CamelBak Charge LR

by Brian Mullin on November 3, 2011

The CamelBak Charge LR is an incredibly comfortable, light and conformable hydration pack, which features their lumbar Antidote reservoir, which is situated at the bottom of the pack. The design places the water lower on hips and back for stability and comfort. The pack becomes part of your back, at least figuratively, as it conforms to the shape and oddities of your body, and it doesn’t bounce around much, especially compared to conventional designs. The Charge LR uses lightweight ripstop fabric, has great organizational pockets, a softly padded back panel and hip belt, and uses their 70 oz (2 L) Antidote Reservoir.

CamelBak Charge LR
The Charge LR (Lumbar) weighs in at a svelte 460 grams, and has padded back, hip, and shoulders (minimally), and is constructed with their Ultra-light materials, using a combination of ripstop and stretchy nylon. The wraparound body uses their Lightweight Exoskeleton back panel, and Ultra-light 3-D Mesh Independent Suspension with Slider Sternum Strap. The upper portion of the pack has a long and narrow zippered main compartment, which opens in clam shell style for easy access. It has three meshed organizational pockets, one large and two smaller ones, and each has a small Velcro closure tab. There is an overflow storage sleeve on the back on the unit, which extends down the bottom two-thirds of the pack, and closes off with a cinch strap. The sleeve uses very stretchy fabric, so it can expand to hold various apparel or other items as required. The padded hip belt uses 1-inch webbing, and does a side cinch, and have zippered cargo pockets on each side. In addition, the pack is equipped with lumbar compression straps, which draws the bottom of the pack into the back as the reservoir’s water volume decreases, keeping things stabilized, with the weight in tight with the body. All the pockets and compartments combine together to give 427 cu in or 7L of storage space, although the outer sleeve adds quite a bit of additional volume. The 70 oz. or 2L Antidote reservoir with the Quick Link connector, sits in a dual zippered pouch at the bottom, wrapping backwards around the hips and the lumbar. The pack will come in two colors, Blue and Gray with Black accents, and will be released in February 2012 with a retail price of $100.

Antidote LR Reservoir
The Antidote lumbar reservoir (70 oz/2 liters) sits horizontal in contrast to the typical vertical layout, and it includes mini baffles (the small cutouts) to keep the water from sloshing around and keep the shape from getting too fat (flatter bladder), and it makes it bend easier at the wings. The bite valve worked quite nicely, and was easy to draw, and didn’t leak. 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. 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 solid circle icon by the top hanging hook. It only takes a light touch to close the cap, and its water tight and snug. The fill port has a wider diameter hole for easier filling, cleaning and drying, and has a handle which hooks onto the drop slot of the packs zippered pouch, helping to keep it stable and secure, and makes it handier to hold the cumbersome wide reservoir. They added an auto shutoff quick disconnect, named the Quick Link, which allows you to disconnect the reservoir from the drink hose, which facilitates cleaning, filling and drying.

Impressions
The Charge LR carries over much of its design from the very excellent Octane LR, and has added some great new features, yet has still retained the excellent low lumbar weight carrying and stability characteristics of its brethren. The Charge LR has increased the capacity, added more padding and organizational features, and upgraded the load carrying and stabilization, through the use of the lumbar compression straps and Exoskeleton back panel. The Charge LR is a hybrid of a normal pack and the Octane LR, so you get the best of both worlds.

I have used the pack over the last several months, and it has been crashed, abused and rained on, and has been quite durable for a pack made of lightweight materials. During the test period, it has been very comfortable and stable, and as far as packs go, it has been enjoyable to wear. The lumbar design pulls the weight off the shoulders, and moves it onto the lumbar and lower back, offering increased stability and weight carrying characteristics, and draws the center of gravity in close to the torso. The back panel and the hip wings conform to the body, like it was painted in place, and it sticks like Velcro no matter how ferocious and bumpy the terrain, with the bulky water weight snugged up tightly into the lumbar. The low tight weighting drawn into the lumbar and lower back, meant the shoulders were freer to move, which was advantageous in technical terrain, and reduced back, shoulder and neck strain. I ride in extremely gnarly terrain, with lots of long grunt climbs to get to my terrain, meaning prodigious amounts of steep up and down, and the Charge LR has been a pleasant, useful and functional hydration pack for shorter rides.

The molded Lightweight Exoskeleton back panel is soft and conformable, and offers good comfort and ventilation, though with everything squished up against the lumbar, it can get damp in that particular spot. The hip belt and back panel were nicely padded, and highly flexible, so it conformed extremely well to the contours of your back, and it carried the weight, in a balanced and unnoticeable manner. The shoulder straps were minimally padded, which was fine for the way the system functioned, and the lighter loads the pack would be carrying. The pack itself is feathery light, and I never felt the weight, even with the full 2 liters of water, and the additional carry-on items. Pulling the water weight down low into your lumbar and not on your shoulders, and the rest of the burden snugged in tightly to the back, it does seem to disappear, and offers excellent stability. What I really like about this pack more than anything, is when I get into rough terrain, going of drop offs, ramps, ledges, etc., the pack never flops up towards your head, so I think it’s an ideal gravity pack for that reason, albeit its not the roomiest and lacks helmet carrying capabilities. The LR’s waist belt seems to sit snugger and up higher on the stomach, and didn’t catch on your saddle when making severe sitting on the rear tire moves that happen on uber steep terrain. Between the weight seemingly disappearing, the lack of the pack doing a head flop or bouncing around on your back, and no saddle catching, the LR becomes near invisible when wearing!

