The Altura Vortex Waterproof Framepack is exceptionally light, simple to mount, easy to access, and, as the name suggests, fully waterproof. It's a good price too, although it does have some limitations. It's designed to sit within your bike's main frame and increase storage space for touring and bikepacking expeditions, but whether you can still access your rear bottle cage will depend on the bike's frame size and geometry.
With the growing popularity of adventure biking, or 'bikepacking', it's no surprise that demand for frame-mounted baggage is increasing. There aren't many manufacturers offering such kit, and there is a sense that it is still being perfected in terms of design. Apidura seems to be setting the standard, and now we have Altura's Vortex Waterproof Range – a top tube bag, a front roll, and this framepack.
The pack comes with five Velcro-type straps to attach it to the frame's tubing – two around the top tube, one around the head tube, and two on the down tube. There is a choice of positions for the straps, but no extra straps provided – something that would give the pack more support on the bike. The pack's lack of rigidity or form meant that, unless it was packed to capacity, the rear strap had a tendency to slip forward, causing sagging in the middle. Moving the strap forward to another position didn't really help as it left the rear section of the bag free to float about a little.
The straps were also excessively long for standard frame tubing; you were left with ends flapping and nowhere to tuck them. On fatter tubing this wouldn't be so much of an issue. It made me think the design had possibly been a little rushed, with not enough thought given to some simple adaptations that could have resulted in a much better product.
The pack comes in one size and Altura says that when mounted it 'allows access to a rear bottle cage'. This isn't strictly true – it depends heavily on frame size and geometry. I fitted it to a road frame with a traditional horizontal 54cm (centre-to-centre) top tube, and a bottle – seat tube or down tube – was a no go. The pack actually came against both cages, as the photos here demonstrate.
However, I was much more impressed with the pack's fit on my old Raleigh M-Trax mountain bike, which has a 55cm (centre-to-centre) inclined top tube. The bag's rear edge was tilted away from the rear cage thanks to the top tube's slope. It was a perfect fit and I could at least get to the rear bottle cage without any problems. I removed the cage on the down tube for the pack to fit perfectly. I did try it on a larger road frame (56cm centre-to-centre horizontal top tube) but the rear cage was still obstructed.
In short, the pack needs a sloping top tube and you need to resign yourself to one bottle or finding another way to carry one. This is something that doesn't really sit comfortably with me, knowing that on many of my touring expeditions I need two bottles to get me through stints of riding and refuelling.
Packing does need to be done carefully – the price you pay for a lightweight piece of baggage. Because the pack is not stiff it is easy to stuff kit in it and create a bulge, which ends up brushing your knees. Rolling up kit to create a tight triangular bundle of it was necessary. There is an external pouch for stuff that you might want quick access to – wallet, phone, keys and so on.
Even when fully loaded, the pack didn't affect the bike's handling, and when filled to capacity on the mountain bike it sat snuggly in position, even on rough terrain.
Mounting and fit aside, the pack does have some big pluses. Firstly, it is 100 per cent waterproof. The zips have some excellent seals over them to prevent any water leaking in, then flaps over the top to add double protection. I'd always put any kit in a waterproof stuff sack prior to packing, but I never saw any sign of water getting in while I was testing. Altura gives it its IXP rating: 'protected against heavy seas and temporary flooding, not submersible' – brilliant! great to know for when I face heavy seas!
It is also exceptionally light at only 136g, but you can still pack a decent amount of stuff into it. Its 5 litre capacity almost matches the Apidura Mountain Framepack's 5.2 litres, while beating it by almost 100g in the weight stakes.
The pack is really easy to mount and remove, and although it lacks rigidity, it does mean it can be easily stuffed away into other baggage if need be.
Although, to my mind, the pack doesn't look the sturdiest or most expensive piece of kit out there, it certainly works well on the right bike. Its geometry and the supplied strapping are far from perfect – it's no match for the Apidura Mountain Frame Pack, and Alpkit presents stiff competition with its custom made frame packs for only 25 quid more than the Vortex. However, if you are happy to sacrifice a bottle, want some budget baggage for commuting and/or shorter bike packing expeditions, then this is a viable option. Just be sure to try before you buy to ensure that it fits as you would want it to.