Early backpacks just had simple, unpadded shoulder straps made from webbing (woven strap material) or leather, and no waist or hip belt. Initially it was a big deal to add padding to the shoulder straps – first this tended to be wool felt, later foam covered in fabric was alternately used.
When external frames (first wood and then later aluminum) began being used, some clever person figured out that the rigidity of the pack now allowed the wearer to leverage at least some of the weight of the bag off of their shoulders and onto their hips. What started out as a simple webbing or leather belt (not dissimilar to the above mentioned shoulder straps) took on a life of its own when further refinements to the shape and construction of the external frame allowed more and more weight to be supported on the hips: this made carrying what otherwise would have been ridiculously heavy loads relatively manageable. It’s important to recall that these packs evolved to be quite tall and specifically designed (and packed by the user) to maintain a very high center of gravity, which is required if you want to get the weight over your center of gravity instead of pulling you over backwards.
Mid-sized backpacks (called rucksacks back in the day) often had internal metal stays which did allow the transfer of some of their weight to the hips. However, because these packs were intended for ski mountaineering and climbing, they tended to be short and stout, with a lower center of gravity, which made that transfer of weight limited.
Modern “internal frame” packs are a hybrid (read: compromise) between old-school external frame packs and old-school rucksacks: they are taller and trimmer than the old climbing packs, and their internal stays have been amped-up to give a modicum of rigidity to allow more weight to be transferable to the hips. Our Guide’s Pack and our Hero’s Journey are examples of this type of pack, though at the less sophisticated end of the spectrum: you can definitely carry a significant amount of the weight on your hips with their padded hip belts.
(An interesting cul-de-sac of backpack design are the completely frameless packs based more-or-less on Don Jenson’s Rivendell pack. He designed a pack with sophisticated dividers that allowed the back of the bag itself to attain a certain degree of stiffness just by loading it correctly. These Rivendell packs were briefly popular in the late 1970s, but most folks found that they were difficult to load just right and that, even when loaded correctly, they did not transfer enough of the weight of the load to the hips. I still think these packs are very cool!)
While small and light daypacks also have waist straps, these are primarily intended for stability (to keep the pack from swinging around too much while hiking or cycling), rather than load bearing, as there is little to no rigidity of the pack to allow a transfer of weight to the hips. That said, some folks are able to utilize even a light waist strap on a small pack to take a bit of weight off their shoulders; if you are able to do this you might find a bit of padding on that waist/hip strap to add some comfort. Hence we offer both a 1-1/2” / 38mm padded waist/hip belt (for the Brain Bag) and a 1” / 25mm padded waist/hip belt (for the Synapse 19, Synapse 25, and Smart Alec packs).
(Shown above: Alpenlite external frame pack with padded hip belt circa 1975.)
Trager Trapper Nelson wood frame pack: webbing shoulder straps, no waist/hip belt, late 1950s.
Alpine Designs rucksack with felt padded shoulder straps and 3/4″ webbing waist/hip belt. Late ’60s.
Chuck Roast climbing pack: 1-1/2″ heavy webbing belt. Early 1980s?
Lowe Alpine climbing pack: 2″ heavy webbing belt. Late 1970s.
DOLT daypack: 1″ webbing belt.
TOM BIHN large soft-pack with totally over-built padded hip belt! Mid 1980s.
Class-5 daypack: 1″ webbing belt. Mid 70s.
TNF external frame pack: padded hip belt with Velcro® closure. Mid 70s.
Mountain Tools frameless climbing pack with integrated padded belt . . . interesting concept. Dig those colors – must have been the 80s.
Due to popular request, we’ve come up with a 1” Padded Hip Belt designed to work with the Synapse 19, Synapse 25, and Smart Alec backpacks — three of our most popular backpacks used for travel, every day carry, and day-hiking.
If you already use the included 1” Webbing Gatekeeper Waist Strap on your Synapse 19, Synapse 25, or Smart Alec and it works for you but you’d like to upgrade to a padded version, then the 1” Padded Hip Belt is likely to make your day.
