What does the world need with yet another hydration pack? As good as the new Kelty hydration line looked at Summer Market, we certainly had our doubts, until we received two Neptune "speed packs" to test.
We look for four things in a hydration pack for trail running or mountain biking:
1) A you-don't-know-its-even-there ride on the back;
2) An easy-to-operate bite valve with a good flow rate;
3) An easy-to-fill reservoir;
4) Easily accessible storage.
When we received our Neptune packs, the team immediately transferred everything that was in the old hydration packs into them. Getting the Source reservoir (which is quite possibly one of the best reservoirs we've ever tested) out of the packs proved easy. Simply pull up on a webbing handle and it's out and ready to be filled. Filling is easy because of the large screw top opening (which, as we also discovered, is water filter compatible).
One of our team, following a 15-mile mountain bike ride, commented blissfully that he'd hardly noticed the Neptune was on his back -- unlike other brands he's tested which have felt like "a handicap designed to slow me down." Our other tester agreed after using the pack on several long trail runs. It is the Neptune's slimmer profile combined with the design that allows the user to effectively snug the pack to the user's back that makes the big performance difference.
The L-shaped bite valve works very well and delivers a steady flow that quenches rather than drowns the user. The valve comes with a cover which we weren't so sure about until we started thinking of all the places (car trunks, my old dirty garage) where the pack will end up residing for days at a time. Keeping nasty bugs and contaminants off the valve suddenly made a lot of sense. That said, it's still a bit of a pain to have to take the cover off each time you want to take a sip and leaving it off is not an option because it just dangles there, flopping around like a fish out of water.
When it came to storage requirements, the Neptune's large inner pocket easily held everything one of our testers needed (jacket, lunch, spare tubes, extra glasses, extra gloves) for a recent 50-mile ride. The zippered outside stash pocket seems like it would be nice to have but neither tester really used it. The easily accessible outside large mesh pocket is perfect for storing tools, energy bars and sunscreen. The outermost flap, with bungee-cord side attachments and a buckled adjustable webbing strap at the top, makes a great place to store a jacket for ready access or hold a helmet when you're off the bike.
Other features to like: the small Velcro closure key pocket near the top of one of the shoulder straps and the reflective tabs on the outermost flap for night visibility -- we even took it out on a Search and Rescue training mission and loved the way it showed under headlamp illumination.
If there were one thing missing that both our testers have grown accustomed to and like on similar packs, it's a small zippered, easy-to-get-to, outside pocket -- perhaps a replacement for the teeny stash pocket?
$70 in blue/black or green/black
SNEWS Rating: 4.5 hands clapping