Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Camelbak Zephyr Vest & Octane 25 70 oz Hydration Pack Review

Article by Jeff Beck, Jeff Valliere, and Sam Winebaum

Camelbak Zephyr Vest & Octane 25 70 oz Hydration Pack

We tested two 2020 packs from longtime hydration pioneer Camelbak:  the Zephyr Vest and the Octane 25 70 oz Hydration Pack. One of the two came out a home run. Please read on to find out more!

Camelbak Octane 25 70 oz Hydration Pack ($145)


Jeff V:  The Octane 25 is a reservoir included all day hydration pack that straddles the line of running/hiking, with an impressive amount of carry capacity, easily accessible pockets on the shoulder straps and waist belt, stretch pockets for easy access to additional bottles/clothing and internal pockets for further organization of small, lesser used items and securing valuables.  Additionally, fit/adjustment is easy and accommodates a wide range of sizes and body shapes, further ensuring a stable and comfortable ride.

Sam: I always look for versatility in my gear, for products that can effectively cross over to multiple uses. As “packs” have evolved with the advent of “race vests” with easy access front storage it was only a matter of time before front convenience met rear greater capacity for longer adventures, day hiking, travel, and even commuting and work uses. The Octane 25 on the surface makes no compromises between “front” and “back” with its profusion of flexible storage options and race vest fit. I had previously tested the Ultimate Directions Fast Pack 35, a higher capacity 35 liter yet similar approach finding its greater capacity leaving me neither satisfied as a running secure pack with lighter loads or heavier loads capable option. I was eager to see how the Octane at 25 liters would perform. 

Features & Specs:

Jeff V:  The Octane 25 is loaded with features for comfort, organization, stability and optimal hydration, complete with a built in rain cover even.

Full Feature and Spec list from Camelbak.com:

First Impressions and Fit:

Jeff V:  It has been 15 or more years since I have used  a Camelbak product and while not surprised, was struck by the vast improvements, from the lighter materials, utilization of space and especially easily accessible space, adjustability, attention to detail, improved quality and ease of use of the bladder/hose.

Fit is amazing and easy to adjust, with two sternum straps, a waist belt and side straps linked to the bottom of the shoulder straps to side waist area for easy adjustment over layers or compensating for varying loads.

Because of the multiple, easy adjustments and sliding sternum straps, I can easily find and maintain the optimal fit no matter the load, it is always secure and stable.

Sam: What immediately struck me about the Octane 25 were the vast assortment of front pockets and that is even before I got to what is essentially full back and side coverage of stretch mesh pockets:  2 deep side pockets and rear giant mesh stretch pocket. Blue shock cords can secure trekking poles although I generally tuck them into the rear mesh pocket. 

There are two ice axe type bottom loops with the blue shock cords to secure whatever you twist into those bottom loops,

Lots of carry, lots of flexibility. Two zip rear compartments, one with hook for the included 2L Crux bladder and another with a generous zip pocket as well as stretch organizer slots which had me marveling at the organizational flexibility.

Back to the front… 

The right shoulder strap has a whistle, bike bottle deep and wide enough stretch pocket with in front of that a slightly shorter fabric pocket and then lower down and slightly shorter yet a gel or trash pocket

The left shoulder has a bike bottle deep stretch mesh pocket and a zip pocket large enough for a phone but not if you put a bike bottle behind.

There is no shock cord to hold smaller soft flasks or partially empty ones on the top of the deep pockets, a small oversight.

And before I forget there are two zip pockets on the waist belt.  

The two sternum straps can be adjusted along a “rail” for positioning with the top right having a clip for the hydration bladder hose. You can have the hose exit on either shoulder through a pass through to the rear compartment 

The wide opening 2L Crux reservoir has a quick release for the hose at the bladder. 

The nozzle has a very easy to greb and activate lever. The reservoir and hose have very little plastic taste if at all. The wide opening makes cleaning and filling easy and the two hooks mate to a strap inside the reservoir compartment of the pack.

