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The Altura Chinook features some good ideas, but the size and shape will limit its appeal for taller riders.
Altura says the Chinook is a re-worked version of a popular model dating from the end of the last century. I had a little look around the internet for references to this apparently iconic thing, but only turned up the present model... whatever, it has retro appeal, with the tough polyester fabric's muted charcoal colour resembling old-school waxed canvas. It's clearly designed to blend in with Altura's Dryline Panniers, a pair of which I have also been testing.
While the looks are retro, fabric performance is up to date. The polyester (which includes recycled plastics) is treated with a water-repellent finish and does a decent job of making water bead off, though unfortunately the padding on the back and straps soaks it up like a sponge. In wet weather everything inside did stay dry... until the pack was placed on the ground, when water soaked through the base and into the clothing in the bottom of the bag. That's when I twigged the liner itself is not a waterproof membrane… In fairness, Altura doesn't claim it to be, but it looks the same as that used to form the dry-bag in the Dryline panniers.
As with most rucksacks, in persistent rain you'll want to store any vulnerable kit in some kind of waterproof liner, or put a cover on it.
The lid pocket is also lined, though the lining seams are not taped; the zip lives under a substantial storm flap, though, and the whole arrangement keeps rain out of here as well as protecting the zip to the main part of the rucksack. There's a key clip in here, too.
The zip to the main storage opens good and wide – about a third of the way down the bag on either side – so access is excellent. The rectangular shape means there's lots of room all the way to the bottom. There are four organiser pockets made from the lining fabric and solidly stitched in to the seams where the front and back panels join.
Behind this is the water bladder compartment, which is the same size as the back of the rucksack itself and has a huge zip that extends almost to the bottom on one side. Getting a wobbly bladder of water in is, therefore, simplicity itself, and there's a Velcro loop at the top to keep it in shape. The hose exits through a hole at the top with its own little rain cover, and can be guided through one of the elastic loops on either shoulder strap.
I suppose you could use this compartment to stash a MacBook Air or similar, instead of a drinks bladder. There are stretchy mesh pockets on either side, too; perfect for a full-sized water bottle and very secure if you don't like drinking through a hosepipe.
The bag's already capacious volume is expanded further by the external helmet carrier, which really is big enough to swallow a helmet whole (though perhaps not a full-face one, if that's your scene). This has expanding panels stitched into the sides and, unlike some, there's no danger of anything falling out of the side or bottom, so you can use it with confidence for jackets or other extra layers.
Oddly, though, the strap for the lid closure hook is tethered inside this pouch, and the length adjustment also has to be done from the inside. It looks tidier but isn't the most practical idea. At least the loop for a light with a belt clip mount is both practical and tidy.
The lid fastener is a metal hook that goes through a rubberised loop on the lid. Once in place it stayed done up, though it looked like it might not. The compression straps that cinch in the helmet carrier use a similar system. Yes, it adds to the old-time look, but a tried-and-tested clip buckle is surely more secure.
The chest straps are fairly primitive, consisting of a simple length of webbing. The position can be altered up or down by unhooking the strap at each end and reinserting the plastic grippers through a different loop in the webbing sewn down each shoulder strap. It works okay, but the strap itself is very short.
I'm only 40in at the chest and I was quite near the limit of adjustment. The waist strap is similarly ungenerous – I've a mere 32in waist and had no more than two inches either side to play with. Again, the waist straps are very basic, though they can be removed.
In keeping with the shortness of the chest and waist straps, the back length is pretty restricted: 41cm from the top of the shoulder strap to the bottom of the back, compared to 46cm on my regular cycling rucksack. As a result, the waist strap sits high up against my ribcage, and whilst there's plenty of adjustment to lengthen the shoulder straps, the main effect was to cause the top of the pack to hang away from my shoulders, rather than allowing the bag to sit lower on my hips.
Finding a rucksack that fits your back well is trial and error and worth getting right, and as I'm 6ft 3in this was never going to be right for me. So I contracted out the field testing to my wife who, at 5ft 4in, found this much more in her range. She enjoyed using it, finding it stable and secure and well able to carry everything she needed to carry. She did report, though, that the top sat high and riding in more crouched positions meant the carry strap was apt to prod against the back of her helmet.
If you like the old-school look and need a similar capacity, Altura's own Heritage 12L backpack is cheaper, if less feature-packed than this one, at £50. Lara liked it, though not so much the odd chest strap arrangement it shares with the Chinook.
My last two rucksack purchases have been Ospreys – they fit me and are very well thought out. Jim tested the Escapist 18 in 2020 (you can read his review on off.road.cc here), when it cost £85 – now, though, it's gone up to £110 (you do get 6L more space, though).
Overall, there are some good ideas going on here, but also one or two rather odd design choices. The Chinook is practical and keeps the worst of the rain out, and I feel sure will give years of good service, but the short back and straps mean it really won't suit bigger riders. I wouldn't buy one, but my wife would; it's a score draw.
With some improvement to the straps, this could be excellent, though it's not great for tall riders
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Altura Chinook Backpack
Size tested: 12L
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Altura says; "THE RETURN OF A CLASSIC ALTURA BACKPACK, REDESIGNED AND MODERNISED IN A GREAT ALL ROUND BAG
"Having first been introduced in 1997, the Altura Chinook Cycling Backpack returns after 25 years as a redesigned and re-imagined adventure backpack brought up to date with modern fabrics and technologies. The bag uses 100% Polyester with recycled content and a water resistant finish to keep the rain out and your belongings dry. There is a secure helmet carrier and a separate bladder sleeve for when you need to stay hydrated as well as plenty of storage including bottle sleeves for those long days out. Side compression straps ensure a comfortable fit while adjustable / removable waist and chest straps allow you to adapt this bag to your own adventure."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
- 100% Polyester with recycled content
- Water-resistant finish
- Secure helmet carrier
- Separate bladder sleeve
- Zipped lid pocket with key clip
- Side bottle pockets / stash pockets
- Adjustable / removable chest strap
- Adjustable, removable waist strap and side compression straps
- Light loop
Very good throughout, bar the rather basic straps.
It's comfortable and stable on the bike and carries a decent amount of kit for a small pack.
It's a tough piece of gear in scuff-resistant polyester.
750g in its underwear is a fair heft, but it is robustly put together with adventure in mind.
The only hitch is the high top touching the underside of bike helmets. Otherwise this a comfortable rucksack with good shoulder padding.
It's middling compared with others, but the general build quality bumps the value up as it's not going to wear out quickly. Also, it's good for activities other than cycling.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
My contract tester found this very stable and comfortable. She liked the wide openings to the main compartment and the water-reservoir compartment, the big side pockets, and the helmet carrier (useful not just for helmets). Wet weather performance is okay and better than many, but persistent rain can get through and putting it on wet ground sucked up the water.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Good size and shape inside, useful organiser pockets, very good external storage and stashes. Big zip openings. Good shoulder strap padding. Looks good; stable in use.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Curiously short back length, and the very basic chest and waist straps that didn't fit me well at all. I'd replace the hook closures with clips.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Altura's own Heritage 12L backpack offers similarly retro looks with reduced features at £50, while Osprey's Escapist 18 is more conventional but £110.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No, but my wife wants one.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Chinook is a good pack in many ways, if it fits you. Altura needs to look at strap lengths and how the bag sits on the shoulders and back, but if it feels good to you, you will like it. It's more water resistant than many, but it's not waterproof. Out on the tracks and trails it does a good job without any fuss.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale CAAD10 My best bike is: Tomassini Prestige
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,