Gear Closet: Osprey Zealot 16

Backpacks are a lot like tools. You definitely want the right one for job at hand. It use to be that you would simply buy a pack or two in the sizes that you needed and then you’d make them work for what ever outdoor pursuits that interested you. The same daypack could be used for hiking, mountain biking, skiing or what ever other activities that you needed it for. Now however you can buy a pack specifically designed for the sport you need it for, and like having the the right tool for the job, it can make all the difference. 

Take for example the new Zealot 16 from Osprey, a pack designed from the ground up for mountain bikers. With its ample storage, well padded shoulder straps and belt, integrated AirScape suspension and built-in media pocket it has just about everything a rider could ask for when hitting the trail. Throw in a 3-liter hydration bladder and a Lidlock helmet attachment, and you have a pack that can match just about anything else on the market in terms of features. But we all know a checklist of features is only useful when comparing packs at the gear shop.
Fortunately the Zealot performs well in the real world and puts all of those great features to good use. For instance, all of that storage is perfect for carrying your gear, particularly if you’re a downhill rider who carries plenty of armor with you on your rides. The main compartment is practically cavernous, and zippers that run the length of either side of the bag make it easy to gain access to everything inside. Smaller pockets help to keep your gear well organized as well, including one in the bottom that features an integrated pouch for storing tools. Small, yet still useful,  pockets on the hipbelt and shoulder straps round out the package.
As a big fan of Osprey packs, I had high expectations of the Zealot before I ever put it to the test on the trail. I was impressed with the heavy, durable materials from which this pack is made, and while they do add a bit of weight (the pack is 2 pounds/.92kg) it feels like it can stand up to just about anything. That same high quality construction is applied to the belts and straps as well, which when secured properly, lock into place and keep the pack from moving around too much. 
All of that just meant that the Zealot easily passed the eye test, but I had yet to try it out in the field. It only took one ride to discover that it is the perfect trail companion however, particularly if you’re going on a longer ride. It’s large hydration reservoir is perfect for those hot days and the AirScape suspension does an admirable job of keeping air flowing between your body and the pack itself. These suspension systems continue to improve and I’m impressed with how well they work, particularly on these smaller packs.  I was also impressed with how comfortable the pack is to wear, easily carrying a large load without impeding movement.
The Zealot is easily the best dedicated mountain biking pack that I have ever used and I consider it a real steal for $149. It is clear that the designers are riders them selves as the bag has plenty of nice touches that you’ll appreciate the more you use it. If you’re in the market for a new backpack for your spring and summer rides, do yourself a favor and grab this pack. You’ll be glad you did and you can thank me later. 
Kraig Becker