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Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:04 am
by Hobbes
For those following emerging equipment trends among backpacking test pilots - thru-hikers - perhaps the biggest change has been the adoption of small, very lightweight packs without hip belts.

The basic premise is essentially "your pack is too heavy if you have/need a hip belt". The concept has been percolating for awhile, but seems to reaching critical mass among a vanguard of hikers. I had been playing around with a belt-less design during last winter, and finally sewed up a 25-30L pack in time for the 2016 HST meet-up. Grand total weight for 3 nights/4 days, including DeLorme & phone, was 11.5 lbs. Packed inside along with food/essentials was my DIY over-sized tarp (that has kept me perfectly dry in a couple of major storms), a 30 degree quilt, a windshirt and over-stuffed down vest.

It worked unreal for me - definitely my favorite pack so far, DIY or otherwise. While Oleander, Mav, BlueWater and a few others were checking it out/trying it on, I mentioned that Andy Benz - the current holder of the JMT FKT - and his group of "super" hiker friends were really beginning to push the concept. They've even begun a meme within their group about "banning the hip belt". LOL

So, for those interested in what is happening out on the trail, here's a few links that hopefully can illustrate the movement:

Scott Williamson - previous holder of different PCT records - makes all his own gear and has been beltless for years:

Billy Goat (on the left) is in his 70s and has traversed the entire length of the PCT 8 times:

Andy & John Z of

Leading 2016 SOBO

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:14 am
by longri
Stating the obvious, but this only works for relatively short trips or trips where regular resupply makes sense, which is essentially a sequence of short trips.

I find that the cutoff is around 12-13lbs. Above that and the hipbelt is preferable. So I leave the hipbelt on my pack and just let it flop when the pack is light. The padded belt on my pack weighs about 3oz so it isn't a big deal.

Another approach, one I've meant to try but haven't, is to get rid of the hipbelt and the shoulder straps. The tumpline is a common ploy elsewhere in the world and I've read reports from two well known wilderness adventurers who advocated it (RJ Secor and Yvon Chouinard).

The other reason for a hipbelt (and a sternum strap) is stability on rough terrain or when skiing. But for that it could just be a simple strap.

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 11:08 am
by Wandering Daisy
Different packs for different styles of hiking. Also different areas and different people. It is great that you have developed something that works so well for you.

I have been in enough really bad storms to be skeptical of UL gear. I happen to like hip belts. I like the feel and it gives me something to put my camera and bear spray on. I think the ratio of your own body weight vs the pack also matters. I do not weigh much so even a light pack throws me off enough that I like a hip belt. I also think hip belts may function a bit differently on women who have larger (stronger) hips vs shoulders. ANY amount of weight off my shoulders is pure heaven!

My preferred hiking style is longer trips (up to 14 days), a slower pace and off trail. This just works better for my body. I do not think my joints would hold up for 12 hour days or 20-30 mile days. I will not even day-hike those kind of miles. I also prefer a larger margin of safety than many. I sleep extraordinarily cold so need more of a sleeping bag than most. Like to take fishing gear too. Where I cut back is food and water. Just my style.

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 11:10 am
by Wandering Daisy
What I do not see on any of those packs is a bear can capable of carrying 10 days food.

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 11:29 am
by AlmostThere
Yep, there's thru hiking, and actual backpacking, and not having a bear can ain't gonna happen for me. Today I'm stuffing seven days in a Bearikade in between checking the weather and reading forum posts.

Every time some trend like this starts I just wait for reality to settle in. For those of us who don't care to spend all kinds of money and time with frequent resupplies, there are certain requirements. Carrying 1.5 lbs of food per day doesn't leave you with a ten pound pack. I won't let more than 15 lbs ride around on my shoulders for very long, that's a great way to tweak that one spot in my right shoulder that's bugged me for 34 years.

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 12:26 pm
by rlown
Have to agree with AT and WD on this topic. Off trail, the hip belt keeps things in control. The hip belt also eliminates the stress/strain on the shoulders and spine and puts it squarely on the hips which are pleasantly designed to carry the weight. I don't buy into the UL thing for the reasons WD stated. I like degrees of freedom and safety when out, and carrying 10 days of food is a good reason too.

