The Deuter Solution–the Deuter Race EXP Air

Mountain bike season is upon us and today I launched my soon-to-be-lauded-in-the-press comeback by riding Logan Mill. Before you lay odds on my winning Worlds this fall, please let me assure you I’m only riding for fun these days.

Wouldn’t want the fans to get out of order now, would we?

OK, down to business. First off, I ride the finest mountain bike ever crafted by humans and robots, the Ibis Mojo SL (ibiscycles.com). High-modulus carbon keeps the weight off (sub 24 lbs. with XT) and 5.5 inches of travel (courtesy of the DW-Link rear suspension) lets you float the rough stuff. With a ride like this, one is left only to upgrade accessories, and I may have found my fave hydration pack of all time this winter–the Deuter Race EXP Air (deuterusa.com; $130).

If I was a criminal mastermind, the cops would know me as Sweaty Fat Bastard. Yes, I’m a few pounds heavier than my halcyon racing days (uh, 15 would be a generous estimation), but the problem is not the tonnage as much as the sweating. Dear god, the sweating! I bucket the juice on the climbs, so I’m always looking for ways to cool off. Enter the Deuter pack.

You’ve probably seen models by Gregory, Osprey, and yes, Deuter, in which the pack sits away from the wearer’s body–usually suspended by a tensioned, mesh panel. Below you’ll see my hand between the pack and said mesh panel.

The additional space allows air to circulate between the wearer and the pack, theoretically keeping a rider cooler and more comfortable. I’d never used any of these models, so I thought I’d give it a go and see if I can keep my temps down come summer.

I’ve been liking Deuter packs lately, so I called up a buddy there and arranged to pick up a Race EXP Air–and for the record, I paid for it. There you have it: full disclosure. Deuter makes several models with the “Air” back, but I liked the Race EXP for a few of its design features and decided on it.

Upon first inspection you’ll notice packs like these are a tad heavy–the frame configuration requires more material, and the Race EXP is no anorexic: it’s well over two lbs. On the up side, the extra ounces buy you 900 cubic inches of space, a deployable rain cover and helmet holder. There’s one main compartment (with a small zippered stash pocket), which enlarges via a zip-out expander. I particularly like this feature for long days like Monarch Crest, or riding over to Winter Park. The additional space swallows a med kit, hard shell, extra food, and even a down vest if you’re way out there. On the very back there’s a small, zippered pocket with a key clasp and another zippered mesh pocket. Two stretch, side-mesh pockets adorn the outside.

Other slick details include a reflecto clip on the rear for a blinker light, ventilated shoulder straps, and a wider exit-port for your hydration tube that sports a velcro cover. This last feature I’ve liked so far, as it speeds up threading your bladder’s tube and you don’t end up having to force the bite valve through a tiny hole.

Details aside, the real dope is in the ride. How does the pack work? I wore it on an 18-mile canyoneering day in Zion National Park (a hiking excursion), a short ride, and then today’s struggle up Logan Mill. I’ve yet to use it in 75-degree weather, but I must say when there’s a breeze blowing or you’re descending, you can certainly feel the cooling bliss of Mother Nature across your back. In all fairness, it’s not like you’re wearing nothing–the mesh of the back panel is hefty enough you still sweat a bit…but nothing like the bodily meltdown I usually experience on the foam-to-back scenario with other packs.

So begins my cycling for the year. I won’t get to guide any trips in Italia this season, as the better half and I are expecting twins in late June/early July. Woh! Indeed.

But I’m liking the Deuter. It’s a few bucks cheaper than the competition (as most Deuter packs are) and the construction seems solid. If it’s anything like my old Deuter Guide 25, which I used for six years incessantly with only a zipper blowout (immediately warranteed by Deuter), then I’ll be wearing this thing when the gods finally take me back.

Stay tuned for another Deuter review, this time of a “Pace 30”, an ultralight alpinism pack I was hoping to test in Europe. Alas, our pup blew out his ACL and Rebecca’s too pregnant to deal with a hobbled Aussie Shepherd, so that trip will have to wait. But I’ll test ‘er out here, soon.

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