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Reviews > Hydration Systems > Packs > CamelBak Highwire 25 Antidote Pack > Test Report by Rick Dreher

Camelbak Highwire 25 Backpack
Test Series by: Rick Dreher

IMAGE 1


LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - June 20, 2011
FIELD REPORT - September 12, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - November 20, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Rick Dreher
EMAIL: redbike64(at)hotmail(dot)com
AGE: 57
LOCATION: Northern California
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (2.10 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.40 kg)
FOOT SIZE US men's 11.5
TORSO LENGTH 19.5 in (50 cm)
YEARS HIKING 41

I enjoy going high and light and frequently take shorter "fast- packing" trips. My longest trips are a week or so. I've lightened my pack load because I enjoy hiking more when toting less, I can go farther and over tougher terrain, and I have cranky ankles. I use trekking poles and generally hike solo or tandem. I've backpacked all over the U.S. West and now primarily hike California's Sierra Nevada. My favorite trips are alpine and include off-trail travel and sleeping in high places. When winter arrives, I head back for snowshoe outings in the white stuff.


INITIAL REPORT

Product Information & Specifications

Manufacturer: Camelbak Products
Web site: http://www.camelbak.com/ Camelbak Website
MSRP: US$115
Year of manufacture: 2011

Weight (manufacturer): 1.79 lb (0.81 kg)
Weight (measured) 1.73 lb (0.78 kg) (without reservoir)
Weight of reservoir (measured): 6.6 oz (187 g)
Volume (manufacturer): 1,526 ci (25 L)
Torso length (manufacturer): 19 in. (48 cm)
Reservoir volume (manufacturer): 100 oz (3 L)
Reservoir volume (measured): 96 oz (~3 L)
Recommended load range: 10-25 lb (4.5-11.4 kg)
Color: red "Formula One/Mirage Grey"
Warranty: "lifetime"

Key features: Top-loading main compartment with zip access. Separate insulated reservoir pocket. External pockets: one top, two side, one front, and two hip belt. One internal pocket with key clip. Ventilated back panel with molded plastic frame sheet, padded load-supporting hip belt. Padded and ventilated shoulder straps with sternum strap. Side compression straps. Ice axe/pole loops and cords. Reservoir: 3 L, quick-disconnect hose, wide capped opening, internal baffle, and drying supports.

Fabrics: "70D Mini Ripstop, 230D Taffeta & 420D Nylon with DWR + 1000mm PU coating."

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Highwire 25, front.



Initial Impressions

Description

The Camelbak Highwire 25 is a medium size and weight, top-loading, plastic frame, hydration day pack. The tall, teardrop shape main compartment is accessed through a zippered top opening and offers six external and one internal pockets for plentiful organizing options. The Highwire 25's insulated reservoir compartment is sandwiched between the main compartment and back panel and is accessed through a zipper. A molded plastic framesheet behind the ventilated back panel provides load support and some airflow.

The Highwire 25 ships with Camelbak's 3-liter "Antidote" reservoir. Features include a wide capped opening, internal baffle, support arms that hold the bag open for drying between uses, and a quick-connect detachable hose.

Initial Observations

Materials and Construction: The Highwire 25 exterior is mostly coated nylon in three weights, with the heaviest fabric used for the bottom. The back panel is open mesh flanked by wicking fabric and open cell foam, for padding and ventilation. Behind the back panel is the corrugated molded plastic framesheet; the pattern should aid airflow through the mesh. Shoulder straps and hip belt wings are padded with perforated foam and faced with wicking fabric. Webbing, buckles, bungee cords, zippers and related hardware are typical compared to other backpacks I own. Zippers are standard, not waterproof.

IMAGE 3
Highwire 25, back.



Fabric, stitching and seams all look good, with no loose threads, missed stitching or exposed seams and edges (all are bias-taped). Zippers, buckles, and straps all operate smoothly and seem strong and secure.

Design

Main Compartment: Main compartment access is through the top via a zippered flap. The flap opens forward to reveal a pretty wide opening with good interior access. The compartment is undivided and the fabric lets light in to help view the contents (compared to, say, a black pack). Note: despite the zippered opening, because the flap doesn't extend far down the back panel the Highwire 25 is not a "panel-loading" pack. An ice axe loop and keeper cord set is on either side of the front pocket.

Pockets. The top pocket is integrated with the main compartment flap and inside the flap is a mesh ditty pocket with key clip. The center pocket is open on top (with no secure closure) and extends perhaps two-thirds of the pack's length. Made partly of stretch fabric, it's expandable. The two stretchy short side pockets have openings angled forward for easier access while wearing the pack. Finally, each hip belt wing has a zipped pocket. Zipper pulls are color-keyed with metal tubing: red for gear, blue for water.

