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Best Waist Packs 2018 – [Buyer’s Guide]

Last Updated February 1, 2018
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Edwin GarrettHey friends! I’ve got something important to talk about today! I spent 44 hours researching and testing 22 different types of waist packs and found that material, variety of sizes, and style were most important.

Eventually, I found something that would suit my needs but it occurred to me that I wasn’t the only one who might be having the same problems I did. What I would like you to remember as you browse my website is that I don’t work in the industry so the reviews I have are based on good old fashioned honesty.

Best Waist Packs of 2018

Like choosing clothes or cosmetics, choosing waist packs should be based on your purpose, favorite style, and financial condition. We’ve narrowed down our options based on the customer feedback (read positive reviews), functionality, material and size. In other words, we’ve put all fundamentals into consideration to come up with a comprehensive list that suits various needs.

There’s a product for every kind of user on the list of affordable options below. Here are my top picks with detailed reviews, comparison charts and buying guides to help you purchase the perfect item for your needs.

Test Results and Ratings

Rank №1 №2 №3
Product
Total 4.8 4.5 4.3
Design
5 points
4 points
4 points
Versatility
4 points
4 points
4 points
Durability
5 points
5 points
4 points
Quality
5 points
5 points
5 points
Awards 1
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№1 – Osage River Tactical Waist / Fanny Pack. Osage River Hiking Waist / Fanny Pack for the trail

 
Osage River Tactical Waist / Fanny Pack. Osage River Hiking Waist / Fanny Pack for the trail

Pros
SMARTLY DESIGNED: Includes a total of five secure storage compartments. Includes one large main compartment with divider to separate your gear and one exterior zippered pocket for magazine, ammunition, and accessory storage
RUGGED WAIST / FANNY PACK: Constructed of 900D ballistic nylon with heavy duty zippers. Despite being lightweight and weighing in at only 0.65 Lbs, the durable nylon bag and heavy duty zippers keep your gear safe and secure.
Cons
Nothing, except that I wasted too much time making my choice.
 
Total:
4.8

Why did this waist packs win the first place?

The material is stylish, but it smells for the first couple of days. I am very happy with the purchase. It is definitely worth its money. The product is top-notch! I really enjoy the design. It is compact, comfortable and reliable. And it looks amazing! I don’t know anything about other models from this brand, but I am fully satisfied with this product.

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Design
5

5star

Versatility
4

4star

Durability
5

5star

Quality
5

5star

 

 

№2 – Dad Bag Funny Belly Waist Pack Men Beer Belly bag for Traveling Running Cycle Outdoor Sport Bags

 
Dad Bag Funny Belly Waist Pack Men Beer Belly bag for Traveling Running Cycle Outdoor Sport Bags

Pros
3D Funny Belly Waist Pack: Material: PU + Canvas. Almost 3D printing make it looks really and funny
Large capacity: Size: 40cm*16cm. Adjustable Belt with solid zipper Fit most thin person though has a big belly! And it can hold a lot of things and keep safe when you get fitness or running
Cons
Could be more durable.
Heavy in weight as compared to others in our lineup.
 
Total:
4.5

Why did this waist packs come in second place?

I like this product. For such a low price, I didn’t even hope it to be any better. It’s decently made. I really liked it. It is amazing in every aspect. It did even exceed my expectations for a bit, considering the affordable price. Seems that the material is good. It has a very beautiful color but I don’t really like the texture. The design quality is top notch and the color is nice.

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Design
4

4star

Versatility
4

4star

Durability
5

5star

Quality
5

5star

 

 

№3 – Waist Pack Bag FREETOO Unisex Fanny Pack Hip Bum Bag with Adjustable Band for Outdoors Workout Traveling Casual Running Hiking Cycling Black

 
Waist Pack Bag FREETOO Unisex Fanny Pack Hip Bum Bag with Adjustable Band for Outdoors Workout Traveling Casual Running Hiking Cycling Black

Pros
DURABLE MATERIAL LININGS: Polyester – Perform over a long period time, anything flimsy or cheap on the inside reflects the overall craftsmanship and expected lifespan of the product. Think long-term and remember that you’re probably going to be hard on it.
Cons
Need frequent maintenance.
Quit bulky.
 
Total:
4.3

Why did this waist packs take third place?

