It’s rare to find sprung back panels on mountain bike-specific hydration packs, but The North Face has included one on its Hammerhead pack. The idea of the XVent back is to lift the weight of the pack away from your back, spreading the load across a mesh, which also allows for better breathability. While we found the XVent back panel comfortable and undoubtedly cooler than a non-sprung back, it does add a level of rigidity that won’t be welcomed by everyone. For instance, while we found the Hammerhead worked excellently for an average-sized bloke riding a fairly upright trail bike, when we used the pack to commute on a bike with a more head down position, the top of the back panel interfered with the helmet, and lengthening the shoulder straps only made the pack feel unstable.
The North Face’s take on hydration reservoirs is a success, with a familiar screw top to get the water in, and a flippy mouthpiece that prevents water flow when in the in-line position, and needs to point at right angles to allow water through.
Initial inspection of the pack made us suspect it was actually bigger than it is. With 3l of water inside, tucked up against the convex back panel, space in the main compartments is actually pretty tight. The Hammerhead is only intended as a lightweight day pack though, and will happily carry the selection of tools, tubes, maps and energy food carried on day rides.
Quality of finish is well up there, with some nice unexpected touches, like shrink-sheathed zip strings and generous stretchy pockets on the side of the pack (ideal for water bottles with energy drink in — we only ever put water in the main bladder).
At £65 the Hammerhead slightly undercuts the main competition and performs excellently, especially if you’re an average height bloke or taller. The length of the back panel will put off shorter riders and head-down racers who will be better with a soft-back pack, but all in all, the Hammerhead is a great pack that you’ll be seeing more of in upcoming mbr features.
Mbr rating: 8
XVent, mesh trampoline, back panel system
Removable waist belt