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How to Choose The Best Hip Pack For Mountain Biking

By Pat Donahue ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday October 14, 2019
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Are you searching for a new hip pack for mountain biking? Well, you have come to the right place. We tested seven of the most compelling mountain biking hip packs on the market. We tested the best of the best from the most compelling and reliable brands in the industry. After excessive amounts of testing, we scored these packs on the critical attributes and analyzed all of the small, yet important, details.

When bouncing up a technical climb  the hip pack remains stable on your lumbar.
When bouncing up a technical climb, the hip pack remains stable on your lumbar.

Do I Want A Hip Pack?


The first step of making a purchase decision is understanding whether or not you want a hip pack. The waist bag movement is relatively new in the world of mountain biking. Many riders may be perfectly comfortable and content wearing a traditional backpack.

Related: The Best Hydration Packs for Hiking and Biking of 2019

While some of our hip packs have generous amounts of storage, backpacks still offer superior storage capacity. If you are used to bringing along lots of supplies, tools, and a beer or two, the backpack is likely still a better choice. When entering the world of hip packs, many riders will need to make an adjustment in terms of which items you bring on a ride.

When attacking steep  technical  downhills  a hip pack will stay in place where a backpack may bounce around a bit.
When attacking steep, technical, downhills, a hip pack will stay in place where a backpack may bounce around a bit.

When you are on the trail, the hip pack has many serious advantages over a backpack. This point cannot be stressed enough. Having a cool, dry, and airy back is an enormous benefit of the waist bag. In addition, having cargo weight down on the lumbar lowers your center of gravity in a supported and stable location. Where a backpack tends to flop around on slow, awkward, maneuvers, a hip pack is more likely to stay put.

A backpack is still a viable option for the packrat. If you are riding in a climate with drastically changing temperatures and need to bring extra layers, heavier gloves, and shoe covers, the backpack is a great option. In addition, if you plan on going on big rides and need to bring lots of food, the backpack has obvious advantages.

It is important to conceptualize exactly what you need to bring along on your ride.
It is important to conceptualize exactly what you need to bring along on your ride.

Identifying Your Needs


Before diving too deep into all of the flashy features of the hip packs, it is important to first identify your needs. If you have a clear idea of what you need out of your waist bag, it will be far easier to narrow down the numerous options.

Will this be your only mountain biking pack? Is this new bag going to replace your old backpack entirely? Or, will this be a supplemental piece of gear used on short rides only? If it is secondary to a backpack, do you even need a hydration system?

It is very important to be honest with yourself about your riding. Everyone wants to go out on several hour, 40-mile, mega rides. That said, the majority of us lead busy lives and most of our rides are squeezed in between work, family activities, and errands. It is important to honestly ask yourself. How long is your average ride? What time of day do you usually ride? What does the temperature normally look like?

All of these questions are quite important to help to identify your needs. Going into the research and purchase process with a narrower and more accurate scope will make the experience far easier.

If you need to bring a jacket or shell along  we recommend looking at our more spacious options.
If you need to bring a jacket or shell along, we recommend looking at our more spacious options.

Carrying Capacity


Carrying capacity is a very important consideration. You don't want to buy a hip pack based on the looks only to realize that you can't fit the necessities. Conversely, if you don't need much space in your hip pack, you likely don't want to be hauling around a big pack when you're only using ⅓ of the storage space.

If you need a pack that works for big, long rides, the Osprey Seral is a no-brainer. This pack has loads of space for all of the tools, snacks, and water you could need to haul. In addition, this bag has space for an extra layer or a rain shell. You could be challenged stuffing all of these supplies in the more compact bags.

The Osprey Seral 1.5 has loads of storage space.
The Osprey Seral 1.5 has loads of storage space.

If your kind of ride is 2-3 hours, you have plenty of options. The vast majority of packs work well in this situation. The EVOC Hip Pack Pro is far and above the most dialed bag in our review and is perfect for these mid-length rides. These bags can carry a serious amount of water as well as some bars, tools, a tube, and a wallet/keys/phone. Don't expect to put a full-blown sandwich or multiple extra layers.

Are you a fan of the hot laps? Maybe your job and family situation forces you to squeeze a lot of riding into a short 60-90 minute time period. The minimalist hip pack is the obvious choice. With a pack like the Bontrager Rapid Pack you can carry the bare essentials. A bottle of water, a tube, some CO2 and maybe a bar. The simplicity of these packs is what makes them great and they are the closest to wearing nothing at all.

Our packs use a variety of bladder closure and hose systems.
Our packs use a variety of bladder closure and hose systems.

Hydration System


You need to drink water when you are out on a ride. Even on a quick lap, almost every rider wants to bring a little bit of water along. A lot of hip packs have a hydration bladder system while others simply have pockets/sleeves for water bottles. You know your body and will know better than anyone how much water you will need.

Some of the simple, minimalist, bags like the Bontrager Rapid Pack do not have hydration bladders. This is nice if you can get away with a little less water. Not having to fuss with a hose or clean out the bladder is fantastic. Plus, what is easier than simply filling a water bottle and stuffing it in a pocket. The obvious catch is you are quite limited in the amount of water you can bring, even when used in conjunction with a bottle cage on the bike.

Many bags, like the Osprey Seral or Dakine Hot Laps, have a hydration bladder system. The number of hip packs with this feature has risen significantly in the past couple of years. This has been an important step for the evolution of the hip pack as it has made them a whole lot more capable and sensible. In our experience, the hydration bladders in hip packs generally have 1.5 liters of capacity (roughly two large water bottles), which is enough for about a 2-3 hours ride depending on the person and the temperature. Some bags, like the EVOC Hip Pack Pro, have hydration bladder systems and slots for water bottles and you can carry a lot of H2O or choose between bottles or a bladder system.

Hip packs deliver a much higher level of comfort compared to backpacks.
Hip packs deliver a much higher level of comfort compared to backpacks.

Shape and Style


The shape of a hip pack can be important. Just like the human body, not all bags come in the same shape and size. Some packs have a larger patch that sits against your lumbar, some are smaller. In addition, some bags have more of a rectangular orientation that has a wider stance east to west on your back. Others have more of a taller shape in the north-south direction. It is important to consider the shape and size of your torso to find a sensible option.

As with anything, styling is a critical consideration. You want to wear a piece of gear that looks good. Nobody wants to roll up to the trailhead with a frumpy hip pack. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this is a highly personal matter.

The low placement near the hip keeps your back cool on a long ride.
The low placement near the hip keeps your back cool on a long ride.

Conclusion


There you have it: our best advice for buying a hip pack for mountain biking. We suggest being realistic and honest with your needs and riding to help you select the appropriate features.


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