Easy Access: Pockets and Pouches for Backpacking

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

In the gear-that’s-changed-my-life category, the line item of “small accessible pockets on backpacks” may seem odd. But since about 2005, when backpack companies began adding little zippered pockets on hip belts, my technique for moving through the wilderness has changed in a major way. (See my “Five Gear Innovations” series from last year.) The simple upgrade in accessibility — you can reach down and grab food, sunscreen, a compass, or miscellaneous gear out of a pocket on the front of the pack! — adds much convenience to a hike and speeds the pace.

hip-belt pocket pack.jpg

They key to all this is keeping the entirety of your on-the-move necessities in reach up front in pockets and pouches so that you do not need to take your pack off much during the day. Dozens of pack models now come with zipper pockets on the hip belts. After-market add-ons are common, too, including Granite Gear’s $22 Belt Pocket and the $11 Side Kick Clip-On from Ultimate Direction. These cases clip or Velcro onto your pack’s hip belt and provide secure, easily-accessible pouches for your goods.

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Add-on pockets from Granite Gear and Ultimate Direction

Backcountry Solutions, a small company in Colorado, offers its GEEK POCKET product for $23. The company dubs it a “backpack strap utility pocket,” and electronics like GPS units and two-way radios are its main stash candidates.

BC Solutions - GEEK POCKET copy.jpg

Upright GEEK POCKET accommodates the stowing of electronics with antennas

You mount the GEEK POCKETS upright on a shoulder strap and a Velcro tab closes over the top. The fabric case is lined with fleece to keep your electronics scratch-free. Openings on either side of the closure tab allow an antenna to poke out and grab a signal as you hike.

For backcountry runners and adventure racers, British endurance-sports company Inov-8 Ltd. sells its Race Pac 2 sternum unit. This add-on is among the more unique accessories I have tried — a triangular case tethers to backpack straps and sits on your chest.

inov-8 race pac 2 copy.jpg

Chest access: Inov-8 unit mounts over your sternum for quick grabs at gear

With the Race Pac, multiple little pockets offer enough storage space for hours’ worth of energy gels and food. The company touts that the sternum system has 2 liters of capacity, which is enough for a day’s worth of need-now supplies.

A final product I use hovers in the periphery of this category. The SPIbelt is an elastic belt with a single pocket. It costs $20 and is made mainly for the running market, though I have used SPIbelts outdoors on a few trips.

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Small items cram into stretch pocket on SPIbelt

The clip-on belt supports a single stretchy pocket that can be crammed with a phone, keys, and energy gels. They are a simple solution for adding some storage capacity and for me offer just enough space for the extra small items I need.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

Posted by Jason - 09/29/2011 10:41 AM

I love the front packs b/c of the ease of access. I’m always schlepping my VestPac on day hikes for that reason.

Posted by steve noel - 09/29/2011 12:28 PM

I have found the Geek Pocket works really well for sports where you wear a full coverage helmet, wear a pack, and carry a radio. For years I carried my radio in my coat pocket and was always fumbling trying to find it when I had my helmet on. Now I can just reach down even with heavy gloves on and get to my radio and use it without having to remove my helmet. The velcro closure holds the radio in place even over the roughest terrain. A winner!

Posted by Ben - 09/30/2011 08:41 AM

I use the Osprey Grab Pack in conjunction with my pack and I absolutely love it. Grabbing a quick snack, my camera, or whatever else is world’s easier. Probably the best purchase of the fall so far.

Posted by Mark Lugo - 09/30/2011 09:58 AM

I’ve come across the OMM Trio Chest Pouch, which sports a nifty built in map case, in a lot of gear reviews on youtube from a lot of Brits. It’s very similar to the Race Pac 2 but a bit more spartan in its features. Also another one I’ve looked into is the Ribz front pack… looks a bit bulk for the Gear Junkie might but might come in handy on winter trips when you might carry more crap with you, Buff, gloves… lightsaber?

Posted by Shannon Gerdel - 09/30/2011 12:37 PM

Thank you for sharing your ideas with me.! I have not used any of these items, but I am going to start. I am always looking for a way to make things that I need easier to get to. I am in a wheelchair, and it is not always possible for me to open the zipper compartments that are on my backpack, or my oxygen bag.

It has been a constant challenge to find ways to put my cell phone, medications, wallet, snacks, or anything else in a place that I can reach it, or open it. I know that they make ‘pockets’ and pouches that fit around the frame of chairs, but they are often more of a liability than an asset. The items that you have listed here will be much easier for me to get to, and maintain control over.

It might sound simple, but it is often a burden to place any extra bags, holders, etc on the frame of a chair. They do not fit snug, they slide off, loosen and catch in the wheels, get hung up on items such as doors, furniture, etc. You get the idea.

I have never given any thought to having a backpack with a waist strap, because they are more expensive. If I can buy one without the frame (is that possible?) then I can still hang the shoulder straps over the push handles, and then thread the waist strap through the bottom of the backrest of my chair. I will then be able to attach the Geek Pocket and some of the other things that will greatly increase my ability to access items that I need. Thus, in turn, increasing my quality of life.

Thanks again for sharing these ideas. I will be sure to post the link for this article on the websites for those of us with physical limitations that require help via walker, scooter chair, etc.

If you have any other ideas or suggestions that you think might assist those of us in the disabled community, please let me know. Thanks!!

Shannon R Gerdel
Casper, WY

Posted by Ben - 09/30/2011 01:05 PM

Shannon – the Osprey Grab bag has a few different points of attachment, with plenty of slack for adjusting (too much strap actually) but works well. I can usually put a small point and shoot, my iPhone, and a days worth of snacks, a knife, and any anything else I might need. Zippered pocket plus and elastic outer pocket really get the job done for me. It’s not huge, but worth a look…..

Posted by willysson - 10/06/2011 09:34 PM

Dana Design (no longer) was waaaaay ahead on this idea, my pack purchased 20 years ago had two decent sized accessory pockets that could be attached to the left and right sternum straps.

Posted by YK - 10/13/2011 12:48 AM

I used the SPIE belt for the colorado river 100mile paddle. You can squeeze in lots of gels and bars and if you wear it as a front pouch you have easy access while in the kayak

Posted by william - 11/09/2011 08:44 PM

wow! i stumbled on your website in google.I remember my old backpacking days. Such a great place to travel, especially when you’re still young. Thanks for sharing this article I enjoyed reading it.

Posted by Steven Jarvis - 03/21/2012 09:45 AM

Anyone remember the Dana Design “Wet Rib” or “Dry Rib”? I have a Wet Rib (essentially the Dry Rib with a water bottle pocket big enough for a 32oz Nalgene) that I’ve been wearing on different packs for at least 12 years. It attaches to your shoulder straps on one end, then has a sort of pseudo sternum strap (though it rides lower) arrangement to your other shoulder strap with a snap buckle in the middle to keep it suspending. I carry all sorts of stuff in it (snacks, compass, knife, water, little first aid kit, map, guidebook, camera, binocs, etc. Awesome piece of gear. Wish I’d bought a half-dozen of them.

Posted by Frank - 02/16/2013 01:48 PM

I recently purchased a 50l pack and was looking for an additional Dana Wet rib as I have one on my 75l pack only to find out they are no longer available. I was however able to locate something similar from a firm called Mystery Ranch. Although they only have one size, it appears to be very similar to the Dana unit.
http://mysteryranch.com/packs/all-accessories/wet-rib

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