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!
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 popular 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
Dakine Hot Laps 5L Hip Pack
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
- Available at Amazon and other retailers
CamelBak Repack LR 4
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
- Available at Backcountry and other retailers
EVOC Hip Pack Race 3L
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)
- Available at EVOC
Weevil Burrosak Trail
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
- Available from Weevil
North St. Bags Pioneer 9
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.
- Colors: approximately 16
- Weight: 284g
- Available at North St Bags
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.
Hip pack storage organization
It should be noted that all five bags offer different storage capacities. Depending on the amount of gear a rider carries, some of these packs will be a better fit than others. I used the same gear in each bag and would venture to guess that most riders wouldn’t carry much more or less on a two- to three-hour ride.
The Hip Pack Race, Repack, and Hot Laps are very similar in that their main compartments are devoid of any internal organization. The Evoc and CamelBak packs do have a divider for the reservoir, but it’s debatable how practical this feature is. My vote is that it is not very practical.
The Evoc Hip Pack Race has a two-sided, tethered zipper flap allowing everything to be visible and easily accessible. I prefer mesh over solid pockets so I can see where everything is stashed. The Hip Pack Race also has a pocket on each end of the hip belt for maximum storage and accessibility for a total of six pockets.
Like EVOC, the CamelBak Repack tool pocket also unzips from two sides, but in a horizontal fashion. Inside are two deep, open pockets, each with a zippered mesh pocket on the flap. Both sides of the hip belt have pockets — one of which has a false closure for on-the-fly access — and daisy-chained webbing for attaching gear outside the pack.
The Dakine Hot Laps’ tool pocket is a traditional top loader with four internal pockets of various sizes and closures. The longer pocket has a felt lining for a phone. Although it doesn’t splay open like the Camelbak and Evoc packs, the tool pocket is deeper and taller which makes it just as easy to access.
Only one side of the hip belt has a pocket with an overlapping closure just big enough for a small multi-tool. A daisy chain adorns the back of the Hot Laps if you need to clip on some extra gear, and a pair of nylon straps located beneath can be used to secure a jacket or hang knee guards during the climbs.
The North St. Pioneer 9 has a large main compartment and smaller outer pocket. Inside the main is a zippered pocket running the entire width of the bag with two smaller pockets inside. Opposite the inner pocket is a row of Velcro that attaches an internal pocket organizer which is sold separately.
The smaller exterior compartment is a simple pocket with no additional interior organization. At 2.65 liters of capacity, the Pioneer 9 is one of the smallest bags on the list, yet easily swallowed everything I needed to carry, except water of course. The durable sailcloth construction allows the Pioneer to maintain its boxy shape, making it easy to see and get to everything quickly.
Despite looking like a smaller bag, I was stunned by how much gear the Weevil Burrosack was able to hold. It easily carried all the gear I used in the other packs and the lateral pocket placement proved useful for accessing items on the go. Although the pack has some inner organization, the Burrosack still lacks the number of pockets that the other bags have which, for me, is a bit of a deal-breaker.
Winner: Dakine Hot Laps
While the fully expandable tool pocket featured on the Evoc and CamelBak packs is cool for sure, it actually doesn’t end up being any more practical than the top-loading pocket on the Hot Laps. I would argue the one zippered tool compartment design on the Dakine is better because there’s only one point at which dirt and water can infiltrate the bag instead of two. And even though you’re down one hip belt pocket on the Hot Laps, I’m willing to trade that for a row of daisy chain and a set of cargo straps.
Next up: fit and feel.
Hip packs: Fit & feel
The EVOC Hip Pack Race has a set of large foam inserts which create an open air channel between the pack and your back. This gives the Hip Pack Race a very robust and solid feel. While the added stiffness from the foam felt surprisingly comfortable against my back, it did create stress points at the zipper and seams on the main compartment, especially when carrying heavier loads. The Hip Pack Race has compression straps on each side, and the hip belt adjusts on both sides of the buckle to fine tune the fit.
Of the three true hydration packs tested, the CamelBak Repack has the most compact feel. The Dakine Hot Laps and EVOC Hip Pack Race spread the load along the lumbar region more horizontally while the Repack concentrates weight medially. Because the hip belt originates on the posterior portion of the main compartment, it effectively snugs the back into the lumbar region where it might sag without the cleverly positioned belt attachment. Bilateral compression straps cinch the load as water depletes, and both sides of the buckle are adjustable.
At five liters, the Dakine Hot Laps offers the largest capacity, and spreads the load high and wide. Despite the largest contact area of the packs tested, the Hot Laps performed the disappearing act the best. The minimal padding on the lumbar straps might result in more sweat in hot weather but also cuts down on weight and bulk so the carry felt even and well distributed. The Hot Laps has compression straps on both sides and the hip belt adjusts on one side of the buckle, resulting in a quicker on/off action.
Devoid of all the bells and whistles of its contenders, the Pioneer from North St. Bags feels the lightest. As long as you have alternate means of carrying water, the Pioneer would be the lightest and least bulky option on this list. That said, unless the bag is full, gear tends to rattle around because there are no compression straps and the pack maintains its rigid, boxy structure.
While the Weevil promises better comfort from the larger straps (1.5″ vs 2″), I found the large buckle more cumbersome in comparison. Additionally, the straps — whether too wide or poor in quality — were difficult to adjust and wouldn’t stay cinched.
Since the hip pack throwdown threw down during the cool, wet spring in the Pacific Northwest, I am unable to fully comment on how well each pack ventilates.