It is inconvenient to use due to the size. I am going to get something different next time. A very convenient model. It is affordable and made of high-quality materials. I liked the design. We’ve been using it for 2 months and it still looks like brand new. It doesn’t squeaks nor bents. Looks great in my apartment.

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Design
4

4star

Versatility
4

4star

Durability
4

4star

Quality
5

5star

 

 

Waist Packs Buyer’s Guide

If you keep the before points in mind, you can easily go out to the market and buy waist packs, right? No!

Hydration Running Vest vs Belt

All runners know the importance of staying hydrated while you run, especially in the summer heat. But what is the best way to achieve this goal? There are many options available, but two of the most popular options are hydration vests and belts.

A hydration vest is a vest that you wear much like you would an article of clothing. They are usually made of a type of canvas or mesh and they have a bladder that holds water. The bladder is usually located in the back and there is a piece of tubing that runs from the bladder to the front of the vest, allowing the runner to drink as they run. The tubing usually has a valve that the runner can bite down on to close the tube off to prevent leaks.

A belt is usually made of webbing or mesh and typically have some way of holding water bottles in place. Many styles provide water bottles- usually two- as part of the package. Some also have a small storage compartment on the belt for keys, change or other small items.

Both hydration methods will allow you to carry more water than simply holding a single water bottle in your hand. They also will allow you to have water in an easily accessible location while allowing your hands to be free. Typically both systems are adjustable to accommodate a wide range of body sizes, though some people may have difficulty finding a device that fits properly.

Belts have the advantage of being smaller and lighter than vests. They are also less expensive to purchase, so they might be a more practical choice for someone new to running, especially if they are unsure if they will stick with it. However, they are limited in the amount of water they can carry. Most are not designed to hold more water bottles than the number they provide. This could mean needing to stop and refill the bottles if running long distances, or in extremely hot conditions. Furthermore, they can be clumsy to use; a runner might have to stop to get a bottle from its holster and open it to drink then replace it when finished. For some runners, this might be a disadvantage.

Whatever system you are interested in, do some research to find what works for you.

Hopefully, this guide navigates you towards a running hydration pack that aids your expedition(s). It is best to buy one that meets most of your demands while being within your budget. Happy trails!

Multiple Storage Locations

Lateral compression straps help with volume control and let the pack keep its shape while still providing plenty of space. The MOLLE straps all around also mean you can attach a lot of other gear to the outside of the pack, so you can take what you need with you all the time. There are loops and D-rings on the straps for additional storage, as well, making this pack an excellent choice even if you have a lot of gear you want to be able to access quickly.

Great for Comm Guys

An important thing to consider when buying an assault back is whether or not you will be responsible for carrying a radio. This is especially important for Radio Operators. From my own experience, most assault packs aren’t optimized for carrying comm gear. Especially the Harris PRC 119, Foxtrots and other Satellite radios.

If you’re primary MOS or job is a radio operator then this assault pack is a no brainer. After much testing and research we came across the Kelty Tactical Raven 2500 Backpack. This assault pack was designed for Comm guys that go on missions and spend a lot of time in the field.

One of the great features of this pack is the removable radio holder, which comes with the pack. It allows you to easily insert and secure your comm gear inside your pack. One major problem I faced in the past is my radio would bounce around while on missions. With the Kelty Tactical Raven 2500, you won’t have this issue. Also when you purchase this pack you get extra pouches to carry batteries.

There is also a clear KDU window on the top of the pack. This is great for when you need to change your frequency and access all the radio’s controls.

Removable Radio Holder

It’s important to note that if you are using a slimmer radio like the PRC-117G then you will need to take extra precautions to ensure your radio stays snug in the removable radio holder. One solution is to zip tie the metal bars of the radio into the internal frame.

Another great feature of this pack is that it has a single vertical compression strap that can accommodate pretty much any antenna you plan on using with your radio.

This pack also has MOLLE webbing on the front and sides. This is great if you need to attach extra pouches to carry batteries, CYZ-10, or other important gear needed for your mission.

If you’re a Comm guy who needs a tactical pack look no further. The Kelty Tactical Raven 2500 Backpack is the best solution you will ever find. While it’s a little more expensive than traditional assault packs it’s well worth the price. You and your back can thank me later.

Important Note: If you know for a fact that you won’t have to carry one of these radios or any comm gear at all then you won’t need this pack. If you know your unit or squad will be issued AN/PRC 148’s or AN/PRC 152’s then you also won’t need this setup.

