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March 28, 2010

CamelBak Octane XCT Hydration Pack Review

Nobody comes to dominate an industry by resting on its laurels – so when I found out that CamelBak had redesigned its popular Octane XC trail running pack (which I reviewed here) this spring, it came as no surprise.

Considering that they essentially invented the product line and continue to enjoy a huge market share advantage among hikers, endurance athletes and other outdoor enthusiasts – if you don’t believe me, just take a look around your local REI or mountain sport shop someday – you couldn’t really fault CamelBak for taking the easy path, or for saying, “We know what we’re doing, and we’re not going to knock ourselves out trying to do things differently.” Fortunately, that’s not the way they operate: CamelBak continues to advance their technology across all areas of product development, from water bottles to cleaning accessories (more on that in a second) to portable hydration packs for maximal performance.

Smartly, CamelBak approached the Octane XC upgrade in exactly the right way: they kept all the strengths of the previous model in place, and focused on areas where the pack had room for improvement. The result is the CamelBak Octane XCT, which has twice the cargo capacity but only half the weight of its predecessor, and maintains the comfortable fit and durability that are necessary for long days on the trail.

CamelBak Octane XCT

CamelBak is well-established as having the best fluid reservoirs around; in fact, during the course of my reviews last spring, I was surprised by the number of people who commented something along the lines of “I prefer X pack, but I use it with a CamelBak bladder.” In that regard, nothing has changed with the Octane XCT: the 2-liter (70-oz) HydroTanium reservoir is built with burst-resistant polyurethane and is backed with a lifetime warranty. The wide-mouth Omega screw-top allows easy opening and leak-proof closure. The entire surfaces of both reservoir and tube have HydroGuard technology to inhibit bacterial growth (you should still wash it after each use, but the coating buys you a bit of slacker time before doing so). The ergonomic Big Bite valve provides a strong flow with each sip, and there’s a HydroLock clasp to securely prevent fluid escape.

(Additionally, CamelBak remains the only manfacturer to offer dedicated products for cleaning and drying your reservoir and tube. They're available here, and compatible with the XCT.)

Although the basic body shape of the Octane XC is preserved, the XCT is made with ultralight material throughout, drastically cutting its overall weight. The XCT weighs 10.7 oz, compared to nearly 21 oz with the XC - a very impressive accomplishment considering that the overall dimensions are pretty much the same. The body and base are also made from super wind-resistant ripstop taffeta and nylon; this material, combined with the durable water repellent coating on the base, ensures that your pack will be able to handle the harshest weather conditions.

Ventilated back panels

Like its predecessor, the XCT rides very comfortably on your back, thanks to an Air Channel ventilated back panel and air-mesh harness system to allow airflow between your body and the fabric. I wore this pack on all of the Ventana adventures I’ve documented here lately, as well as a handful of multi-hour training runs with no comfort-related concerns at all. The design is also quite versatile: I’ve worn the XCT for mountain biking, and it would do well with a variety of outdoor endurance activities.

The biggest drawbacks I noted with last year’s XC were a lack of overall storage space, and somewhat inconvenient positioning of the side pockets that made you reach pretty far back to open them. CamelBak has addressed one of these concerns quite effectively, and is making decent strides towards the other as well.

Vertical zip pocket

All of the pocket areas – 2 side pockets and one midline vertical zip storage – are larger on the XCT than on the previous version, providing 200 cubic inches of cargo space; this more than doubles the 90 cubic inches on the XC. Additionally, even though it’s not part of the “official” storage capacity calculation, it’s very easy to stash clothing in the fluid reservoir compartment. The external bungee tie-down is another resource to carry larger items, with a very secure x-configuration to make sure they stay in place.

Side pockets and bungee strap

Which leaves us with the side pockets. The good news is that they are noticeably bigger – on a couple of my runs I stashed a camera, trail maps, small GPS gadget, cell phone, car keys and a handful of gel packets all in these two pockets. And they stretch a little more forward around the trunk, making it a bit easier to reach back for quick access. However, it’s still hard to actually see into the pockets while you’re on the go, and it’s still a relative inconvenience to do multiple stash/remove repetitions (like I do with my camera) compared to true front-storage units on some rival models out there. So while CamelBak hasn’t completely solved this issue, they’ve certainly managed a step in the right direction with the XCT.

Overall, the CamelBak Octane XCT is a nice revision with some significant improvements that have a direct impact on comfort and performance, while maintaining the durability and versatility that made the XC an attractive option to begin with. It retails for $79 from TravelCountry.com.

