Saturday, October 17, 2020

Camelbak Octane 18 70 oz. Hydration Pack Review: Run Commute in the City, or Hit the Trails!

By Michael Ellenberger

Camelbak Octane 18L Race Vest/ Pack ($125)

The Specs

Gear Capacity: 16 liters
Fluid Capacity: 70 oz via included Crux 2L reservoir plus pockets for bottles or soft flasks
Dimensions: 41 x 24 x 26 cm
Weight: 410g/14oz
Price: $125

Michael is a patent attorney and 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon.


There's probably never been a better time to run commute than in 2020, at least if you live somewhere that promotes public transportation as firmly as Chicago. While I appreciate the ability to take the three different trains or two different buses to get to my office, I also now take serious issue with the idea of packing (literally) face-to-face into a 5:30PM CTA car (even if mask mandates are firmly enforced). So while my law firm hasn't yet called us back formally, I know that I - and others - are having increased need to make one-off trips to the things we used to call "skyscrapers," and having the ability to run there (about 6 miles each way, in my case) is a great way to save time and remain COVID-protocol-compliant.

I'll note, of course, that the Octane 18 isn't just a run commuting bag - it (like many Camelbak products) is designed for multi-purpose adventure use. It can hold hiking poles, includes a whistle and a 2L Crux water bladder, has a total of 9 race vest-like exterior pockets (one zip) on the front, sides and back for quick access to snacks, phone, clothing and more without needing to haul off the trail - all things that are great, if you're (like our EIC Sam!) inclined to spend hours or days going up and down the mountains. In lovely Chicago, my priorities are different - and I tried to take this through real-world tests to see how it faired for a city dweller.


The Camebak Octane 18 is a hydration pack, multi-sport pack, and (in my intended use case) a run-commuting bag. All valid descriptors, to be sure, but what isn't on Camelback's website is that the Octane 18 ("Octane") is really an organizer's dream. Indeed, if you (like me) want
a place for everything, and everything in its place, then the Octane should grab your attention. There are 9 exterior pockets: mesh pockets, a zippered pocket, flat ("2D") pockets, side water bottle or clothing mesh pockets, and a giant rear stuff mesh pocket. In addition to the main compartment there are 5 mesh organizer pockets in the main zip compartment plus a large interior zip pocket. There's even a whistle for if you get stuck and need to get someone's attention. And for safety there are reflective elements.

Fortunately, carrying this bag empty or full is largely equivalent; I didn't find it too "flappy" (one of many words I'm making up for this review) when empty, or obtrusive when full. I will say, on my frame (about 5'9"), a full Octane 18 is actually fairly large - larger than I had expected. That's not inherently a bad thing - in fact, for work commuting, when I'd likely need a change of clothes, lunch, and laptop, the size is a benefit. But for a lot of run commuters, something smaller - for example, the Janji Transit sling - might do fine.

The Octane 18 also includes a 2L Crux Reservoir with a secure lever open close and even "Tube Trap Management" to clip the hose to the pack after running it through slots on either side out of the back - I think a lot of users buy it specifically for this case - but my experience with it was limited. 

I tested the Crux on one "hike" (really just a long walk, when you're in the midwest flatlands), and was able to successfully use it - but I also removed it for run commuting, as it both takes up space and isn't necessary for the types of runs I'm doing. Those with day-long hydration needs will be happy with the 70 oz. / 2L bladder, but I'm glad it's removable, too.


Well, I tipped my hand slightly above, but the very expandable storage of the Octane 18 really make it a dynamic option - seriously, there are so many ways to lock this thing down, to adjust a strap or a hook or a latch or whatever, that there's almost no way this won't fit you. And fortunately so, because running with a full backpack - and those who have done it before know - is never that comfortable. 

Even for the Octane 18, which I think evenly distributes weight pretty well and is easy to get snug, there's a lot of vertical bounce when you have it packed with anything moderately heavy. The Octane distributes this weight across several straps and pads - note the two adjustable cross-body sternum straps in the photo above, and the wide shoulder pads which help anything from digging in specifically while running. This helps, undoubtedly, and I never felt as if I was hauling my law school casebooks up and down the Chicago roads, even when the bag was loaded up. But keeping the weight off your shoulders doesn't quite alleviate that signature run-commute bounce, which is still present here.


I'm pleasantly surprised with the Camelbak Octane 18. When I opened it up, I thought it perhaps too technical - even for someone who loves pockets and places to keep things, there's a lot going on in this pack, and it can be overwhelming at first wear. Yet, as I started to test this bag - to take it out for walks, then runs, I found it pleasantly straightforward! An adjustment here, a tightening there, and suddenly the bag is snug against your back and begins to feel as an extension of your body, rather than something flapping around back there.

Is it perfect? No. I'm yet to try a bag that really alleviates that vertical bounce when run commuting with it (I know some bags have a suspension system built in - that may be a decent idea to subvert physics!), but even with that inconvenience, I think the Octane 18 is worth your attention. The number of pockets onboard - daunting to start, I admit - actually makes a huge difference as you start to load up the back and can keep your phone away from your keys; your lunch separate from your dress pants, etc... It's useable, it's practical, even if it seems like it won't be at first and a solid versatile value at $125, Crux 2 liter reservoir included ($33 retail).

RoadTrailRun Editor Sam and trail expert Jeff extensively tested and reviewed the larger Octane 25L which in addition to more capacity has a rain cover stowed in a bottom zip compartment. Their review of the Octane 25L is here. The Octane is also available in a 10L version.

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. 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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