I hope this buyer guide helps you find the best tactical assault pack for your needs.

Waist Belts

Waist belts are a great option for any photographer seeking a more ‘hands-free’ way of carrying their kit. Simplicity is the key and so you’ll find that there are essentially two main options available to you – fixed-capacity storage and modular arrangements.

Taking the first option, this is exactly what it sounds like. To oversimplify, think of a bumbag design but with great protection for your gear and you won’t be far wrong. Key features include padded internal dividers, a zipped lid and even mesh pockets on the outside. With a main buckle fastening at the front attached to a comfortable waist belt, some models also offer the option to be worn as a sling over the shoulder.

The beauty of modular waist belts is that they work on the ‘system’ principle – i.e. you add whichever pouches you want, essentially creating a setup which is perfectly tailored to your needs. Expect to find additional padding around the belt itself, accessory loops and attachment points, quick removal of pouches via easy-to-use buckles and optional shoulder straps.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of waist belts as a whole is the fact that all of the weight of your gear is transferred to your hips. This means less fatigue on your shoulders over the course of a long day out in the field, not to mention quick access to your kit while on the fly.

Shoulder Bags

The shoulder bag is perhaps the most popular option for many photographers. Tried and tested over the years, its design offers a combination of practicality along with robustness. Usually, there is also great scope for customising the internal compartments thanks to Velcro-attached, non-abrasive dividers, which are generally light and quick to reposition.

Things to look out for in particular include a strong, comfortable strap, durable zips with decent rain flaps and a practical grab handle on the top. Also, take a look underneath to make sure you get some form of ‘feet’ studs which will will do a good job of raising the bag off the ground just enough to keep moisture at bay.

Because this is one of the most popular categories of bag, you’ll find that it is also one of the most variable in terms of design. While a lot of features are shared (multiple pockets for accessories, pull-out waterproof covers etc), the physical appearance varies greatly – so there is bound to be a bag to suit your preference, whether it be a classic travel-reporter style or state-of-the-art ballistic nylon.

Backpacks

The use of photography backpacks has grown tremendously over the past few years, and it’s not difficult to see why. They have the distinct advantage of offering fantastic functionality along with increased capacity – perfect for anyone heading out and about for a photo trip, whether it’s just for the day, a weekend or longer.

As you might imagine, there’s a wide range of sizes available to satisfy all needs. Whether you want to carry a small camera (for example, a Compact System Camera) along with a packed lunch, waterproof clothing and accessories, or a full-on professional DSLR outfit and tripod, you’ll find many shared features which will make your kit carrying experience as comfortable as it can be.

Some backpacks have even bridged the gap into rolling cases, too, with discreet built-in wheels ready to go whenever the need arises – perfect for anyone who finds themselves heading across airport or railway concourses en route to their photography adventures.

Key features to look out for include a comfortable harness system with sturdy waist belt and chest strap, external accessory attachment points and a pull-out rain cover (some of which are detachable). Also consider how quickly you will be able to access your kit, given your intended use; there’s nothing worse than picking a great bag, only to find that there are too many pockets to confuse you when you’re in a hurry to grab your gear!

Rolling Bags

Ok, so now we’re into slightly different territory. Rolling bags are definitely not going to be for everybody, but they do have one clear advantage – they completely remove the necessity to carry heavy kit on your shoulders. Again, this can make a huge difference over the course of a long day, not to mention if you have pre-existing back complaints.

As discussed above, there are models available which offer ‘occasional backpack’ functionality, and as you might imagine, these sport a tough nylon construction, complete with tuck-away straps. Some rolling bags actually look like traditional shoulder bags, so if this is your design of preference they’re well worth considering.

Because rolling bags are designed for the photographer on the go, it’s typical for their telescopic handles to store away down the back when not in use; this means easy transport in tight spaces such as car boots and train compartments.

Tripod Bags

Picking a bag for your tripod may not be the most obvious thought when it comes to building a camera system, but there are a number of reasons why it’s a worthwhile purchase – especially with prices starting at around the £mark.

Of course, you get the advantage of easy transportation for your tripod; most bags come with grab handles and/or a shoulder strap, and perhaps a small pocket on the outside. But more importantly, by using a bag you can ensure that your tripod stays in great shape – at least until it’s taken out for use on location.

The more basic tripod bags out there typically feature a single zip running full- or 3/4-length, but these typically do not offer any padding. The other main design to consider is one with a top zip which runs around the circumference of the bag. Some people say this offers quicker access, but it really is personal preference.