The rear is somewhat padded and has just enough structure for carrying heavier loads. It is adequately breathable while the mesh shoulder straps are very breathable.

Last but not least and I only discovered it after seeing mention in the specs there is a bottom zippered compartment which has a stretch yellow rain cover attached inside with a stretch elastic strap. You can detach the strap and cover if you don’t want to have the cover on board.

As Jeff says above no matter the load large or small there are plentiful and easy to reach straps to adjust. Totally full or nearly empty I never experienced movement of loads. The rear padded panel, more substantial than in the UD gives the pack a touch of structure, if maybe not as breathable as some race vests. For the main purpose of a load other than the basics it is welcome. 


Jeff V: The Octane 25 performs very well as a large running pack, or a medium day pack for hiking.  As mentioned above, fit is excellent and when at full carry capacity, the Octane 25 is stable no matter the terrain, I never feel any shifting, awkward weighting, nor ever get off balance.  

I appreciate the attention to detail, starting with the high quality bladder with handle to hold while filling, a wide mouth for ice or cleaning, a detachable hose, a flip switch for bit valve (no more unplanned leaks when placed awkwardly) and then easy placement in the pack with a hanger and easy hose routing and secure clips as to not bounce around while hiking or running.  The materials are thin, yet durable, soft to the touch and the mesh back padding is comfortable, breathable and protects well from inner contents (though I typically have the bladder within just on the other side for added protection).  The pockets are laid out very well, with easy access to items from the zippered hip pockets, the front shoulder strap drop pockets and zippered water resistant phone pocket that can accommodate (just barely) my iPhone 11 with protective case.

The main zippered compartments on the back are good size, with the one closest to your back intended for the bladder, then another zippered pocket for jacket, food, gear, etc…  I do find that with a full bladder occupying the main/bladder compartment, the other zippered pocket quickly becomes a bit crowded and I need to practice efficiency in packing (no big down jackets, no kids stuffed animals and they may have to carry their own lunch).

There is also plenty of organizing opportunities within the rear storage compartment, with 7 stretch pockets within, plus a zippered pocket for keys, wallet, etc….

The outer stretch side pockets easily accommodate 1 liter Nalgene bottles and hold them securely.

There is also a nice outer rear stretch pocket for added capacity and easy access to a rain shell (my preferred use).

Additionally there are ice axe loops and adjustable bungees to secure folding poles.

Stealthily hidden behind a covert zipper at the very bottom is an easy to use rain cover for those times when caught out in a summer alpine storm (Colorado), or just out hiking in the rain. 

Sam: I agree with Jeff’s assessment of performance. You will not get the “perfect” pack or race vest specialized to each type of activity from trail running, to hiking, to travel, to work but you will get a pack race vest that gets mighty close to top of class for each.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

Sam: I have used the Octane for snowshoe running, nordic skiing, running of course, hiking as well as a work/travel pack with laptop in a case. During all uses it performed superbly.

I particularly appreciated the front pocket arrangement, the deep side and rear mesh pockets, well arranged rear compartments and impeccable adjustable fit. 

The Octand 25 L has as much versatility and utility in a pack (really of any sort from race vest to day pack)  as I have found. You will never be at a loss to organize whatever you carry that is for sure. Maybe not the lightest or most breathable pack for shorter runs in the heat but for everything else a marvel. At $145 with the included reservoir ($33 sold separately) it is also a very solid value.

Sam’s Score 9.8/10

Jeff V:  Like Sam, I have used the Octane 25 for a variety of activities, from hiking, trail running, snowshoeing and mountain biking, as well as casual man purse daily use.

I am wildly impressed with the versatility, utility, quality, functionality and the all around usability and attention to detail.  Fit, comfort, access, organization and ease of hydration are all absolutely outstanding and when compared to anything else out there on the market, $145 is a steal.

Jeff V’s Score:  9.9/10

In a perfect world, I would love to see a few ounces shaved off of this pack, maybe a lighter bladder?  On the other hand, I would not want to sacrifice any of the ease, comfort or functionality of this pack.  Black also can get hot in summer and would really like a lighter color option (sage green?).