Sold as a matching left and right pair, the pads attach via Gatekeeper clips to the 1″ webbing loops which normally accept the simple webbing waist belt (the one that comes standard with the Synapse 19, Synapse 25, and Smart Alec). Made of .375″ / 10mm EVA closed cell foam with a protective laminated cover of heavy duty polyester knit, the set of two pads joins front and center with a sturdy, dual adjust side release buckle. The pads are contoured and, when attached to the above mentioned backpacks, form a slight conical shape, encouraging the belt to ride on top of your hip bones.
The 1” Padded Hip Belt is available in one size that adjusts to fits hips measuring between 33″ / 84cm and 50″ / 125cm. Want a different size? We’d be glad to see what we can come up with in the factory: email@example.com
Good things to know:
The benefits of utilizing webbing or padded hip belts or even a sternum strap, especially in smaller packs, are subjective. Some folks swear by it and others don’t find that it makes much of a difference for them. Our goal is to give you as many options as we can (within the confines of good design) so that you can create the best carrying experience and set-up for yourself.
Using a pack like the Synapse 19, Synapse 25, or Smart Alec with a padded hip belt isn’t an invitation to carry more weight than is reasonable. Think of it instead as a way to potentially shift a bit of the weight of the bag onto your hips to make your carrying experience that much more comfortable. Taller people (those 6’2″ and taller) in particular may find that the overall length of these three bags do not predispose them to fully utilizing the weight carrying abilities of a padded hip belt. If you make good use of the webbing waist belt included with your Synapse or Smart Alec want a more comfortable version better capable to offset the weight of your pack, the 1″ Padded Hip Belt could be a great option for you.
The Synapse 19, Synapse 25, and Smart Alec do not have internal frame sheets with aluminum stays like The Guide’s Pack and Hero’s Journey do. (A frame sheet without a stay? It’ll keep pointy objects from poking you, but doesn’t provide significant vertical rigidity, but that’s for another time.) Because of that, the efficacy of the 1″ Padded Hip Belt may be limited for some depending on the weight they carry, how they pack, and their height. Will we add frame sheets with stays to these three bags? Unlikely. Oftentimes, frame sheets/internal frames are used in smaller bags because of two things: they allow you to overstuff a backpack without experiencing the back of the overstuffed backpack barreling or curving out against the spine and they allow you to toss your gear inside without as much consideration for comfort (it’s okay if the pokey water bottle is against your back.) The trade-offs, however, are these: frame sheets/internal frames add weight and they make bags stiff, which can make it more difficult to squeeze them into an already-full overhead bin, under the seat in front of you, or in other tight spaces. Frame sheets can also let us get away without truly feeling our packing list and meditating on what we’re carrying and where we’re packing it: for some folks, this works, and for others, it removes the part of the process in which we exercise discernment in what we carry and how we carry it (which can totally be part of the fun!) In short, frame sheets would make these bags very different than what they are, and we might love them less because of that.
Our Aeronaut 30, Aeronaut 45, Tri-Star, and Western Flyer travel bags all have 1” webbing loops that can accept the 1” Padded Hip Belt. If you’ve been hoping for a Padded Hip Belt for your TB travel bag, then this may be your best option. We’re not officially recommending the 1” Padded Hip Belt as an option for these bags because the aforementioned travel bags are larger and do not have internal frames, and because the attachment point for a waist belt is somewhat high, the 1” Padded Hip Belt can end up riding high on some folks, especially those who are taller. Same advice we gave earlier applies here: if you already use the included 1” Webbing Gatekeeper Waist Strap on your travel bag it works for you but you’d like to upgrade to a padded version, then feel free to give the 1” Padded Hip Belt a whirl, and let us know how it works for you (maybe you’ll change our minds!)
1″ Padded Hip Belt attached to the Synapse 25 backpack.
1″ Padded Hip Belt attached to the Synapse 19 backpack.
1″ Padded Hip Belt attached to the Synapse 19 backpack.
1″ Padded Hip Belt attached to the Smart Alec backpack.
1″ Padded Hip Belt attached to the Smart Alec backpack.
It’s here! The Hero’s Journey is in-stock and ready to ship in colors Black Halcyon/Northwest Sky and Nordic Halcyon/Northwest Sky. Colors Black Halcyon/Iberian and Nordic Halcyon/Wasabi are in production with an estimated shipping date of mid-November.
