4-liter capacity; 1.5-liter bladder included
ReTrakt hose system; double hip straps keep pack stable
Bladder hose is not removable; phone pocket is too small
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As a general rule, I avoid hip packs that contain hydration bladders. Thule’s Rail Hip Pack has one, and I expected it to be plagued by the same issues I always run into with bladder-equipped hip packs: problematic hose storage, too much weight that can destabilize the pack while riding, and an inconvenient bladder-filling method.
The Rail Hip Pack is completely devoid of two out of those three problems. As such, this hip pack beats all other bladder-equipped hip packs I’ve tried.
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Rail Hip Pack layout
The Rail Hip Pack features a large zippered main pocket with organizers within. The material inside this pocket is yellow, which makes it far easier to spot the little bit or bob you’re searching for. The 1.5L bladder lives in here too, within a dedicated sleeve that also has a loop at the top to hold the bladder in place so it doesn’t slouch.
A second large pocket lives underneath the front flap of the Rail Hip Pack. This flap is secured in place with two pieces of Velcro, which means you can access it quickly and easily without having to take your pack off.
A small zippered pocket lives between the two main pockets. This one features a soft material within — also yellow — and it’s intended to hold your smartphone for easy access. The hip straps feature an open mesh pocket on either side, which is an ideal spot to stow a gel or two.
The top of the Rail Hip Pack has a big webbing handle sewn in so you can carry the pack easily when you’re not wearing it. This is a small detail, but Thule got it right: The strap is sewn wide enough at either end that you can get your entire hand in there, even with thick gloves.
The back panel of the Rail Hip Pack features a mesh panel with padding within. The padding itself has a sort of wavy, dimpled feel to it. The combination here is intended to provide plenty of comfort, but also to allow air to move freely enough to keep your back from getting super sweaty. It’s a nice idea, but like just about every other execution of this I’ve tried on both hip packs and backpacks, it’s only effective to a certain point. Sweat always wins.
Much of the true brilliance of the Rail Hip Pack lives on the hip straps. There are actually two of them: a Velcro inner strap and a webbing outer strap with a buckle. Use the inner Velcro strap to get a quick, snug fit around your waist, then use the buckle to add security. The system works wonders, and once it’s set, you can forget all about it. This is one of the most stable hip packs I’ve tested.
Another brilliant touch on the Rail Hip Pack carries over from Thule’s hydration backpacks. The ReTrakt Hose is the primary reason I’ve broken my own rule about avoiding hip packs with hydration bladders. It’s always a pain to try to secure the hose back in place after taking a drink, fumbling for mounts and hooks, and other contraptions to keep the hose from flinging about.
But the ReTrakt hose has a sleeve at the end of it that has a magnet sewn in. You can basically just toss the hose at your waist and it will find its home magnetically. And the magnet is plenty strong; not once did the hose separate from the magnet unless I wanted it to.
The bite valve is just okay. I found it somewhat hard to move the blue piece that opens and closes the water flow. But otherwise, it works just fine.
Room for improvement
There wasn’t much I didn’t like about the Rail Hip Pack. But there are two nitpicks that could use some addressing if it ever gets a redesign.
First, the bladder can be difficult to fill. The top of the bladder features a slider that removes easily, and it opens the top of the bladder wide so you can fill up the bladder without spilling everywhere. But the hose doesn’t detach from the bladder, which means you’re fighting the hose, which is threaded through the pack, as you attempt to fill the bladder and then replace the slider on the folded-over bladder top. It’s fairly cumbersome.
Aside from that, the Rail Hip Pack is a great pack, save for one small detail. The phone pocket on the front of the pack is a great place to stow your smartphone; unfortunately, the zippered opening is too small to get your hand in there to easily pull your phone out of the pocket. That’s a minor problem, but I did find myself stowing my phone elsewhere because I didn’t want to fight with that phone pocket.
Rail Hip Pack Verdict
Despite the shortcomings, the Rail Hip Pack has proven itself to be the best bladder-equipped hip pack I’ve tested so far. The ReTrakt hose and the dual hip strap system are the two stars of the show; for stability and ease of drinking, the Rail Hip Pack is a hydration star.