The team at Osprey has always thought about pack design a little differently than most. And when they set about to create what they felt was the perfect hydration pack, the thought process was no different. To them, it was not about simply creating a better hydration pack, because a poor reservoir design would defeat the system. They also felt that simply designing a better reservoir wasn’t enough either, because if the pack wasn’t ideally matched, it too would create an imperfect marriage. So, Osprey founder and chief mad scientist Mike Pfotenhauer worked with his design team to conjure up a new hydration pack system, with the pack and reservoir fully integrated. They call it the Hydraulics line of packs.
Eager to test what Osprey claims to be “the most innovative and best-designed hydration packs,” we ordered a Mantra 30 hydration pack, and from February through May 2010 our tester wore it backcountry skiing, mountain biking, during a 24-hour adventure race, and day hiking.
One thing that was immediately noticeable is that the pack itself is not light. The small size at 1,800 cubic inches tipped the scales when empty at just over two and a half pounds. However, the pack sat so well on our tester’s back, and felt so comfortable, that the weight of the pack and its contents seemed to disappear. He even swapped packs with a teammate during the 24-hour adventure race, and when his teammate slipped on the pack he said immediately, “Wow, this feels great!” Our tester was not so enthralled with the pack he traded down to, and was relieved to get back his heavier but way more comfortable Manta 30.
The 3-liter water reservoir, designed in collaboration with Nalgene, has an integrated frame stiffener and fabric back, and when inserted into the pack itself, becomes part of the pack’s back panel, noticeably stabilizing the water. The unique pack integration also increases compression and pressure on the reservoir which in turn increases flow rate when drinking. Our tester reported that it’s easy to access the reservoir, and he said he’s never had such an effortless time pulling an empty or partially empty reservoir out of a full pack and then reinserting the reservoir once it was refilled with water.
The pack also allows great ventilation and feels both comfortable and stable because its peripheral frame, which Osprey dubbed the LightWire, is combined with a mesh back panel that has AirScape ridge foam. Most noticeable is the way the pack moved with our tester thanks to stretch built into the shoulder harness and waistbelt.
The pack is thoughtfully designed to provide plenty of features an adventure racer will love, meaning it’s also going to be ideal for ultralight overnights, and fully outfitted day trips as well:
• Love the main compartment large enough to stow various layers, and even a bivy sack and lightweight sleeping bag.
• A smaller zip-stow compartment with key fob keeps smaller items organized and accessible.
• Zip-closed side and hip-belt pockets provide additional places for things that need easy access -- snacks, first aid supplies, GPS, sunscreen, and more.
• A quick stash top pocket is lined with soft fabric, perfect for eyeglasses, sunglasses, goggles, or any item you want to ensure gets a little TLC.
• There is a helmet attachment to clip the chin strap through and a compression pocket to keep a bike, ski or climbing helmet firmly secure when not on your noggin.
• An integrated rain cover deploys quickly, providing an added layer of protection for the pack and its contents if Mother Nature dumps on your adventure parade.
• A trekking pole carry system is easy to use and keeps poles out of the way when not needed, but readily accessible when they are needed.
• A magnet on the sternum strap keeps the hose and bite valve from flopping around, but also ensures a sip of thirst-quenching water is readily available.
So, after all our testing, is this the perfect hydration pack? Well, we’re going to keep the pressure on Mike and his crew and say, almost. If it were about 8 to 10 ounces lighter, we’d say yes. While some of the pack’s heavy components help create supreme carrying comfort, every ounce on the back means added weight to carry. And in the long haul, especially during an adventure race, trimming ounces makes a huge difference to the amount of effort exerted. Maybe lose the rain cover to shave a few ounces – it’s nice but not essential. All the quibbling over ounces aside, though, the Manta 30 is the best multisport hydration pack the SNEWS team has ever tested.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $149