High Above Lookout Hip Pack
Stated Dimensions: 9”x3”x5.25”
Blister’s Measured Weight (including one Bottle Rocket): 287 grams
- Waterproof Xpac shell material from Dimension Polyant
- Heavy-duty nylon webbing
- Three interior pockets
- Additional weather-resistant external zippered pocket
- YKK Uretek #8 zippers
- Extra-Long para-cord zipper pulls for ease of entry
- MSRP: $100 for stock colors; $110 for custom
Test Locations: Crested Butte & Gunnison, CO; Washington
Duration of Test: ~2 Months
Fanny packs, the 90’s-tacular way to carry a few small items, have made a resurgence in recent years for mountain bikers, primarily as a way to lighten the load one carries on rides, and since they tend to be smaller, more comfortable, and less warm than a full backpack.
Unlike the neon-colored abominations of old (or beautiful vintage pieces, depending on your opinion), many modern fanny packs, or hip packs for those averse to that term, are cleverly designed, technical pieces that are made with technical fabrics, and have far more features than fanny packs of yore. High Above makes a variety of hip packs in Bellingham, WA, and I’ve been testing the Lookout – their mid-size option.
Design, Materials, & Storage
The Lookout is a simple, rectangular design, with one large main pocket (with internal dividers) and a small outer pocket on the front of the pack. What stands out first about the Lookout is the apparent quality of materials — it feels burly. High Above says that “The Lookout is built to last with waterproof materials, invincible construction and smart, simple details”. The main body of the pack is made of X-Pac, a heavy-duty ripstop nylon with additional polyester fibers in an X pattern, to reinforce the fabric across the bias. The X-Pac material is on the stiff / crinkly side, but I haven’t noticed at all with it on my back. The back of the pack is made from what I’d call a “medium coarseness,” lightly padded mesh with a ripstop nylon backer on the inside of the pack. That backer is a different, softer material than the X-Pac that forms the front of the pack. Both pockets feature weather-resistant and beefy YKK #8 zippers with large paracord pulls in a contrasting color for ease of use with gloved fingers.
The main pocket has three smaller internal pockets — one full-width across the back of the pack, which fits a phone nicely, and another across the inside of the front flap with a vertical divider in the middle, forming two smaller pockets. These are sized nicely for a multi-tool or other small items such as a tire plug kit and the like. The main compartment has plenty of room for a tube and mini-pump, with room to spare – it’s tight, but I’ve been able to fit all of the above, plus a pair of goggles and a food bar. There’s also a metal key clip on a paracord lanyard inside the pack.
The smaller exterior front pocket is accessed through a separate zipper across the face of the pack. This pocket also serves as storage for one of my favorite features — a pair of paracord straps that can be hooked through loops on the top edge of the pack and then used to strap a rolled-up jacket on top. It’s not the quickest thing to deploy and remove, since the straps have to be routed through the loops on the main pack (I wouldn’t trust them to stay on without a jacket to secure them), but they hold a jacket well. They’re a great way to add a jacket carry at a minimal weight penalty, and without having to bulk up the pack to the point that a jacket fits inside.
The Lookout also comes with what High Above calls a “Bottle Rocket,” which is essentially a removable water bottle (or beer can) pouch that can be strapped to either side of the pack, and added or removed as desired. A second Bottle Rocket for the other side can be had for an additional $20. The Bottle Rocket is made of the same X-Pac material as the body of the pack, with a drawstring baffle at the top to secure whatever’s inside. Typical-size bike water bottles, as well as 12-oz beer cans and 16-oz tallboys all fit great. Really tall water bottles might be a little less secure (if the neck of the bottle extends past the height the baffle can reach), but I haven’t had any issues with bottles or cans escaping.
On The Trail
The Lookout is basically middle-of-the-road for a hip pack in terms of size (they don’t list volume, but if you do the math, its volume is a bit over 2 liters). I’ve been using it on “normal” length rides; for really long epics where I need to carry more stuff (especially water) I’ve got a larger Evoc Hip Pack Race 3L that I’ll swap in. The Lookout is bigger and roomer than, for example, the Dakine Hot Laps 1.5L, but actually feels fairly similar in terms of overall bulk when worn. The Lookout has a much smaller footprint, and consequently feels cooler and more comfortable than the Evoc (the Evoc is exceptional for how big it is, but it’s big).
Overall, the Lookout has stayed put with fairly minimal movement, even when laden with a full water bottle or beer. Its waist strap consists of a simple nylon belt with a centered buckle and some gusseting where it connects into the pack, but for a pack this size, it gets the job done. The Evoc Hip Pack Race 3L has significantly more sophisticated straps and suspension, which, along with its semi-rigid foam back, keep it clamped down remarkably well, but this comes at the expense of a much larger footprint and a less soft / plush feel against the back.
The Lookout’s Bottle Rocket holds a bottle or can very well, but due to the removable strap that mounts it, it can rotate a bit relative to the body of the pack. It’s not a big deal, but since the Bottle Rocket is light and unobtrusive when empty, I think I’d rather see it permanently sewn to the pack for more stability. One sewn Bottle Rocket + one removable Bottle Rocket could be a great middle ground. I haven’t tried the Lookout with a second one on the other side, so I can’t comment on the strap /suspension with that much weight on board. I’ll update the post if I give that a go, but I suspect that a bigger pack might be better suited at that point.
The mesh backing material on the Lookout has proven to be soft and comfortable, even with the pack under a jersey and directly against the skin – I often prefer to wear fanny packs like that, for better airflow through the jersey. I’ve had issues with others, most notably the Hot Laps 1.5L, chafing on longer rides when worn like that, but no such problems with the Lookout.
[On that chafing issue, our own Kevin Bazar told me “That’s not the pack, that’s Jesus. And his smite.” I bring this up mostly to shame him for being so badly on the wrong side of history regarding the acceptability of fanny packs.]
Thus far, the X-Pac material in the body of the Lookout has proven to be very durable, and the fabric and the zippers haven’t let any water through, despite me taking the Lookout on several rides in the rain. The backing material against the mesh back of the pack isn’t entirely waterproof, however, and I have noticed the top edge of the inside of the pack getting a little damp on some of the longer, wetter rides I’ve been on. It hasn’t let a significant amount of water in, and I’m still comfortable keeping my phone in the Lookout, even in the rain, but it’s not quite 100% waterproof. That’s probably a good compromise, instead of using the stiffer, less pliable X-Pac material for the backer, where it’s near the skin, but it’s worth noting. Despite that limitation, the Lookout is still much more water resistant than any other hip pack I’ve used.
The High Above Lookout is an exceptionally well-constructed hip pack that’s made in the USA with premium materials. That doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a quality piece that should last a long time, and comes with a sensible size and feature set that cover my needs for most days on the bike.
High Above also offers smaller (Das Radpack and Nexus) and larger (Cascadia) options for true minimalists or those who want to carry a bit more, without having to resort to a backpack. The Lookout isn’t for those who want to carry the kitchen sink with them or who value the most precisely compartmentalized storage, but the modest division of the main pocket makes it easier to fit bigger, bulkier items, and the jacket carry on top is brilliant. The Lookout is an easy option to recommend for a lot of riders, and one that I’ll be keeping in regular rotation for my own use.