IMG_2990It was 2013 when we first sampled the new at the time Shimano Unzen 10 hydration packs and Guitar Ted and I posted our thoughts here.  After that review, it was very nearly the only pack I used for my weekly rides till earlier this year when I noticed the fabric in the main compartment was beginning to look stressed.  Not broken, but well worn.  But over the three years I used the pack, it was all I ever wanted except for the few things that originally were noted in the pack review, mostly the lack of a waist strap.

So when we were looking at a few packs for review for this coming summer, I thought it was time to see if the Unzen line had matured over the past three years.  It turns out it had.

What I have then is the new 10L version of the Unzen line of what Shimano calls Hydration Daypacks. And while we have had a few packs through the mill, both from Osprey and from Camelbak, the Shimano pack has some features that separate it from the others.  And those features, along with a unique fit, make it the top pack me in a few ways.  But first, let’s look at the features.

The pack has a very minimal structure to it, no internal stiffeners or back supports, etc.  The 3D back panel has some pads that straddle the spine but they are nothing elaborate like the ‘pods’ on the Camelback MV MULE or the mesh panel like the Osprey.  On the bottom of the pack is a zipped pocket with a rain cover, in case things get wet or muddy.  Above that is a bungee cord that will hold pads or a jacket (although it does not adjust for tension) and a reflective blinky clip strap.  Underneath that is a zipped pocket with a mesh divider that holds smaller items, snacks, etc, and there is also a key clip.  On each side of the pack is a stretch pocket that could hold anything you want to keep at hand, but it is shallow and would not hold a water bottle, etc.  At the top is a soft lined pocket that would hold a phone or sun glasses but it is a bit small, not ‘Phablet’ rated.  My iPhone 5 in its case is a snug fit.

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In the middle section is the main storage and it is accessed by two full length side zippers.  It is like one of those semi truck trailers you see that load, not from the back doors, but from either side of the trailer.  Inside is a sleeve for a pump, which perfectly holds my Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HV.  On the other side is a good sized mesh pocket for whatever.  The effect of this side loading access style is remarkable, allowing you to swing the pack around on one shoulder and get to things without completely removing it as well as access items from the one side they are on, not just in a vertical strata deal, like some big layer cake of gear.

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The hydration reservoir has its own compartment and it is a Hydrapack bladder, allowing for a large top opening with that roll top sort of fold and sliding clip closure.  You can run the hose on either side of the harness and the retaining clip for the hose will move from side to side.

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Other small features are an adjustable compression cord to take up the slack of the bladder as it empties and a sunglasses holder strap on one of the harness straps.  All the zippers have large pulls on them and are easy to use with gloves, etc.

x fitNow then, the harness itself needs its own section.  First of all, let me mention that they added a waist strap which addresses my only real complaint against the pack, that being it was not stable on your back if you were being acrobatic on-trail.  problem solved, and if you do not like the waist strap, it is easily removed with a velcro closure and even stored in the pack somewhere if you like.  The Rider Fit X-Harness is a revelation for me.  It completely removes the strain I felt on my shoulders with the more conventional packs my somehow transferring that load somewhere else.  harnessThe Adjustment Flaps and the Harness Hook combined with the internal adjustment for rider height (within the reservoir compartment), make for a very different and very effective fit that is unlike anything I have tried.  It wears very close and secure and never binds or restricts.  Despite having no trick back panel, it just disappears on you, perhaps the way a turtle does not notice it’s own shell.  I set the harness hook, along with the adjustment flaps, to typically hook through the second tightest loop, and then if I added a jacket, I could relax it by one loop easily and quickly.

So, the good and the bad, if any.

The Good:

  • The fit. It rides close and form fitting and the new waist strap keeps it buttoned down when I get off the ground.
  • The unique side access feature is appreciated mostly when you wear a pack that is more traditional in design and then you go, “Hey, this is a pain to get to things”.  It spoils you.
  • The storage is just about right and the main pack area is well sized for most ride needs.
  • The X-Harness is very adjustable and puts the weight of the pack on your body in a different way that I find to my liking.
  • It is light, right in there with the other packs at around 1.5 lbs less the reservoir.

The Not So Good:

  • That soft top pocket needs to be a bit bigger and the way it curves at the zipper opening makes it hard to close if you have it kind of stuffed.
  • The old fabric that the original Unzen pack had over the main compartment was very stretchy and would allow the pack to hold more than you might think it would.  This version does not have the stretch fabric so you get what you get.  However, that is where my original pack was failing…in that stretchy fabric…so maybe that is why it went away.
  • The reservoir is a bit fiddly to get in and out and that velcro strap that keeps it riding high as it empties is hard to find, nearly impossible with gloves on.  As well, it is pretty easy to grab the clip that closes the reservoir and slide it off the deal as you are removing (or installing) the reservoir, giving you an instant release of most of the water contained in it.
  • The bite valve is just average in flow and bite-feel.
  • It is not the best for moving air across your back so it tends to be hotter wearing than something like the Osprey or the MULE NV.

Final word:  All in all the revised Unzen 10 is my personal favorite of the packs we reviewed this spring.  The fit is the best of all and the side loading compartment is really handy.

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The waist strap on the Unzen 10 really helps in times like this.

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Note: Shimano sent over the pack for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.