As you go up the price range you’ll find that padding comes as standard. Understandably, this can make a great difference to the tripod over the course of its life, protecting it from all manner of unfortunate scrapes with abrasive surfaces. It goes without saying that padding also improves the comfort for the user.

At the more technical end of the scale, some tripod bags are equipped with all manner of features including backpack-style harnesses, accessory pockets, multiple grab handles and even wheels for easy transportation.

Rain Covers

While many of today’s cameras benefit from improved moisture protection (thanks to effective seals around certain key areas on DSLR bodies and lenses, for example), when the weather really takes a turn for the worst, it isn’t worth taking the risk of dodging showers and hoping for the best while out and about.

If you’ve ever tried the plastic-bag-over-camera rain cover trick, you’ll know that it invariably has limited success, with water managing to find its way through even the smallest gap. Rather than compromising your valuable gear, why not take a look at a purpose-built cover?

No matter whether you’re using a small DSLR with a standard kit lens or a professional wildlife/sports setup with a 600mm long lens, there’s a cover to suit your needs.

Designs vary, of course, but there are a few features which are shared by most offerings. Typically, the cover will be of a nylon pull-over or zip-up construction, often featuring a drawcord which allows secure fastening around the front of the lens. On some models, you’ll also find a Velcro fastening here too, which does a great job of ensuring maximum protection from running water.

At the camera end, you have a choice of a drawcord fastening (which allows the camera back to be exposed if you so wish) or a completely tight seal, thanks to a compatible eye-piece which essentially allows the user unobscured use of the viewfinder. An alternative option here is also a simple clear cover arrangement which, although it falls over the front of your camera’s eyepiece, does offer a good level of protection.

As for controlling the lens/camera controls, some covers offer more flexibility than others. For example, as well as the main ‘body’ of the cover, some models feature sleeves for you to put your hand/forearms through; both elastic and drawcords are typically used for creating the weather-proof seal.

With some designs offering a modular approach (you can attach different lens covers to the body cover, for example), there is also an option for those who might want to venture out with a flashgun attached to your camera. Again, this component tends to be of a one-piece, see-through construction, so there is no loss of light output when the flash does fire.

Bag Accessories

As you can probably tell by now, once you have chosen your bag, very often the personalisation process doesn’t simply stop with arranging your kit into the various pockets and compartments of the base unit. Rather, there’s a whole host of accessories available which will allow you to customise everything from the type of straps you use to additional pockets which seamlessly fix onto designated attachment points.

If you choose a shoulder bag, for example, some manufacturers offer systems whereby you can remove the whole of the interior in one go – dividers and all – and switch it for another. This is especially handy if you shoot with two systems.

If you decide to take the hard case with foam-padding route, for example, there are replacement foam sets available. As I highlighted above, you really need to be sure of what’s going in that box before you start pulling out the padding; that said, sometimes it’s just not possible to future-proof your decision.

Those either heading abroad or into crowded areas might like to consider security products such as buckle locks; these are great little devices for deterring would-be opportunists. Equally worth considering if you’re using a photo rucksack (though not as secure) are replacement rain covers; these come in a range of colours from black through to camouflage and fluorescent yellow!

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Weatherproofing

As mentioned above, if you want suitable protection for your gear then you need to factor in weatherproof construction. Look for water-resistant materials and zippers, as well as raincovers for an additional barrier against rain and snow. Having different compartments for storing gear will allow you to access just what you need, which is handy when you want to shield the rest of your gear from inclement weather, grit, dirt and mud.

Organization

Photography can involve a lot of accessories, from additional lenses to memory cards and tech devices. Small items are easy to lose in the recesses of a pack, so having readily accessible pockets is important. Exterior attachment points for larger items such as tripods, skis, gear pouches and other items will also help you tailor your carry setup to different photography missions.

Material & Construction

As touched on previously, look for water-resistant materials that offer protection against the elements. However, they should also be durable and abrasion resistant, with a tough pack construction that will hold up to the strain of hauling heavy gear for long periods of time in demanding environments. You may have to lay your pack on rocky ground, you might accidentally scrape against branches and rock faces, or potentially have to sling your bag in and out of cars and overhead luggage compartments in the quest to get to your destination. A tough build and durable materials will ensure your pack can handle the journey.

