About four times a year I have to clean out my closet. Recently I had to move my office, and that involved moving all the contents of the closet as well. I found myself sorting hydration systems according to the use I had for them, and several jumped out at me as those I prefer to have on hand for day hikes or one-overnight outings. The duty side of this is that they work well for special assignments that may take you into remote or otherwise isolated areas. This week's review takes a look at a couple of them, their pros and cons, and which ones have proven great performers in the past months (and in some cases, years).
The CambelBak Transformer
The Transformer is so named because it is really three components put together to make one system. All told, these components provide for 102 ounces/three liters of liquid refreshment, and 950 cubic inches of storage space. If that's not enough, you can use the MOLLE attachment points on the outside of the smallest compartment (not shown in this photo) to carry more stuff in any MOLLE pouch you care to acquire. The padded shoulder straps and chest retention strap are also nice features. The shoulder straps have never dug uncomfortably into that groove most of us have at the front roll of our shoulder--that pocket where you put a rifle stock when shooting. The chest retention strap helps keep the shoulder straps from spreading out that far and digging in. So the main pack itself holds the hydration system. The second layer--the larger pocket/pouch if you will--is a two compartment section. The first compartment is purely a big pouch--made for holding bulky items. The second compartment isn't quite as thick and has specific pockets for pens, cell phone, notepad, and a hook for keys. Both compartments have double zippers and open half-clamshell fashion--easy to get stuff in and out of. The outer pocket/pouch also has two compartments separated by a nylon mesh net. The outer compartment is about 6-inches x 6-inches and very thin. The inner compartment is a little bit deeper/thicker and handles an assortment of snack foods well. I know from experience that it holds about a dozen HooAh Bars comfortably. The Transformer has an MSRP of $149.99, but a quick internet search shows them available for as little as $104.99. For that price you're getting a lot of performance and versatility for your dollars.
The HydraStorm Predator
The next updated hydration pack/system we'll take a look at is the Predator, shown here in OD Green. Much of what I made note about on the Cyclone also applies to the Predator. The hydration system bladder and drinking tube are protected by the Microban antimicrobial technology. The 360-degree bite valve is present, along with that proven convenient positive on/off switch. The IVS is there to help keep your back dry and comfortable. So, what's the big difference? Storage space and potential fluid capacity are the most noticeable. The Predator is a slightly smaller pack allowing for 830 cubic inches of cargo space. However, it is also fitted with a second compartment specifically set up for carrying an additional hydration bladder. That increases the capacity of this system from the standard 100 ounces/three liters, to 200 ounces or six liters. That's about 1.6 gallons of water--not a bad thing. The carry handle on the Predator doesn't have the rubber handle wrap that the Cyclone does, but you shouldn't expect it to ever weigh as much as a fully-loaded Cyclone either. The shoulder straps are padded and contoured; the sternum strap is still there; but HydraStorm added a padded waist belt onto the Predator, too. Just like the Cyclone, the new Predator is covered with MOLLE/STRIKE attachment points. If you need more storage space, or to carry specific items, just put on the correct pouches. The ability to fully customize the pack to your needs is one of the strengths of the STRIKE system BlackHawk developed. The Predator is available in Black, Olive Drab, Desert Camo and Woodland Camo. Notice there's no Coyote Tan option for the Predator, but there is Woodland Camo which wasn't an option with the Cyclone. Consider your operating environment and choose appropriately. The Predator has a recommended retail price of about $130 and that's exactly the best price I found for it online.