Deuter Race EXP Air Hydration Pack Review

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It seems as every mountain bike season progresses, my rides tend to get longer and more remote. Logistics get trickier, effort becomes greater, and with all of this my need for carrying more gear with me increases. I’ve been on the lookout for a “mid- to large-sized” hydration pack for quite a while, and got the chance to check a few out recently. Germany-based Deuter makes innovative products, and the Race EXP Air falls in what I would call the “packs large enough to ride in the backcountry all day” category. I wore the Deuter loaded down with everything I could think of to take on several rides in the high country and Front Range of Colorado.

Fit and Comfort of the Deuter Race EXP Air

The straps and waist belt are fairly minimal, and made of a flexible mesh with no padding. Despite this, the anatomical shape of the shoulder and waist belt straps make it very comfortable to wear. The hydration tube, shoulder straps, and waist belt were all long enough to adjust for my 6’2″ frame with plenty of room to cinch down for shorter folks.

The Race EXP Air uses what Deuter calls the Aircomfort FlexLite System. The Aircomfort system has two components: a mesh screen that sits against your back and puts tension on the pack, and an external X-shaped frame that holds the actual pack away from your actual back. The result is that the only thing pressing against your body is the mesh screen, which allows for “3-sided ventilation” according to Deuter. The verdict? I could definitely feel the airflow to my back when compared to a pack that laid flat against my body. Score.

On the bike this pack generally stays put, even during the rowdiest of descents. The only time I had trouble with the pack noticeably moving around on me was when I had the shoulder straps tightened a little too much, and the waist straps weren’t properly situated on my hips. I believe the narrow shape, sleek profile, sternum strap, hip belt “fins”, and the rest of the Aircomfort FlexLite System keep the pack from bouncing around a whole lot. All in all, I was quite pleased with the performance in this regard.

Internal (and External) Organization

The Deuter Race EXP Air hydration pack essentially has three storage areas. The main compartment is as large as the pack and features a zipper which allows this area to expand outwards, greatly increasing the storage capacity. The bladder is kept in this main compartment, divided by pocket with an elastic top. The pack also has a small outside pocket with two internal mesh organizers, a key clip, and an interior zippered pocket. This compartment wasn’t quite large enough for all my tools, or tall enough for my pump, so I ended up putting those items in the main compartment and just kept a few things in the smaller pocket. I personally prefer to keep all my tools in one well organized place, so I feel this could have been better thought out. That said, there is also something to be said for simplicity, and some riders will favor this no-nonsense approach.

Other nice organizational features include a stowaway mesh helmet carrier that cradles the entire helmet, and works very well to keep your helmet securely attached to the pack. It also has a built-in rain fly/cover to keep your belongings dry in case you get caught in a lengthy downpour. A nice final touch is two outside mesh side pockets that could be good for snacks, water bottles, or other items you’d like easy access to. I was a bit surprised the Deuter Race EXP Air does not have hip belt pockets, given the overall size of the pack.

So Just How Big is the Deuter Race EXP Air Hydration Pack?

This pack has a claimed size of 12L, not including the 3L bladder. But let me tell you, it’s a large 12L, and it holds a lot of stuff. Everything I normally take on an epic, all-day, high-country ride fit in the main compartment with no issues, and I easily had room for more. The main compartment also features a zippered expansion gusset that increases the capacity from 730 cu. in. to 900 cu. in. (the EXP stands for “expandable”) – and I never needed it on the rides I took it on. Once the weather gets colder and more variable, I could see this being a great feature for carrying extra warm items.

I mentioned above the lack of internal organizer pockets. One benefit of not having internal dividers and just having one large compartment is you have to pay attention to how you pack your pack. This meant all my tools, tubes, and heavier items were packed lower in the pack, creating a good weight load distribution for long rides and keeping the pack stable.

Bladder

The Race EXP Air comes with a 3L hydration bladder that has quite a few well thought out features. The opening features the Streamer Sliding Clip, which is a bar-shaped clip that slides over the folded bladder to completely seal it. This allows the opening to be quite large, and makes it easy to fill or clean the system. The bite valve twists to lock, and I never experienced any leaking when the valve was in either position. I felt the flow of water through the bite valve wasn’t as good as other systems I’ve tried, but it wasn’t terrible. It also came with a hard plastic valve cover and although I promptly removed it, it would be good for keeping dirt and grime off the mouthpiece if you laid the pack on the ground. The material the bladder is made of is extremely smooth, and there was no discernible off tastes when drinking from this system. Lastly, the hose disconnects from the bladder of the Deuter Race EXP Air hydration pack, which makes it really easy to remove the bladder from the pack in order to fill it.

The Bottom Line on the Deuter Race EXP Air

Overall, I really liked this hydration pack. The no-nonsense approach to organization and the expandable size make it a great choice for rides of any length. This pack weighs in at 1 lb. 15 oz and measures 19″ H x 9.4″ W x 8.7″ D. The Deuter Race EXP Air is available in black/white colorway. For more information, please visit www.rei.com or www.amazon.com/deuter.

Evan Chute: Evan moved to Colorado in 1998 specifically to mountain bike and snowboard. Sure, he may have told his parents the move was "for school", but after getting that distraction out of the way he started enthusiastically exploring Colorado. His focus in the summer is riding mountain bikes across a variety of disciplines from cross country and trail riding, to downhill and Enduro, dual slalom, dirtjumping, and even a little racing here and there. Evan fills winter primarily with skiing, having switched from snowboarding in 2009, and puts in nearly 50 days on snow each season with a mix of resort and backcountry days. In between skiing or biking Evan can found hiking, camping, backpacking, road cycling, sampling or brewing tasty craft beer, working on a 1970 VW desert race car, cooking at home with his girlfriend, and occasionally utilizing that pesky college degree as a freelance graphic and web designer.
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