*Product provided by CamelBak
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at


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The Dude 3/30/10, 7:12 AM  

On the last picture in this post, it looks like the XCT sits pretty low on your back compared to the Wasp or Nathan HPL. Did you notice that and does the lower position bother you? Thanks for all the detail in another very helpful review! I can't wait for the CLIF report.

Donald 3/30/10, 8:58 AM  

Dude - it definitely sits lower than the Wasp and Nathan, and I think my individual comfort preference is to wear the XCT lower than some other users might. Having the side pockets lower makes them a bit easier to reach.

lebowski,  4/2/10, 3:02 PM  

great review, been trying to find info on the new XCT, as ive found the XC on the cheap and have been trying to decide between the two for mtn biking. figured there was more room in the top pocket, but didnt realize all the other info. think ill be getting the XCT instead.

Anonymous,  5/17/10, 6:37 PM  

I've been looking at getting a hydration pack for long training runs on the street and for use in half-marathons and marathons and this looks like it would be pretty close to perfect. Thanks for the review.


Southbaygirl 6/16/10, 12:41 PM  

I've been looking at buying the XCT! Hard to find in stores though-but I did try alot of the other hydration packs on-they all seem to ride up. Does the XCT ride up?

Donald 6/16/10, 10:21 PM  

Southbay: The only store I've seen it in is REI, but there's lots of availability online. No, it doesn't really ride up, in fact, it rides a little bit lower than other packs I've worn. Thanks for asking!

Dan 10/7/10, 3:59 AM  

would you be able to carry a small DSLR with zoom lens in one of the side pockets?

Donald 10/7/10, 5:49 PM  

Dan: yes, the pockets are definitely big enough for most compact cameras - I carry my Nikon L11 all the time in it, with room to spare.

Anonymous,  4/17/11, 7:28 AM  

Great review! I'm looking for a hydration pack I could use for running and mountain biking and your review sold me out to the octane xct. My only concern is the back panel of the xct seems to be not padded like the xc. Does your back feel as cool as you would on the xct as on the xc? This is important to me cause it's pretty hot here in the Philippines during the summer and one reason I stopped using hydration pack years back is the feeling you have a hot iron on your back! Thanks!

Donald 4/18/11, 7:38 PM  

Anon: the back panel of the XCT is padded, and feels very similar (but perhaps a little lighter) against the back as the XC.

Anonymous,  4/22/11, 3:34 AM  

Donald, thanks for the reply. I already got the Octane XCT and used it while running this morning. Takes a little trial and error to find that sweet spot where it feels balanced. I found out that it feels right sitting low on your back, just like you did. Great pack and didn't regret buying it. I also didn't feel as hot as my previous hydration pack...Thanks for the review, my decision to purchase was based on your review!

Austin Hollenbeck 6/13/11, 12:11 PM  

Donald, thank you for the in-depth review. Have you had a chance to try Camelbak Octane LR? I can't seem to decide between XCT and LR and would appreciate any insight you may have. Thank you.

Donald 6/13/11, 8:39 PM  

Austin: Not yet, but perhaps later this summer ...

Donald 6/15/11, 8:42 PM  

Austin: an update from my CamelBak rep:

"The Octane LR wraps the water weight around your hips, leaving your shoulders and back more free to move, with the water weight lower than the XCT. It is all personal preference on which pack would better suit you, depends on if you like to carry weight on your hips or shoulders."

P.S. I'm getting one to review this summer.

johng,  6/24/11, 2:11 AM  

Great review! How would you rate the xct against the Nathan race vests, like the endurance or hcl? Thanks!

Donald 6/26/11, 5:34 PM  

johng: the Nathan packs have a totally different fit, very loose and light like a vest. It's basically a personal preference thing as to what kind people prefer.

Anonymous,  7/7/11, 11:09 PM  

are you planning on doing a review on the Camelbak LR 2011?? i can't decided whether to get this one or the LR

Donald 7/8/11, 7:55 PM  

Anon: Yes, later this month.

Ron,  7/30/11, 5:58 PM  

How difficult would it be to store an extra hydration bottle with an energy drink in it in the pack? And, other than having to unstrap to reach, how difficult would it be to retrieve?

Donald 8/1/11, 9:12 PM  

Ron: it would be pretty easy to stash an extra bottle in the pack. No problem.

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