Despite the vast array of hip/lumbar packs that have been on the market over the last handful of years, it is surprising how few actually end meeting expectations. Well, my expectations at least. And I've owned my share, from some of the best names in the business. Yet, even some of the packs I've owned from manufacturers that typically turn out well made, smartly functioning gear have fallen victim to many of the same pitfalls: inadequate construction quality, over-complicated design or poor wearability and/or on-the-stream usability (packs that seem great on the rack at the fly shop, but fail to deliver once they're on your hip and on the stream). So, when hip packs come along that do their job and do it well, they're worth talking about. Fishpond's Westwater Guide Lumbar pack is one of those.
The Westwater Guide Lumbar pack is part of Fishpond's Westwater collection of packs and bags, which all share the same aesthetics and design philosophy that revolves around the collection's heavy-duty construction, meant to take a beating and keep your gear dry. The construction of the Westwater collection is primarily 1680d TPU waterproof fabric, with water-resistant zippers securing all access points. It is important to note that the Guide Lumbar pack and the other bags in the Westwater collection are not waterproof, despite often being referred to as such. While the 1680d nylon the bags are almost wholly built out of is entirely waterproof, the zippers are not. The zippers are YKK #10 water-resistant zippers, not the YKK #5 Aquaseal or TZIP waterproof zippers found elsewhere. That said, you can expect a great deal of water resistance from these bags. I've fished in moderately heavy rain without concern, don't panic if the occasional dunking happens and my smartphone is inside and don't think twice about letting the bag get splashed, tossed down on boat floors and so on. It takes a bit of doing to get water into this bag, so it is going to keep things dry virtually all of the time, but please take care to understand these bags are not submersible.
Beyond offering near-waterproof water resistance, the 1680d construction offers up an impressive amount of hardiness. If you're someone who doesn't like to baby their equipment, as I am, then the Westwater Guide Lumbar pack's insult-proof construction is likely right up your alley. I've put the Guide Lumbar pack and its namesake in the collection, the Westwater Large Zippered Duffel through an unreasonable amount of abuse -- tossed down and dragged on shoreline rocks, stepped on with studded wading boots, scrambled over boulders and dragged through uncomfortably thick brush, stuffed into float plane cargo holds, and repeatedly sent mercilessly through commercial airline baggage handling -- for the last year or so, and they've soldiered through in virtually brand new condition. After a wipe (or hose) down, they look almost the same as the day they arrived. Zippers, pulls, straps, clasps and so on all have likewise emerged unscathed.
Like most gear made these days that does its job and does it well, the Westwater Guide Lumbar pack does so through its simplicity. There's not too much going on here, and that's why it works. The pack features one front zippered pocket, lower-side cinch straps, a couple of D-rings and so on for attaching retractors, tippet holders and the like, and a main interior compartment that is quite neatly (and thankfully) divided into only 2 interior pockets, and that's about it.
What there is a lot of in the Guide Lumbar pack, is room. Offering a great deal of functional holding capacity -- it's not all about cubic inches, folks, that space has to be usable -- isn't notable in itself. Offering a great deal of storage area without being bulky, is. The pack offers a surprising amount of room (my large Montana Fly Company streamer/saltwater box that is more of a small suitcase than a fly box slides in with relative ease), but does so while weighing in at a paltry 1.4 pounds and sporting a profile that leaves you repeatedly surprised by what you're able to stuff into it.
I wear hip packs significantly more often than I wear sling packs, because I'm usually carting around a backpack stuffed with cameras and lenses, leaving me no place to sling a sling pack. Given that I'm wearing two bags, wearability and comfort is fairly important. This usually relegates me to sporting a very minimalist hip pack, as the Patagonia Stormfront backpack that typically holds my camera gear eats up the majority of my ample rear-side real estate. So, it was much to my delight discovering that the Westwater Guide Lumbar pack with its sturdy, near-waterproof construction and all of its roominess, manages to wear very minimally and eat up as little room as you could possibly expect it to, which allows me to wear it along with my backpack and do so relatively comfortably. There's a bit of juggling and jostling from time to time, but that's not much of a price to pay given that I'm asking two roomy, heavily constructed bags to play nicely together.
The Westwater Guide Lumbar pack rests very comfortably on the waist/hips, presumably thanks to the ample lumbar padding, and it swings around easily for access.
It's hard to criticize Fishpond for not adding another feature to this pack in the midst of congratulating them for keeping things simple. Still, the one thing that often feels missing from the Westwater Guide Lumbar pack is a place tote a water bottle. There's no telling how this would affect wearability or comfort, so there may be a reason a water bottle compartment didn't make the cut.
If you prioritize water carrying over water resistance, there are other hip packs for you. Perhaps even another Fishpond offering in the Yampa Guide Pack we also just reviewed.
It also bears mentioning that Fishpond's Westwater line, along with its new Cyclepond line, offers a more modern and updated aesthetic when compared to some of Fishpond's more traditional designs. As someone that wasn't crazy about look of the stuff that Fishpond was designing a few years back, this is a welcome change. Looks aren't everything, but they ain't nothing, either.
Fishpond has managed to offer a great deal of usability and durability in a surprisingly sleek and comfortably worn piece of gear. The Westwater Guide Lumbar pack doesn't try to do too much, instead it seems to endeavor to do a few things very well, and succeeds at doing so.