Ultimate Direction FKT Vest (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  The FKT Vest is 18L vs 25L for the Octane.  The FKT Vest is very pared down and lightweight, no frills whatsoever and is meant for going fast, which means some sacrifice, such as fewer pockets, fewer zippers, no padding (thus it takes some packing strategy to keep hard items positioned and buffered by softer clothing).  The Octane 25 is heavier and more geared toward slower, more casual adventures where speed and gram counting is not a factor, but for that extra weight, you get a lot better comfort and accessible organizing options, more versatility, easy range of fit/adjustments, better stability and water carry options.

Ultimate Direction Fast Pack 35

Sam: Also a race vest meets pack,  the Fast Pack ups capacity to 35L but the only way I have found the extra capacity to work well is with light loads. The rear panel is less padded and structured than the Octane’s making any heavier load not as secure on the run and not as comfortable while hiking. The Octane’s front pocket arrangement is superior. 


Camelbak Zephyr ($150)


Jeff B: The Zephyr is Camelbak’s vest aimed at ultra distance runners, it is made with a very lightweight engineered knit mesh that is very light and breathable. The pack has a wide variety of pockets on the front, and substantial storage in the rear with a slot for a bladder (not included) in addition to the pair of .5L flasks that fit into two very ample pockets in the front.

Features & Specs

Jeff B: The unisex Zephyr has 10L (610 cubic inches) of storage space to go along with the 1L of included hydration. The lightweight material is Polygiene antimicrobial and breathes very well. The pack weighs 7 ounces (200g), and is 39x27x15 cm, with a total of 8 exterior pockets. The rear has a zipper internal pocket, a space for a hydration bladder, adjustable cables to hold trekking poles, as well as a stretchy gear pocket.

First Impressions and Fit

Jeff B: I was very impressed with how lightweight and breathable the material was, as well as how robust the soft flasks are. 

Many other brands use soft flasks that feel like glorified balloons, Camelbak’s flasks feel like you could throw them off of a cliff and whoever is down below just got some free water. The double chest straps are very straightforward, and very easy to adjust both the width as well as where you like each of the anchor points. While other brands seem to take pride in making things complicated, it’s all very straightforward here. The two front storage areas are asymmetrical with differently shaped and designed pockets. 

Both sides have large (borderline too large - more on that later) openings for the soft flasks and a secondary, slightly smaller, pocket that opens at the top with a drawstring closure system. You could use either secondary pocket to stash your cell phone (an iPhone 11 Pro fits with room to spare), or you could load up gels. My standard unit of measure is five gels (giving nearly four hours of nutrition on the trail) and you can fit five gels without pushing the boundaries and risking a garage sale every time you run. The pockets have just a little bit of stretch, and the soft flasks presence does eat into the space a bit, but they are very deep and you could fit all kinds of things in there.

Where the sides differ is the front to lower portion. On the left you’ve got a decent sized pocket that closes with a zipper. 

Again you could fit a cell phone or five gels inside with just a bit of creativity. 

On the right they put a partially-see-through mesh pocket that has a small opening. I’ve seen similar pockets referred to as trash pockets, though I prefer to use the pocket of my running shorts as the trash can so residual Gu doesn’t make the vest even grosser than layers of caked on sweat make it. That said, I was able to load five gels into the pocket, and the elastic opening is small enough you have to work to get the gels out, so you likely aren’t spilling them.

Jeff V:  Like Jeff B, I was initially very impressed with how light this vest feels, with very airy, well vented and comfortable mesh, Polygiene Anti Microbial materials, ample adjustment straps for one size fits all versatility, high quality bottles and well thought out pockets on the front as well as the back.

With side adjustment straps that are reachable on the run, the Zephyr is great for achieving a perfect fit, which for me varies depending on whether I just ate or not, what is packed into the vest, how far into the run I am and what I am wearing for layers (which can vary widely over a single run).