The Lowepro Flipside Trek BP 350 AW finds a good balance between camera and outdoor gear carry, with dedicated storage space for photography equipment and personal items. Camera gear can be accessed through the back panel without having to put the pack on the ground, with sufficient space for a DSLR with attached lens and 1-extra lenses. In addition, multiple exterior attachment points let you tailor carry setups to changing needs.

Going into demanding environments with your camera gear in tow? If you need rugged and crushproof carry protection, look to the Pelican U160 Urban Elite Half Case Camera Pack. The pack offers separate storage for camera and personal gear, with a bright interior camera case for added visibility of the contents. The waterproof and crushproof case fits a DSLR with attached lens, an additional lens, and a flash. A mix of interior and exterior pockets come in handy for storing small accessories and EDC or outdoor essentials, and concealable tripod straps let you secure a tripod externally.

Highly weather-resistant and durable enough to embrace a range of outdoor environments, the 32L Lotus is well suited to day-long shoots and accommodates a range of f-stop ICUs (sold separately) to organize your camera gear. The back panel provides access to camera equipment, with further storage and a host of pockets for personal gear and accessories. The pack is hydration bladder compatible and also allows additional bulky items to be secured externally.

The durable and weatherproof Ajna moves easily from snow to sun, with a 40L volume that accommodates a variety of gear setups. The pack offers back panel access to your camera gear, while a mix of pockets and attachment points keep accessories and personal items tidy and easily accessible. The Ajna is compatible with a range of f-stop ICU units (sold separately) to protect your camera equipment, and can secure a tripod, snowboard or other bulky items externally.

Comfortable, weather-resistant and tough, the Lowepro Whistler BP 450 AW adapts easily to a range of environments and includes storage for camera equipment and outdoor essentials. Back panel access keeps camera gear secure on the move and away from rain, sand, snow and dirt. The pack is designed to fit a pro DSLR, lenses, a flash and a GoPro or similar, and includes a removable insert. A choice of pockets and attachment points provide organization for smaller items and secure the likes of a tripod, snowboard or ice tools.

Sizing and Fitting the Backpack

The key to comfort is a good-fitting pack. To get started, have a friend help you measure your torso length. Torso length is measured from your shoulders to the top of your hip bones.

Your waist size also matters, though most hip belts can be adjusted to fit a wide range of waist sizes. Just make sure the hip belt is comfortable when you try it on.

Many packs allow you to fine-tune their torso fit via easily adjustable suspension systems. The alternative is a fixed-suspension pack. This type is non-adjustable, but offers the advantages of being less complex and thus lighter than a comparable adjustable model.

To ensure that your pack fits properly, visit our Sizing and Fitting a Backpack article for more in-depth information.

Other Key Backpack Features

Support (stays or framesheet): Typically, one or two aluminum stays are used to transfer the weight of the load to your hip belt. Stays are typically a rod or bar, though some now feature a tubular design to reduce weight. Other packs use a stiff plastic HDPE (high-density polyethylene) framesheet for load support. This thin sheet helps prevent objects in your pack from poking you in the back. A number of packs now offer a stay/framesheet combo.

Ventilation: Internal-frame backpacks hold the pack close to your body, restricting air flow and allowing sweat build-up on your back. On the other hand, external-frames allow more air flow. Many backpacks now feature ventilation systems to help fix this problem, including tension-mesh suspension system to create a permanent air space between your back and the pack. Other packs feature a channel design to provide a similar cooling effect and improved breathability.

Packbag: The materials used in packbags seek to find a balance between durability and weight. Nylon packcloth and Cordura, a burly nylon fabric with a brushed finish, both emphasize abrasion- and water-resistance. Cordura is tougher and a bit heavier. For ultralight travelers, newer fabrics such as silicone-coated nylon are used to trim precious ounces at the cost of some durability.

Top lid: This top pocket offers extended capacity, as do expansion collars. Some lids detach to double as waistpacks for day trips from base camp.

Other load-bearing straps: Most packs help keep the load close to your body by using load-lifter straps. These are located just below the tops of your shoulders (near your collarbone) and should angle back toward the pack body at about a 4degree angle. Also common is a sternum strap which secures across your chest to help support the load and allow your arms to swing freely.

Rain covers: Backpack interiors are waterproof treated, yet during a rainstorm water can still get through seems and zippers. You may simply use a trash bag, but many packs have a rain cover to shelter your pack from bad weather and help prevent lashed-on gear from snagging on brush.

