Most of us born before 1985 never thought we’d see the day when the fanny back would rear its ugly head again. Sure, the fanny pack hasn’t quite regained social acceptability, but outdoor gear companies have somehow managed to design today’s packs to be compatible with Boost spacing, carbon wheels, and 825mm-wide riser bars. Lest riders fear their reputation is on the line, don’t worry: It’s not a fanny pack, it’s a hip pack, brah!
Why a Hip Pack?
Why not!? Besides offering a fashionable look, there are actually some very practical benefits to the hip pack versus a backpack on the mountain bike trail.
- Moving weight down the back lowers the rider’s center of gravity, which may enhance bike handling.
- Hip packs are smaller so riders are forced to carry less, and sometimes less is more.
- A smaller pack and less stuff means less weight and less sweat.
- A hip pack makes gear access easier, which can eliminate the need to remove the pack to grab a tool or snack.
- If you look good, you ride good, amirite?
On the flip side, a hip pack may not be appropriate for every ride, everywhere. It’s fun to see how little gear we can get away with until it’s not. Generally speaking, I feel comfortable carrying the amount of gear and water most hip packs are capable of when:
- The ride lasts fewer than three hours.
- It’s not winter.
- I can hike to my car within a reasonable amount of time.
- It’s not so blistering hot and humid that I’ll need more than two liters of water.
In other words, hip packs are a good choice for relatively short rides on familiar trails, and in mild conditions.
Hip Packs Tested
We got a hold of packs from three major brands — Dakine, Camelbak, and Evoc — that offer what most of us expect a cycling-specific hip pack to offer: a hydration reservoir, some pockets, and a burly hip belt. For good measure, we also threw in a couple odd balls from Weevil Outdoor Supply Co. and North St. Bags for riders who are after something a little different. A more detailed feature comparison will follow a brief description of each bag reviewed.
- Dakine Hot Laps 5L
- CamelBack Repack LR 4
- Evoc Hip Pack Race 3L
- Weevil Burrosak Trail
- North St. Bags Pioneer 9
The Hot Laps from Dakine has an overall carrying capacity of five liters, and includes a two-liter Hydrapack bladder housed in the main compartment. The reservoir hose wraps around the waist with a length-adjusting magnetic lock.
While there is no interior organization in the main compartment, the tool compartment has four pockets in various sizes and closures. Carrying capacity extends beyond the two main chambers with a very small stash compartment on the hip belt, daisy chain webbing in the rear, and two outer straps. The waist strap features a 1.5-inch buckle and is adjustable on one side, while bilateral compression straps can be used to cinch the load down as necessary.
- Colors: blue, stella, black, camo
- Weight: 435g
- MSRP: $70
The CamelBak Repack LR can carry a total of four liters, 1.5 of which is filled with the burly hydration bladder. The wrap-around hose has a magnetic tube trap, locking bite valve, a length-adjusting clip, and can be routed out of either side of the bag.
The main compartment features a divider to stabilize the bladder, and the tool chamber opens to reveal two open pockets with a zippered mesh pocket on the flap. The 1.5-inch belt adjusts on both sides and runs freely through the hip stabilizers. This design eliminates the need for additional compression straps. Both sides of the hip belt include a pocket and a row of daisy chain.
- Colors: black, olive
- Weight: 508g
- MSRP: $80
The Hip Pack Race from Evoc sports a 3 liter carrying capacity with a 1.5 liter Hydrapak reservoir stabilized within a pocket in the main compartment. The wrap-around hose features a magnetic attachment, locking bite valve, and length adjustment. The tool compartment has three open mesh pockets and a large pocket that splays open with a single draw of two zippers linked by a nylon handle.
Each side of the hip belt features a stash pocket. Because the Hip Pack Race can be purchased without a bladder, it comes equipped with a holster for a traditional water bottle. A set of robust foam pads lifts the Hip Pack Race off the back, providing a large conduit for ventilation. A 1.5-inch buckle and strap adjusts from both sides and compression straps help snug the load.
- Colors: black, red, olive
- Weight: 527g
- MSRP: $95 ($65 w/o bladder)
The Burrosak Trail Hip Pack from Weevil Outdoor Supply Company (W.O.S.C) features a traditional bottle holster centered on the back with two large compartments hugging the hips to the side. The oversized buckle and two-inch nylon belt are the largest on the the list and adjust the load bilaterally. Each compartment features an inner divider — one zipped with a key holder and the other, an open pocket. Padding is minimal and a full mesh lining aides in ventilation. The rear holster has two shock cords to cinch up to a 24 oz. water bottle and includes an additional load-bearing buckle and strap.
- Colors: black
- Weight: 277g
- MSRP: $78
The Pioneer 9 from North St. Bags is a custom, made-in-the-USA bag that looks like nothing else on the trail. Constructed with waterproof sailcloth and oversized waterproof zippers, the Pioneer is easily the most durable bag on this list. While the Pioneer is not a cycling-specific bag, it works on many levels for mountain biking, while crossing over to many more of life’s tasks and travels. $58 gets you in the door with just the 2.65L bag itself with the option to add a belt ($13), bicycle handlebar straps ($13), or an internal pocket organizer ($19).
- Colors: approximately 16
- Weight: 284g
- MSRP: $58-$103
Hip packs: The throwdown
The experienced biker-scholar knows these types of comparison tests aren’t exactly science, but there are a few things I kept consistent in order to level the playing field. I packed each bag with the exact same items and filled the hydration bladders to maximum capacity. Let the throwdown begin, starting with storage organization.