USWE Airborne 3L Hydration System: Quick Review

USWE Airborne 3L Hydration System: Quick Review – by Grannygear

USWE Hydration Pack

I typically do not use a hydration pack when gravel riding preferring to use a frame bag to carry essentials.  But if the day is very long or you do not use a frame bag you will, at some point, run out of pockets and braze-ons.

If I do want a pack for a gravel type of day, I do not want the typical MTB pack as they are too big and too heavy. As well, they almost always interfere with jersey pockets. A while ago we reviewed a Camelbak pack that was truly good at what it did and checked a lot of boxes for gravel and adventure use.

At Sea Otter a pack caught my eye that looked like it might be very good as well.  Turns out I was right.  But first, who is USWE? How do you say that?  Us We?  Jous-suis?  Not sure.  Let’s check the website:

STORY:

The team behind USWE grew up riding bicycles on the Swedish country side, searching for the toughest terrain and going as far out into the unknown as our bikes would take us. We stuffed our packs with enough food, water and gear to keep us and our bikes running until the sun went down. The packs at that time lacked in storage and were uncomfortable. They were made for walking…not riding. They just weren’t up to our riding adventure standards. That frustration led us to buy an old Husqvarna sewing machine for a couple of bucks so we could start working on our own backpack prototype. We had absolutely zero experience in designing packs, but we demanded a better product. Thousands of action hours later and the rest is history. USWE packs are designed and made by riders….for riders. USWE started back in 2007 with a clear mission; to build Action Packs capable of withstanding the harshest conditions without feeling like you are wearing one. From day one, our product innovation has involved top athletes and weekend warriors who demand nothing but the best. It’s our core philosophy that a pack is worn, not carried – that has to stay fixed and balanced on your back, allowing you to bring all the necessities while you’re bombing the hills in great style.

BOUNCE FREE ACTION PACKS

Our action packs use our award winning 4 point suspension design. They are made to be 100% bounce free from which the “No Dancing Monkey” technology was born

We engineer our suspension chassis and craft our pack designs based on our own experience and knowledge. All packs are developed together with our key athletes and ambassadors which set the pace of our high-end standard of products. The unique shape and suspension allow you to snug the packs really tight to the body without affecting your breathing capacity or body movement.”

HOW TO PRONOUNCE USWE

(you-swee)

OK…so that is how you pronounce it.  USWE makes a lot of packs for different sports and looking at the model we have which is a lightweight, minimal MTB pack in the Airborne line, the Airborne 3 cuts a slim and pretty minimal profile.  Here is what USWE has to say about the Airborne 3L.

Our new Airborne 3L is an action backpack beyond anything else out there, full of high performance features that will make you fly without cramping your style. This is every singletrack riders favourite: it’s superfast – except there’s no rocket engine included. Sorry, you’ll have to do the pedaling.

Here you get our award winning NDM Race Suspension Harness that guarantees zero bouncing on your back, but still allows you to feel 100% free in action. At the front of the backpack we’ve attached an accessible phone pocket to the harness so you’ll have quick access to your smartphone (for selfies and 911 calls)

And if you get thirsty you just grab the drink tube from the super strong magnet clip that’s attached to the harness and take a few refreshing zips from the 2.0 liter Elite™ hydration bladder that’s buckled up inside the main compartment on your back. We like it solid and simple, so we picked a premium bladder for you with a Slide-Seal top and Plug-N-Play coupling for easier handling. The total pack volume of 3 liters can easily be transformed into 2 liters by removing the external multi-pocket where you carry your spare tube, multi-tool and/or rain jacket. It’s simply your race mode that will decide if you go light or superlight for the day.

Suggested retail is $119.99

Rear view of the USWE pack modeled by Grannygear

I have been using it since Sea Otter on rides here and there and I think I have a pretty good feel for how it works.  In a word, it’s really good.  The X harness type chest and shoulder straps seems like it would be claustrophobic when you are trying it on in the living room. However that feeling goes away when using it.  The straps do adjust of course, for different chest sizes or for fit over clothing, and there is a lot of stretch built in as well.  The center buckle is unique and keeps things together.

Storage:

There is a 2.0 Liter bladder inside the main compartment. A zipped pocket inside that same compartment allows for a traveling music machine (with headphones port) or a phone or keys or whatever.  There is a small removable storage pocket on the front of the pack that can hold a decent amount of snacks or a phone, multi tool…maybe a spare tube, etc.  On one of the shoulder straps is a zipped, neoprene phone pocket that could carry…a phone of course…or GPS or snacks or.  You know.  Things.