Midsize Packs

Midsize packs have a capacity somewhere between 35L and 70L. They are good for multi-day hikes that require relatively few pieces of equipment. They are also suitable for day hikers, who want to bring large quantities of equipment out with them (for example, professional camera gear).

Back panel

The most effective packs use a suspended, trampoline-style mesh back to maximise airflow, while others rely on large blocks of padding interspersed with gaps to channel the air over your back. Whatever the style, try it on and get the right size.

Tool organiser

As with the cargo compartments, having an effective tool organiser can make the difference between emptying kit onto a wet trail and simply reaching in for the part you need. Zipped mesh pockets are handy, as are pump slots, but some manufacturers are now providing a tool roll, which is really handy to remove all your tools with one dip.

Reservoir

More and more manufacturers are selling packs without reservoirs, or making them optional. The upside is that you are free to choose your favourite model, with the best- flowing bite valve or quick-release hose. You may also already have one from an old pack. The downside is, you may have to extend your budget.

Helmet holder

Handy for enduro racers, who might want to swap between full face and open-face helmets during a race, or simply keeping all your kit together in the car. These can come in the guise of clever elasticated tabs that pass through the vents, or just a couple of clips for securing the helmet straps.

Protection

If you spend a fair bit of time on your back looking at the sky wondering what just happened, it might be worth considering a pack with built-in protection. A tough armour-plated lining will protect your spine in case of accident, but remember to keep your harness snug for it to work properly. >>> Day to day commutes? Check out

Adidas Capital

Action Oriented: The Capital is the gym bag for the minimalist who can get by with just the basics, or for the outdoorsman who doesn’t need all the heft of a backpack for their trail runs. The adjustable strap absorbs the shock of movement without transferring it to your body, avoiding that sense of carrying rocks as your body gets more drained between energy gel hits.

Dakine Hub

Grab Bag: The Hub doesn’t offer a load of adjustment straps that allow it to turn into a half-dozen other kinds of bags, it’s a sling and little else. The whole build is to meant to facilitate easy reach while being worn so that you can get to your notebook and pens, your ID card, or your pistol without breaking stride. Comfortable for all day wear, once you adopt it, you’ll feel naked without it.

Aer Sling Bag

Gym Rat: No longer must those of us who prefer a healthy life full of sweat and motion be forced to carry oversized, unprofessional duffels. The 1680D ballistic nylon body is more than a match for the rigors of everyday life, and with separate compartments for clothes and shoes, keeping smell where it belongs is as simple as zipping it up.

Keep Pursuing KP

Bushcrafter: 1000 Denier Cordura and Ripstop nylon, coupled with water-resistant zippers and treatment are what make up the KP slingbag, proving that bold things come in small packages. The central pocket is padded for your gizmos, with a secret stash spot precisely sized for passports lurks in the lining for anyone heading into the third world.

Arc’teryx Slingblade 4

Changeling: The Slingblade can be used as a crossbody bag, a regular shoulder sling complete with quickdraw pockets, or carried in hand as a ordinary knapsack with your GORP and water bottle. Meant primarily for outdoor trekking, behind the plain exterior lurks the heart of a business shark with lots of pockets and pouches for easy organization.

Dsptch Slingpack

Wanderlust: A handy item for the jet-setter, this works as your carry-on bag, a daily traveler for packing along your basic necessities for a day of sightseeing, or can be repurposed as a shaving kit should you need that. Not one to go quietly into that good night, the Slingpack has Mil spec webbing beneath ballistic nylon and Duraflex accessories for a little Ooh-Rah wherever you may roam.

Skagen Agger

Any Given Day: Part messenger, part briefcase, all stylish-yet-functional canvas, the Agger can be adjusted to work over either shoulder, go around your body, across your back, or do each one in turn as your day progresses. A padded laptop sleeve can take a 13” machine safely, without scratching or scraping, no matter what else you throw into the other pockets.

Pull Quote

Once we had the packs in our hands, we started with safety and comfort. Were our little ones securely strapped in their carriers? And what were their carriers like—fuzzy, rough, well-padded? How did the packs feel on our torsos? Just like a backpacking pack, it’s important for the weight in a baby carrying backpacking to load-bear on the adult’s hips in order to carry the load efficiently. One of the things we took note of was the variety in kickstand design and how confidence-inspiring (or not) each one was. If we couldn’t get a solid click when we extended it, we didn’t feel great about setting our packs on the ground with kids in ’em.

