Camelbak The Don Review

by Brian Mullin on August 25, 2010

Camelbak has released two new hydration packs for 2010 made specifically for the All Mountain and Freeride community. The Don (17.5L) and The Capo (11L) have the usual Camelbak features, along with the ability to carry full face helmets and body armor. I originally tested the 2010 Don, but Camelbak was nice enough to send along the 2011 Don (slightly tweaked over 2010), which had their brand new Antidote bladder system. The new Antidote is miles ahead of their previous bladder, and fixes many issues in their system, like the always frustrating fill port screw cap.

The Don
The Don has a carrying capacity of 17.5L or 1070 cu in, and the water reservoir is 3L or 100oz, comes in four colors combination’s, and weighs in at 900 grams or 2 lbs.
The Don is made with a slightly tougher rip-stop material than most packs, so that it can take the additional abuse and abrasion that the AM/FR rider is going to toss at it. I can attest to the blows the pack can sustain, since I have crashed on it, and slammed into trees and bushes. I never really thought that a hydration pack could be considered part of my armor and protection system, as it certainly has lessened the blows for my back and shoulders, whether it is a roll or a direct slammer.

The packs black color combination (Black/Methyl Blue) was subtle, and didn’t show dirt easily, even after lots of dusty and dirty trail usage. The pack even had some nifty Camel logo’s blended into the pack.

Measured Specs:
Pack Weight – 908.3 grams/32.04 oz/2 lbs
Reservoir Weight – 199.9 grams/7.05 oz/.44 lbs
Pack Size: 19″ x 11.5″ x 9″

The air director back panel has a lot of padding so it is comfortable, even when fully loaded, but it seems to retain a lot of sweat and stays pretty hot, without many ventilation capabilities.

Although the waist belt doesn’t have much padding, it does a great job of carrying the load, and pulls the pack nicely into your lower back, helping to keep the weight close and evenly distributed. The carrying system, which includes the waist belt, sternum strap and shoulder straps, offers a lot of movements, but it sometimes allows the pack to flop around on technical and rough trails when one is hanging all over the bike, although this issue is common to most larger capacity bike packs. Cinching the straps down tight when ugly terrain will be encountered is essential, to help alleviate some of the floppiness, albeit it still exists. The actual padded shoulder strap is semi free floating from the main pack (padding not directly attached on top), and instead is connected with a wide piece of webbing, and a seems as though a small amount of sloppiness is inherent in that interface?

The carrying system for a full face helmet is really sweet. Without instructions, I wasn’t sure what straps to use, except for the obvious ones under the flap to hold the chin bar, so I did a best guess estimate. I have yet to find a hydration pack company that gives you any instruction on how to use things, call it a features guide or suggestion FAQ, come on guys, your features can be a bit confusing?

It was an easy task to attach, I just popped open the front flap, snapped the two chin straps onto the helmet’s chin bar. I then pulled the flap up and over the chin guard, closed its Velcro, snapped the flaps four compressions straps, and cinched them tight.

When the full face helmet is strapped down, it was very stable, with no flopping nor excess movement. The synergy of the helmet strap system, along with the thickly padded back and carrying system (waist/shoulder/chest), made the helmets additional weight (2-3 lbs) and bulkiness tolerable. You still need to watch for the errant tree or bush, since the visor and helmet sort of stick out.

I tend to ride up trails wearing a normal helmet, and then switch to the full face for downhilling or when I know I will be riding gnarly terrain. Carrying the normal helmet was also easy since it slips nicely into the flap’s pouch, although I detached the visor to make things easier to stow. There are enough strapping to secure the load, carry armor (nice set of bottom straps), and pretty much anything that is required.

The pack has a plethora of pockets or compartments, and the main compartment of the pack is quite cavernous, with the zipper going 2/3 of the way around it. Once opened, with the side compression straps undone, the main compartment sort of flops open, making it easy to grab most anything. In the main compartment there are two pouches, and two zippered pockets, one is quite large and sits down low, which is nice to segregate infrequently used items such as first aid kit, tools and repair equipment, while the other pocket is for smaller items. I would have liked another zippered pocket above the larger one, one which one have quick access capabilities, for energy bars, etc.

On the top back of the pack is a sealed/water resistant pocket for electronics (I put my camera and small tools there), and a padded eyeglass one (usually my keys and wallet) just above the full faced helmet flap. When anything was stuffed into the helmet slot, it was difficult to access the top pocket, since it sort of squeezed the pack down and the zipper was tough to open and close, and items were hard to extract.

