmet, knee and elbow pads
- LED-light attachment points: Front and back
On the trail
TLDR; How does it actually work? I’ll just get right to it. The Airborne is a great solution for riders looking for additional capacity on big days when a waist pack can’t do the work. And although we often leave the packs at home with a strong preference for wearing waist packs on our local trails, on long rides in warm temperatures, a waist pack + water is not a solution we enjoy. We’ve experimented with waist packs that feature hydration capacity but, once a waist pack has the added weight of water, they’re no longer the better alternative — let’s face it, with more mass, shoulder straps simply carry the weight better.
Hence our enthusiasm for a pack that could take over on longer rides while still maintaining that feeling of full mobility. The USWE Airborne (and other low profile designs for that matter) is that solution for carrying additional amounts of water we’ve been looking for.
The best part is still being able to pump, jump and rail turns without stuff on your back swinging around. The load is kept close to the torso, and keeping things packed tight keeps everything stable.
No waist belt?
Admittedly, we were wondering how good of a job the pack would do without a waist belt to stabilize the load. The answer is, it does surprisingly well. The elastic of the strap is designed to be cinched before charging descents for additional stability and so long as the pack isn’t overloaded, it doesn’t swing up. That said, the outer pocket does make it possible to overwhelm the carry.
The Airborne 9L packed light was a great solution for additional capacity. The 3L didn’t feel like it offered enough versatility to me, but the additional storage capacity means it is possible to overload the pack. Smart packing is the ideal solution to maintaining that riding experience and experience maximum shred.
The pack features a number of compartments and pockets for keeping things organized and stable.
Of course, as content creators, we often carry camera gear on rides, and the reality is extra weight and bulk of adding even just a small mirrorless camera was still noticeable – once I added the additional weight of a camera, I did notice some swing, due to the cargo jutting out and that weight was no longer snug to my torso and stabilized.
That said, it was my cargo making the movement and not the pack. That additional weight put load on the straps, but the elastic “action strap” can be cinched tighter before starting descents to help minimize it. Experimenting with placement of the camera helped; one option would have been to put it next to the hydration bladder to keep things close; but I always feel a bit nervous when it comes to placing electronics directly on top of a hydration sleeve. That said, a water resistant GoPro wouldn’t have that issue.
The only thing I can think I’d like to see added is a conversion attachment for a GoPro Chest mount. As a content creator with a new YouTube Channel, this seems like a no-brainer for an upgrade. As is, it doesn’t play well with the chesty mount, so a helmet mount is a better choice while wearing the USWE.
That said, rigging up a DIY adapter could be a solution.
The USWE Airborne 9L hydration pack lists for $130. Check it out and learn more at USWE-sports.com
Update: we’ve just learned that USWE is now offering an Action Camera Harness to the system. It will sell for $49 and you can learn more here: Action Camera Harness