Then we focused on adjustability: Can the pack be adjusted to varying torso heights, and how easy is it to do that? Did it feel secure once adjusted? We also looked at adjustability for our kids: Could stirrups be shortened and lengthened? Could harnesses stretch and shrink based on each child’s size? Once we had a fully loaded pack on, we paid attention to strap adjustability in order to get the load sitting just right to keep us comfortable for miles upon miles.

Moving on to storage, we took note of how much space each pack had as well as where the storage was placed. Was it available in a removable day pack that a hiking buddy could wear to spread the load? Were cell phone pockets large enough for today’s phones and easily accessible? Most important: Where do we carry our water?

The key to a good hiking baby carrier is remembering that you’re seeking comfort for two users. (Pictured: Thule Sapling, left; Osprey Poco AG, right.)

Who this is for

Key features are fit, room for gear, and stability when propped up.(Pictured, in foreground, left to right: Kelty Transit 3.0, Deuter Kid Comfort 2, Thule Sapling.)

Choosing a baby carrier for hiking with your child is an overwhelming task for most new parents. Like many things in raising a baby, it’s hard to know what you’ll actually need until you are in the thick of it. So most of us go in overprepared, buying things we’ll never use. But, when you plan to be a few miles from your car, far from easy-to-grab creature comforts, overprepared may be your smartest strategy. After all, both your and your baby’s comfort are key to making the whole experience a joy. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive hiking backpack with every extra available; it’s easy to determine which carrier will best suit your goals.

First, think about your baby’s age and size. Newborns and infants under 20 pounds are often most comfortable in soft-structured carriers or woven wraps for both the baby and the person carrying them—even for lengthy full-day hikes. Just make sure your hiking partner carries a daypack for diaper storage or, if you are hiking alone, couple your carrier with a good old fanny pack.

Once your little one is able to sit up on his or her own—usually around six months—he or she is ready to ride in a backpack. Because baby-toting backpacks are built to carry the weight of your gear plus a child (pretty much the equivalent of a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and other gear), they’re built similarly to backpacking packs, making them stable, comfortable for longer periods than soft-structured carriers, and strong. Bonus: Their harnesses are easily adjustable so Mom, Dad, the nanny, and Grandma can all use the same pack no matter their height differences.

Next step in deciding between a soft-structured carrier or a pack is to think about what type of hikes you like to do. Consensus among our testers is that anything over two miles denotes breaking out the backpack. Once your kid hits around 2to 3pounds, he or she will likely be keen on doing a bit more on his or her own two feet—and you’ll probably be more than willing to let him or her down. Backpacks with easy access to your child’s seat—like a side opening—will come in handy here.

Also keep in mind that you might use your baby backpack for more than just hitting the trails. Our testers used these packs for zoo-going, roaming New York City by foot and subway, running errands, doing yard work, airport traversing and neighborhood dog-walking. Versatility, adjustability, comfort (for parent and child), durability, and, yes, cute extras like an included stuffed bear (thanks Deuter!) all matter.

For hikes shorter than two miles, or if your child weighs less than about 20 pounds or can’t sit up on his or her own, a soft-structured carrier (or SSC), like the OnyaBaby’s Pure Carrier, is the way to go. In an SSC, active toddlers can get up and down more easily and infants can nurse on the go.

The Deuter Kid Comfort is a do-it-all, flexible, and comfortable carrier. Photo: Ian Troxell

Tips for keeping bigger little ones happy on the trail

Happy baby, happy parent, happy days. (Pictured: Osprey Poco AG.)

At a certain point, toddlers and kids don’t want to be carried, but also don’t want to hike for long distances. To get them excited to hike on their own, take them to trails that have varied terrain like bridges, boulders, waterfalls, and streams to splash in or sculpture parks where there is always something new right up ahead. These small goals get kids excited to keep exploring.

As a parent, it’s important to be flexible with starts and stops and practice patience. This will let your little one discover his or her love for hiking and work up to longer distances in time.

And if you really need a workout, make some time for an adult-only hike between toddler-led strolls.

What to look forward to

We dismissed the Thule Sapling because of issues with the kickstand and the width of the seat area, which are dealbreakers for safely and comfortably hiking with a baby. But because the overall design and fit was so impressive, we’re calling in the Thule Sapling Elite to see if this version corrects those issues.