By your hips, there is a small zippered pocket that I used for my cell phone (easy to reach, unzip and grab a phone), and then a lift pass holder with Velcro flash cover for those ski area outings.

Antidote Reservoir
The new Antidote reservoir (70 and 100oz) is pretty amazing, and Camelbak has done a full redesign of the unit, adding many features and functionality, and has caught up to the competition’s innovations. The 90 degree bite valve worked quite nicely, and was easy to draw, and didn’t leak (at least not yet). The shutoff lever was sometimes tough to turn on and off when wearing gloves.

First, the screw cap for the fill port takes only a quarter turn to open or close, and it does not get stuck and require brute force to open. I can’t recall how many times I cussed at their original design, when I had to grunt to open! Just line up the arrow on the cap with the circle icon ‘O’ (with arrows pointing in tightening direction), and turn it a quarter turn clockwise until it lines up with the circle icon by the top hanging hook. It only takes a light touch to close the cap, and its water tight and snug. Sweet!

The fill port has a wider diameter hole for easier filling and cleaning, along with a shorter stack height and lighter weight. They added a baffle (like a sleeping bag) down the bottom center of the reservoir, which helped reduce the stack height, so the unit is shallower and wider. This means it sits in the pack’s pocket in a more slender fashion, and is more conformable, so when it’s full of water it doesn’t bow the pack out and give rise to a pressure spot, and discomfort.

They added an auto shutoff quick disconnect, named the Quick Link, which allow you to disconnect the reservoir from the drink hose, which facilitates cleaning, filling and drying. The fill port has a handle which hooks into the drop slot of the packs zippered rearward pouch, helping to keep it stable and secure.

Hidden on the fill port’s sides are two plastic drying arms, which pop out and hold the reservoir open for drying, which is done with it hung upside down. The arms are made of the same material as sunglasses arms, so they are tough and durable. This drying method actually works quite well, and helps to keep away the funks, and you no longer need the optional inserted drying rack.

Bottom Line
The Don is a comfortable pack, that is durable (tough material), fairly light, and has a host of features. The wide waist strap was greatly appreciated, and it kept the pack from flopping around, and along with the sternum and shoulders straps helped carry the load and distribute its weight. The ability to attach a full face helmet easily, and securely with no flopping around was obviously the highlight of the pack. The plethora of straps, allows the carrying of body armor, jackets and about anything else, in addition the load could be cinched down for stability. On days, I didn’t use a full face helmet, its storage flap was handy for carrying many items, from a garden lopper (trail maintenance), to jackets, clothes, normal helmets, etc. The pack has plenty of useful pockets, though I wish there was an extra one in the main compartment I really enjoyed the sealed top pocket for my camera, since it was easy to grab it without having to resort to unstrapping anything nor maneuvering in the main compartment to grab it. The pack did flop around somewhat, unless cinched down tightly, which made it tough to balance oneself in rough terrain.

I enjoyed my time with the Don, and its many features made it a very useful and functional hydration pack. The new Antidote reservoir is a real winner, and put’s Camelbak back in the race! Thank goodness you no longer need hands of steel to open the fill port screw cap.

Note: the 2010 pack is available now, the 2011 pack and the new Antidote reservoir will be available in October. 

– Tough: durable materials and stitching
– Antidote reservoir: quick connect, dryer arms, 1/4 turn cap, reduced stack height
– Full face helmet carrying ability
– Lots of pockets
– Multiple armor strapping placements
– Full face helmet flap compartment handy for sundry items

– Eyeglass pocket zipper and opening bunches up
– Pack flops around on rough terrain
– Need an additional pocket in main compartment

MSRP: $120.00

Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Antidote Reservoir Rating: 4.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

2010 The Don Specs
Size: 20 ” x 12.25″ x 9.5″
Weight: 1.73 lbs (.79 kg)
Reservoir Capacity: 100 oz (3 L)
Cargo Capacity: 1070 cu in (17.53 L)
Designed to Carry – Full-face Helmet, Body Armor, Goggles, Extra Layers, Lunch, Tools, Pumps, Spare Tubes, Electronics
Back Panel: Air Director
Harness: Independent Suspension Yoke
Belt: 38mm/1.5″ Compression/Stability Belt
4 colors
MSRP (US only): $120.00

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