I would say it is for mountain biking, above all the other sports I’ve tried, where the difference between a well fitting rucksack and one that carries badly will show. As a rider bounces and shakes along a bumpy trail the pack needs to stay stable and it also needs to be close fitting enough to shift with the riders weight as they lean into corners. Any deficiencies and the rider will soon notice.
Lots of manufacturers produce biking packs and I’ve tried quite a number over the years, but when Osprey asked me to test their Zealot I was really keen – I am a big fan of this specialist pack maker and so had high hopes that this rucksack would tick all the right boxes. Osprey also sent me one of their Hydraulics hydration systems to test at the same time. I have included this as a separate review here because, although the Hydraulics system integrates perfectly with the Zealot, it works well with any other hydrations system compatible pack too. I should also point out that the standard Zealot pack doesn’t come with this reservoir as standard.
The Zealot is, by any standards, fully featured. It is either 13 litres in the small/medium size or 15 litres in medium/large size. The back panel features the Osprey Airspace technology with foam ridges designed to aid ventilation and this is teamed with a Biostretch hip belt and harness. Osprey have manufactured the Zealot from a tough trail resistant nylon.
In the load carrying department there is full hydration compatibility (see my separate Hydraulics review via the link above) and a padded front compression pocket designed to carry body armour. The waist belt has zippered stretch mesh storage pockets, there’s a small elasticated pocket on the shoulder strap and the main compartment has an elasticated load control system. There is also a smaller electronics/sunglasses pocket designed with scratch preventing fabric and there is a further back panel pocket that can be accessed with the rucksack on. For tool and spares storage there is a separate lower pocket that has a removable tool roll inside. Finally, the front features a Lidlock helmet carrier, there’s a strap to attach an LED light, stretch side pockets and side and top compression straps. Phew – that’s a lot of features! So, how does it perform on the trail?
I have been mountain biking a lot on the Peak District trails this Spring and Summer – the Zealot has been with me on every ride. For shorter evening rides I could easily have managed with something smaller but I have used it every time partly in the interests of review thoroughness and yet mainly because it is just so comfortable. I have kept it loaded up with trail essentials and it really isn’t a burden just to throw it on each time. For longer excursions it carries those same essentials but also has space for all the additions I would normally take along. It is a perfect size for just about everything.
When I say the Zealot carries well, it really does. The back panel and harness mould well to the back and the elasticated luggage control system allows you to cinch it up so the contents are held firmly in place. It really doesn’t budge when bouncing along bumpy trails and will sit tight when banking hard around corners. It does it all with ease.
This year has seen some of the finest trail conditions I remember and this is in large part due to the dry weather and extended warm conditions we’ve enjoyed. The temperatures have certainly created a good testing ground for the ventilation capabilities of the pack. The Osprey Airspace back panel is a foam sheet with large cut out sections overlaid by durable mesh. The panel also has ridges that are said to aid air flow. It all sounds very technical, but for most users they will be happy enough just to know that the system works brilliantly. It fits flush to the back and yet has been comfortable and has kept my back dry and cool. I love it.
The load storage options are varied and comprehensive. The mesh pockets on the waist belt will hold a few energy bars, compass or maybe a tool or two while the little mesh pocket on the shoulder strap will carry an energy bar or some energy gel sachets.
The lower tool pocket on the front will fit the tool roll and can store a few spare inner tubes and other essentials. I really like the tool roll idea although it is removable incase that isn’t your thing. The sunglasses or electronics pocket is great and I have mostly used this for my smartphone. There is a bladder pocket and exit point for a bladder system and, if you are using something like Osprey’s Hydraulics system there’s a handy magnet ready on the sternum strap so you can clip the hose into place for storage.
The main storage pocket will fit food, spare clothes and a first aid kit and, once loaded, it can be pulled in tight by tightening the side and top compression straps, which, in turn, is pulled tight by the padded front panel. Once everything is clamped tight the Zealot is a really solid little package. Finally, in the storage department, there is a further large pocket just behind the back panel (which is useful because you don’t need to unclip any compression buckles to open it) and, if more capacity is needed, there’s a couple of stretchy side pockets.
The padded front panel is a feature common to many Osprey packs and it works really well. On the Zealot it means, besides clamping everything tight as described above, that there is an additional storage option. Osprey say this could be used for carrying body armour but it could also be used for any other extras you need. Lastly, on the same lines, there’s a clever little helmet storage system that allows a quick and secure way to lug your lid around.
There really isn’t any storage features of the Zealot I would want to be without and, particularly now I have got used to where everything is stored, it all feels intuitive and efficient. This is a great pack for those who love a bit of trail organisation.
The fabric Osprey have used is a tough nylon which is certainly standing up well to trail wear and tear and it has been tested with more than a few tumbles already. In terms of weatherproofing, the pack is certainly not going to be waterproof (the seams aren’t proofed and there’s a lot of zips that water will get through) but it has proved to be as water resistant as any PU nylon pack would be.
I have previously used biking packs from a number of leading brands, but this is unquestionably my all time favourite. It has well thought out features, is extremely comfortable, copes extremely well with the ride wear and tear rigours of mountain biking and looks great. Put simply, all my other biking packs seem redundant now! The Zealot retails for £80 and weighs 850 grams in size medium. There are loads more details and some great Zealot videos on the Osprey website here.
Posted by Paul