The Humble, Dorky Fanny Pack is My Go-to Piece of Outdoors Gear

Stop laughing—there are cooler pieces of gear, but not many this useful.


A few years ago, my brother-in-law gave me a Swix waistbelt drinking bag emblazoned with a bright red Norwegian flag before a cross-country skiing trip. It was part novelty gift, part thoughtful present in recognition of my newfound love of long-distance classic nordic skiing. I used it immediately, even though the design was weird and it was hard to use, because I thought it looked funny. It was the first fanny pack I’d had since junior high in the early 90s (that one was a checkered pattern of alternating neon green and blue; I kept Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and pro hockey trading cards in it, mostly). It sparked an appreciation for fanny packs I didn’t know I had. I’ve carried one ever since.

Lately, I’ve exclusively been using the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Hip Pack. 3L, which they’ve discontinued, but you can still find it for sale at a few online retailers. The 1L pack is still in production, and is exactly the same, just a third of the size. It’ll carry everything mine will—which I’ll get to in a sec—except for a water bottle.

I first started carrying a fanny pack while fishing, especially fly fishing. I keep a 4″ by 5″ box of flies, multitool, extra fly line and fishing license, wallet, car keys, a sandwich and small water bottle (or a beer) in the pack, and it’s about a million times easier than wearing a backpack. If I’m fishing while on a backpacking trip, I bring the fanny pack stuffed with all my fishing gear and dump my big pack in favor of the fanny pack when I’m fishing.

If I’m trailrunning, I’ll bring water, keys, sometimes a phone, and an apple and some nuts in my fanny pack. On a long day hike, I can fit a sandwich, granola bar, phone, a map, wallet, keys, water bottle and a Sawyer water filter in the pack. This is typically what I’ll use if striking out for day missions while basecamped somewhere deep in the backcountry.

Nordic skiing? I’d bring all the above, minus the water filter, plus a pair of gloves and a beanie.

Some of the spots I surf near my Northern California home require long cliffside hikes to get the break. I’ll toss my keys, surf wax, fin keys, wax comb, a sometimes a quick-curing ding repair tube, and a snack in my totally uncool fanny pack and hit the trail down. I can stash my little pack unnoticed in some rocks or under a bush and keep it hidden far easier than a full-sized backpack.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I was self-conscious at first. Somehow wearing it with the pack pushed around to my backside—making it a true fanny pack—felt less lame at first, but now, I have no shame whatsoever and wear it proudly with the pack right there up front. I’ll wear it when traveling too—way, way easier and more comfortable than a backpack when traipsing around a foreign land.

I never would have thought that I’d be a dedicated fanny pack wearer. But now, if I’m in the outdoors, and I don’t have it with me, something feels wrong.

Try one of these fanny packs—I’m sorry, hip belts

Patagonia ditched my 3L in favor of this Lightweight Travel Mini Hip Pack 1L, but it’s still an awesome little pack. $29 • BUY

Old school and simple, the Jansport Fifth Avenue fanny pack is a bargain at $17. • BUY

REI’s Trail 5 pack is roomy (5 liters of storage) but still pretty compact and tough. $40 • BUY

If you want to go full-on fly fishing specialization-type pack, the Patagonia Stealth 10L hip pack is about as good as it gets. $119 • BUY

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Showing 13 comments
  • Paul Strubell
    Reply

    I use the Patagonia 1LT for so many things, but find mainly that I love it for avoiding phones, wallet, and keys in your shorts pockets. Anybody who has ever worn lightweight shorts to beat the summer heat knows how cumbersome even just a few small items can be.

  • Cam
    Reply

    Dude! I’m there! You forgot Mountainsmith though… totally badass.

  • Phil
    Reply

    I feel like the stigma on fanny packs is really about people wearing them all day every day for not outdoor needs. Or when tourists wear them around looking all dorky and lost.

    For hiking, running, fishing, etc. they are a practical solution that most people on the trail wouldn’t think twice about someone wearing.

    • Gary
      Reply

      Mountainsmith lumbar packs are very nice. I’ve got a couple that come in handy for friends and relatives on day hikes. Personally, I prefer a variety of small REI and Camelbak backpacks with bladders. I’m probably going to get a small “dorky” fanny pack, worn to the front, to carry kibble while my puppy gets trained though.

  • Ek
    Reply

    Yup, a waist pack is great for fly fishing. I prefer a sling pack or something higher up on my person because I tend to wade in the water a lot.

  • tom
    Reply

    I use a mountainsmith waist pack made of hemp. I hike primarily with a burro I adopted from the bureau of land management and the waist pack allows me the immediate access I may be looking for without unpacking the pack burro! this is my second waist pack from mountainsmith. my first one lasted 20 years and I finally retired it from all the patching I was doing to keep it in use….and you may be surprised at how much you can fit into a waist pack, with the challenge of eliminating what you don’t truly need……

  • tom
    Reply

    I also am a fan of waist packs, although because I am narrow waisted I sometimes have difficulty with it slipping down to my hips. Some models come with shoulder straps, and they are superior to those without straps, especially for heavier loads.

  • jowes
    Reply

    The dork factor is high, but totally agree. I’ve got a small one I use for trail running and distances under 10 miles. Phone, wallet, keys, bag of nuts, bam. I’m gone.

  • Jay kerr
    Reply

    I loved my trusty Dana expedition backpack because the hip belt and top flap converted into an awesome fanny pack for day hikes from a backcountry base camp. Now I’m all about the ultralight weight, and my ULA rolltop pack doesn’t have the ability the (much heavier) Dan had. Looking for a Cuban fiber fanny pack that can double as a stuff sack. Must do double-duty to justify the added ounces!

  • Scott
    Reply

    I’m with the Mountainsmith crowd. My, uh, “lumbar bag” is my daily go-to-work shoulder bag, carry-on luggage bag, and day pack.

  • Rico
    Reply

    I’ve used a waist pack since mountain biking in the 80’s. My all-time fave is an Eagle Creek model, made for XC skiing in 1987, which looks remarkable like the Patagonia model, shown herein. Still have it, and use it, for solo riding in the outback. The Eagle Creek Tailfeather Small, is much like the Jansport mentioned above, but better made…this thin pack will easily fit under a cycling jersey (if worn as a ‘lumbar’ pack); great storage capacity for extra food, or a tool kit, leaving your jersey pocket for other essentials.

    Sure, I’ve occasionally taken stick from other riders, re. a waistpack worn over my jersey, but who gives a toss. Never understood how a waistpack is, comparably, more dorky than most other outdoor garb. I mean–have you seen us? We’re all dorks, right?

  • Matt J
    Reply

    I was just thinking last week as I headed to SE Asia that ill never fly internationally again without a fanny pack. Everything important is there right next to my hands. My passport and visas, my boarding pass, wallet, phone and even a camera. No need to search my backpack.

  • Swenson
    Reply

    Ditto the Mountainsmith kudos. I religiously carry my Mountainsmith “Day” lumbar pack. Keeps my back cool on hot days, works great for day hikes and swallows a ton of stuff. I use a small fanny pack for fly fishing like the author. If someone wants to talk smack, let them. Efficiency trumps cool factor – I’m not in middle school anymore.

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