Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ergon Backpacks Do One Amazing Thing

About a year ago, I detailed my basic gear philosophy in a post titled Closer to Fine. In that post I mentioned that a backpack is a key part of my cycling gear.

Ever since I'd first tried one on at a trade show a few years ago, I wanted to give a Ergon backpack a good workout. When Ergon selected me to be one of their 2010 supported individuals, I figured I'd use my discount to get an Ergon backpack to test out. Despite the sponsorship, I only use a piece of gear if I've tested it out and it suits my needs. I'd read some mixed reviews of Ergon packs, including one that described the pack as feeling like having "a drunken hobbit" strapped to your back. So I was wary.

To further complicate matters, it turned out the the size pack I wanted, the Ergon BD2, was not available. Some of the reviewers complaints about storage layout of the pack will be addressed in a revised model, a model that I couldn't get in time for the Tour Divide. I was bemoaning this state of affairs to my friend Chris Cameron. Chris and I go back a few years and, like me, he's had a variety of jobs in the bike world. Chris had already given me a large Ortlieb Plus Saddle Bag for my trip and now he said "I'll dig through my stuff, I think I have an Ergon pack somewhere."

Sure enough, he did. An Ergon BD2 that was too small for him and just right for me. Well, just right after a few modifications.

I understand some of the reviewers complaints about the storage layout of the pack. The pack has a weird looking frame, one main compartment with an internal bungie to hold a water bladder, a few skinny pockets and a strange helmet holder strap-thing. I tend to modify all my stuff to suit my needs, so I set to work.

Instead of a bare bladder, I use a 100-Ounce CamelBak UnBottle inside the pack. The unbottle is a bit heavier than a minimalist bladder, but it's bomb-proof and stiff enough that I can pull it in and out of the Ergon with a minimum of futzing. I have no need to carry my helmet on my pack, but I used the helmet holder as a place to strap my solar charger, rear blinkie and good luck charm. The SteriPen fits perfectly in one skinny mesh pocket and random skinny things (like a tube of sunblock) fit in the other. I added a TIMBUK2 Porkchop Bag to the right side of the hipbelt to serve as an on-the-fly snack bag and I strapped my camera bag to the left side of the belt. Clothes and other miscellaneous stuff get packed into the main compartment next to the Unbottle.

I think the drunken hobbit guy probably didn't have his pack set up right. Ergon packs are designed to transfer almost all of the pack weight to you hips and have a set of shoulder straps that attach to a pivoting half-sphere called a flink joint. With the waist strap set right and the flink located right between your shoulder blades, the pack is amazing. It actually feels like a magic trick.

My loaded BD2 feels heavy when I pick it up. Actually, it is heavy. 100 ounces of water is over 6 lbs and all that other stuff adds up. But when I strap the pack on and cinch up the waist strap, the weight pretty much seems to disappear. There is almost no weight on my shoulders and with the flink, I can roll my shoulders, stretch my back and flex like I'm not wearing a pack at all while I'm riding. Since the only contact points are at my hips and shoulders, air flows free over my back. Wearing the Ergon really feels like almost like not wearing a pack at all.

I've had the pack for a few weeks now and pounded down lots of trails with it. It's rock solid, not like a drunken hobbit at all. With the various modifications, it suits my needs and now it goes with me on every ride. I can pick nits about the pocket layout but that's something that I think will be better on the revised pack. And the weight transfer thing is so amazing I wound up using these words to describe the pack to my wife: "It's like having a cat that writes novels. You can complain that he's a poor speller and his plots are derivative, but the bottom line is that a novel-writing cat is amazing. The Ergon pack is just about that amazing."

My final complaint is that the black pack doesn't really photograph well. That's why I went with the shot of Luke and Yoda at the top of this post. The next time I'm riding with a pal I'll have him to take some shots of the pack in action.

UPDATE: by popular demand, I went hunting for some images. has a great review of the BD2 with some good pictures at:

My pack is just like the one in the review, except for my various home-brew mods and my pack is black instead of the team green like the one in this picture from the site.

As wise man Joel Metz has noted "in the cosmic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors...desire is greater than need." While my modified BD2 will be my Tour Divide companion, the new BC2, which Ergon describes as being "Available Spring 2010 (not in all markets)" should be out "real soon now." Here's a little preview picture.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Big Clyde said...

Pics would be great. (Even something from their website). It's hard to visualize it.


GhostRider said...

That's been my experience with the Ergon, too -- setup is crucial, and the hipbelt has to be TIGHT. If so, the pack disappears on my back.

I didn't get to try the big one...I have the BD1. My only gripe about the pack is that it's just too small for my needs; the BD2 would be better suited for me.

Kent Peterson said...

Big Clyde,

Click the hyperlink on the words Ergon BD2 in the blog post and it'll take you to Ergon's flashy site where you can see the pack & rotate the image around. I couldn't figure out a good way to embed the thing, but the link is there.


Johann Rissik said...

Ergon grips are my favourite, next on my wish list is one of those packs.
Come to think of it, having a now-sober Hobbit along for the ride could be fun.

mrk. said...