Back panel, Framesheet and Load Control. The back panel is ventilated foam along the sides and open mesh in the center. The plastic framesheet, visible behind the mesh, is corrugated and reinforced around the edge for structural stiffness. It's not anchored to the shoulder straps or hip belt so isn't a true pack frame. Two compression straps per side can reduce pack volume and help control the contents and maintain pack stiffness with partial loads. Each hip belt wing has a load-control strap.

Reservoir Compartment and 3 L Reservoir: Between the back panel and main compartment, a zippered padded (insulated) pocket holds the Camelbak Antidote reservoir. A hose port is at top center. The large "J" zipper gives good pocket access across the top and down one side. The Antidote reservoir has a wide tethered cap that opens with a quarter-turn (much easier than the previous threaded Camelbak lid). Stowed around the opening are two plastic struts that hold the bag open while drying. Inside, a center baffle limits sloshing. The hose has a quick-connect fitting to ease loading and unloading the reservoir without also removing the hose, and to allow direct connection to a water filter hose. Hose-keeper loops on both shoulder straps let the wearer decide to which side to route the hose.

IMAGE 4
Pocket and main compartment opening.



Sizing & Weight

The Highwire 25 is made in one size only with no torso length adjustment. The 19-inch (48 cm) back length should be a good match for my 19.5-inch (49 cm) torso. Measuring the back beginning at the shoulder strap attachment point, 19 inches/48 cm falls about mid-hip belt. The waist belt has copious extra webbing that can easily be trimmed if not needed, and the hip belt wings should fit me fine. The sternum strap is vertically adjustable along the shoulder straps.

It would be helpful if Camelbak specified pack weight and reservoir weight individually. I initially took the Web site's given weight to be for both, but it's likely for the pack alone (which matches my measurement). Regardless, for a pack with good support the Highwire 25 is pretty light.

Instructions & Documentation

This test Highwire 25 didn't come through the normal retail channel and doesn't have the standard hang tags and instructions. Nevertheless, the Camelbak Web site has videos demonstrating the pack's features and use of the Antidote reservoir, both of which I found helpful. It also has informative text and diagrams on reservoir use and care. Bottom line: I don't have any unanswered questions about use of the pack or reservoir.

IMAGE 5
3 L Hydration reservoir.

Trying It Out

At first glance the Highwire 25 looks like any of a hundred other rucksacks. After some time with it I've come to appreciate certain design elements that set it apart from many others. The hydration compartment is insulated on both sides and directly accessible without digging into the main compartment (typical hydration "sleeves" require opening the pack and interfere with pack contents). The corrugated frame sheet and ventilated back panel hold the promise of both load control and reduced sweat. A legitimate hip belt, load control straps and sternum strap imply good load control during vigorous activity.

IMAGE 6
Reservoir in pocket, showing hanger loop.

Testing

The Highwire will see daily use as my work commute backpack-primarily by bicycle. Weekends I'll switch it to hiking and photo trips and will add the reservoir. This will give me an array of loads, activities and weather to throw at it.

Summary

While there's nothing groundbreaking in the Highwire 25 design and features, the narrow shape, frame, load control and reservoir make it a candidate for active pursuits.

Negatives, Suggestions?

I'd like Camelbak to give weights for both the pack and reservoir in their specifications.

Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks to Camelbak Products and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the Highwire 25!

Please check back in two months for the field report.


FIELD REPORT

Field Locations and Conditions

I've used the Highwire 25 around town for my work commute (by bicycle), on photo trips around the region, and on day hikes in the Tahoe Sierra Nevada. Temperatures have ranged from perhaps 60 to 102 F (16-39 C) and weather has been monotonously clear. Terrain ranged from flat pavement to steep, rocky trails and cross-country, with some summertime snow walking thrown in for good measure (it's been an interesting year, weather-wise).

Performance in the Field

As mentioned I used the Highwire 25 as a commuter pack, a photo gear pack and a day hike pack, and discuss the three activities individually, below. I've also used the Antidote reservoir separately for backpacking and summarize that experience as well.

Commuting

The Highwire 25 holds my commuter gear with room to spare, including clothing, lunch, spare inner tube, bike tools, printed matter, consumer electronic gizmos, water bottle, etc. With no internal divider the pack doesn't keep papers and books separate from other contents, meaning there's a chance for papers to become wet or marked by the other contents. Letter/A4-size materials do fit, e.g., notepads. I never filled the Highwire to capacity on my commute.

Load ranged from 6 to 8 pounds (2.7 - 3.6 kg). I didn't use the reservoir commuting, preferring a bicycle water bottle. The pack fits well and with the waist belt and sternum strap, there is no bouncing or shifting and the shoulder straps don't slide outwards on my shoulders-a problem I have cycling with other packs. The load is well controlled and also isolated from my back by the back panel, so nothing pokes through. Ventilation is decent on hot days, better than packs with simple foam-and-fabric backpanels. Because it's tall the Highwire 25 rides a higher than ideal-when I'm leaning forward on the bars and looking ahead, the pack can hit the back of my neck and helmet, which is annoying. The side and front pockets are accessible while cycling and I sometimes put an MP3 player and cellphone in the hip belt pockets.