One the, if not the first things I check when testing a new vest is where do I put my phone?  There is a zippered pocket on the left side which accommodates an iPhone 8 in protective case, as well as an iPhone 11 (significantly larger), but just barely.

Testing the flask ease/security is usually my next step and this one is a bit tricky as Jeff B states above.  More on that next.


Jeff B: The biggest make or break aspect of a hydration vest always comes down to the hydration, and in some ways, the Zephyr doesn’t do all that well.

The included soft flasks, while robust in their build (also they have very large openings which makes refilling them very easy - bonus points for that) only fit marginally in their large pockets. I found during runs I spent a lot of time messing with the flasks to get them to settle in without a lot of movement, and never found a great answer. Also, if you have such bad luck that a shoe comes untied, bending over to tie it might drop the flask out of its pocket. I’ve run with other vests that made getting the flasks in and out a real chore, and I thought that was bad, but having a vest that the flasks have a hard time staying in might be worse. 

Also, while the vest is made to accomodate a bladder (and even has internal routing pockets on either side so you can lead the hose over the left or right shoulder) the fact it wasn’t actually made for a bladder means two things. First - it’s a $150 vest that didn’t come with a bladder but does come with those two flasks. Second - it doesn’t have any anchor points for the bite valve. So while you can route the hose wherever you would like (and run it through the small strap), the valve and hose are going to bounce around with every step. Not great.

Jeff V:  I find that overall the Zephyr performs very well, with great fit, comfort, breathability and adequate capacity for a full day on the trails.  

The main compartment on the back is spacious and divided for organization (or a small bladder and also has a smaller zippered pocket within, which I use to store my car key or other smaller valuables I want to keep safe and not risk losing (a key clip would be a really nice touch here, but use my own clipped to pull tab).  

The front pockets are well laid out, with the aforementioned zippered pocket, stretchy bottle pockets, near bottomless bungee secure pockets overlaying the bottle pockets and one smaller stretch pocket low on the right side for gels or other small items (small opening on top, which makes for a bit of work stuffing or extracting items, but is nice that items do no bounce out).

As Jeff B describes in detail, the soft flasks are very high quality and I love the locking nozzle, as I often have pre-run leaks with other bottles/flasks that do not have this feature.  I too agree with Jeff B however that the stretch mesh pockets created to accommodate these bottles are a significant design flaw.  The included bottles literally drop into them and have no sort of bungee at the top to help hold them in place, so not only do they bounce around and fall out if you lean over or take off the pack, they sink in as you drain the flask and you have to fish them out.  For an alternative option, you could of course use the outer pockets with bungees to ensure the flasks do not fall out, but those are even larger and the flask still flops around and then renders the bottle pockets hardly usable for other items.  While I find some other vests with tight flask pockets to be a bit difficult to load a full flask, in the long run, I appreciate that they stay secure and in place.  With the Zephyr, when I run rough trails fast, I sometimes worry that the flasks will bounce out (they have not yet and probably will not, but there is that distracting sensation).  If you remove your pack to fish items out of the back on the move or a rest stop, the flasks almost certainly will fall out if you are not careful.

One bonus however is that I have a .6L  Katadyn BeFree (our review here) https://www.roadtrailrun.com/2019/11/gift-guide-for-runners-electronics.html

that is slightly larger and more chunky than most flasks and does not fit into any of my other vest flask pockets, yet fits easily into the Zephyr with room to spare.  

While still a touch loose, especially as the flask empties, it is actually a pretty good match and because of this, will become my go to vest for runs where I am relying upon the Katadyn.

The zippered pocket often used for a phone is lined with a water resistant material reminiscent of Gore Tex and while I would not trust submersion, items do stay nice and dry in the rain (though no matter what, I always keep my phone in a ziplock bag to be 100% safe).

My only complaint about the zippered pocket is that I find the placement and curvature of the zipper to be a bit awkward and when the zipper is open, items are inclined to fall out and down easily, so need to be very specific about what I am grabbing and certain not forget open.  Also, with not the least bit of stretch or give, inserting/removing even my old smaller iPhone 8 took a bit of maneuvering.

