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light-sky Traveling light: waist packs

By Barry Kauler
Page updated: January 25, 2016

This is one page of a series that I am writing on "traveling light", whether it be hiking in the wilderness or wandering the world by boat, bus, train or air.

Over the years, I have done a bit of hiking, or what some would call trekking, rambling, or bushwalking.

January 2015, mid-summer here in Western Australia, I walked a short section of the Bibbulmun Track. I attempted to travel light, but my backpack, loaded with sleeping bag, tent, folding chair, inflatable mattress, food, clothes, toiletries and miscellaneous other items, was a strain.

I'm not a spring chicken anymore. Age 66, my back has a degenerated lower vertebrae, which got stressed a bit carrying the backpack (as did my poor feet!), but trying to crawl around inside my tent was the worst part.

Anyway, moving ahead to the present. I decided to rethink the whole thing. Yes, I did think that I was on the "ultra light" side back in January 2015, however I have now taken it to the extreme.

Although a well-designed backpack is not supposed to pull much on the shoulders, I have yet to find one that doesn't. Also, I carefully observe anyone carrying a backpack, and always I notice considerable downward pull on their shoulders.

To totally eliminate stress on my back, I investigated ultra-ultra-light hiking with only a waist pack. These are also known as lumbar packs, waist bags or bum bags.

What's out there?

The challenge, I soon discovered, was to find a waist pack large enough. I set a minimum size of 6 litres, and this table shows what I found. I know, I know, 6 litres is pitiful, but bear with me.

Lowe Alpine Space Case

This cost me AU$49.95 including postage. I bought it from here:
http://www.bushcraftequipment.com.au/store/products.php?product=Lowe-Alpine-Space-Case#

Specs:
  • Hip-belt pockets
  • Front stash pocket
  • Internal valuables pocket
  • Mesh bottle pockets
  • Padded back
  • Key clip (inside)
  • LED light loop (outside)
Volume: 7lt
Weight: 0.29kg
spacecase

After arrival, I found the main compartment held about 4 litres. Actual weight: 295gm.

Sierra XL bum bag

This was on sale at only AU$19.99 including postage, from these guys: http://www.velogear.com.au/bicycle-accessories/bum-waist-bags/sierra-xl-bum-bag-2-colours.html

Specs:
  • 2 mesh holders
  • 2 zippered compartments
  • Main pocket size approx. 22cmH x 6cmD x 17cmW
  • Elasticised drawstring
  • Padded body contact
  • Reflective details so can be seen in the dark
sierra-xl

After arrival, a rough measurement is 4 litre capacity for the main compartment. Actual weight is 297gm.

Mountainsmith Daylight Lumbar Pack

This cost me AU$95.10 plus AU$40 international postage:
http://www.ebags.com/product/mountainsmith/daylight-lumbar-pack/208541?productid=10121064

Specs:
  • Removable shoulder strap
  • Tuck-away waistbelt
  • Side mesh pockets
  • Zippered interior compartment converts to "stash & dash" storage pocket
  • Zippered front panel pocket with key clip
  • Capacity: 700 cu ins (11.5 litres)
  • Weight: 14 oz (397gm)
mountainsmith

Note, after buying it, I came across cheaper suppliers: fishpond amazon  

The first two are inexpensive, from Australian suppliers. I didn't want to spend much more, however, I got enticed by the Mountainsmith pack. Mostly because of the larger size, yet still light. Note, actual weight is 408gm.
Besides, as I had decided to write up a comparative review of the larger bum bags, thats this page, it was appropriate to buy at least three bags. The ones that I end up not wanting, I will give away.

Comparing the bags

This page does not have full-blown hiking expedition tests -- that comes elsewhere. Instead, I have given impressions of the bags, such as quality, comfort, how much can be put in them, and rough ideas about usage -- such as day-hike, hike-overnight-in-shelter, or airline carry-on.

The most important question, that I hope to answer in this review, is that of stability. Apparently, there is a reason that waist bags are not made very large. A backpack has a frame, which keeps the load in-place, however, a waist-pack sticks out from the back, only anchored by the belt, so is going to "bounce" when walking.
I am hoping to identify whether the largest pack, the Mountainsmith Daylight, bounces too much, or whether careful packing can make it OK.