However, that is it for storage.  I had to store a mini pump alongside the bladder.

A look at the hydration bladder inside the pack
The all important, water holding thingie.

Drinking:

The Velcro patch that holds the bladder in is effective. The bite valve is good, with no unwanted leaking or issues shutting off. We also have the now ubiquitous roll top, sliding clip type closure for the bladder as well. It is quite easy to refit it into the pack, which is good.

Fit:

Grannygear models the USWE pack. A front view here.
You can see that phone pouch there on Grannygear’s right collarbone.

The pack sits close to the body.  That “No Dancing Monkeys” deal? Gravel riding is hardly acrobatic, but this pack does not move around at all. However, in this weight and size and capacity, I would not expect that to be a challenge.  I can see it working well as the packs scale up though.  There are vertical pads on the backside of the pack that make it cushy against your back and the pads even have grippy rubber sections on them for even more non-slip-ness.

So how does it all come together?

The Good:

  • Quality construction. 
  • Effective harness system keeps pack stable.
  • Can reduce the packs size even more by removing that storage pouch.
  • Good bladder system and easy access to it.
  • Does not get in the way of jersey pockets.

The Less Than Good:

  • The straps and buckles size, thickness, and complexity is really over done for such a small pack.  I imagine they are used in bigger packs as is, but they are a bit much here on the 3 model.
  • Storage capacity is a bit less than I would prefer.
  • I fitted this to my wife and she was just OK with the system across the chest.  “No Dancing Monkeys” may go better with testosterone than estrogen.

Stacking it up against the competition:

A look at the inside of the USWE pack
You can get the essentials in there, but that is about it for storage.

Let’s compare it to the Camelbak Chase Bike Vest. Picking up the Chase Vest, you are struck with how light it is and how ‘pliable’ that pack material is. There is little structure and everything it is made from seems focused on lightness.  The straps are meshy and airy.  The fabric is supple.  Picking up the USWE feels like you lifted a small, not heavy really, but a small MTB pack with big, wide, buckles and straps and such.  But in it’s defense, that structure is a plus when the pack is full, carrying the load with grace.

The Chase Vest has so many useful storage compartments that I simply run out of things to put in them. Phone. Snacks.  Eyeglasses. Keys. Cash. Wine bottle opener, etc.  Excellent. On the USWE there is juuuust adequate storage. Keep those things light and small and all is good.  Suggestion:  On the USWE, if the outer, clip on storage pocket attached a bit more fully at the bottom, and could expand a bit away from the main pack, you could stuff a jacket in there without losing it.

In the end I liked the USWE Airborne 3 very much and was happy every time I used it.  As long as you can live with the limitations in storage and if the close, movement free strap system rings true with you, then I expect you would be happy with it too.

I actually think I will use this pack more on the MTB than on the gravel bike, and since this pack was designed for just that, it comes as no surprise. That plays to it’s strengths. However, if a gravel day arises and I need ‘more’, then the USWE would be just fine there too.

Note: USWE sent over the Airborne 3L Hydration System to Riding Gravel at no charge for test and review. We were not bribed nor paid for this review and we strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

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2 Responses to USWE Airborne 3L Hydration System: Quick Review

  1. Ann G June 20, 2019 at 11:59 am #

    I appreciate your trying it on your wife and reporting that result. As soon as I saw the picture I thought…mmm, that’s probably not going to work too well for females. I do love my Camelbak Chase Vest, but I’m also interested in putting a bladder in a frame bag and working up a tube/magnet drinking system with no vest at all. Free the back !

  2. grannygear June 22, 2019 at 9:20 pm #

    @Ann G…you are very welcome. I have seen folks do something like you are mentioning for bikepacking. One thing is managing all the tubing…and the resulting heating of the water in it as you ride in the sun. Not sure how that would work out. You could always just carry a backpacking type water bladder (no drink tube) and refill your normal water bottle from it. Mrs. Grannygear does not like anything on her shoulders so the Chase Vest is the best, but still…

    She uses one or two Handlebar Feed Bags to carry extra bottles as needed on her MTB and gravel bikes.

    gg

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by Riding Gravel 2014