Our new Hero’s Journey is convertible travel luggage that allows you to fly to your destination, and then backpack or hut hop, all without checking baggage. If you are familiar with our Aeronaut 30 and 45 travel bags, you’re already aware of the advantages of a carry-on bag that can be worn as a backpack: unlike wheeled bags, a backpack frees you from the smooth sidewalk and the paved path, allowing you move adroitly over any surface your feet can handle. The Hero’s Journey takes this mobility even further, encouraging you to realize the dream of a fast and light escape to wide exotic mountain vistas and windswept highlands.
The Hero’s Journey is actually two bags that work both together and alone: when properly configured and reasonably packed, the main bag meets the maximum FAA recommended dimensions for carry-on luggage, and the smaller Top Pack easily qualifies as a “personal carry-on item.” Upon reaching your destination airport or the beginning of your hike, zip the two components together, attach the hip belt (and optional Side Pockets if desired), and you’ve got a 55 liter internal frame pack, suitable for short-to-medium range backpacking trips or hut hopping.
Travel pillows can be so very comfortable, but they can also be so very bulky. Our new Pocket Travel Pillow, on the other hand, lets you make use of the clothing you’re already packing to create a cozy rest for your head whether you’re on a plane or train, in your tent, or under the stars.
The Pocket Travel Pillow is a simple case made of ultralight sleeping bag fabric. Stuff in your jacket, sweater, or extra layers and you can enjoy the comforts of home. If you’ve been making due wadding up your jacket into a pillow, we promise: this is much more comfortable.
When you’re not using it as a pillow, the Pocket Travel Pillow tucks away into its own little pocket, complete with a small loop to secure it to a Key Strap so it’s easy to find. And it weighs almost nothing, so why not bring it along?
Here’s a quick video we made that demonstrates how the Pocket Travel Pillow works:
We’re happy to introduce our Key Straps in five bold and new (yet familiar) colors of nylon webbing.
Key Straps have long been available in Black webbing and, later, in Coyote webbing. For several years now we’ve also made Key Straps from our Halcyon fabric, and though they work just fine, I’ve never really been satisfied with the aesthetic.
About two years ago, we started kicking around the idea of having color-matched webbing made for us, but then I got distracted, had lunch, designed a bunch of new bags, went for countless hikes, and generally forgot about the whole thing. But every once in a while I’d find myself using a Halcyon Key Strap, and I’d think to myself “This has got to change—these are great, but we can do even better.”
We finally did follow through, and now here they are: Key Straps in five new colors of nylon webbing. Wasabi, Northwest Sky, Iberian, Island and Ultraviolet. So along with Black and Coyote, there’s now seven colors of Key Strap, each in two lengths and two varieties (Snaphook/Snaphook or Snaphook/O-Ring).
For those of you uninitiated into the world of Key Straps: they’re handy short straps that attach to O-rings sewn inside all our bags, and they allow you to tether small stuff that might easily sneak out of a pocket or compartment, like when you’re removing larger items or otherwise not paying attention. Key Straps allow you to be double sure that important items (your keys, for example) are not only inside your bag, but further tethered to it as well. Of course you can color code all that stuff too, and we’ve just given you even more options for that—or if you’re like me, you’ll just have another excuse to add more color to life.
Our new Island, Wasabi, Ultraviolet, Iberian, and Northwest Sky Key Straps are in-stock, ready to ship, and available for order on the Key Strap page.
P.S. For more photos of the new colors of Key Straps, check out this post by Ilkyway in the Forums.
Tell us the story behind the name “Hero’s Journey.”
Early on in the process of sketching this pack, I pictured it being used by people headed off on a journey of discovery, the sort of trip where they seek the world and instead finds themselves. Reminded me of Joseph Campbell’s writing.
The design process of The Hero’s Journey was a journey for me. It’s a bag I couldn’t have designed 10 or 20 years ago. It’s a design that required the experience of living and working those decades. And, when reflecting on those decades, I realized that (as we often do) it wasn’t so much the things I did or the places I went that mattered — it was the people. The friends and the family I spent those decades with, or the people I met along the way on trips. I’ve been writing about this and might share it with everyone.
What is your favorite design detail in the Hero’s Journey?
Ah, so many from which to chose! Overall, the zip-off top pocket and all you can do with it is pretty captivating—do I really have to pick just one?
Were there any particularly tricky design or sewing/manufacturing obstacles you and the crew faced while working on this bag?
