We have used previous versions of the HAWG and they have always been a benchmark for the best hydration packs with a well thought out layout, great quality and the bonus of having an industry-leading bladder included with the bag.
Camelbaks newest HAWG Pro gets some significant updates and modifications making the 20L bag the main contender for those that are looking to carry everything they might need for big days out on the trail. The headline update is that both the 20L and 14L HAWG Pro backpacks now feature Camelbaks Air Support Pro Back Panel to improve ventilation although there are a whole host of other well-thought-out features and accessories which we will cover in this review.
Design and aesthetics
HAWG stands for ‘Holds Allotta Water and Gear’ and the HAWG Pro comes in two sizes. We have the larger version in for testing which has 20L of capacity for everything you need on a ride. This is spread between three main compartments, the first specifically houses the bladder while the other two are for carrying ride essentials. The middle compartment of the bag has an additional reservoir carry sleeve and an e-bike battery pocket. The compartment runs the full depth of the bag with a wide opening that’s well suited to storing extra layers. The third large compartment isn’t as deep and has a zipped mesh pocket with a key leash and internal dividers for valuables.
There’s no shortage of additional pockets either, there’s a quick-access pocket on the bottom left of the bag and a front soft lined pocket for sunnies or a phone, plus easy-to-access hip pockets on each side for snacks. On the outside, there is an additional overflow front pouch for jackets to be quickly stuffed into, the capacity to lash some armor underneath the bag and there are hooks to secure an open face helmet to the front by the helmet straps.
Camelbak is still at the top of the game when it comes to bladders and, as with all Camelbak bags, the HAWG Pro comes with a CRUX bladder, which helps boost the value of the bag. The fact that the 3L bladder is top-spec is a real bonus and has all the features like excellent water flow, well-designed valve and spill-free hose disconnection that have cemented the Camelbak bladder as one of the best.
When choosing the best mountain bike backpacks, the fit is vital as they have to be secure, stable and comfortable in dynamic situations. Both the 14L and 20L HAWG Pro come in men’s and women’s versions with the women’s bag featuring an S-curved shoulder harness that is contoured to better fit a woman’s body. They both feature Camelbaks body contoured Air Support Pro Back Panel which lifts the pack load off the rider’s back paired with shoulder straps that are made from two layers of mesh and are about as minimal as can be.
The hip strap uses a chunky, glove-friendly buckle while the sternum steam affixes with a simple magnetic stick together and twist-off buckle. The bladder hose guide then magnetically attaches on top.
The back protector is an additional purchase and slips into a designated rear compartment alongside the bladder. It uses a layered foam structure that is able to offer international CE1621-2 Level 2 protection.
Moving to a mesh back and straps meant they are significantly lighter and cooler than standard straps yet still very supportive and stable. I was a little concerned that the flimsy-looking mesh straps would lack structure and bunch but they sat flat when in use spreading the weight of the bag well. Unsurprisingly the mesh offers a significant amount of additional breathability so I didn’t get sweaty shoulders on long or hot rides.
While it’s common to see larger 30L bags with systems that lift the pack away from the back for better load-bearing and ventilation, it’s great to see Camelbak include similar tech on a 20L bag. It undoubtedly adds cost but the increase in ventilation is significant, especially when there is a crosswind and you can feel any heat being immediately blown away.
I have always found bags with a structured back section are more stable too. The contents of your bag don’t bulge and unsettle the load on your back with a supported back panel. The wide hip section also really anchors the pack in place so even during a bit of bike buckaroo it doesn’t feel like your sandwiches are trying to jump over your head. The sternum strap is adjustable too, sliding on rails to provide adjustment.
One drawback with structured backs is they generally add weight too. Now this is only a 20L bag so there is no need for a metal structure plus there is a lot of mesh being used, even so this is not a light bag. Our scales weighed the bag alone at almost a kilo (the bladder weighs 235g and the back protector weighs 219g) which isn’t particularly light, especially once you start loading it with water, tools and snacks. However, it is lighter than our long faithful 14L Camelback MULE whilst also having more features. If the quality of our old MULE is anything to go by, the HAWG Pro should be a workhorse for many years to come too.
Internal storage is well laid and it feels like every pocket has been perfectly considered for a purpose. Hip pockets are easy to access while riding making them perfect for snacks while the distribution and the selection of internal and external pockets are a good balance of organized without feeling like that bag is just 20 liters of tiny pouches. The included tool roll is something that we have seen on previous Camelbaks and we think it’s a nice touch to help you keep all your tools together and organized for when you need them.
We had the extra Impact Protector back protection included with our review sample although luckily we didn’t need to test out its protection properties during testing. For those heading out the backcountry or racing it’s going to give a little extra peace of mind that if something does go wrong, it might not go as wrong as it could if you didn’t have it. For most riders though the back protection may not be worth the additional $50 / £46 as it also eats into the overall storage of the pack by a surprising amount.
You can really tell that the HAWG Pro is the culmination of development from a long line of bag evolution, it really feels like Camelbak has thought of everything. Unfortunately, features do come at the cost of weight and the HAWG Pro is pretty heavy before you even start filling it with a days worth of water and all your nic-nacs. That said the stability and support of the bag is superb and when fully loaded it wears its weight well.
We took this bag out on some big all-day downcountry missions and despite wearing it from sunrise to sunset and covering well over 100km it remained comfortable. The price is on the premium end too but it’s rich in features and the included Camelbak bladder and tool roll certainly help soften the blow.
Tech Specs: Camelbak Hawg Pro 20 hydration pack
- RRP: $160.00 / £155 ($50 / £46 for the extra back protector)
- Weight: 1412g (including bladder, back protector and tool roll)
- Colors: Black, Gunmetel grey / black
- Size: 20l