Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Camelbak Octane 18X Review

I am a fan of Camelbak for the longest time. Having owned a few before such as Blowfish, MULE and the pouch. The bags served it's purpose and were retired/given away. But I kept the hydration bladders and some of you might remember my posting on how to store them bladders.
Yes, freeze them.
I am a bag guy. I lost count how many bags I have in my man-cave. Each specific to their need and function (though it was actually just compulsive hoarding). I have reviewed a few hydration system such as the Nathan and Raidlight. It will only do justice if i complete the circle by doing one for Camelbak.
Octane 18X
The one reason for me to get this bag was to be used for Sabah Adventure Challenge 2013. My current backpack are either too large (and clumsy) or too small (and insufficient) to hold all my race kits. You see, I am a double-redundancy type of guy and I carry two of the same thing if i can. In the wilderness or jungle, you never know what you need when you need it. With that much of "redundancy" I sure will need a big compartment bag.
Front compartment zips up to reduce bulk when you don't need the space
However, I would want flexibility that the bag would not be bouncing around due to the size and excess "baggage" is literally hard to "lug" around. So, what does Octane 18X offer?

The pack's key features boast of:
- Ultra-lightweight material of 450grams including bladder (100oz or 3liters)
- Expandable (in center)
- Essential pocket (at the front)
- Quick stash overflow pocket (revealed when you expand the bag)
- Reflectivity at both front and back
- Air Channel at the back for cooler carrying
- Independent suspension harness with gel pocket (left shoulder) and Velvetex harness lining (to prevent chaffing)
- Waist belt with pockets for essentials 
- Antidote hydration bladder. Newly designed with low-profile, more balanced load and removable clip hose!
No carcass construction. Bag is soft and pliable. Can be rolled up and packed to save space too.

Flexibility to be Big, or Small
The Octane 18X me and wifey have is a 2011 design and we got them cheaper (slightly) than usual retail. Second unit we purchase was bought from a dear friend that has changed system to Salomon Sense. No complains here as Camelbak are good packs and the main draw is the hydration bladder that are bomb proof.
This Octane 18X reminds me of (my previous) Blowfish (20liters when expanded). Octane 18X is capable of expanding to 21liters. That is enough space to put a whole lot of things (think of me and my redundancy).
Expanded. Front pocket fits a 1-liter dryback to store wallet and phone comfortably. This is what Camelbak called "Quick stash pocket"
Buckle at the top to secure/close the panel to prevent item spillage. Visible is the reflector at the bottom
Front essential pocket. Enough for key and perhaps a small phone
Back panel. Sufficiently cooling and minimalist. Two reflective band on the shoulder harness seen.
Velvetex material under the harness.
Multi purpose Gel pocket. I used it to store Hammer Endurolyte tablets or a pepper spray. :D
Separate back pocket to store hydration bladder. Two option for routing tube, top and bottom (left or right depending on preference)
Main compartment large enough to carry most things. Bottom part deeper to maintain stability
Waist pocket to store items like knife, gels, food, compass, camera, kitchen sink, etc
Can easily store 4-packs of gels (tested during SAC)
Fully strapped on. This is how the tube looked like if route from the top. Sternum strap is adjustable for maximum comfortable strapping.
How it looked like from the back. The white lines are elastic cords to further compact the bag (to minimize bulk) and two elastic cord to carry walking sticks (tested)
weight distribution is at the bottom or at lumbar. 
Steady and not bouncing in a spirited run
Hydration Bladder Updated
My Camelbak Hydration bladder is really old. It is so old that the current distributor have not seen it even. The Octane 18X comes with a brand new Antidote bladder and it has more features while maintaining the Camelbak quality. Photolog below shows the differences
My 10 years old bladder. Still look new, isn't it?
The mouth piece. Older has embossed wording and newer is printed wording.
Older bladder(top) has to be turned a few times (3 times) to lock while newer(bottom) is a quarter turn to lock. Notice the different construction of the new vs old. Newer is slightly lighter
Older system (right) is a simple plug-the-hose-into housing. Newer (left) a more revolutionary clip system with stop valve
Press (yellow) to release
Tadaa! Only worry is reliability if the gasket breaks. But I am sure Camelbak has parts for this
The valve system. Water doesn't leak when hose removed
 Real-life Test
I first brought the unit out during a run in Kiara. The short 8km run with the pack was comfy and it fitted me right the first time. The harness straps were easy to pull and fit but they became a bit too long for my comfort and started to fly everywhere as I run. Must find ways to tie it down. Everything I stashed in the pocket were easy reach and requires minimal contortionist skills unless you need something in the main pack. That, you will have to remove the pack. 
One feature I like was the fact that the pack can be further compressed to hold everything snug. The elastic cord runs along the side of the bag, further making it possible to draw in the extra material and keep the pack low profile. 
Take note of the two elastic cord on the side (loooonnng protruding white cords) - these can be used to even tie race number! Pack shown expanded
In the Sabah Adventure Challenge 2013, The pack was used by both myself and wifey. we both shared the same gear setup for pack and hydration system. As it is a self sufficient race, we have to ensure we have all the mandatory items and fuel to carry us through the day's course.
See how the elastic for compression being utilised to tie the race number
The pack on Wifey.
For the race, we have inside the pack one weather jacket (packable), one headlamp, one compass, one whistle, one reflective vest, one change of socks, one knife and one medical kit. That took up the pack, evenly distributed and not expanded. 
In the waist belt, wifey placed her Hammer Nutrition Gel and sunblock. The gel were sufficient for a 10hours course (10 packs).
The tube position if route from under the pack. We find this less intrusive than over the shoulder setup
We survived the whole 3-days race over 85km distance and the pack carried all we need for the multi-day event.
- lightweight 
- flexible sizing allow for customised profile (by drawing elastic cord)
- Bladder no leak. I don't expect any less from Camelbak
- Easy re-filling. Can leave tube in the bag and remove whole bladder by releasing the clip. No incidences of pack-wetting which usually happen when you fill up and spill around the bladder's mouth
- more than sufficient space for everything you ever need (realistically)
- Sternum strap and belt strap add to the stability of the pack
- multiple way to route your hydration tube.
- bright color!
- Shoulder padding could use a bit more thickness. Shoulder was sore after 8-hours of carrying. 
- Thin 25mm 480Denier tape on the shoulder harness has the tendency to flip when pull, making release a bit harder  when needed to remove the pack. 
- thinner material for weight saving - i made a small tear behind the quick stash when i try to put my wallet in during the Kiara test. Will need a repair kit to patch it up. This could be my own fault by forcing the wallet in.
- Need to find a way to stash the long stuff hanging out after securing the pack to the body


  1. Thanks for posting the review. I realise I also have the same bag in orange. Used it in 2011 Kinabalu Climbathon and had plenty of space to pack in a jacket and other useful stuff. Bought this coz is was the biggest and lightweight camelbak

    Two points I think a solution needs to be found : extra elastic cords length in the bag (4 of them) flaps around when running. Guess not easy way other than to tie them down creatively

    Secondly - the extra length shoulder straps also flaps around so have to spend a few seconds each time after remounting to tuck them in.. else start bouncing around

    Chee H

    1. I agree! Both the items you mentioned was an annoyance. Good thing was the strap was light enough and did not annoy after a while. The elastic cord, one pair was used to tie the race number (problem solved. The other one i left hanging.