Tag Archives: mountain laurel designs

Hipster Packing

I’ll admit it – I’m a fan of fanny packs. I often used one with my hip-belt less packs when backpacking to carry a phone or maps, and like the hip pack for day hikes when I don’t really need the volume (or sweaty back) of a day pack, and tbh these are also great as hands free bags around town. I’ve been testing a few out in varying circumstances – following are my thoughts:

The Gossamer Gear Hipster
Material: Ripstop nylong
Weight 2.1 oz. with 1 in. x 45 in. webbing waistbelt
Size: 10 x 6 in – 40 c.i. (.7 L)
Cost $19.99

I used the Hipster extensively on my PCT and CDT hikes – especially in cold weather when I want my phone and maps somewhere other than my shirt pockets (too much unzipping!). I’ve also used it extensively for day hikes, trail running and mountain biking.

It’s perfect for hiking – holds a phone, maps and other daily necessities like lip balm or smoking supplies. I have an older version, and the volume really works best with EITHER a phone or snack, not both. The pack is also water resistant, so I feel confident keeping my phone there without a plastic bag, even in pretty wet conditions.

It bounces around on MTB or running trips, but is generally fine & secure as long as it’s not overloaded. I like the key hook – it prevents nightmares about being locked out at the trailhead.

The quality is excellent, I’ve probably travelled 3000 miles with mine and it’s not even showing wear, and washes up well. I also love/hate the design, which tends to keep the pack closed – if u forget to zip u wont lose your ish, however it makes single handed operation/getting a IPhone6 (normal size) out sometimes frustrating. It’s probably sewn in Taiwan, but you get what you pay for at $20.

Overall 7/10. Bummed about the overseas sewing, but profile is most likely to get used around town.

ThruPacks Astronaut
Material: Dyneema
Weight 1.5 oz + 2.5 oz for comfy hip belt
175 cubic inches, (2.9L)
Cost $60 (pack) + $20 (comfy strap)

A newcomer to the fanny pack market, Thru. is making some beautifully made-in-America boutique hip belts. The Astronaut is their flagship model, made of translucent Dyneema (nee cuben fiber) with a waterproof zipper and webbing pulls. A more full figured pack, it features an interior zipper pocket (with separated ID/loot slots) and an open back pocket. The volume offers enough room to carry a windshirt, any smartphone, gloves, hand sani & minor first aid, and smoking accessories on the inside, while also comfortably accommodating a quart freezer bag of snacks in the open back pocket. Carrying this extra weight is all made possible by the awesome “Comfy Strap” – made of webbing and spandex, which helps reduce friction and fatigue with its wide footprint. Sure, the extra volume makes it too bouncy for running, and I wouldn’t trust the open back pocket for anything during an MTB shred – but this is a real winner for longer day hikes or as part of a hipbelt-less pack system for backpacking. I also use mine daily in the garden – I’m a profession flower grower- and it’s the best size for all the essentials; scissors, blade, twisties & zip ties, gloves and iPod with room for extras.

I also hafta say – I really love American made products, and this is made by backpackers for backpackers in Norfolk, VA. Having spent a fair amount of time hunched over a sewing machine, I’m can say the Astronaut features superb construction, and I can see it lasting thru years of abuse. I look forward to finding out.

9/10 – awesome quality and functionality American made gear.

PS if u think $80 buck is large coin for a fine American made product, it’s totes in the range of other similar products like the awesome, MTB specific Hunter Cycles Shred Pack. If you want cheap, think kids in China.

Mountain Laurel Designs Pack Pocket
Material: Dyneema X
Weight: .999 oz, no waistbelt included
Size: 4.5 X 6.5 X 1.75 (48ci / .78L)

While not technically a hip pack, I often slide the MLD Pack Pocket on my webbing belt that keeps up my short shorts when I shred the MTBs, or when I’m riding around town. The Pack Pocket is compact, waterproof, and just large enough to keep an iPhone 6, a couple of tire levers and patch kit, OR maybe a snack & your ID/loot. I’ll admit it’s not efficient for hiking (not quite enough volume without a backpack to back it up), and bounces too much for trail running. But it’s a great cycling tool. If you’ve ever tried to fish your ID and money out of a messenger bag (which happens to have the inside coated in wheatpaste, that’s another story) u know it’s basically a black hole. It’s nice to keep a few things easily accessible. The Pack Pocket is also super durable – I’ve scraped mine on both concrete and dirt (I’m really good at falling off bikes), and it’s not even showing wear. Highly recommended. Also, I guess you could actually put it on a backpack hip belt, tho I’ve not tried.