Your pack is too heavy if your hips go numb because you had to cinch it too tight. :)

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 2:46 pm
by giantbrookie
I agree with AT and WD as well. I spend more time off trail with my pack than on, I always carry a bear can, plenty of foul weather gear, fishing gear, etc. and I very much need a hip belt for the stability and the relief on my shoulders. In fact I like having one even for my daypack for the stability aspect. Again, as others have said, different sets for different folks and different purposes.

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2016 6:50 am
by freestone
I have always had an issue with internal frame pack belts and "sag". No matter how I adjust the belt, the weight still pulls on my shoulders, to the point where I find myself reaching behind and supporting the bottom of the pack with my hands. I have noticed that switching to an external frame pack, that effect is less noticeable, but the bottom line for me is nothing on my back over 23 pounds at the start of the trip.

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2016 11:34 am
by Hobbes
I've found that the absolute key element in designing/creating a beltless pack for myself was placement, length, & angle of the upper shoulder straps. This of course makes perfect sense, because all of the weight is on your shoulders. If not done properly - and I've made a ton of mistakes on past packs - you'll get a major case of drag ass.

But it actually goes further than that: I spent months - off & on - going back to my own DIY and commercial packs measuring, re-measuring, and then re-measuring again all the various contact points (shoulder straps, hip belts, sternum straps) - in relationship to pack dimensions - with constant adjustments to fit, etc.

What I discovered, and this might be a big duh! moment for others, was you need to be precise about following both the width & curve of your upper back in conjunction with torso length & hip width. Operating along the same principles of load lifters, the top shoulder strap contact point is actually comprised of the initial attachment, along with continuous sew line to the bottom anchor. The length of this sew line - done properly (in my case around 4") - then forces the pack to curve along your back to your shoulders, with -0- gap and no drag ass.

In effect, it virtually gets the pack weight coming down from the top of your spine, instead of pulling back. Hip belts of course refine this concept even more by simply re-directing a lot of pack weight past your back directly to your hips & legs. Done right, the pack fits like a glove. I used this pack through the SHR from Banner to TM. It never once flopped around or wasn't stable. Even better, it's by far the most comfortable pack I've ever worn, commercial or DIY.

I used it for 3 nights/4 days starting @ 11.5 lbs. Adding 3 more lbs of food, it would be good for 5+ nights/6 days starting @ 14.5 lbs. As Longri pointed out - and I wholeheartedly agree - anything over 14-15 lbs would begin to become uncomfortable. By definition then, it's not really suited for longer duration hikes without re-supply opportunities @ 5-6 days.

So, a beltless pack is simply another tool to be utilized as the conditions warrant. No one drives a big-rig to work; likewise, passenger cars & motorcycles aren't used for interstate shipping. As an option for a nice, quick getaway trip (or a thru-hike that allows continual re-supply @ 3-5 days), a well designed beltless pack can stow everything you really need. Best of all, and I can only provide personal testimony, it's an incredibly liberating experience to essentially be day hiking in the back country with no concept of pack weight.

Re: Ban the Hip Belt

Posted: Sun Aug 14, 2016 12:32 pm
by Hobbes
I realized I should probably post up some pics & dimensions to provide better context in case anyone is looking and/or researching for add'l information on belt-less packs:

- Pack - Dyneema 140
- Shoulder straps - 3D mesh (doubled)

20" L x 12.5" W x 6.5" D(eep) = 30+ L(iters)
Straps - distance apart 3" / width 3.25"
Bottom contacts (from top shoulder anchor) 20" = length of pack

- pack 6.75 oz
- pad 1.5 oz
- total 8.25

Note the angle of the top anchor points - around .5". If I were to make another one, I might go to 1". The other absolutely crucial element is the distance apart ie your neck/shoulder width. Too close, and the straps will chafe your neck; too far apart, and the weight is not centered, but rather distributed to the ends of your shoulders. In this case, I could have probably brought them in another .5".

One last point - the nylon should stretch, but not too much. I've got a Dyneema 210 pack that is very rigid; likewise, I've used silnylon that really stretched. Note: Cuben doesn't stretch, so it might not be a good choice for this application. Dyneema 140 seems perfect - a little stretch, but really good abrasion resistance & strength.