Over the past few months, BikeRadar have been testing the Race EXP Air from German backpack experts, Deuter. With expandable storage, lightweight construction and a heavily ventilated design, the Race EXP Air is a very good backpack, but not perfect.
What makes this pack special is the ventilation that greets all contact points of the body. Deuter make use of an internal frame and a trampoline-like backing that keeps the pack's contents off your back. Add the ventilated shoulder and waist straps, and this pack never felt like it was retaining body heat.
The waist strap starts wide to provide great stability on the hips. This, combined with the pack's conforming mesh backing, helps the Race EXP Air remain as stable on rough and technical terrain as it does on sprints between traffic lights.
The ‘EXP’ in the name stands for Expandable and this is achieved with a zipper that provides an additional three litres of storage over the standard 12L capacity. If that’s still not enough, there’s a stash-away mesh helmet holder that attaches to the outside of the pack.
The Deuter Race EXP Air pack
That said, the internal frame construction limits the effective storage space. Because of the curved nature of the frame, carrying a laptop will prove difficult. On the other hand, the frame ensures that whatever you put in the bag, the feeling of the pack against your back will remain consistent. Even when we deliberately overloaded the pack, it was still comfortable to wear, something we can’t say for other brands. Doing this with other packs would result in things poking into our spine.
Sadly, what you carry can have a huge impact on how the pack behaves. With the rigid internal frame and no ability to compress the internal space, we found certain items would bounce around inside the pack if it wasn't full. For example, when we carried a camera and nothing else, we could feel the camera move with every standing pedal stroke. Putting a jacket in with the camera fixed this issue, and the pack then felt completely stable again.
There’s plenty of space for carrying water, with side bottle pockets and an internal sleeve for a hydration bladder. The Race EXP Air doesn’t come with a bladder; Deuter sell these separately so you can pick the required capacity. With hose loops on each shoulder strap and a velcro hang tab in the pack, any quality hydration bladder should fit.
The front pocket of the Deuter Race EXP Air features a small divider
In an effort to keep the pack's weight down to a respectable 940g (870g claimed), there is less internal organisation than in other packs. The front pocket has a small divider for essential items, but the main compartment has none. This didn’t bother us much, but if you like to carry lots of small items, you may find this a nuisance.
The Race EXP Air is built with rip-stop material, which we found to be durable and tough. After a couple months of overloading it, it looks good enough to put back on the shop shelf. This material repels light rain, but there's a fluoro rain cover included for heavier downpours, which is stored in a separate pocket at the base of the pack.
Our ‘spring-anthracite’ colour was certainly eye-catching, and the pack's offered in two subtler colours too. If you want a commuting pack to carry a laptop in, this isn’t it. But for carrying a change of clothes, hitting the trails for the day or even a marathon race through unknown conditions, the Race EXP Air is a solid choice that will last for years.