Pick Your Pack: The Great Waist Pack vs. Backpack Debate

When embarking upon months of training for the 3-Day, and when they get to the event itself, walkers make a very personal choice about the best way to haul their walking must-haves with them. Those water bottles, extra socks, sunscreen, snacks and phones need a way to get through the 60 miles with their walkers, and the two most common options we see used are the waist pack (I have been forbidden to refer to it as a fanny pack) and the backpack.waist pack

My choice? I’ve walked with both, I see the benefits of both styles, and I don’t necessarily have a preference for one over the other. But other walkers are quite particular, and will defend their pack of choice vocally. We asked a segment of 3-Day walkers whether they were Team Waist Pack or Team Backpack, and they responded with some insightful and entertaining replies. Whether you’re a new walker faced with making the choice for the first time, or a veteran who has their go-to but may be curious about how the other side rocks their pack, we’ve got some different perspectives to share.

Team Waist Pack

A waist pack is worn (you guessed it) around the waist, usually with the pack in the back. These packs are a far cry from those single pouch, “cheesy tourist” numbers from the 80s and 90s, and now come in styles made specifically for long-distance athletes. In assorted sizes, modern waist packs come with lots of zipper pouches, clips and straps, and special sleeves made for holding water bottles.

Pala L. (21x walker, 25x after 2016) – Because of the number of lymph nodes I’ve had removed, one of the restrictions (to avoid lymphedema) is to not carry anything on my shoulders, so I felt I didn’t have a choice in the matter. The waist pack I use has been through 21 walks and thousands of miles when one counts training walks. I love mine because of the rigid rim bottle holders; this allows me to reach for either bottle (one water, one sports drink), drink and replace without needing to stop walking.  Likewise, I can swing the pack around to my front to get a tissue or put something in easily. 12244632_1193784363969469_5529181542663317037_o

Leanne J. (9x walker, 11x after 2016) – My first few years walking I used a child-sized hydration pack. It was the perfect size for a pair of socks, my windbreaker, and the water bladder, and I attached an additional water bottle with a carabiner. I wore that pack for six events (including one when I was pregnant!), then I switched to a waist pack that fits two smaller water bottles very comfortably and has enough room on the inside for socks, snacks, and a poncho. I love that it is so easy to turn around and grab things when I need them. The backpack tended to hurt my back and the waist pack is much more comfortable.2015

Tisho J. (5x walker, 7x after 2016) ­– I use a fanny pack (I’m old-school with the name, too). I originally tried to train with a hydration backpack but my bursitis/tendonitis-inflicted shoulder quickly announced that that was not an option. I’m also very strict about the water AND sports drink rule (and require a lot of hydration) so I have always had a two-bottle pack. The biggest thing I look for in a pack is loops where I can attach carabiners because you can hook anything to those (long sleeved shirt, mini-Purell, credentials…). I’m also “that girl” that wears the pack in the front—I like easy access to everything! THJ SD 14

Steph H. (15x walker, 16x after 2016) – For 13 of my 15 3-Day events, I used the same single-bottle waist pack. It finally saw its last day and for my last two events I have a new two-bottle waist pack. I do not carry much with me, though, just the necessities (blister care, a spare pair in a baggie, sunscreen, chapstick, etc.). I was resistant to a two-bottle holder at first (bulk on my lower back), but it provides good balance. I was 25 on my first 3-Day. Now I am 40–I require more hydration, and on more than one occasion (especially on long training walks without pit stops), I’ve been incredibly grateful to have two bottles instead of just one.11864963_10207674809212675_8569001800261997479_o

Jennifer (Michigan 3-Day coach, 10x walker, 11x after 2016) – Yes, I am Team Waist Pack. I actually still have the waist pack I bought back in 2002 when I was preparing for my first 3-Day and it is the one I continue to use. There have been a few 3-Days where I have walked with a light backpack but I came back to the waist pack simply because a backpack is not comfortable for me. My waist pack holds one bottle and the holder is right in the middle. However, I prefer to carry my bottle, switching it from hand to hand occasionally; this reduces swelling in my fingers. My waist pack also allows me to display the 4 million (give or take) pins that I have collected over the years.SD17


Team Backpack

The backpacks we see on the 3-Day also vary in style. Some walkers prefer a hydration backpack; this style of pack holds a refillable plastic “bladder” which is attached to a plastic tube that ends with a mouthpiece, so users can drink right from the pack without having to take out a water bottle. Other walkers go for a simpler style and wear a traditional backpack or cinch-string sack.

Tina E. (8x walker, 10x after 2016) – Let me tell you, I used the fanny pack for years and switched. I find with the hydration backpack, my water intake is much better. It’s easy to get to, it stays cold and I don’t even have to take it off to pee. If you use one of these backpacks, I suggest carrying a spare mouthpiece; if you don’t and yours breaks, oops water is all over the place. tina e.

Courtney C. (6x walker, 8x after 2016) – I may be biased, but after 8 years I think that cinch string backpacks are THE ONLY way to go on the 3-Day! I have found that if I use two carabiners across my chest, it is perfect to hold my iPod/speaker and it secures the backpack from moving all over (preventing the shoulder blisters I had in year 1). The great thing about cinch string backpacks is that you can reach over your head and continue walking while you retrieve whatever you need! The other beauty is that there is much less pressure on your lower back. #teambackpackScreen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.40.23 PM


Team Undecided/Best of Both

Sometimes it’s just impossible to choose, and you’ll see walkers sporting both types of packs at the same time! We also know of walkers who prefer the waist pack for some walks and backpack for others.

Dawn K. (5x walker, 6x after 2016) – My first walk I used a cross-body backpack which bothered my neck by the end of the last day. The past four 3-Days I’ve used a waist pack which was great until last year in San Diego when my sciatica started bothering me. This year I’m going to try a hydration backpack. Fingers crossed I like it! As a training walk leader, I always tell my new walkers that the training walks are the perfect time to try them all to see what they’re most comfortable with.dawn kifer

Kim (San Diego 3-Day coach, 5x walker) – I used to love training with the hydration backpack because I was able to go longer distances without having to refill the water bladder. But once I got to the 3-Day I liked to lighten my load and use a fanny pack because there were pit stops so frequently I didn’t need to worry about where to refill.


So what about the rest of you 3-Dayers? Which pack do you pick?

4 thoughts on “Pick Your Pack: The Great Waist Pack vs. Backpack Debate

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