Sunday, September 16, 2007

Camelbak Transalp vs. Blowfish

I've been using a Camelbak Transalp pack for rides for several years now. Until the somewhat recent explosion of pack choices from Camelbak, it was their largest pack. Recently however, I've been wanting something lighter and smaller. Enter the latest Blowfish.

Some of you might be questioning whether "lighter and smaller" go with the Blowfish, since, as Camelbak cycling packs go, it's currently the second largest (or largest depending on how you calculate) pack. Camelbak no longer makes the Transalp, and the HAWG is their largest cycling specific pack (when compared to the Blowfish not expanded, but also as compared in a more visual or general sense).

The Blowfish has over 700 cubic inches of storage space by default, and expands to 1000. The HAWG has 801. There is actually another pack, the Havoc, which holds 794, but wasn't what I was after. The Transalp I believe will hold well over 1000 cubic inches of gear, I'd guess it's around 1200-1500.

Anyway, numbers aside, the Blowfish is very streamlined. It has no extra straps, flaps, partial pockets or other such things on the outside as compared to the HAWG and most other packs. While it can hold a fair bit, especially as compared to smaller packs like the Mule, it feels minimal and efficient. I felt I wanted to comfortably be able to carry tools, tubes, jacket, energy bars/gels, and of course the 100oz bladder. I only looked at packs that can hold 100oz reservoirs, as I frequently need to carry that much water (or more).

I've now used the pack a few times, so how does it compare to my trusty Transalp? First, check the picture for a visual difference. Check. Now, I should note, this pack definitely feels smaller and lighter, but really only once you have drained the 100oz down to probably 60 or less. When it's fully, it feels just as big, heavy, and less stable than the Transalp. The Transalp is wide, so it tends to stabilize heavy loads very well.

Getting down to it... I expect to use this pack on many of my rides, but likely when it comes to the bigger rides, or in winter when I need to carry more gear, I may likely reach for the Transalp. As big and bulky as the Transalp can seem, when it's on your back, it really carries very well, especially when heavily loaded. In the name of efficiency, here's my pseudo-list of pros/cons:

  • Blowfish has sleek, non-hiker geek/non-Macgyver look and feel. I could even wear this on my road bike for mega-epic road rides where I can't get water somewhere along the way.

  • Good organization: I really like the very slim front/outer pocket, which is ideal for stashing a half dozen gels, or some gels and a bar or two. I also say a big thanks for putting in what I call the car key leash in the second/tool pocket. The Transalp is missing this, and it's a simple, but very effective addition.

  • For me, at 6'2" the shoulder straps are way too short. In order to ensure the weight is carried low on my back, I have the straps almost completely extended, which means there's not much coming around in terms of the padded straps, and the sternum strap I have all the way at the bottom, yet it is too high on my chest.

  • The Blowfish, when fully loaded is a bit unwieldy and sways side to side on your back, at least compared to the Transalp. If you plan to regularly carry 700+ inches of gear, and a full water bladder, I'd suggest looking to another pack. The HAWG seems wider, and may work better, or one of Camelbak's multi-purpose packs like the Alpine or something might be better.

  • I was able to carry multi-tool, tube, two other small tools, 4 gels, 3 bars, water filter, extra jersey, extra gloves, cell phone, GPS, and small first aid kid in the pack without expanding it. This was maxed out without expansion, and was pushing it to not expand it. But, it means that if I'd needed, I could have added a big water bottle, jacket, more food, and so on with the pack expanded.

  • Good price. I think I paid $70 for this pack, which included the 100oz Omega reservoir. A HAWG in comparison was $100.

  • The one thing I'd have liked to have seen, but would have likely made it a bit bulky, is the built in rain cover. The Transalp has this (see that little zipper on the bottom of the pack), and it's just an awesome addition when you need it.

Anyway, so, upshot... If you don't regularly need to carry a lot of gear, but want to have the ability to on occasion, or if you only want one pack, and you want something very sleek and streamlined, etc., this is a good choice. Otherwise, you might want to go with a HAWG (or if you only do roughly two hour rides, and in pleasant weather, etc., you can likely use some other pack), or if you really need to haul some serious gear, check out an Alpine, or the Octane 14+ which actually looks like a really sweet pack. The Octane 14+ is likely what I'll replace my Transalp with when that time comes.

1 comment:

Chris said...

One note for those that wonder how the heck I can fill up a Transalp on a ride. I have many times. The most recent example, was at Mountain Bike Oregon. I had 100oz full bladder to start. Then, in the pack, I had my usual tools (multi-tool, 3-4-5 Y allen, pump, chaintool, and a Leatherman Juice (very handy)), water filter, vest, a bunch of gels, some bars, a sandwich and banana, and the biggy, my digital SLR camera (takes up about as much space as say two small water bottles). Maybe more, but that's what I remember.

With that, the pack wasn't even full, but was pretty close. This load was easily carried with this pack. Yes, it was heavy due to sheer overall weight, but the Transalp keeps it very stable and easy to ride with.