Overall 7/10 Kinda awkward to use with a normal belt, but does work great for extra storage, and iz American made & super cheap.

Material: Ripstop nylon
Weight: Heavy, best not ask
Size: about 1L
Cost: $2 at the thrift

The Cadillac of fanny packs, with 2 zippered pockets, key leash, external compression straps, and integrated water bottle (or beer) holsters. This thing is massive, and meant to compliment your full size gaiters. It’s also awesome if you want to stash 4 trail beers, tools, and some snacks for an afternoon shred – and they are readily available at the thrift (at least in the northwest). A definite contender, but too heavy for long distance hiking use, and too many features for day trips unless you’re biking. But check out that awesome gros grain!

Overall 7/10 Nice price, 90’s accents, but too klunky for everyday use.

Gear Shakedown: Mountain Laurel Design SPIRIT 28 Quilt

IMG_0216Last week, Groucho and I tested our new quilts for the PCT. I recently upgraded to a 28 degree, “regular” size spirit quilt from Mountain Laurel Designs.

I love quilts. Or at least I love the idea of quilts.

A backpacking quilt is basically a sleeping bag with no back. The insulation in the back of a traditional bag is compressed as you sleep, compromising it’s insulating properties. This is more pronounced over time, as all insulation eventually loses it’s insulating loft after repeated compression, and on a thru hike happens for 150 days straight or so… So you end up with extra weight an no extra warmth.

The MLD SPIRIT quilt is a shell of lightweight black ripstop nylon filled with Climashield Apexa insulation. The bottom of the quilt has a cinchable elastic base, velcro closure and snaps which form a temporary toe box, keeping the feet toasty with a small breeze blocking pillow – the quilt can also be used fully open during warmer weather, as a flat blanket. The SPIRIT comes with a nylon ‘waist’ belt (one elastic, one nylon – choose based on your preference) which keeps the edges of the quilt tucked – a handy feature. The neck opening is cinchable with a snap closure, allowing adjustable thermal regulation, and also allowing you to wear the SPIRIT as a camp cape (see photo.).

For my SOBO AT I ordered a 28 degree bag. I was totally convinced I ordered a 28 degree bag. I realized I actually a 38 degree bag while looking at my old order receipt. Ha ha ha. No wonder I was sleeping cold…

I found the 38 degree quilt worked great when it was warm. Once the temperature got to the 30’s I paired it with a liner which kept it fairly comfortable, especially as I modified combinations of base layer, puffer and wind pants and jacket. In November on the AT we had a month of 20 degree nights with at least one sub zero. These nights not ‘comfortable.’ Folks say you can wear more clothes to make a 3-season bag work in the winter… in this case each night I wore my hiking dress, two base layer tops and bottoms, a fleece hoody, puffer, silk balaclava, wool hat, XL fleece hat, wool socks fleece booties gloves liners and fleece mittens. EVERYTHING I had.

I didn’t die AND as a bonus, I kept all my toes. But the gram-counter in me thought there must be a better way, weight wise and comfort wise to stay alive…

For my Southbound PCT hike, I’m starting with cold weather in the north, then encountering 14,000 foot peaks, and early fall desert nights. Sleeping at below 20 degrees is unlikely tho, so I aim for a system comfortable to 25 degrees. I thought a 10 degree upgrade might do the trick, so in February I ordered a 28 degree SPIRIT quilt from Mountain Laurel designs.

MLD can take up to 8 weeks to deliver in peak season. They’re a small shop, so I ordered early.

We hiked up to Goat Lake (elevation 3200) in early April, the pm forecast predicting 30 degree weather. Perfect. I slept in my hiking dress, lightweight base layer, fleece booties and hat, puffy jacket, and the new 5oz fleece smock I jerry-rigged from a goodwill fleece sweatshirt (more on that later). So at least half of the clothes I needed to sleep in with the 38 degree bag.

And I was super comfortable. In fact, I was the warmest I’ve slept outside. I felt heat radiating from my core. I took off my gloves. And I’m psyched to say I stayed that way all night, even when we woke up 10 hours later to 6 inches of snow. I actually slept and entire night without doing sit ups.


Mountain Laurel Designs 
Spirit Quilt – 28 degree – size “regular”
21 oz