As with much in life – particularly my mountain biking life – I am a late adopter. Late for suspension. Late for disc brakes. Late for 29ers. Late for dropper posts, 1x drivetrains, wide bars, you name it and I have probably let someone else test the technology ahead of time. I’m still waiting on a carbon frame for heavens sake.
Late too, to the pleasures of hip packs. Sorry hip pouches.
Now this is partly because old Camelbaks don’t ever wear out. Those things are bullet proof and so long as you replace the bladder if it gets beyond hope (or sterilising tabs) you are good to go. Partly too, my Jeffsy 29er didn’t have space in the frame for a standard water bottle. It was only recently that both my mountain bike frames would take one.
I say all this to temper the picture I am about to paint of the Evoc Hip Pouch 1L. Because I am well and truly a convert. But first, a little scene setting…
Why use a backpack for cycling?
In simple terms, back when full size backpacks were the only way to go for the intrepid cyclist it coincided with bike technology that was less than reliable.
Things had a habit of breaking randomly, expensively and sometimes catastrophically. I remember with much amusement the long run of Sunday rides we had where DaveC’s rim tape punctured his inner tube. Week, after week, after week. Then there was the time when MarkJ’s Garvin Flex stem dismantled itself coming down through the Denbies hillside, long before the advent of the Red, White and Rose trail. And headsets working loose, or cranks falling off (mine fell off on a Reigate ride once).
In short, bikes frequently exploded and it was a wise rider who carried enough tools to at least get them to a phone box for the team car. And – possibly – an unwise rider who carried a chain whip with him to tackle the South Downs Way in a Day but that’s another story.
So, backpacks were de-rigeur. Added to which we had to drink water. LOTS of water. 1 litre, 2 litres, sometimes 3 litres on a Sunday ride in DaveC’s case. Couldn’t have enough water according to the fitness bods. This probably accounts for the lush, well watered vegetation along the trails of yesteryear compared to today – nothing to do with global warming…
But gradually, things started to change.
Why use a hip pack or pouch for cycling?
First, bikes got more reliable; like a quantum more reliable. So much so that the advent of a puncture on our New Forest gravel ride, followed by another and then another had us all scratching our heads. Can’t remember the last time that happened. Generally if something breaks on your bike today something else has gone wrong and your bike is the least of your concerns.
Second, there are so many ways to store compact tools about your bike these days, quite apart from the luxury of burrito boxes. Inside stems, handlebars, crank axles, bottle cages there’s generally space to fit what you need.
And thirdly, frames finally started to accommodate full size water bottles, even full suspension frames. In fact the absence of a bottle mount inside the frame would now stop me buying the bike at all, no matter how good it was.
Finally, we need to look to our pioneer hydrophobics, JR and Elliot. These two guys have for years eschewed carrying large amounts of water on their rides. While they may well have had their sweat glands removed, they are also among our fastest riders, a connection that perhaps shouldn’t be overlooked. The rest of us can always – frequently do – rehydrate in the pub.
The scene is set for hip packs. Or Hip Pouches. Whatever
All the above factors came together for me.
To start with, as a baseline it really is true that bikes are a lot more reliable. So much so that for a couple of years now I’ve had one set of tools to cover my gravel, tarmac and mountain biking needs, all carried in a neoprene wallet I can transfer from my rear pockets on gravel/tarmac and my ertswhile Camelbak off road.
As for water, I was gradually understanding that we don’t need to carry or drink anywhere near the volumes we used to. I mean yes, you need to drink, but ideally your water would run out as you arrived home. I was experimenting with water bottles and found that generally a 710ml bottle was fine for nearly every ride.
I started to think using my Camelbak – sans bladder – to cart round a tool wallet that fitted perfectly into a road jersey back pocket was a bit of overkill on MTB rides. At this point the relevance of a hip pack became clear… I had become ‘woke’ to hip packs and just how many people now use them.
Now a word of warning. This is a very deep rabbit hole.
