We probably could have come up with a more crowd-pleasing review than a mountain-bike-specific chainsaw pack. But life’s not all about clicks. For example, if pleasing the masses were all Dakine was worried about, they wouldn’t have recently updated and expanded their niche series of Builder Packs. And Travis Engel wouldn’t have found the Builder Pack 25L, his new favorite way to carry a chainsaw. Now, he just needs someone to carry everything else.
It seems like every method for bringing a trail tool on a ride involves some sort of a hack. Maybe it’s tucking a pair of loppers into your pack’s helmet caddy, or voile-strapping a McLeod to your top tube, or building a shovel rack for the BOB trailer you found on Ebay. That’s why packs like the Dakine Builder and Evoc Trail Builder are so special. They were made for riding a bike while carrying a tool. Specifically, a chainsaw. These original work/ride crossover packs took a durable, high-capacity hydration pack, and stitched an easy-access saw holster to the outside. But that approach involved a (literally) heavy compromise. The weight of the saw is cantilevered on the outside of the pack, decreasing stability and multiplying the force on your shoulders. My trail crew has a couple previous-generation Dakine Builder Packs, but I just stuff my saw into an old, overbuilt North Face bag. It’s a pain in the ass, but at least it’s not a pain in the neck.
So, I was overjoyed when I saw that Dakine had added a fundamentally new saw pack to their lineup, the Builder Pack 25L. It’s best described as a “flatbed” pack, with a few small storage compartments surrounding a wide open landing strip. The classic Builder Pack 40L also got updated, but I know what I want. I’d been eyeing up a similar flatbed pack from firefighter brand, True North Gear, but it’s a bit unrefined. Much of its storage dangles at the hip like chalk bags. Plus, it’s $320. The Builder Pack 25L is light, sleek, and costs $220.
The 25L is built on a robust, comfortable, well-padded chassis. The shoulder straps are wide, as is the surface that sits on your back. It’s clearly meant to carry some weight. The flatbed is lined with durable plastic to handle abrasion and to blunt the force of protruding saw components. It’s also checkered with raised bits for some micro-suspension. Cradling the saw at the base is a shallow canvas “bowl” with a velcro-able trap door for the handle to poke through. I used three different sized saws, a Stihl 261, 462, and 500i with bar lengths from 18” to 25”, and they all were able to fit flush and snug. Strapping them down are two buckled panels that also make up the main pack’s only storage compartments, which are the perfect size for a full-sized fuel bottle in one side, and a smaller oil bottle and a kerf wedge in the other. For extra storage, the 25L has an interesting detachable bag. One of the saw strap-down buckles slides through webbing on the front to hold it in place. This seemed like it would be a bike-friendly way to add storage to the otherwise minimalist pack, but it proved to be awkward and unstable in practice.
Threading the buckle through the front-facing webbing isn’t easy, especially wearing leather work gloves. It’s a clumsy process to go through every time you reach a worksite that may only take 90 seconds to clear before packing up and moving on to the next one. Regardless, if you fill up that bag, there are no other connection points, and it flops out of place almost immediately. There are strips of webbing sewn to the rear of the detachable bag that could have slid over the saw bar to add stability, but they don’t leave enough room once the bar has a protective scabbard. And even if there were an easier way, that extra bag is still pretty small considering what you need on a saw mission.
I carry a saw tool kit (borrowed from an original Dakine Builder Pack) and a pretty robust first-aid kit. That fits in there just fine. But there’s also everything else I’d want for several hours in the woods. Food, water, clothing, and bike-related needs. The extra bag can expand, but not when there’s a saw in the main compartment. And my storage nitpicks don’t even stop there. I also need a hatchet to strip bark and pound in wedges, but there’s no external accommodation for one. Or for a hardhat or a radio. I do appreciate the gear straps at the base, perfect for a set of saw chaps. They just needed to apply that logic in a few other places. Also in need of some logic is the inward-facing surface of the main pack’s storage compartments. The plastic-tarp-like material is very thin. That would probably be fine if our saws didn’t have such aggressive dog spikes. I’ve already poked a few holes under some pretty normal use. It would have been nice to see a plastic panel here that’s similar to what supports the saw.
So, why the hell am I wasting valuable Radavist homepage pixels on a flawed product with a small audience? Well, because this is still my favorite way to carry a saw. Though not perfect, it’s clear a lot of thought went into this pack. I haven’t even touched on the fact that it doesn’t have to be just a saw pack. The satellite pack can take up nearly the entire middle section when expanded, so it can work as a semi-traditional pack. Or, you can carry a 5-gallon bucket. Or a cooler or a gas grill or anything else you could never fit inside a traditional pack. But for me, it’s all about how comfortable and easy it makes to carry and use a saw. I just need to do what every good sawyer does: Rely on my teammates.
I don’t go out on saw missions alone, so there will always be someone with me, and usually not far away. And because I’m carrying the saw, it’s not unfair for me to ask them to carry everything else. Anyway, I’m not reaching for the axe, fuel, tool kit, or (hopefully) first aid kit on every job. This allows me to put my personal essentials in the Dakine pack’s fuel-focused storage compartments, and maintain quick access to the saw. It takes just a matter of seconds to drop the pack and unbuckle and unsheath the saw. Before, I might pass some 4” deadfall that had slid closer to the tread since last season, and deem it not worth the trouble of tooling up. The convenience of the Dakine 25L pack actually makes me more effective, and less rushed.
But it also makes riding between jobs actually fun. I honestly can’t tell that the weight on my back is a saw. Even when running our relatively big Stihl 500i with a 25” bar, the weight is distributed evenly and stays stable. And it’s positioned well. The handle can get close enough to buzz my rear tire if I’m seated with my saddle down, but it was very rare. And the low positioning both kept the weight where I wanted, and minimized the bar’s extension over my head. In fact, when on our small Stihl 241 with an 18” bar, it wasn’t any taller than me if I was sitting upright. I’d never considered how far-reaching the benefits of a convenient, ergonomic saw pack could be. Not only does it make me more effective, but it makes me less fatigued. I’m not getting tired and hasty as the day goes on, which means I’m working safer. And although I wouldn’t mind just a little more capacity, I gotta say that sharing weight with my swamper is a big part of that benefit. So, I’ll just consider that approach to be another purpose-built feature, and not another hack.
- Versatile concept
- Keeps the weight close and stable
- Inexpensive for such a specialty product
- Extra storage compartment is necessary, but inconvenient
- Lacking some trailwork-specific features
See more at Dakine