A guide to the best waist packs for thru-hiking and backpacking.
Updated: November 16, 2021
While hiking, waist packs are a great way to keep essential gear (and snacks!) at your fingertips. In this article, we’ll break down waist packs of all shapes and sizes to give you our recommendations and tips for picking the perfect pack.
Waist packs are becoming an increasingly popular item with thru hikers who use them in combination with their backpacks for easy access to items while hiking. Waist packs allow you to better balance weight by distributing the weight on your hips or chest, rather than your back. A waist pack on your hips means less back sweat on hot days too. They also double as a handy hiker wallet when in towns.
Fanny packs are generally worn on your front and have the smallest amount of storage capacity. They are best for short hikes and in combination with a larger backpack. Lumbar packs are larger waist packs designed to be worn on the back of your waist. They offer more support and allow you to carry extra weight. They are a great choice for longer day hikes when you need to carry more food, water and gear.
Pockets are a big help with organization. Phone in one pocket, snacks in the other and so on. The most basic designs feature a single large pocket. This keeps the weight down but can lead to fishing around to find items. Especially those pesky headphone cables that get tangled in everything.
Other designs have multiple smaller external pockets to separate your items out. While this maximizes your organization this also means more zippers that add weight. Internal dividers offer the best of both worlds. A way to organize while keeping the zippers and weight to a minimum.
Some waist packs have hidden back pockets to store valuables. While nice for towns they are overkill on the trail. It’s best to have at least two pockets, either internal or external, to have some degree of organization.
Belts come in all shapes and sizes. Thinner belts keep the weight down but can be less comfortable on your hips if the pack is too heavy. Thicker belts add weight but are more snug and secure. Padding on your hip belt prevents items in your pack from poking you. Padding also helps on hot days by soaking up sweat to prevent chafing.
If you want to incorporate a waist pack into your backpacking system look for a belt that can be removed. This allows you to thread it into your existing hip or chest belt. Most importantly, choose a belt that feels good and doesn’t slip when hiking or running.
REI Co-op Trail 2 Waistpack
A zipper failure can ruin any trip, long or short. The durability of your zipper is key for getting a long life out of your waist pack. Zippers should also open and close easily. Ideally, they will slide open and close using one hand. This will allow you to grab a snack or your phone without breaking your stride.
Zippers are a common place for water to leak in, make sure the waist pack you choose has waterproofing on the zippers. Pay attention to the location of the zippers to make sure they won’t rub on your body or other gear.
The material of your waist pack plays the biggest part in water resistance. Nylon has minimal water protection, make sure it’s treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) to increase protection. Dyneema is the most waterproof fabric.
Waist packs with zippers on the top will be more exposed to rain. Make sure your zipper has some level of water resistance added to it. If water is a big concern, using a plastic Ziploc bag as a liner is a good option to add another level of protection.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa
The most common materials for waist packs are nylon, Dyneema, and a nylon/polyester polyurethane coated weave. Nylon is sturdy and inexpensive. It does offer some water resistance but won't hold up super well in wet conditions. It’s also heavier per square foot of material. Dyneema is waterproof, durable, and super light, making it a great choice for tough conditions. It does however cost a premium.
Some hikers complain about the noise of the crinkly material. Gridstop and X-Pac are materials that contain layers of nylon and polyester mesh. They have a polyurethane coating on one side to add more water resistance. They are heavier but cheaper than Dyneema.
VOLUME & WEIGHT
The smallest waist packs, 1.0 to 1.5 liters, have space for snacks and personal items but not much more. These are best paired with your main backpacking pack. Medium-sized waist packs, 1.5 to 2.5 liters, give you a bit more space for extra items and are good for day hikes.
Large waist packs, over 2.5 liters, give you lots of space but run the risk of being overloaded making it uncomfortable to carry if they lack a robust belt. For weight, under two ounces is ultralight. Two to four ounces is a good balance of price and weight, especially if you’re adding a bit of volume to your pack. Anything over four ounces is probably overkill.
Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Mini Hip Pack
|Model||Volume (L)||Weight (oz)||Price|
|Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Mini Hip Pack||1.0||3.5||$29|
|REI Co-op Trail 2 Waistpack||2.0||4.3||$30|
|Cotopaxi Bataan Fanny Pack||3.0||4.0||$30|
|Summit Bum Fanny Pack - Slim by Thrupack||1.0||3.9||$35|
|Hipster by Gossamer Gear||1.0||1.9||$19|
|Ultralight Fanny Pack by High Tail Designs||1.0||1.8||$58|
|Flex Fanny Pack by Red Paw Packs||1.7||3.5||$65|
|Chicken Tramper Gear 1 Liter Fanny||1.0||2.5||$40|
|Waymark Zipp Pack||1.25||2.4||$45|
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa||2.25||2.9||$70|
Patagonia’s minimalist waist pack is excellent for short hikes, running, or walking around town. It’s made of 100% recycled ripstop nylon which keeps it light, durable, and will dry quickly. It has two pockets, a larger main pocket for snacks, and a small front pocket great for holding your ID and credit cards or a phone. The strap lacks padding but with the pack’s small size the amount of weight you can fit in this pack is limited making it hard to overload. When not in use it stuffs down small into the included pocket sack. Considering the weight to volume ratio this is on the heavier side.
The REI Trail 2 waist pack is a budget option that ticks all the boxes of a classic fanny pack design. It has a small front pocket for cards and a large top-loading main compartment. A third “secret” pocket runs along the back of the fanny pack for keeping valuables. With 2.0 liters of storage space, it’s a decent balance with its 4.3-ounce weight at its price point. The recycled nylon fabric is treated with a DWR finish to give it extra waterproofing. The hip belt lacks padding and it can be uncomfortable if loaded up with too much weight.
The Cotopaxi Bataan gets rave reviews for its large 3.0 liter storage capacity and competitive price point. It has one main zippered pocket with two internal mesh pockets. The nylon fabrics used for the Bataan are made entirely from fabrics discarded by other manufacturers. This gives the design a funky blend of multiple colors. Cotopaxi claims no two Bataans are the same, making this a fun and unique item. The only real complaint we have is that with a large amount of volume it can get overloaded easily. But then again, can you ever have too many snacks?
The Slim is the smallest of the fanny pack options from Thrupack and it’s designed with thru-hikers in mind. The removable belt makes it easy to thread into your backpack’s hip or chest strap. If you’re wearing the fanny pack alone it will fit any strap that’s under 2” in width. Thrupack also sells a “comfy strap” with more padding. The pack is made with ripstop nylon with a polyurethane coating on the outside for extra waterproofing. The zipper is also coated with polyurethane to increase the water resistance. The weight is on the heavier side compared to other 1.0 liter waist packs.
The Hipster is an ultralight waist pack weighing only 1.9 ounces. It’s also very affordable. To achieve this Gossamer Gear keeps the pouch design minimal. One pocket, one zipper, and a thin ¾” hip belt. The nylon fabric for the pocket is very thin, so be mindful of abrasions if the waist pack rubs against rocks or brush. The hip belt is not removable so the Hipster can’t be threaded into an existing belt. While not waterproof, the nylon fabric does offer water resistance in light rain. The 1.0 storage capacity is on par with other minimalist waist pack options.
The Ultralight Fanny Pack from High Tail Designs is the lightest pack on our list thanks to its minimal design and use of ultralight Dyneema fabric. The rectangular pouch has a waterproof zipper on the top of the main pocket and a small zipperless pocket on the back for storing cash and cards. The hip belt has a fixed clip near one side of the pack keeping the clip off your back. The belt isn’t removable, so it won’t thread into your hip or chest strap. If you buy the version featuring watercolor art High Tail Design will donate 15% back to the artist.