It’s back to that zip-off top pocket: so much depends upon getting the separating zipper sewn in just right, so that everything lines up where it’s supposed to. At first the crew weren’t sure it could be done in production, but we stuck with it and I believe we’ve nailed it.
Can you talk about the way you collaborated with the crew throughout the design process, especially when you were working on creating the first prototype?
There were lots of bemused looks and head scratching in that process, from me and and from the crew. I’d bring in various parts and sub-assemblies to see if Lisa or Fong thought the crew could replicate production-style what I had sewed, and would ask if they had any ideas for a more streamlined way to achieve the same results. Ultimately, we worked together to build a Hero’s Journey that, though very detailed and complex, is still possible to manufacture to our standards (though probably only by us).
What influenced your choice of fabrics/materials?
I wanted it to be as tough as possible but knew that, because it was to be carried as a backpacking pack, weight savings also played a role. I think the 400d Halcyon is our best compromise of durability and weight savings.
Could you talk about some of the features you considered for this bag but ultimately rejected?
At some point early on, the Hero’s Journey had a big, burly side handle like the Aeronaut has. But I realized that a good number of people would seldom, if ever, use that feature, and it took up a lot of valuable real estate and conflicted with the side compression straps and the optional side pockets. My compromise was to include a stripped-down side handle that is removable: use it or don’t, it’s not a big deal either way. Other than that, the Hero’s Journey got all the features I originally conceived of plus more it collected along the way (significantly, the ability for the top pocket to turn into a daypack).
How useful is this bag for urban travelers and explorers?
We’ll have to see how people use it and what they say. It definitely looks more like “outdoor” gear than does our Aeronaut, for example. But in solid black I think it may pass as urban enough.
How have you outfitted your personal Hero’s Journey (straps, pockets, accessories, etc.)?
Well, since I’m the designer, I need to use and test the whole enchilada, don’t I? But I’m going to try the hack of using four Aeronaut 45 End Packing cubes in the main compartment (like books in a bookshelf) instead of the purpose-built Hero’s Journey Packing Cubes. (And on that subject, it’s important to note that folks who already have Aeronaut 45 Packing Cubes can use them in The Hero’s Journey.)
How do you suggest loading the Hero’s Journey for maximum comfort, efficiency, and stability?
First of all, pack as light as you can, but no lighter. Keep the CG (center of gravity) centered side-to-side, and as high in the main compartment as you find comfortable. So, dense stuff like food and cooking gear set centered and high, with clothing/tent filling in around that, and sleeping bag in the lower compartment. Carry stuff you need to get at quickly in the top and side pockets (water bottle, snacks, rain gear, sun hat, fleece vest). Cinch the compression straps snug to keep the whole thing from slopping around and you should be good.
You know there’s that saying: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” The design philosophy behind the Hero’s Journey seems to promote a slower, pared down, and less intermediated way of traveling. What makes right now a particularly appropriate time to embrace this kind of travel?
It’s always the right time to slow down and pay attention! Walking is the oldest and most elemental mode of human travel, so for me it’s simply getting back to basics. Personally, I go through a pair of hiking boots about every 18 months, and the Hero’s Journey is, I suppose, my oblique attempt at advocating for my favorite outdoor activity.
Is there a journey you’ve long hoped to make? Where is it, how would you get there, and what would you do/see there?
Of course, I hope for peace in the Middle East for the sake of the people living there, but also because I’d like to go to Afghanistan some day. Just to take a walk in those mountains….
Hear more from Tom about the design process in this new video:
I almost always my favorite sketchbook and pen with me, at the ready to draw an idea for a new design, or perhaps a refinement of an existing design. It can be be something that my mind sees and I want to remember for later, or that I want to try to work out in two dimensions before moving on to actual 3D modeling.
As some of you know, I sketch using a Bic four-color pen. The four colors can represent just about any set of variables that my brain is juggling at the moment: exterior/lining, foam/webbing/fabric, zipper/seam/fold/edge. I’m not particularly methodical about which color represents what, just that there’s a obvious difference in the specific drawing I’m working on.
Somehow I find that a square notebook (the EcoJot is my favorite) frees my mind up from strictly a horizontal vs. vertical duality. Sometimes I’ll doodle something and find that by turning it 90 degrees it suddenly makes more sense, or becomes something so different that it sends me off in a whole new direction.