Once you start to look into the matter you realise there are many, many levels of hip pack dependance, from discrete money belts all the way up to monster sherpa grade hip packs that let you carry a couple of water bottles plus enough capacity for a weekly shop at Tescos. In this context, maybe a 1L Hip Pouch makes sense.
After looking around and paying attention to what the early adopters were using I settled on Evoc as a brand. Honestly you just have to narrow things down as there are loads of companies selling hip packs.
Evoc have a huge range of hip-based options that top out with the Hip Pack Pro 3 (it’s definitely a pack) that comes with its own 1.5L hydration bladder, a 3 litre carrying capacity and space for two extra water bottles. I was quite tempted by the forgiving looking wrap-around velcro belt but reasoned I really didn’t need that much water or that much storage. Or that much cost.
So I moved down the product chart, passing the Hip Pack Pro 3L without the bladder, then the Hip Pack 3L (no pro and no velcro) until I reached Pouch territory. And this proved to me to be Goldilocks territory too…
Evoc Hip Pouch 1L features
I was after a compact hip pack but there were other factors at play.
Comfort was one as my expectation from a hip pack would something that bounced around distractingly. Styling was another; as with most things I didn’t want boring black but equally this is a hip pack we are talking about and it’s hard to rock a hip pack. It also needed to live up to expectations set by anything from Camelbak i.e. it needed to look like it was going to last.
So, in terms of compact storage the Evo Hip Pouch 1L offers – I’m sure you have guessed – 1 whole litre of storage space, a third of the capacity of the Pro 3. Of course, it depends how you use it and Evoc does this rather well.
Inside you have three mesh pockets and a main compartment. I can fit a multi tool, my box of ‘stuff’ (tubeless fixes, spare valves, scissors, chain links etc.) and my Schwalbe tyre levers, core remover and Stans top up. Into the main compartment variously goes my pump and a wallet, leaving space for sunglasses and if need be a takeaway Pain au Raisin from the Plough at Coldharbour!
Externally there are two further zipped pockets which I use for my phone and garage key while the remaining two open mesh pockets are for snack wrappers.
It turns out I can fit everything I need into the Hip Pouch even without moving some of that to the bike itself. The beauty of this arrangement though is I can take the pouch for both MTB and gravel now without any extra faff.
I have found that this suits me for all day riding too provided there is a stop for lunch or cake. What I can’t fit in is a rain jacket without sacrifice elsewhere, or food for a self supported day. Horses for courses.
As for comfort, boy was I surprised! I expected something that would bounce around annoyingly especially over rough ground but the truth is this pack is so unobtrusive I only remember I have it on when I sit down at a cake stop. It’s effectively invisible. It doesn’t get hot (far less than any Camelbak I’ve worn despite their efforts at venting) which may be helped by the lumber padding on the rear of the pack.
The stability is helped by the belt which is a simple webbing with a sturdy buckle that lets you cinch it down just right. Elasticated loops are provided for that bane of adjustable belts – excess webbing – which can be rolled up and secured nice and neatly. I had low expectations of the belt versus the velcro wrap of the Pro but its been great.
As for style and build quality… construction is easily on a par with Camelbak and feels it will last a good few years. I’ve crashed on it, got it muddy and it has just shrugged it all off. Being relatively compact for a fanny pack (as our US cousins say) means it is relatively discrete and I think it looks quite nice in the steel grey you see in the pictures.
Fashions change – I’ve see bright orange, citrus yellow and of course black while this years’ blue is quite bright but you should be able to find a colour you like somewhere.
Finally, when it comes to price you can currently get these for around £30 which given the times we live in is an absolute bargain. I highly recommend this and would say its been one of the best things pound for pound that I’ve ever bought; it’s brilliant!
If you ride out and back and/or stop for coffee and cake (and why wouldn’t you?) this is everything you need and nothing else. If you prefer to go long, or carry wet weather clothing then this isn’t the pack for you – but I suspect the Pro 3L probably is.