Red Raw Packs gets creativity points for thinking outside the normal waist pack shape with the addition of a stretchy top pocket. This cinchable pocket can hold small water bottles or keep your bear spray at the ready. Because of the cinch pocket, the main pocket’s zipper is front-facing, rather than on the top, like other models. The Flex fanny pack is highly customizable, down to the type of material your pack is made of. The removable hip belt makes incorporating it into your backpacking system easy as well. The weight is a little heavier than most, due to the addition of the top pocket.
LiteAF’s Featherweight waist pack sports an excellent weight-to-volume ratio. It has an external main pocket with an internal divider. It also has an external lycra stretch pocket on the front of the pack, great for easy access to a phone without having to open the zippered pocket. The hip belt can be purchased built-in or as a detachable option. “Slick clips” are included with the detachable option to clip the waist pack into the hip belt of your backpack. The Featherweight also comes in an extra-large size with 2.0 liters of storage at 2.6 ounces.
If you want color options, the Chicken Tramper fanny pack colors can be mixed and matched for 169 possible color combinations. The shape of the pack is fairly standard; however, it does come with a cushioned mesh backing which many other options lack. This gives you extra padding and comfort for your hips, especially helpful when carrying a heavier load. Inside the main pocket, there is a lycra stretch mesh pocket to secure your phone away from other items. The pack is made of X-Pac fabric, a combination of nylon and polyester layers, and has a water-resistant zipper.
Waymark’s Zipp pack is designed in a trapezoidal shape, slightly larger on the zippered top and tapered on the bottom. The ¾” hip belt is on the skinnier side, which means if you pack this too heavy it can dig into your waist. The buckle attaches near one side of the pack which keeps the hip belt smooth around your back. Perfect if you’re wearing a full backpacking pack along with this waist pack. It’s made of X-Pac material which gives it extra water resistance than normal nylon. It also makes this pack heavier than its Dyneema counterparts of a similar size.
The Hyperlite Versa features a lot of space and three pockets for storage. It’s made of Dyneema fabric which has superior waterproofing and the zippers are also waterproof. If you’re hiking in wet conditions Dyneema is a great choice. The pockets include a roomy main pocket, a small front pocket for phones and cards, and a “stash” pocket along the backside of the pack. Having 2.25 liters of storage space is great for day hikes. If you’re incorporating this into your backpacking system - and Hyperlite seems to think you are by not providing a hip belt - it may feel bulky for some users.
Zpacks FUPA, or front utility pack accessory, is available in either nylon or waterproof Dyneema fabric. With either option, Zpacks takes waterproofing seriously with waterproof zippers and taped seams making this a great choice if you need maximum water protection. Unlike many ultralight options, the FUPA includes padding on the back of the pack for more comfort. It’s designed to clip into Zpacks backpacks with the included hip strap or the hip strap is removable to clip into other packs. The FUPA has a main pocket, an interior mesh pocket for smaller items, and a separate rear pocket for phones and maps.
Waist packs are versatile and can be worn in several ways.
Hip (front): The classic look for tourists, festival-goers, and hikers. Wearing the waist pack on your front allows you the easiest access to your gear and snacks. This style works well for smaller and lighter packs.
Hip (back): Wearing the pack against your lower back provides better support for bulkier and heavier packs, especially those with water bottles. It also is a more natural way to carry for trail running and scrambling over rocks.
Sling: Wear over one shoulder and under the other arm to sling across the back or front of your body. The method is good for heavier carries or to switch up how the load is riding on your body on longer hikes.
Threaded: If you’re using it in conjunction with a backpacking pack you can thread the waist pack into the hip belt or chest strap. This lets you carry a full backpack while giving easy access to high-use items and snacks.
While there is no limit to what items can go into a waist pack, the general rule of thumb is to pack items that you want to access frequently. Below is a list to get your brainstorming started. Have other items you like to carry upfront? Let us know in the comments below!
📸 Some photos in this post were taken by Ross Enlow (@rossaenlow)
By Justin Sprecher (aka "Semisweet"): Semisweet is a Wisconsin-based thru-hiker, adventurer and digital storyteller. You can find him exploring the upper midwest on foot, in a canoe and on a bike.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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