I ended up going with a 2-liter pack from Goodhope Bags.
I have now had the opportunity to use the Goodhope Bags hydration pack for a mountain bike ride, a run, a road bike commute, motorcycle riding and general walking. So far, I’ve been very happy with the pack.
When I first took a look at the Goodhope Bags hydration pack in person, I thought that it looked larger than I expected from the image on the website. However, comparing the pack to the CamelBaks that my friends have that also hold 2 liters of water or more, this pack is right on par in terms of size. When I actually put the pack on, it is not too large at all.
Probably the most impressive thing about this pack is the amount of cargo space that it provides without seeming bulky. There is a flat, zippered pocket on the front of the pack and another zippered compartment behind that. Then this compartment, along with some mesh, forms an expandable open topped pocket. Behind that is another, flat mesh pocket with a clip closure. Finally, there is a large, double-zippered main compartment that spans the entire length of the pack.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the pack. It has padded shoulder straps, padding on the back and clip straps at the hips and chest. I consider these straps an absolute requirement for the comfort of carrying around a heavy pack for several hours. If I can’t distribute much of the weight onto my hips, forget it. The straps are also highly adjustable, so I’ve had no problem positioning the pack comfortably for different loads and activities.
For running, I found that the water in the pack sloshes back and forth with each step. Wearing the pack as close to my body as possible - without restricting breathing, of course – stopped the pack from moving around much as I ran. However, the shoulder straps did rub on my bare neck. This was not a problem on the bike and could be solved for running by wearing a sleeved shirt instead of a tank top. However, if you are sensitive to chaffing, I would probably not recommend this pack for running.
The bladder has a standard design with a large-mouthed, screw cover opening that is easy to fill with liquid and even ice, which is a plus because the water does warm up when you wear the pack in the hot sun. (I would guess that it would also freeze in cold weather conditions.) The tube is generously long and can be fed through a guide on either shoulder strap. There is a loop of Velcro on either side of the bladder compartment to hold the tube in place. The bite valve is easy to lock and unlock by pulling it out or pushing it back down on the tube. The bite valve itself was a little stiff to bite at first, but it softened up after only a couple uses and is now easy to draw water from.
The bladder does give a minor plastic-y flavor to water, but I’ve easily covered that up with a little sports drink or lemon juice. The plastic taste is so subtle that I think it will dissipate over time.
The biggest downside I see to the pack so far is the lack of hooks or clips to hold the top of the bladder in place. As it is, the bladder slides down in the compartment as it empties. This has not actually been a problem; water still flows freely out of the tube. But if it became a concern, it would be easy to use a couple of loose leaf binder rings to attach the corners of the bladder, which have holes molded right into them, to the Velcro loops in the top of the bladder compartment.
The pack looks attractive and modern. The color is not gaudy and there are no extraneous logos, tags or patterns. There is one reflective strip on the back of the pack that is about half an inch wide and six inches long. I wouldn’t stake my life on it as a safety feature (when riding in the dark, always use lights on your bike), but it does offer a little extra visibility – even in the day time.
The construction and materials of the pack look to be of decent quality and durability. Obviously after only a few uses, I cannot speak to the longevity of this pack, but I have no reason to believe that it won’t last for a long time.
I also did not test out the water resistance of the pack. It does not claim any waterproof qualities, so I would not expect more from it than a standard backpack.
Overall, I am quite impressed by this hydration pack and would definitely recommend it to others.