Winner: Dakine Hot Laps
The Hot Laps handled weight distribution the best. Surprisingly, I ended up preferring the one-sided belt adjustment on the Dakine more than those with bilateral adjustments. Fewer buckles means less weight and bulk, and it was just easier to fuss with one side rather than two.
Read on to find out how well the hydration systems work for these hip packs.
Hip pack hydration systems
Since only three of the five bags tested include a hydration bladder, and two of the bladders are from the same company, I’m really just comparing CamelBak’s CRUX bladder with the Hydrapak. The slider seal on the Hydrapak offers a more reliable seal by nature of its design, but as long as the CRUX cap is screwed on correctly, the Repack system is every bit as leakproof. Either way, it’s always a good idea to perform a leak test with any bladder.
The CRUX wouldn’t have been as easy to fill as the Hydrapak’s top-loader style were it not for the added ergonomic handle. Evoc and Camelbak use a 1.5-liter reservoir which I found more than adequate for the types of rides where a hip pack makes sense. That said, there’s no harm in under-filling the larger Dakine Hydrapak (2L) to the desired volume.
Where the hydration delivery story gets a little more interesting is in the tube orientation, its attachment, and variations on each bite valve.
On the EVOC Hip Pack Race, the hose exits the right side, runs stealthily through the hip belt, and attaches magnetically with length-adjusting clips. The bite valve features a twist on/off locking mechanism. Due to the proximity of the magnetic clip to the left hip belt pocket, the Hip Pack Race was prone to sporadic unhinging — not good when getting down and dirty through a turn. What sets the EVOC pack apart in terms of hydration is the inclusion of a water bottle holster for those who choose to purchase the Hip Pack Race without the reservoir.
The CamelBak Repack LR hydration tubing can be routed along either the left or the right side of the pack. The hose runs stealthily through the hip belt and attaches magnetically with length-adjusting clips. The Magnetic Tube Trap™ has an additional locking feature.
The Dakine Hot Laps tube exits the right side of the bag, runs outside the hip belt, and attaches magnetically with length-adjusting clips. While the bite valve is self sealing, there is no external locking mechanism to prevent dribble during transport. Like the Repack, the magnetic locker on the Hot Laps also features an additional lock device to ensure hose stability while riding.
The Weevil Burrowsak hauls a water bottle up to 24 oz. in a holster that sits midline on the back. Two shock cords and a cinch strap secure the bottle. Access to the bottle can be done on-the-fly, but putting the bottle back cannot .While the placement of the water bottle holder in the center serves to help balance the load, the tradeoff is the bottle is more difficult to access than if it were placed closer to one side or the other.
The North St. pack is not designed to carry a hydration bladder or a water bottle.
Winner: CamelBak Repack LR
Aberrant hose unhinging from a sternal strap is one thing, but when it happens at the waist, the hose ends up dangling between the rider’s feet, which is just asking for trouble. Since the CamelBak Repack offers hose routing from either side, good placement underneath the hip belt pocket, and the most secure bite valve attachment, the Repack would be my choice based on hydration delivery alone.
Read on for a final summary of the pros and cons of these mountain bike hip packs.
And the winner is…
Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no clear cut winner. Rather, there are pros and cons for each pack with enough variation between these five bags to put any one of them at the top of someone’s list. In summary, here’s some of the good, the bad, and the ugly for each bag reviewed.
The Camelbak Repack has the best hydration system. The bladder’s ergonomic handle makes it easiest to fill, the bladder is robust, the hose is huge (more liquid per suck), the bite valve locks, and the hose will never come unhinged. For peace of mind, I’d rather see some sort of closure on at least one of the internal pockets. The Repack feels like most of the weight is concentrated at midline, but works since the hip belt originates where the weight would sag otherwise.
Dakine Hot Laps
For me personally, the Dakine Hot Laps is the best fit. It has the largest overall capacity, feels the best when loaded, and between the daisy chain and load straps, will accommodate extra gear with ease. I also prefer the simplicity of the one-sided belt adjustment. The one hip belt pocket it has is very small and the bite valve does not lock. The 2L hydration bladder is more than adequate for hip-pack-length rides.
EVOC Hip Pack Race
The Evoc Hip Pack Race will likely ventilate the best, it has a locking bite valve that’s more streamlined than the CamelBak, and has great internal tool pocket features. The reason it ventilates well is also the reason it packs awkwardly, creating stress on the main zipper. Keep in mind, it has an overall capacity of three liters. You can purchase the Hip Pack Race without the bladder to save $30, which could go toward a fancy water bottle to use with the built-in side holster. It’s also important to note that a big burrito will fit nicely without the hydration bladder.
North St. Bags Pioneer
The Pioneer is likely the most durable pack I tested. With additional straps purchased separately, this bag can be mounted to handlebars, worn across the chest, or around the waist. North St. offers the Pioneer in no less than 16 colors and it’s made in the U.S.A. If I carried agua on my frame, this would be my bag of choice. Just make sure to throw in a small hand towel to absorb the rattle of a less-than-full load.
If you loathe dismounting your hip pack every time you need something, the Burrosack is your bag. Lateral pocket placement makes for easy access, but securing a water bottle will require a stop. The buckle is quite large and the belt straps aren’t as dependable as the other bags reviewed.
It took over 30 years for the fanny pack to gain traction again.
If I live another 30 years, the new fanny packs will be marginally different like these I ‘spect.
Man, I bought the Osprey Savu thinking I’d go absolutely minimal & with the best bottle holder. Now from riding I know whawhat is the perfect bag. Dakine Hot Lap interior w/ a single Osprey bottle holder & Camelbak bladder with Dakine straps for my knee pads