What is "too big"?
Mountainsmith make an even bigger pack, the Day TLS, with capacity of 14 litres (854 cu.in). Fully-laden though, it is recommended to use shoulder straps for stability, which defeats the whole concept, might as well use a conventional backpack.
strapettes

1: Lowe Alpine Space Case

I ordered this bag online, thinking that it has 7 litres capacity, however, that is very misleading. The main compartment holds about 4 litres.

Obviously, this pack is not for multi-day hikes! Yet, it is surprising what I was able to stuff into it:

all-items-spacecase

Note, all of the above items are desribed in depth, with links to where I purchased them, and prices, in my Base Load web page.

This is enough gear for an overnighter in a shelter. I even included my mattress!
The pullover is strapped on the top of the bag, 700ml flask in one of the mesh pockets.
No room for food, so I wore a belt pouch at the front.
Weight, without food and water, 2.1 kg.
spacecase-loaded
That sleeping bag is a tiny summer bag.
Matress and pillow are a necessity for me, with my bad back, but a luxury for others.
Sleeping bag liner, well not really essential either.
The poncho has an extra use, it can be used as a tarp, to protect the mattress.
spacecase-wearing

Very easy to carry, did not bounce or settle down too much as I walked. A pleasant experience. Excellent quality construction.
Of course, without mattress and pillow, there would be room for food in the pack.

2: Sierra XL bum bag

The capacity is pretty much the same as the Space Case pack, and I was able to pack all the same items.

One difference though, is I had to attach the pullover on the back, so it sticks out more.

Also, the mesh pouches are too small for my 700ml flask, so I would have to obtain two smaller bottles.

There are less pockets, so not quite so convenient.
sierra-xl-loaded

Good quality construction. The feel of it is good, was able to walk around without undue bounce or sag. The hip belt is not quite so well padded, so along with the small mesh pouches and less pockets, the Space Case wins.

2: Mountainsmith Daylight Lumbar Pack

Ah, now for the big guy. Fully loaded with the claimed 11.5 litres capacity, will it bounce or sag too much? This is what I put into it:

kit-daylight

Yes, I even packed my Sea to Summit Micro II sleeping bag, which is rated at 2 degrees Celsius. In addition, a toiletries bag, towel and electrical kit.

The sleeping bag took up a lot of room, so I still had to put the pullover on top, and food into the belt-pouch mounted at my front.

The mesh pouches are big enough for my 700ml flask, a plus point.

The total weight, without food and water (including the belt pouch and flask) is 3.3kg.
daylight-loaded
Thanks to tensioning straps on the sides, I was able to pull the back snuggly into the curve of my back, and I think it is this feature that makes it easier to carry the extra weight.

Note, I look a bit contorted in that photo -- that is because I took it myself, holding my phone as far out as possible.

Quality construction.
daylight-wearing

I walked around, and felt quite comfortable carrying this pack, however, it remains to be seen if the comfort persists on a long hike!

One thing I find quite incredible, is that the Daylight pack packs into its own internal stuff-sack. That tiny sack shown on the right.

There are some very interesting youtube videos of this pack:
youtube
  youtube
daylight-stuff

Conclusions

Some tentative conclusions can be made. The smaller packs are OK for day-hikes, and can even stretch to an overnight in warm summer conditions, sleeping in a shelter.
Note, the kind of shelter I have in mind is on my favourite walk, the Bibbulmun Track, which starts close to where I live, is over 1000km long, and has 3-sided huts every 15km or so. Anyway, more details on that in the field tests.

The Daylight pack is tantalizingly close to being multi-day hike capable. It could be pushed into this role, if some sacrifices are made. Such as a tiny summer sleeping bag (more on that in the field tests), sleeping in shelters (or under the stars in dry weather). I think that I could par the weight down to under 3kg, without food and water.

My feeling is that 4 kg would be about the upper limit for a waist pack, limiting how much food and water can be added. However, the tiny Sea to Summit daypack weighs just 66gm (see items photo, right-bottom), and becomes a 20 litre backpack -- which could be used to carry extra food.

I do have some ideas that I want to explore, regarding the Daylight pack and multi-day hikes. Again, will elaborate on that in upcoming field tests.

Fields tests

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I need to get out there, to find out how these packs really perform.


(c) Copyright Barry Kauler 2016, all rights reserved.
Please do not copy this page anywhere, instead link to it. I will probably be editing it every now and again, so it is wise to link to this original page.