It was 28°C (83°F), and the humidity was up. My back had been a little bit off of true for the last year (sneeze-and-your-knees-might-give-out sort of pain), and while I had been looking forward to a nice wilderness hike, I dreaded the consequences should my health and fitness not meet my needs on the trail. By past standards, it was a relatively easy hike of less than ten kilometres (6.2 miles) a day, but it would be my first real exertion since my previous trip, in November. With my back and the broken terrain in mind, I packed quite lightly, and was looking forward to testing a new piece of kit that seemed quite appropriate — the Ribz Front Pack from Ribzwear.
North of Highway 60, the Eastern Pines hiking trail in Barron Canyon is a beautiful part of Algonquin Park’s interior wilderness, and I had not walked these particular trails for almost ten years, since it’s a leisurely 7 hours from my slice of civilized living. I was headed for the boulder fields of Bucholtz Lake in August, there to make solitary camp away from the campgrounds and busy drive-in crowd, and spend a few days with my thoughts, the trees, and the boulders for which the area is famous.
Expectations and first impressions
My initial impressions of the Ribz Front Pack started before I had it in my hands. Let’s face it, a decent amount of us shop this way — we gear junkies start to drool if something looks remotely interesting on paper.
At $64.95 MSRP, it seems a tad expensive for what, at first blush, is a glorified organizer. Luckily, the company had provided a review product for my use, so I was saved the sticker shock*.
The specs are available from their website, and are as follows:
Fabric: Cordura Brand water resistant ripstop
Capacity: 700+ Cu In
Weight: 12.1 oz
Waist: 32-44 in
The pack is available to purchase directly from the manufacturer on their online store. A quick search on the internet will reveal some cheaper prices, but if you do, make sure you get the latest version, which seems to have addressed some shortcomings of earlier models.
The initial package is pretty compact, with a durable storage bag that I appreciated, since much of my gear spends more time being stored or stuffed rather than used. Once in your hands, it feels much, much lighter than its listed 12oz, and seems reasonably rough and tumble.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything that I would consider a ‘shelf queen’ but that doesn’t mean I cook all of my meals over a fire or sleep in my sleeping bag when I’m not in the bush.
The front pack itself is a simple enough concept, and one that’s easy to grasp; take at least some of the off-centre load, and bring it around to the front. The Ribzwear approach is aptly named, since it feels like the pack is cradled against your ribs, almost to the sides. This feels much more comfortable than creating a mirror-image of your main pack, avoiding an awkwardly off-balance, front-heavy load as soon as you remove your backpack.
Fit and comfort
I have a slim build, and since it was a hot weekend, I wore only a T-shirt. The medium size fit me nicely – barely. I’m a 34″ waist, and the fit above my hips was great. The shoulder straps are similar to what you’d find in suspenders, and were tightened to their fullest extent. It was enough, however, and I had no feeling that it needed further adjustment. Those with slimmer builds and short torsos would do well to consider the small. There was plenty of room for adjustment wider, however, so larger builds and thick outerwear use should scale extremely well.
One issue I could foresee was that of heat. Hiking, especially in dense, boulder-strewn forests where the air doesn’t move, can be stifling work, and I wasn’t looking forward to covering another part of my core and restricting my ability to shed excess heat.
In practice, it was very comfortable, but I was correct in my prediction about heat. While not excessive, I found myself opening the front zipper to let the front of my core shed heat as the day got warmer. This was fine, however, as the designed allowed me to do this without any discomfort, or loss of utility. In more dynamic movement situations, such as scrambling or running, the loose packs would be an issue, but for hiking and walking, they didn’t get in the way or swing too much.
Although it sits on your ribs, it doesn’t create any uncomfortable bulge at the sides, and is quite unobtrusive.
For those who are interested, here’s the inventory list for my Ribz:
- bug juice
- contractor garbage bag
- fire kit
- first aid kit
- 1 pound of trail food
- 20m paracord 550
- snare wire
- water purification
- knee brace
- mosquito headnet
- emergency bivvy
- mini hatchet
All in all, this saved me about 7lbs in my main pack, leaving only main food, shelter, and clothes for the backpack. As you can see from the list, the Ribz pack became the de-facto camp tool holder for the duration of the trip. There was no dedicated knife or whistle, since I always carry those items directly on my person, along with a lighter. The gear was easy to get to, and the zippers pulled easily. The material is a bit noisy, which may be an issue for hunters or wildlife photographers. I had hoped to get the camouflage version to test, as supposedly, the fabric is much more quiet. If I get my hands on one, I’ll review it on a stalk.
Utility – in camp
By the time I got to my first night’s rest, I was convinced it was a good implementation for the hiker on the go. In camp, however, I could see where certain improvements could be made. The organization is good; two large pockets and two smaller pockets in front make for a lot of good gear separation based on purpose, and there are two mesh pockets inside the large areas for further division.
These features are what make it so attractive to use around camp. I used the Ribz pack to keep any of the essentials that I didn’t have on my belt or in my pockets, so as a result, I found myself going to the pack most often when in camp. A good (lightweight) way to tuck away the straps would go a long way to making this a good in-camp companion, especially if you’re in a hammock, as I was for this trip. While worn, the pockets are easy to distinguish, but on the ground, the symmetry gives you a 50/50 chance of opening the correct side when looking for something, especially in the dark. This would be easily remedied by a bit of paracord as a pull-cord for one side’s zipper. It’s easy enough to do at home, however, so I’m not concerned. I’d love a good way to haul or hang it, however. A good webbing strap along the inside of the middle zipper seam could do the trick nicely, and is a modification I’m considering, but having it as a default would be nice.
Other than that, I don’t think it needs any changes. I certainly don’t want it to suffer from feature-creep, since it works well and simply. I think a way to haul and hang, and a way to get the straps out of the way would simply streamline its use in camp.
Let me be perfectly clear: I use my gear. You’re not getting my opinion just minutes after I’ve opened the package, stuffed a few powerbars and Ray Mears DVDs in the pockets, and walked through my backyard while mowing the lawn.
I’ve hiked in this pack, and committed to it as a replacement and modification for my established kit in order to give it a good test. It’s passed with flying colours. There are a few things I can think of to refine the in-camp experience, but no deal breakers. I will certainly be making this a part of my pack system on future hikes.
STILL TO COME: Hiking is not portaging or canoeing, and there are different considerations in the winter, so stay tuned for my followup reviews of this product on lake and at low temperatures.
* Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the Ribz Front Pack for free from Ribzwear as coordinated by Deep Creek PR an Outdoor Industry Public Relations Company in consideration for review publication. This in no way influenced the contents or conclusions of this review.