Wednesday 27 November 2019

The Return of the Waist Pack (aka bum bag, fanny pack, lumbar pack, front pack)

With a waist pack on the Continental Divide Trail in 1985

A recent trend in long-distance hiking in the USA is to use a waist pack to carry small items so they are quickly accessible. This isn’t actually a new idea, though I’ve seen it presented as such. I used to carry such a pack regularly because, as I wrote in the first edition of The Backpacker’s Handbook in 1991 “with a really heavy pack access to all the little odds and ends that are needed during a day’s walk can be difficult, especially when all you’re wearing is shorts and a tee-shirt. Taking off the pack every time you need to check the map, apply sunscreen, nibble some trail mix, is simply too much of a chore and requires far too much energy.”
Waist pack (on the left), on my walk the length of Norway and Sweden

I said much the same in the second edition in 1997. However, by the time I wrote the third edition (2005) I’d stopped using a waist pack due to “ the lightening of my load, which made it easier to take the pack off, but, more importantly, …. hipbelts with pockets”. Mesh side pockets accessible while wearing the pack were also a factor. All the small items I might need during the day were now to hand without need of a waist pack.

Waist packs never went away of course. Runner still used them. But I hadn’t seen a backpacker with one for many years until this summer in the Colorado Rockies. Why they’ve come back I don’t know – I find it curious - but they have and many makers of ultralight gear now offer them. I have one, the Mountain Laurel Designs Burro, which I’ll be testing on my next trips. Maybe I’ll be reconverted.


  1. Someone thought they were not fashionable. Maybe they did not walk around much.

  2. Yes, don't think we have much use for them now with all the pockets/ mesh on newish rucksacks. Just wondering Chris if you have any record of your Norway / Sweden hike (I need something for when I finish grizzly bears and razor clams.. great book and pictures!)

    1. Glad to hear you liked my book. Thanks. I'm afraid there's nothing available on my Scandinavian walk. I think I only ever wrote one article about it.

      I am a bit surprised at the recent trend for waist packs given the design of packs these days but clearly people find them useful.