Camelbak Baja LR – Hydration on the Water
As stand up paddling continues to grow, so does the amount of gear made specifically for SUP’ing. Like mountain biking and hiking, long trips with no water stops means you need to come prepared. Hydration specialists Camelbak come to the rescue with their newest pack, the Baja LR. With a 70 oz. lumbar reservoir, front and rear storage pouches, a specially built paddle holder and rescue whistle, the Baja LR has some unique features for this unique sport.
The LR designation means this pack uses a lumbar bladder rather than the standard back placement. Having used the mountain bike version of this pack, the Octane LR, (on some occasions I even paddled with it) I was excited to see it in this pack. Putting the water on your waist helps lower your center of gravity and it keeps the water closer to your body as you can cinch down the waist straps as you drink. Additionally, less material on the back means better venting and cooling. One complaint is that it is difficult to slide the bladder back in once filled. Using the Octane, I normally filled the bladder than slid it into the pack. The Octane has a thinner, lightweight material along the back, but the Baja uses a more neoprene-like material. This gives it a little less flexibility and thus makes it harder to maneuver the bladder back in. I simply left the bladder in, then filled it. This made filing a bit of a chore, but not difficult. I do love Camelbak’s magnetized closure, which ensure that the lid is always screwed on tight.
The Baja LR uses mostly mesh on the back with a centered pouch with pull tab closure for stuffing an extra layer. This gives you some basic storage while letting you vent heat. Storage continues around the waist with two large velcro closure pouches. The Velcro makes it easier to access what you need, a key in choppy water, but should you dump it, it is not 100 percent secure. The simple solution I had was that I didn’t put anything in the pockets that I wouldn’t mind losing. As someone who SUP’s in the open ocean in bumpy conditions, I was happy to have quicker access to my bars and gels and didn’t mind the trade off. The waist belt uses a simple buckle closure. Also along the back, outside of the lumbar portion is a piece of fabric that folds from the top and has a buckle closure at the bottom. This is the perfect place for storing your PFD. In California, you are required to have some form of a PFD on you or your craft, even for SUP’s. There are now specially made inflatable PFD’s that use CO2 to inflate. The Baja easily holds this style PFD and lets the patrol boat know you’re in compliance. Another Velcro pocket resides on the outside of this, though accessing it while paddling would be nearly impossible.
The front continues using mesh and light materials. The shoulder harness has three total pockets as well. The left side has a mesh pocket with a bungee closure. On right side there is an enclosed pocket with a zipper and underneath it is slash pocket for more storage. I used the zipper pocket to hold my keys and phone, which I put in a water-proof case. For longer paddles its easy to keep all your extras where they are easily reachable.
Two buckles keep the Baja LR secure and use stretch fabric to move with you. Two key features are also up front, the rescue whistle and paddle holster. The whistle is on a rubber cord on the top right and there for emergencies, and believe me, even on a lake you can get in some hairy spots if the wind whips up. The paddle holster is genius and simple. On the right hip is a small rubber cord loop with a red tab. Stretch it out, slide your paddle handle up from the bottom, rest the blade on your board and now your hands are free. No more resting in the the crook of you shoulder and neck as you fumble with a wrapper.
On the water, the Baja LR pretty much disappears. With the weight off the shoulder and being made of light, airy materials, I never really noticed it.The two front straps have a lot of stretch to them and I never felt any binding. One tricky aspect was getting the bite valve in just the right spot. In mountain biking, you can usually take a hand off to put the valve in your mouth. With paddling you would have to stop paddling to do this. I hate that as I get in a rhythm and like to keep going. The tube is set to come from the bottom up, with the bite valve being in line with the tube rather than the ninety-degree version that many of Camlebak’s packs use. I was able to set it just high enough that I could put my chin down, find the valve and drink without stopping. It can be a bit tricky to get the valve height just right. Too low and it’s hard to reach, too high and it will hit you in the face as you paddle. After some quick adjusting I was always able to get it set right. This wasn’t a huge issue, and I admit I’m a bit picky. Plus, the alternative, using a water bottle holder, would be much worse.
Having easy access to three pockets made getting to my nutrition a simple affair. As you’ve probably guessed, I don’t like wasting time bobbing in the water, so not fumbling with zippers was a welcome change. Even the back mesh pocket was used when I peeled off a long sleeve top or my paddle jacket during a morning session. While I had to take off the Baja to put the layer away, it was much more convenient than tying it around my waist. I found myself being more willing to take an extra layer out because I knew I had a place to put it when the temperature warmed up. Since I put in at a marina, Harbor Patrol will pull alongside and ask to see your PFD. Now that I have a great place to store it, I no longer have to pretend like I’ve never been stopped before.
For anyone getting into the sport of SUP, the Camelbak Baja LR is a great piece of gear. Staying hydrated is a key to any sport, but it can be really maddening when your dehydrated and surrounded by water you can’t drink. With its ease of use, smart storage and light, open materials, the Baja LR should be on any waterman’s list.