I’m not too fastidious about my sketch book, and often as not there are shopping and to-do lists side-by-side with phone numbers and quotations.
I have dozens of sketchbooks in my archives; maybe someday we’ll scan and share a page or two from each.
I think I was 11 years old when I made my first pattern — probably for a down-filled vest. Or, no, maybe it was a daypack.
Being autodidactic in one’s youth almost guarantees one’s being an iconoclast later in life: thus, like so many other things, I approach pattern making as an outsider. Had I received formal training in pattern making (or design for that matter), I think my bags would look somewhat more like all the other bags out there. And that would be too bad.
Being self-taught can mean that the learning never ends, and I like to think that’s been the case for me. When nine years ago I purchased some 2D pattern drafting software (PAD System, the only serious pattern software for Mac), it was a bit like a cave man being given… well, a bomb, but in a good way. Suddenly I could leverage my obsession for accuracy, give voice to my passion for getting things just right, and at the same time work towards making my bags easier to sew.
Well-patterned and accurately cut fabric parts are easier to sew, which makes for better looking bags and happy factory crew. And there’s the crux of this whole pattern making thing, or cruces really, because there’s two main things one must keep in mind: make beautiful stuff, of course, but make the people who make it happy too. If sewing one of my bags is like wrestling an alligator, or eating jello with chopsticks, then I wonder if I’ve done a bad thing. Our talented crew, who show up every day at our Seattle factory to make all of these bags, deserve to have their task made as efficient as possible. And the primary tool I use to accomplish that is my über-accurate pattern making.
Of course, pattern making is almost the end of the whole thing really: before I’m making an actual pattern, I’ve spent hours cogitating, sketching, modeling and noodling around on a sewing machine, making mock-ups and slopers, just generally having a good time. The pattern making itself, and more important yet, pattern refining, is hard, tedious work. And just when you think you’ve nailed it, you haven’t. Our factory crew may have made a hundred or a thousand of a certain bag, and then Lisa or Fong will ask for a minor change, some nudging of a notch or nuancing of a curve.
It never ends. And I love it.
Digitizing parts from a prototype.
One of the many stack cut parts in our factory. An efficient ‘marker’ will utilize the minimum amount of fabric possible, which means less waste.
When we begin the first production run of a new design — especially one as fascinatingly complex as The Hero’s Journey — I work with Lisa and Fong on the factory floor to make pattern adjustments as necessary. Here, we’re making sure Darcy doesn’t reveal too much of The Hero’s Journey before its debut on September 27th.
Here’s some patterns that failed my standards. When Einstein moved into his office at Princeton, he asked that it be furnished with a desk, a chair, and a “large wastebasket… so I can throw away all of my mistakes.”
Halcyon 400 denier is the big brother of our Halcyon 200 denier, and in a way, a cousin to 420HT Parapack. Made for us in Japan, it’s a ripstop fabric woven of 420 denier nylon (base fabric) with a square grid of 400 denier UHMWPE (ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene) yarns every .25″ / 6mm. UHMWPE is one of the strongest fibers known to man, and is almost impossible to tear.
The Aeronaut 45 is now in stock and ready to ship in the following Halcyon 400d exterior color combinations:
The Co-Pilot, Pilot, and Night Flight Travel Duffle are minimalist packing powerhouses, allowing you to bring what you need without weighing you down. All three bags contain a bevy of pockets and built-in organization; yet, each can be customized to suit a variety of packing styles and occasions.
Read on as we break down each bag’s features and share packing lists, including suggestions from members of the Forum.
Co-Pilot: 600 cubic inches / 10 litres
The Co-Pilot has four compartments: three in the front and a main compartment in the back. The back of the bag has an open-top pocket that can hold a magazine or newspaper, and zips open at the bottom so you can slide the bag over the handle of your rolling luggage.
The Co-Pilot is available in two fabric choices: 1050D high tenacity Ballistic nylon exterior lined with 200D Dyneema, or 400D Dyneema lined with 200D Dyneema. It has a comfortable grab handle padded with Poron foam; you can also carry it over your shoulder with the included Standard Shoulder Strap (you also have the option to upgrade to the Absolute Shoulder Strap). One 8” Black Key Strap is included.
