Don’t Bonk: the Camelbak Chase Vest

Don’t Bonk: the Camelbak Chase Vest

With one known exception, if you can make a mistake in fueling during a grueling event, I’ve made it. I’ve fallen behind in drinking, in fueling, have drunk too much at a time and have eaten the wrong sorts of things. The mistake I haven’t made is one a friend told me about, in which a buddy talked him into consuming nothing but gels during a mountain bike race. Nothing else. Not even water.

The result would have impressed even Montezuma (cough, cough).

I’ve also managed to keep myself well-hydrated and fueled and finished events as strong as I started. However, if I’m honest, the longer the day, the more likely I am to drift off plan and find myself in a mental and gastrointestinal ditch, though rarely a physical one. It’s the little things we’re grateful for, right?

I offer this backdrop as a matter of showing my bona fides, such as they are. I’m a guy who needs every extra bit of help in fueling I can get. It will sound dumb to say it’s too far to reach for a bottle in the cage between my legs, but history shows that there are many times in groups of cyclists I don’t know I simply won’t reach for my bottle out of my concern for my safety. I don’t want to take my hand off the bar for more than a second or two.

So when I tell you that my heart skipped a beat when I first saw the Camelbak Chase Bike Vest, I’m not engaging hyperbole. My geeky little ticker swooned.

The first thing that will catch your eye when you look at the vest isn’t all the nylon that makes up the outer portion of the vest; no, it’s the mesh skeleton on which the vest is built. It looks like the cross between a spider and a CNC sewing machine. As if that could happen. The look is equal parts organic and creative engineering. What’s apparent even before you don it is just how breathable it is. It’s mean to be as minimal a pack as possible, while still remaining useful.

The heart of the bag is a 1.5 liter (50 ounce) Camelbak bladder, equivalent to two large bottles. For most long days I could add this to two large bottles on my bike and not have to stop for water.

But what about the fueling part if you don’t try to drink your calories? Well the Chase has, broadly speaking, six pockets. The number six has to be qualified as some of the pockets have sub-pockets and dividers. Conceptually, what this pack is is a cross between a Mini-Cooper and an SUV. It’s small, but has all the utility and practicality of something much larger.

Rather than easily accessible wing pockets lining a waist belt, the Chase goes with breast pockets on the two shoulder straps. The left pocket zips down to allow easy access to contents. A pleat at the bottom will help retain items in the main compartment when the pocket is opened fully. Behind the main compartment is another elasticized pocket and then a zippered, open-mesh pocket is sewn into the outer flap. I’m thinking food, food and mini-tool, respectively.

On the right is horizontally zipped, deep pocket with an elastic drawstring. Again, food. Sewn outside is a mesh pocket that screams wrapper holder.

In back, starting from the bottom is a large pass-through pocket accessible from either left or right, but only after you’ve removed the vest or practice yoga daily. It’s big enough for a number of bars or one of Camelbak’s Quick Stow Flasks. On the left side is a small, zippered pocket big enough for one or two small items like a Dynaplug or patch kit. Above it is a large elasticized mesh pocket that would be ideal for stuffing a windbreaker or rain cape. Maybe some arm warmers. Finally, above that is a zippered pocket with a wrist-deep main chamber and two open-mesh pockets. One comes with a key hook. They are deep enough to hold a few tools or a tube.

There’s a reflective loop in back from which you could choose to hang a blinking light for added visibility.

It is secured by two chest straps that are adjustable in both length and position. Once it’s on it’s all but invisible. It’s not nearly as hot as other packs can be and your jersey pockets are still accessible. Total capacity is listed as 4 liters; that’s 1.5L of fluid and 2.5L of food and gear.

I’ve had occasion to comment to Camelbak folks that I’d like a more minimal pack for those days when I’ll only be out on the trails or dirt roads for a couple of hours. I can’t consume 3 liters in three hours. And while people have suggested just putting less water in the bladder, that only addresses part of the issue as I see it. I also want less pack. The Chase gives me exactly what I’ve been looking for.

Final thought: There’s a difference between packing light and not packing.


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  1. Pat O'Brien

    It’s ironic they put the high visibility fabric on the inside of the pockets. I recently bought a Camelbak Mule based on the exterior color, international orange. The design and materials are not as good as the Mule it replaced. I think I will replace it with another brand.

  2. Jeff Dieffenbach

    In my one Leadville (successful: 11:27:41 in 2015), my fueling strategy and practice was CarboRocket Lemonade 333 Half Evil in my Camelbak and a Gu Roctane gel every 30 minutes (unless I was descending, in which case I either delayed or skipped the gel). Throughout the race and after, my stomach and its exhaust system suffered no ill effects.

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