Estimated reading time: 11 minutes, 17 seconds
How hard is finding a good backpack? Not hard after this Deuter Race EXP Air Backpack Review!
But ordinarily, REALLY HARD!
With the thousands of backpacks on the market, finding a good travel backpack involves a lot of trial and error and potentially wasted money.
I’ve wasted hundreds of dollars buying backpacks online only to be disappointed with the real thing when it arrives.
Here at VeloNomad, you know that I aim to save you money, time and hassle, so in this post I’m going to take a look at what I think is a great backpack not only for travel but for day trips on and off your bike.
What I look for in backpacks
Regardless of the application (general travel, photography gear, day pack and so on), there are a few features I always look for in backpacks.
- Quality construction including bash material/guards in appropriate spots
- Quality, large gauge zips
- Side accessed laptop sleeve if applicable
- Appropriate amounts of padding
- Quality ergonomics
- Chest/sternum strap, waist straps
- How it feels when riding and wearing in general
- Overall design, utility
The Deuter Race EXP Air
The Deuter Race EXP Air is one hell of a backpack.
Suitable for mountain biking, road cycling or general day pack use, there’s a lot to like about this bag.
Here’s what I REALLY like about it.
- It doesn’t have a lot of volume – big bags encourage you to pack more stuff. This bag forces you to choose wisely, and I like that – I really love products that force you to make choices. It’s especially important if you’re riding a long distance or carrying it around all day, or travelling.
- Air flow – Deuter’s kick butt air system makes this bag great for riding and travel (travel = hot and sweaty).
- Rain cover – a carefully hidden rain cover lets you cover your bag in the event of rain which is great if you have camera gear or other valuables in your bag.
Detailed break down
Made from Microrip Nylon and HexLite 210 (read more about Deuter materials here) this bag is tough and light. Reinforced and padded in the right spots, its construction is more than suitable for its intended use.
Apparently the Microrip Nylon (abrasion resistant) and HexLite (rip resistant – within reason of course) pretty much render this bag indestructible.
Obviously this will be more important during the rough and tumble of travel and mountain biking, but is also important when watching the Tour as you’ll likely have the bag on the ground, hanging off stuff and so on.
Do you like ripped back packs? No. Then HexLite 210 is for you.
The buckles are reasonably robust. By reasonable, I don’t mean, “Go and hang off an ice cliff like Sly Stallone in Cliffhanger” type of robust, I mean, “clip ‘em together and they won’t just snap for no reason” robust.
Quality, large gauge zips
It’s all good news in the zips department.
- All zips are YKK.
- The main compartment is double zippered.
- All external zips have grab tabs to make grabbing the zips a cinch. The main compartment zips have a male & female button so you can button the two zips together.
Zips are an oft-overlooked part of a bag. The people at EVOC also have this figured out – their products have nice, big, strong zips. Other companies fail dismally.
Happily, Deuter, with their German engineering sensibilities, have provided the best zips in the business. So, you can sit down and zip/unzip these zips to your hearts content.
At no point should the zip snap, leaving your bottom lip quivering and your other hand holding a broken zip tab, wondering what one earth just happened.
When I look at the storage in a bag, I look at stash pockets (to stow stuff in all day, and not have to access) and general compartments.
In the compartment department, this bag provides:
- The main body compartment, big enough to fit a few things like laptop, spare tshirt/underwear, deodorant and some food for the plane/day, or a DSLR and a couple of lenses and some other odds and ends, for a Tour de France or cycling event.
- Small compartment at front, which really just serves as a holding compartment for the stash pocket, but which could fit a few other small things (energy bars etc).
- Two water bottle holders, one on each side of the bag.
This bag is not generously endowed with compartments, but, that’s the nature of the bag. Pack light. Remember, you do NOT need half the stuff you usually pack.
One teensy-weensy problem with having one main compartment is you’ll end up with your odds and ends in there which means ratting around for stuff. The ladies amongst the readers with big ol’ handbags full of stuff will know what I mean.
The main compartment can be expanded by undoing one zip. So, if you are not carrying much, you can zip it up and have an ultra low profile bag.
Obviously in a small bag like this, it wouldn’t make sense to have loads of compartments or stash pockets.
I find stash pockets invaluable. They are great as you can put your keys/wallet/etc in, not worry about them and come back to at the end of the day and know your stuff will be there.
- This bag has two stash pockets.
- One is inside the small front compartment (along with a key clip) and one is inside the main compartment.
- Both are zippered.
- The one inside the main compartment is deep but narrow so it’s a bit tricky to get your whole hand in regardless of hand size.
- The one in the front suffers no issues for hand access.
- Together, these pockets could hold keys, wallet, phone, point and shoot camera and a couple of other odds and ends but not much else.
There are two water bottle (or for the traditionalists amongst you “bidons”) holders; one on each side. I use one to hold stuff – like sunscreen for example.
There is a sleeve for a hydration pack, along with a hidden outlet.