The competition

After rejecting both super-pricey and supercheap packs, we were left with fairly small initial pool of products to test. Runners-up included the Phil & Teds Escape, which also comes tricked out with extras like a changing pad, a rain shield, and a mirror, but the design often left us baffled (“I find the neck support hilarious,” said our Colorado tester, “I’ve never seen any child nap with his head back.”) and testers were uncomfortable on the trail because of the distance between them and their children in this pack.

The Thule Sapling also won big marks from us for clever design and a comfortable fit, which easily adjusted between a 6-month-old baby and his 35-pound 3-year-old brother. The product designers at the renowned car-rack company engineered it all right—adjustable foot stirrups, side-door access, hydration-compatible, an easy-to-slide pack harness, and ultra-breathability throughout—but the kickstand took some forcing, which didn’t inspire confidence, and we had trouble widening the seat area enough to keep our 2-year-old from feeling sandwiched.

The lack of hydration storage on the Deuter Kid Comfort Air was our testers’ biggest complaint. “How can a large backpack company overlook this and think it’s not necessary?” asked our New Hampshire-based tester, where hikes are often 1,000 feet of elevation per mile (read: water necessary!). It also lacked pockets for stashing a water bottle, leaving us dumbfounded. Small gripe: The pockets weren’t large enough to hold today’s phones.

Kelty’s Junction 2.0 never sized up to the rest of our hiking packs because it lacks adequate storage—hydration and regular—and foot stirrups, which allow a child to shift his or her weight on longer hikes and remain comfortable. But, because we found it useful for other shorter stints—keeping a baby up during a vet appointment, traveling, at the zoo—and it squeezed nicely into an airplane’s overhead compartment, we kept it on the list. There is one thing we’d like to see redesigned: the child’s seat. Multiple testers found it noticeably narrow, which probably gets uncomfortable for our babies and toddlers after too long (although they couldn’t quite articulate that). Foot stirrups would also help here.

The most plush pack in Deuter’s Kid Comfort series, the Deuter Kid Comfort III comes with a few more accessories than the Kid Comfort II, our main pick, such as an integrated sunshade and a retractable mirror. We eschewed the large price tag for the brand’s middle-of-the-line pack because it has all of the same riding comfort—for parent and child—but its accessories can be customized based on the user’s climate.

The Osprey Packs Poco AG Plus Child Carrier is exactly the same as the Osprey Poco AG Premium but without the removable day pack, a nice-to-have feature that lets couples split the weight load. If you plan to hit the trail without an adult counterpart, opt for this version.

The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0, the brand’s top-of-the line pack didn’t make our test squadron because we think its torso design is best suited for short trips, which is why the Junction 2.0 stuck out to us for its unique, travel-friendly design.

The biggest complaint we read about the Kelty Tour 1.0 was its lack of comfort. The design is so angled that the metal frame dug into users’ backsides, making it uncomfortable to keep hiking.

The thing we liked about Kelty’s Transit series (e.g., the Kelty Transit 3.0) was its unique, minimalist design, making it perfect for shorter jaunts. And because the harness was comfortable only for shorter trips, spending extra to have a lot of accessories seemed like overkill. That’s why we opted for the Transit 2.0 over the 3.0.

We dismissed the Phil & Teds Parade Backpack Carrier because it was built for city exploration. It doesn’t have the features we’d want for hitting the trails.

The Kelty Mijo seems optimal for for travel, especially at pounds ounces. But like the Phil & Teds Parade Backpack Carrier, it’s lacking pockets, weather protection, and a harness built for hiking.

BabyBjorn is the Kleenex of baby carriers in terms of name recognition. But the brand has also received flak in the past for its Original design being less than supportive of a baby’s hips. In 201BabyBjorn introduced the Carrier One Outdoors, a carrier constructed from quick-drying, breathable materials with a hip-happy design (as recognized by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute) that is built for hiking. Testers didn’t find it quite as comfortable and breathable as the OnyaBaby Pure, but it still remained a popular option for some parents.

 

 

 

 

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Final Word

First of all thanks for reading my article to the end! I hope you find my reviews listed here useful and that it allows you to make a proper comparison of what is best to fit your needs and budget. Don’t be afraid to try more than one product if your first pick doesn’t do the trick.

Most important, have fun and choose your Waist Packs wisely! Good luck!

So, TOP3 of Waist Packs

 

 

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