The lumbar compression straps, which are located on each side of the hips, are hidden inside the wings, and help pull the bottom of the pack into the back when the extra girth of the used up reservoir shrinks during usage. It keeps the pack, load and weight stable and centered on the back, and can be done on the fly. Although its primary use is for the reservoir, it can also be used to trim and alter the way the pack sits on your back, giving one micro tuning customizations, and I used this feature frequently on every ride.

The zippered main compartment was easy to use, and opening it up clam shell style, allowed efficient access to everything without having to dig around for hidden items. The mesh pockets in the main compartments offered effective organizing for tools, pumps, parts, and other sundry items, and the small Velcro closing tabs are a very nice touch to keep things in place. The hip belt’s two cargo pockets are decently roomy, and I used them for my cell phone, camera, tools, and keys, and I was especially happy that my iPhone easily fit. My favorite compartment was the back sleeve (aka the burrito), which was constructed from very stretchy material. You could shove a decent-sized rain jacket and maybe even some pants into the sleeve, and I was amazed much it expanded. I also found one other useful storage location, which was the V-shaped zipper section just above the reservoir, which worked perfect for an extra set of gloves, socks, or something relatively small.

The Antidote lumbar reservoir system worked extremely well, and the new screw closure only takes a quarter turn to open and close, and the wide mount is easy to pour into and clean, though to fill to capacity you do need to hold it with the handle at a slight angle to facilitate. A minuscule amount of water can get stuck in the nooks of the wings, exacerbated by the prone cycling position. Most of the water gets pulled out of the wings by the partial vacuum produced by drawing water towards the inlet when drinking, and body movement, such as pedaling and hip swivel aid in drawing any lingering remnants back towards the center. Testing showed a worst-case scenario of 4 oz or 1/2 cup of water staying in the reservoir, some in the wings, and the rest where the draw port wasn’t able to extract the residual. Doing the same experiment with a normal reservoir, there were 1-2 oz or 1/8-1/4 cup of water left. The Quick Link is pretty sweet, and facilitated clipping and in a leak-free manner for the bladder removal, though on occasion, the hose would dribble some water, so I would blow the hose clean beforehand. Inserting the reservoir is an easy task, route the hose, and place the reservoir into the pouch, push its tails into the waist belt, clip the hanging hook onto the loop, and then flip the handle out over the flap, and zip it shut.

Measured Specs:

  • Pack Weight (no reservoir) – 467 grams / 16.5 oz
  • Antidote Reservoir (with hose) – 178 grams / 6.3 oz
  • Total Weight – 645 grams / 22.8 oz
  • Pack Size – 20″ tall x 8″ wide, 22″ wide by hip
  • Main Compartment Size – 15 ” tall x 8 ” wide x 3 ” thick

 

Bottom Line
The CamelBak Charge LR is a superb pack, and synergy of the lumbar design, low slung reservoir, conformable back panel and hip belt, and functional suspension system makes for a fantastically stable and comfortable entity. The pack adheres to your back, like its attached with Velcro, and it carries the weight centered properly on your hips, lower back and lumbar. It seems to all but disappears, and during any type of extreme riding it didn’t flop or bounce around, which was especially noticeable on steep terrain, where it didn’t do any head slaps. The lumbar compression straps helped pull the bottom of the pack into the back when the reservoir started to shrink in size, and it was useful for doing customized load and fit trimming. Besides the exceptional load carrying and stability characteristics, the pack had some other excellent features, including the main compartments clam shell opening and mesh pockets, the roomy side cargo pockets, and the uber stretchy back burrito sleeve. The 70 oz (2 L) of water is fine for short rides, and the storage space works adequately, especially when adding in the rear sleeve and the space above the reservoir.

Nitpicks: A helmet holder of some sort would be handy at times, but it certainly isn’t a deal breaker, and might not work considering the constraints of the pack’s design. The Antidote lumbar reservoir was easy to clean, and install in the pack, but it was cumbersome to fill (especially re-filling) and difficult to dry properly. On occasion, the side cargo pockets would catch on things, usually a saddle, but it was a minor annoyance.

The Charge LR’s innovative design, lightweight materials, soft padding, and its highly flexible nature, create a plush and comfortable pack, and it becomes one with the back, and has just enough space for moderate rides.

Strengths

  • Antidote bladder system
  • Comfortable, conformable and nicely padded
  • Weight and pack disappear
  • No flopping and bouncing around
  • Clam shell opening
  • Lumbar compression straps
  • Main compartments mesh pockets
  • Outer expandable burrito sleeve

Weaknesses

  • Reservoir difficult to dry
  • Reservoir cumbersome to fill/re-fill
  • No helmet carrier
  • Side cargo pockets can catch on things

MSRP: $100

Overall Rating: 4.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Charge LR Specs:

  • MSRP $100
  • Retail Availability: February 2012
  • Antidote Reservoir with Quick Link System
  • Perfect for mountain biking
  • Hydration Capacity: 70 oz. (2L) with the new Antidote Lumbar Reservoir
  • Cargo Capacity: 427 cu in / 7L + 2L Reservoir
  • Weight: 16 oz (460 g) (no reservoir)
  • Back Panel: Lightweight Exoskeleton
  • Ultra-light 3-D Mesh Independent Suspension™ with Slider Sternum Strap and integrated Tube Trap
  • Belt: Side cinch 25mm / 1” with cargo pockets
  • Key Features: Ultra-light materials, lumbar reservoir compression, bike tool organizer pocket, stretch overflow storage

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