As I wrote in last year’s review of Simms’ latest generation headwaters full day pack, I’m always in search of better, more comfortable ways to haul my gear. Nothing ever seems to work as well as advertised or as written according to the “company line.”
Because I typically spend full, eight hour days on foot on the water, I hadn’t tried to make use of a hip pack simply because I thought I couldn’t get everything I need onboard. But given the opportunity to try on Patagonia’s Stealth Hip Pack, and knowing on enough occasions I wasn’t going to be more than a couple miles from my vehicle at any given moment, I was eager to give it a good test drive.
Right sized & built for ease of use
I was easily able to store and arrange three fly boxes, spare leaders, tippet material, snacks, the afore mentioned water bottles, my wallet, phone and a few other odds-and-ends for a full day’s fishing in this pack. The two main pockets and the interior compartments within them were ample and intuitively organized. I never had a moment’s trouble quickly accessing what I needed when I needed it. For the average angler (note: not “guide,” angler), I’d call this “right sized” for sure.
I did employ several of the four pockets on my shirt for items, but did not make use of the small pockets on the front of the pack, nor did I stuff it to the gills. This pack held almost everything I needed in a highly useable way.
The bottle holders
I happened to arrive in Bozeman precisely on the front end of a weeklong sweltering heat wave. It turns out the waist pack was a fantastic option for keeping an extra layer (vest) or full pack off of my shoulders. It also meant I was going to need to tote as much liquid as I could carry.
I was extremely pleased to discover that the Patagonia Stealth Hip Pack has two easily accessible, “twin nylon/spandex water bottle pockets” on each side that can both accommodate a 32 oz. Gatorade bottle. It seems like such a simple feature, but you’d be surprised by offerings out there that don’t have them, are highly limited in their capacity, too far out of reach, or tend to allow their occupants to fall out too easily. Having one on each side helps keep the load balanced as well.
These do their job very well and extend time on the water.
Built to last
The construction appears top notch. The 840 denier nylon with DWR finish should enable this puppy to stand up to enough abuse that, as long as you don’t leave it behind somewhere, the cost of ownership on a “days in use basis” will be well less than $1 per day in use as long as the seam stitching stands up.
The ventilated padding where the pack meets the lumbar area is ample and appreciated. The wrapping sides themselves have good surface area, small, quick-grab, pockets of their own, and a few small loops that perfectly hold items like a zinger and pair of snips that I never had to even look for to access. They fell precisely where my right hand expected to find them nearly every single time.
Easy to handle
While not unique to this pack, I also really like the handle. It makes for another quick grab option on what can be a gangly piece of gear to handle before you actually put it on and ask it to do its job. It would be a noticeable miss if it were not included.
Rides too low when heavily loaded
Like most of these style packs, it cantilevers and “hangs off from the top” when I wore it. Fully loaded this caused a weight distribution problem that wore on my lower back towards the end of the day.
One possible solution could be two independent primary buckles with independent cinch straps or some other integration of both upper and lower cinch straps. This would enable a more comfortable, anatomic fit and even weight distribution. I’m sure the team at Patagonia could sort this out in the next model.
While this pack does come with a shoulder strap intended to help with weight distribution, this one consistently slid off my shoulder to the point that I gave up on it entirely. Your experience may differ here, especially if you’re wearing something other than a guide-style, long sleeved, quick-dry shirt. You can wear the strap around your neck as shown on the website product page, but that means having the pack ride the front of your waist, not the backside. Not an option for me.
Lacks waterproof storage
Needs an integrated plastic sealing pouch for phone, camera, or other “sensitives.” There is a small, top drop in, mesh lined security pocket that is perfectly sized and suited for a wallet and phone, but where’s the “zip lock style” waterproof element? Patagonia has this on another pack, integrated into the top compartment. It’s an excellent feature. So why isn’t it here?
When I loaded this puppy up for the first time, I discovered there’s nowhere to stuff or carry a rain jacket. I know we’re sort of “fishing light” here, but we ought to be able to accommodate a lightweight rain jacket for the cost of just to extra cinch straps. Two cinch straps on the bottom would enable a rain jacket to easily ride along, just like the way you see backpackers attach their bedrolls to the bottoms of their larger packs.
A few small improvements could render the Patagonia Stealth Hip Pack seemingly flawless. I shared my suggestions with Patagonia Director of Fishing Products Bart Bonime when we coincidentally crossed paths in Silver Gate, Montana. Hopefully some of these these needs can be incorporated easily enough to make a “four out of five star” product a full five star product.
Patagonia has put together a slim, yet roomy hip/waist pack that does more than cram in compartments and features — it has assembled them into a piece of gear that is incredibly usable; no small feat in an industry where the importance of the length of a product's feature list sometimes seems to outweigh its usability. The Patagonia Stealth Hip pack is well designed, seemingly built to last and an asset while on the water. This pack has a lot going for it and is well worth the $89 price tag in its current form. If you’re considering a hip-pack — and especially if you don't tend to load down your packs or require waterproof storage — this should be a strong contender for your investment.