When it comes to the best MTB hip packs, the most important factors are wearability, comfort, and carrying capacity. Camelbak has long been a go-to hydration brand for many a mountain biker, so it only stands to reason that its hip packs are designed with all these things in mind. Having spent about a month with the Camelbak Podium Flow 4 Belt, I’m now ready to form an opinion on whether I think it measures up to the competition, so keep reading to find out how well it performs.
Design and aesthetics
The Camelbak Podium Flow Belt has a very stylish and slick aesthetic, with block color panels (mustard yellow in this instance), and simple branding. It’s a symmetrical design, with two main compartments flanking a central cavity that stores a black 21oz Podium Dirt series bottle that comes included, and offers 4 liters of capacity overall. Each side has two pockets: the main storage compartment, which contains several mesh organizer pockets for tools and small items, and an outer pocket made from a stretchy and thin material, suitable for immediate access. One of the storage compartments also contains a carabiner clip for keys, and there’s an external sleeve and loop designed to house a mini pump, which is a really nice touch. Unlike with the Evoc Hip Pack Pro 3L, there’s no waterproof pocket or pouch for your phone, so you’re expected to rely on the overall bag’s weather protection (which I’ll return to shortly), or a pocket in your best MTB jacket.
The material — unnamed on Camelbak’s website — feels really durable and sleek, and the hip pack as a whole seems extremely well made, which is exactly what you might expect from Camelbak. The Camelbak logo on the central panel is reflective, which makes low-visibility riding that little bit safer.
The Podium Flow belt features a perforated backing that Camelbak names its Air Support Back Panel with “body mapping technology”. It doesn’t elaborate much on what this means, but a closer look at the surface will reveal deep perforations that create individual airflow channels to help shed heat from the lower back. In terms of the body mapping, my only guess is that this refers to the construction of the cushioned padding that envelopes the lower back, with each panel sitting flush and providing support.
The front belt itself is a standard, rigid belt with a buckle closure, that has zero stretch and is 38mm wide. It’s easily adjustable, and at its longest could accommodate a 47inch waist.
Let’s start with the positives: having taken it on several expeditions in a variety of weather conditions, and ridden through overgrown thorny bridleways, I can confirm that the material appears to be resistant to abrasions and has held up very well.
Storage capacity is very good, and I was able to roll up my 7mesh Skypilot Jacket and store it in one pocket, while the other contained my valuables, repair kit and multi-tool, and a couple of snacks.
The Air Support Back Panel sits very comfortably, and provides a good amount of support around the lumbar region. Its perforated surface definitely allows air to flow to prevent overheating, though to be honest if comparing it with the Evoc Hip Pack Pro, it’s not as good at cooling as Evoc’s Back-free Air Flow Contact System, and I still found myself feeling quite clammy after long rides.
The bottle storage is secure, and I didn’t experience any instability or worries about it flying out while riding on the trails, yet it’s not clasped so tightly that it’s difficult to pull out when you’re thirsty. It’s also a really nice touch to get the bottle included, and the Podium Dirt series was included in our list of the best water bottles for MTB for a reason.
While it’s sort of possible to reach back and grab on the go, it’s extremely awkward to return the bottle to its cavity while behind your back, and the best way to drink without removing the bag is to rotate it to sit on your hip so it’s easier to remove and replace the bottle.
While this is all well and good, there’s an elephant in the room I need to address. I found this hip pack extremely uncomfortable to wear. Having been spoiled by Evoc’s luxurious Airo Flex stretchy Velcro belt, wearing Camelbak’s non-stretchy, narrow and rigid belt feels much less forgiving. If, like me, you’re carrying more around the middle, then you might find this belt digs in and feels really unpleasant while pedaling. I found it incredibly difficult to find the right level of tightness for it: too loose and it flopped around while I pedaled; too tight and I was in agony. After a couple of long rides, I returned home to find grazes on my abdomen and red marks from where the belt had dug into my flesh. I may be carrying some extra weight, but I’m by no means representative of most larger-bodied cyclists, and I felt like I was being punished for having a tummy.
Another small gripe I have with the Podium Flow Belt is its lack of waterproofing. While admittedly there’s nothing on Camelbak’s site to claim that it does provide this, at the very least if you’re heading out on the trails and you get caught in a downpour, you would hope to be able to keep your phone safe and dry. I really liked the waterproof pocket on the Evoc that keeps its contents bone dry even after some serious rain, and it seems like this is a big thing missing from the Podium Flow Belt. The outer pockets let water in straight away, while the main compartments are a bit more resistant, but will give out to heavy rain if you’re out in it for an extended period of time.
There are lots of great things about the Camelbak Podium Flow Belt, but at the very least it needs to be comfortable to wear, and this was unfortunately a bit of a deal-breaker for me. Whenever I went out with it, I couldn’t wait to take it off, I was left with abrasions around the waist after long days in the saddle, and found it impossible to get right. If you’re not carrying extra weight you may have more luck than me, in which case it will perform well as an MTB hip pack on mostly dry days or in light rain. While the bottle’s not all that accessible on the go, it does serve well as a spare if your bike only has one bottle cage.
Tech Specs: Camelbak Podium Flow Belt
- Price: $55 / £55
- Colors: Black, Yellow
- Weight: 283g
- Dimensions: 48 x 18 x 6 cm