At work, the desk drawer where I stow my pack is a bit short for the rigid Highwire 25, so storage is a bit of a problem. Not the pack's fault, but a bother for my setup.

Photo Trips

Photo trips mean heavy, relatively compact gear totaling 12 to 15 pounds (7.2 - 6.8 kg). Because most of the gear is stowed in the main compartment, I pack the pieces in individual cases or wrap them with padding so they don't bang expensively against each other. The ice axe carriers are adequate for holding a carbon fiber monopod but not stout enough for my regular-size tripods. Filters, batteries and accessories can go in the various pockets-the zippered ones being the most secure. The waist belt pockets are good for quick access without taking the pack off-I can swap a battery in seconds.

Also because of the lack of internal dividers and the top-loading design, I find myself digging to locate the right lens or other bit of gear, and the opening can prove narrow when both arms are in the pack. The flap can get in the way when both its pockets are filled (it becomes surprisingly heavy). I noted in the initial review the interior is fairly bright, which proves a boon for seeing what I'm looking for instead of just feeling for it.

Despite being dense and heavy, camera gear is well isolated from my back in the Highwire. Backpanel padding and the framesheet isolate gear well. Hot weather ventilation is decent, if not spectacular. My hottest days with the Highwire have been photo trips, and I found filling the reservoir with ice helps keep the camera gear and me cool on hot days. Double-win!

Day Hikes

Finally, day hikes. I fill the reservoir to capacity with ice and water and it then lasts me a whole trail day. I notice a reduced pack volume when the full reservoir is loaded, but it's no limitation because the Highwire 25 is a very roomy day pack. Clothing and food for my kid and me, a first aid kit, camera and other day hike gear fit without a problem. Trekking poles are tethered to the keepers on back when I don't need them and any clothes I want to keep handy fit in the front pocket. Loaded with 3 kg (6.6 lb) water and my day hike gear and food, my loads have been as much as 18 pounds (8.2 kg), although I usually kept it lower. Never really stuffed the pack like a sausage but between the main compartment and pockets, I feel as though I filled it to the max.

IMAGE 7
Holding lots of stuff, easily.



Following typical packing protocol (heavy items high and close to the back) the Highwire 25 fits well. The hip belt is comfortable, the shoulder straps are secure and sit correctly on my shoulders, and I do use the sternum strap. The back panel and load control straps seem to add structure and help control the load.

On the trail in varied conditions the Highwire 25 is comfortable and does not bounce or sway. Unlike bicycling, it doesn't interfere with my head or brimmed hat when hiking. I can reach the two side pockets, giving me four to access while walking. The drink hose bounces since it doesn't clip or attach anywhere below the single guide loop on the shoulder strap.

Ventilation is the same as the other uses, somewhere between a plain foam back panel and a mesh "trampoline" in effectiveness. I do sweat noticeably when it's hot.

Antidote Reservoir

The 3 L reservoir holds enough for a day on the trail. It's easy to use: hang from the hang loop, clip in and route the hose and I'm done. The quick-disconnect hose eases stowing and retrieving, and the reservoir's big opening accommodates ice at home and snow in the mountains. The inner baffle keeps the thickness somewhat in check. The bite valve has good flow and the integrated shutoff valve prevent drips. I can also directly connect a pump filter to the reservoir at the quick-connect fitting and fill it without removing from the pack, because the connector is fairly universal across brands.

I pressed the Antidote into backpacking service on three- and five-day trips in the northern Sierra southern Cascades. On the three-day trip the reservoir went into the pack's reservoir pocket behind the back panel and much of the water squeezed out of it during the drive to the trailhead, soaking some of the pack contents (including my maps--duh). I suspect I didn't close the shutoff valve, but I'm not sure. The entire pack weight was pressing onto the reservoir and the water wanted to escape.

On the five-day trip I stuffed the reservoir atop the pack contents because there was no dedicated pocket. The hose had to be snaked out of the roll-top closure (no hose port) with a tent strapped over the top. During the day, as water was used the top strap loosened so I had to cinch it down occasionally to avoid losing the tent along the way. None of this bother was the reservoir's "fault," the pack just isn't designed to accommodate one. In camp the Antidote did double-duty, holding 3 liters of camping and cooking water. Outside the pack it can be filled from a gravity filter system that fits to the hose connecter. Attractively easy.

Between trips I've used the drying arms to hold the reservoir open. It helps speed the process but it still takes a day or two to completely dry the bag. After removing the bite valve and twirling water from the hose, it too dries in about a day. I've not used Camelbak's suggestion to freeze the Antidote between uses. They've clearly not seen my stuffed freezer!