Not applicable on this bag.
You’ll fit an iPad/tablet or a Macbook in this bag when travelling/getting about but not much else (I’ll talk more about this later in the review).
The padding in the shoulder straps is adequate. Keep in mind you won’t have a LOT of things in this bag (unless you’re carting gold bullion around, in which case I recommend a transportation upgrade), so you don’t need a lot of padding to counteract the weight.
The mesh in the back effectively pads the bag out from your back and almost acts like suspension.
I believe that ergonomics are overlooked by a lot of backpack manufacturers. I have an F-Stop travel bag for camera gear and the ergonomics (strap padding, placement and where the bag sits) are just horrible.
Happily, this is another area where this bag is a winner. It sits nicely on the shoulders, the mesh sits snugly on the back and the bag simply gets out of the way (a hallmark of good design).
Many bags suffer from sag, where the bag falls down and off the back, no matter how tight the straps are done up. This bag doesn’t suffer from that. It’s marvellously contoured for your back.
I have had two broken clavicles and as a result have two small bone protrusions on my shoulders. Most bags sit right on these and become very uncomfortable. This bag sits in just the right place so is a joy to wear.
This bag has good shoulder straps, a sternum strap and waist strap. All are decent quality and appropriate for the size of the bag.
The waist/hip strap has no padding, which reflects the fact the bag isn’t intended to have a lot of weight in it.
The sternum strap is adjustable up/down to suit people of different sizes.
As I mentioned earlier, this bag is not designed to carry everything.
If you’re on the bike – say for a day trip, touring or a Tour de France/race stage – it will carry everything you need for the day.
If you’re in transit on a trip – for example on an aeroplane – it will carry spare tshirt, jumper, compression clothing (read this post to see my compression product reviews), some food, a laptop, iPad, phone and a few other odds and ends.
You do not need more than that.
How it feels riding
An important part of a bag is how it feels when you’re wearing it.
Happily, this bag more than does the job in this regard. On and off the bike, this backpack fits like a glove. On the bike especially, even with a decent camera and 2 lenses (e.g. Canon 5D/40D/7D, a tele and a wide angle) this bag is great.
Remember, it’s not intended to carry a lot of stuff, so by cutting back on what you pack, you consequently make the bag noticeably lighter and thus more comfortable to wear.
I’ve ridden bags with loads of gear up the big cols of the Alps and I wish I’d had this bag instead.
The shot below is from the 2009 Stage 16 TDF stage. We rode 22km up the Col du Petit St Bernard and I had 8kg on my back. This tweaked my back and I am still paying for it 3 years later. In this bag I had two camera bodies, 4 lenses and “stuff”. Don’t be silly, pack light.
There are some other neat touches on this bag.
- Rain cover – a stowed-away rain cover, for when you get caught out
- Helmet stash – a hidden helmet stash – this is useful but will NOT fit a helmet if the helmet inside a helmet bag/pod
- Water storage – internal water bladder compartment and hidden water hose outlet
With regard to the helmet net, there is almost no way you can secure a helmet that’s inside a helmet bag/pod inside the net. So, when in transit, expect to carry your helmet pod/bag separately (I definitely recommend travelling with your helmet in a helmet bag – read my reviews of helmet bags here).
If you ride somewhere then want to stow your helmet, the helmet net will hold a helmet.
Overall design, utility
This is a great bag; very well designed, excellent quality and very typical of German design (think EVOC, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Jan Ullrich, Tony Martin, Oktoberfest – you get the drift).
Given its application – “don’t put a lot of stuff in me” – this bag is almost perfect.
Whether for a Tour de France stage, travelling, day pack or mountain bike smashfest, this bag has your back (feel the pun!).
With just the right amount of compartments, straps, hooks (including the main grab handle on the top) and features, this is the Audi of backpacks. Practical, stylish but not flashy (certainly not a Mercedes AMG 4WD which to be honest I’d also be very happy to own – in gunmetal grey please!).
Well worth a look, this is my go-to travel/day bag, along with my Dakine Pro bag.
“Is this bag right for me?”
This bag will suit your needs if you’re looking for a bag for:
- Airplane travel
- Day pack use (concerts, hiking, on the bike etc)
- A bag for commuting
- MTB enduro use
- Riding out to see the Tour de France or other races
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of other very capable bags on the market – many equally as good as this – but what makes this bag a stand out is the air flow on the back and its overall quality and practicality.
When travelling and riding, lots of people can get sweaty backs. The airflow reduces sweat and heat and that alone is enough to make it a standout in a very crowded market.
Bottom line? You will not regret buying this bag. I LOVE using it.
Get the Deuter Race EXP Air
You can get the Deuter Race EXP Air from Chain Reaction Cycles (http://bit.ly/HfFSxR) for less than AUD$80 – a bargain.
Disclosure: Chain Reaction Cycles provided this backpack for review. I would recommend this regardless as I only recommend products I use (and would buy/have bought) myself.
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