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Traveler's Gear Box: Osprey's Manta Hydration Daypack

OK, let's get right to the point: I'm a bit disappointed with Osprey's Manta series hydration daypacks. In the end, I'm probably being overly picky, but considering the competition out there, Osprey could have done just a tad better.

All it needed to do was stitch a hydration hose pass-through in the top of these packs, which come in both Manta 30 (3-liter) (MSRP $149) and Manta 25 (2.5 liter) (MSRP $139) versions. But for some reason the designers figured they'd bypass a reinforced slit in the fabric and simply count on you closing the zipper on the reservoir pocket until it meets the hose.

Unfortunately, that can place zipper teeth against drinking hose. True, the zipper teeth in this case are nylon, so they're not as abrasive as metal zipper teeth would be. But why not simply employ a pass-through slit as many other pack makers do? That minimizes the abrasion on the drinking hose, you can completely close the zipper on the reservoir pocket, and you have cleaner lines.

Moving on ... the hydration reservoir has a nice, nearly 4-inch-wide cap for easy filling and cleaning. The reservoir compartment in the pack is anatomically shaped out of molded plastic, both for comfort and to stabilize the water pouch while you're hiking. And the reservoir pouch itself has a rigid spine that aids in sliding the pouch into the pack. Plus, the reservoir features an anti-microbial coating. (Note: Be sure with any hydration pack to test the reservoir before you plan to head out for your first hike with it. I waited too late -- about an hour before my hike in the Cactus Forest at Saguaro -- and discovered this one leaked. Osprey promptly replaced it.)

As for the rest of the pack, it's pretty sweet. It's the first daypack I've encountered that incorporates two small zippered pockets on the hipbelt where you can stash a cellphone, flashlight, wallet -- whatever small essentials or items you want close at hand.

The suspension system is pretty cool, too. When I first put on this 1,800-cubic inch (medium/large sizes; 1600 for smaller frames) daypack, it felt too small for my 6-foot-1 frame. But after wearing it around Saguaro, Arches and Canyonlands national parks, I came to find this pack refreshingly comfortable. Part of that comfort stems from the "Airspeed Suspension" system that revolves around an alloy frame. Against this frame the company stretches a mesh screen that rides against your back. The curve in the back panel of the Manta provides an air space of a couple inches or so that helps keep your back cool.

The shoulder harnesses feature this same mesh wrapped around slotted foam straps. The slots help with air flow, and the foam provides great comfort. A possible problem, though, is the sternum strap. It includes a built-in magnet that is supposed to keep your hydration reservoir's bite-valve ever-present. Unfortunately, if you don't always keep the sternum strap connected, it tends to flap around excessively, thanks to the weight of that magnet. The solution, of course, is to keep the strap connected.

Also somewhat curious are the "ErgoPull" straps on the hipbelt you tug on to cinch the belt. The only problem with these is as you pull on the straps, they loop out away from the hipbelt and potentially can snag on vegetation or rocks as you travel up and down the trail. Again, this probably falls under the nitpick category, for they do make cinching the hipbelt a cinch.

A few other attributes of the Manta should be noted:

* There's one main voluminous compartment; a top "slash pocket" with a fabric Osprey promises won't scratch your sunglasses or camera; a woven, stretchy outer front pocket, and; a zippered compartment on this pocket that is divided in two.

* There's no daisy chain for attaching whatever, but there is yet another front pocket that you can stash things like a rain jacket or snack into, and on the front of this pocket is a patch that you can thread the hipbelt through if you don't want to wear it, or attach a blinker light to.

* It has a built-in raincover

* For climbers or cyclists, there's a helmet attachment loop on the top of the pack

* Ample compression straps are on board to cinch things down

* A stow system that allows you to stash hiking poles.


That's so weird about the hose. Almost seems like you must be missing the hole, but obviously you aren't. I guess you could cut one into the fabric, but obviously that's less than ideal.

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