The Antidote doesn't seem to flavor the water. Water trapped in the hose for a time acquires the familiar plastic taste, but if I drain it between drinks and keep the valve closed it's not a problem.

Summary

Camelbak claims the Highwire 25 has a maximum 25-pound (11.4 kg) capacity, but I find comfort suffers above 20 pounds (9 kg). With more weight I'd want a true frame and beefier hip belt wings, but would I ever need that much in a day pack? Unlikely.

Wear and Tear

The pack and reservoir remain in top working shape, good as new. Both are up to the tasks I've presented them

IMAGE 8
Pockets afford good access to things on the go.



Conclusions

The Highwire 25 is a roomy, comfortable, competent day pack. It's great for hiking and photo trips around the region and okay, if a bit taller than ideal for cycling. It controls fairly heavy loads well and has the capacity I need for both myself and my family. It's not set up to carry large items strapped to the outside (other than trekking poles) and the main compartment opening is smaller than ideal for digging out buried items. The Antidote reservoir and insulated compartment work extremely well, which means that the Highwire's mission as a hydration pack is completely fulfilled.

Recommendations

I'd like more options for strapping clothing and bulky gear outside and might prefer the main compartment zip be longer for greater access (but it doesn't need a full-length zip like a panel-load pack).

Acknowledgements

Please check back in two months for the long-term report. My thanks to Camelbak and BackpackGearTest.com for the opportunity to test the Highwire 25!


LONG-TERM REPORT

Long-Term Test Locations & Conditions

I used the Highwire 25 several more times during the long-term test period-for photo trips and day hikes. My photo trips were all near home, some were events and others were just taking the dog for a walk, shooting pictures when she wasn't yanking me in pursuit of yet another squirrel. All the trips were at sea level on flat terrain and weather ranged from cool and cloudy to sunny and hot (55-95 F/13-35 C).

My day hikes were in the Tahoe region Sierra Nevada on typical dirt-and-rock trails. Weather was sunny and cool to warm (60-75 F/16-24 C) and elevation ranged from 6,500-9,000 ft (1,980-2,740 m).

Separately from the Highwire, I used the Antidote reservoir with other packs on two backpacking trips in the Tahoe Sierra.

Performance in the Field

The Highwire's ample capacity and load support are good for lugging camera gear. I've learned to cushion the bottom with a towel or clothing before loading, in case the pack is dropped. I also like the trick of putting the ice and water-filled reservoir in its pocket on hot days, to keep the gear cool. Of course this also adds weight and my load can approach 20 pounds (9 kg). At that weight even the comfortable Highwire can't hide the mass.

Gear access is a bit slow through the top opening; organizing it in advance helps me reach the right piece when I need it. Camera accessories are easy retrieve from the pockets, however, and I appreciate the Highwire's many options.

On my day hikes the Highwire performed as before: comfortable with plenty of capacity for solo travel. The hot weather sweatiness I noticed around town was absent on cool fall Sierra days and load control remained quite good. My loads were 10 to 12 pounds (4.5 - 5.4 kg) and I typically had the pack perhaps three-quarters full.

IMAGE 9
Photos or snow--I'm ready!



In all uses the Antidote reservoir and hose performed fine. It stores water enough for a long day, flow from the hose is good and the bite valve never leaks. In the Highwire it takes hours for the ice to all melt, a pleasure on hot days. In camp, the Antidote plus a second container hold enough water for me to only collect and filter or treat water once per evening. Back home, I was able to compare drying time against an old-style Camelbak reservoir without the new wider opening and drying arms, and the Antidote does dry sooner. I prefer to store it completely dry.

Wear and Tear:

The Highwire 25 and Antidote reservoir are in good working order, a bit dirtier and perhaps stretched a bit but functionally the same as when new. Neither got sent tumbling down a mountainside during this test, so they didn't have any unusual stresses, but I'm quite pleased by how they've held up. The o-ring on the Antidote's quick connector held up (a source of leaks I've encountered in similar gear).

Summary

Camelbak has done a good job with the Highwire 25 and Antidote reservoir. They're both quite functional. The pack holds a lot, fits well and controls the load both on the trail and off. The Antidote holds a lot of water and as long as I don't smash it (see field report) stores the water dependably. The detachable hose is a nice addition and the bite valve works well and closes dependably.

Continued Use

The Highwire 25 has earned a spot in my day-pack rotation because of its fit, comfort, load control and capacity. I especially value it for family outings when I tote a lot of extra clothing for the gang. Likewise, I'll keep using the Antidote reservoir, especially for backpacking. Its capacity and feature set are the best combination I've ever used.

Acknowledgments

This concludes my Camelbak Highwire 25 test. My sincere thanks to Camelbak and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this fine backpack!

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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