Side front compartments:
- can fit a toiletry bag such as the 3D Organizer Cube
- has 1 o-ring in each compartment
- the left compartment has an Halcyon 200d-lined organizational pocket; the right has four pen slots
Middle front compartment:
- sized for a small water bottle or umbrella (you can also store a rolled-up lightweight rain jacket or merino wool jersey)
- has a drainage eyelet so moisture doesn’t collect
- large, open space with two open-top inner pockets that can accommodate a Side Effect or 3D Organizer Cube
- has two o-rings
- can fit an iPad Mini/iPad/iPad Air, other 7” tablet, or an 11” MacBook Air
- an under-seat, in-flight personal item (see Tachiyaku’s packing list here)
- a way to haul your mobile office (example packing list: iPad, folding bluetooth keyboard, journal/notebook, pens, insulated thermos, chargers, multi-tool)
- a sturdy sightseeing bag (example packing list: lightweight rain jacket, map, guidebook, travel dictionary, sunglasses, water bottle, food bar)
- an ultra-minimalist one-bag carry on (see amazngin’s impressive packing list)
Pilot: 800 cubic inches / 13 litres
The Pilot shares many design features with its smaller sibling, the Co-Pilot. It comes in the same fabrics and has the same overall shape and structure. Here are the differences:
Side front pockets:
- inside one, an pocket that can hold a tablet
- inside the other, three pen slots and one slightly larger pocket (for tools, glasses, spare battery, etc.)
- in addition to the tablets that fit into the Co-Pilot, the Pilot can accept the iPad Pro and most laptops up to 13”
- using a Cache makes the Pilot checkpoint friendly (see how the Cache works here)
- The Pilot has dedicated Packing Cubes in two sizes, Large (main compartment) and Small (front compartment or two in the main compartment)
- an overnight business trip bag (example packing list: laptop in Cache, clothes in 1 Small and 1 Large Pilot Packing Cube, toiletries in 3D Organizer Cube, office supplies and cables/chargers in Organizer Pouches and Travel Stuff Sacks)
- a multi-use weekend bag (see scribe’s packing list here)
- a briefcase for everyday (example packing list: laptop in Cache, papers in a folder, water bottle, sack lunch, pens, a rain jacket)
Night Flight Travel Duffle: 1220 cubic inches / 20 litres
A petite cousin of the Aeronaut, the Night Flight Travel Duffle has a similar shape and that famous 3-compartment design (complete with zippered mesh pocket inside the hatch). Like the Co-Pilot and Pilot, the Night Flight Travel Duffle comes in Ballistic nylon and Dyneema versions, includes one Black 8” Key Strap, and comes with a removable Standard Shoulder Strap (with optional Absolute Strap upgrade). Other specs are as follows:
- mesh hatch pocket with 1 o-ring
- removable foam padding
- optional Padded Organizational Divider Set (to protect fragile items such as electronic equipment)
- 4 o-rings
- interior drop-in pockets large enough for a 7” tablet
- 2 o-rings
- outer zippered pockets
- optional Packing Cubes in one size (one fits in each end compartment and two fit in the main compartment)
- an overnight bag (example packing list: change of clothes in Packing Cubes, toiletries in 3D Organizer Cube or Spiff Kit Standard/Deluxe)
- a DSLR bag that doesn’t look like a DSLR bag using the Padded Organizational Divider Set to achieve a custom fit for a camera body and lenses, with accessories in Padded Organizer Pouches, 3D Mesh Organizer Cubes, and Travel Stuff Sacks (see xray’s configuration here)
- a bag to take to yoga class (see PaulT00’s packing list)
- Be sure to check out our Night Flight videos for more examples of what will fit and how to pack.
We posted a very early heads-up on our March 1st, 2019 (roughly 6%) price increase in the Forums along with news of Shop Bags in 210d ballistic nylon.
Ben Brooks has published a review of Nik’s Minimalist Wallets and @everydaycommentary posted about his every day carry step up (hint: it includes a Minimalist Wallet!)
Our 2018 Holiday Schedule is up. Check it out for important shipping deadlines and our holiday hours. P.S. Our Seattle Factory Showroom will be open the rare Saturday on December 8th from 10:00am until 2:00pm Pacific Time.
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