There are also slider bungees on the top and bottom at the back of the pack on the right side for folding poles.  Seems possible to work this on the move, but I find it easier to remove the pack.

The top sternum strap is static for added security, while the lower one is stretchy with just enough give.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Jeff B: I’ve worn the Zephyr for more than 20 hours on the trails, and while it is very comfortable, the flask insecurity is rough. However, with the country on lockdown, we have been doing more and more family hikes and walks, and for that the Zephyr is perfect. Soft flasks aren’t going anywhere at a hiking pace, the pockets have more than enough room to carry whatever I want to bring (as well as various dolls and toys my six-year-old wants to bring and moments later has no interest in carrying), and the comfort is evident at all paces. Some soft flask based vests leave you in that weird spot of what do to when it’s time to drink (pull them out and treat like a water bottle or crane your neck and drink from a straw?) the Zephyr’s large pockets make it very easy to pull the flask and replace it. Just keep in mind that you might have a hard time fully securing it.

Score: 7 /10

Great features, comfort, and breathability are all excellent, but when the vest can’t lock down the soft flasks or properly accommodate a bladder, it has missed the forest for the trees. Ideal for walking/hiking paces, the Zephyr brings likely more storage than most hikers need - unless you were thinking a real long distance.

Jeff V:  I really like the Zephyr for running, as it is feather weight, supremely breathable, has a lot of accessible pockets on the front for organizing, good phone storage and easily adjusts to conform to wearing different layers, changes in contents or getting more skinny throughout a long run.  The flasks are excellent, but as previously mentioned, their designated pockets really need to be more secure.  If you use a Katadyn .6L BeFree and have been on the hunt for a vest that accommodates, this is it!

Jeff V’s score: 8.5/10

points off for the lack of flask security, as well as the zippered phone pocket could have some stretch (I would forego the water resistant layer in favor of some snug stretch mesh).


Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set

Jeff B:  Stats and features-wise very similar, the Salomon is opposite the Camelbak when it comes to flasks. Its super thin and fragile feeling flasks have very small openings complicating refills, and they are incredibly hard to force back into their pockets (during a race I had to have an aid station volunteer help me get them back in, he said I wasn’t the first he had to help with that, and all were Salomon vests). However, drawstring cables at the top keep the flasks planted so at least they aren’t bailing out when you least expect it.

Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  While on paper, the Salomon appears to have half the capacity, in reality, I find capacity to be very comparable.  The Salomon has a more clothing like fit, integrating with your body such that you hardly know you are wearing it.  Bottles are secure and I have not had trouble getting the bottles in/out after a little practice, a very small price to pay for on the run security.  The front pockets on the Salomon in my opinion are more easy to use and just gobble up gear with a snug stretch material, especially the zippered phone pocket which is about the best of any vest I have used.  The rear main compartment on the Zephyr is a little better, more easy to organize, with a small zippered essentials pocket, as well as a main zip, which I wish the Salomon had.

Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 8L (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  This has the most unnoticeable clothing like fit of any vest and is excellent for carrying some food, water and other small essentials, but if you max it out, it is a touch on the flimsy side for carrying any appreciable weight.  Capacity is similar to the Zephyr, but there are no zippers and flask security is a little better.

Nathan VaporKrar 12L (RTR Review)

Jeff B: My go-to for the last few years, the VaporKrar isn’t as light or breathable as the Zephyr, but it handles hydration so much better. Room for flasks as well as the included 1.8L bladder (but enough room to accommodate up to a 3L bladder - and complete with a magnetic bite valve holder) the VaporKrar has ample storage of various sizes and shapes. Lighter weight or more breathable would be nice, but ultimately those are bells and whistles, while holding lots of water securely is the aspect that matters the most.

Our review of the smaller capacity Octane 18 is here

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was a provided at no charge. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Jeff Valliere said...


Ash Green said...

Awesome! No words. You always go one step beyond.

There is so much great, useful information here. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Read our guide if you wish.

Thanks again :)