Why this 35-year-old fanny pack is still a perfect piece of gear
I have my wife, Sarah, to thank for a lot of things, like supporting my volatile writing career and loving me unconditionally. She’s also the person who introduced me to the Mountainsmith Tour, which launched 35 years ago. She first used one of these fanny packs on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters when she was 15 years old. Nineteen years later, Sarah still uses it almost every weekend, and I often steal it for my own adventures.
Fanny packs get a bad rap—they get “ugly” and “dorky” thrown at them a lot. But here’s the thing: They are fantastically useful. A friend’s mom uses one because she has shoulder problems and can no longer hike with a regular daypack. Some parents I know use them as outdoorsy diaper bags. Photographers use them to stash spare lenses. Nowadays, the old-school packs come with modern niceties, like a tablet sleeve, phone pocket on the belt, and a headphone port, making them even more versatile.
Sarah and I primarily use ours for day hikes. Rather than schlep around a heavy, hot backpack, we opt for the lightweight Tour. It’s small enough to stay out of the way, but, at nine liters, it’s big enough to be genuinely useful. “You aren’t committing to a backpack—you’re committing to a belt,” Sarah says. There’s enough room inside for a day’s worth of calories and water, plus an extra layer.
As with all fanny packs, we like being able to turn the Tour around to access whatever’s inside. And thanks to the shoulder strap, it can also be worn like a messenger bag. (The new version has a tuck-away waist belt so it isn’t in your way when you’re wearing the bag messenger-style.) Sarah’s a fan of the wide, padded belt: Unlike some other fanny packs, which are hard to cinch down, the Tour’s belt has enough heft to ride comfortably on her lower back and never sag.
The packs are made from tough Cordura fabric; as a result, ours has never torn or even shown any major signs of wear, despite nearly two decades of use.
Really the Tour’s only downside that I can think of is its zippers, which can be finicky. I know a photographer who’s had to replace the main zipper a couple times because he yanked on it while chasing action, and it broke off. That said, the zipper hasn’t caused him to ditch the pack.
There are trendier fanny packs, like the Cotopaxi Bataan. Or you could go the fluorescent route, or buy something with cats on it. As for us, we’re sticking with the Tour. For Sarah, who grew up in Indiana, this pack was her first piece of outdoor gear, and she loved the rugged, mountain aesthetic. Nowadays, we live in Ashland, Oregon, a recreational mecca, and the pack fits in perfectly anytime we wear it out.