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?

What’s in Your Pack?


When you’re out walking long distances—for example, all that training you’re doing to walk 20 miles a day on the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®–you want to make sure you’re equipped with whatever you might need along the way. Most Komen 3-Day walkers arm themselves for those long stretches by carrying a waist pack to hold the items they want to keep close by. What you carry in your pack is completely up to you, and chances are the contents will change depending on how far your 3-Day® training walk is taking you.

But to give you some idea of what you might want to include in your waist pack, we asked a few of our 3-Day coaches, who are also walkers, to share what goes in their packs.

Ann, the local events coach for Michigan, takes the minimalist approach to her walking goodies: “I carry a water bottle, my phone, and a couple bucks for fun treats that might show up along the route.”

Jennifer, the participant support coach for Michigan, adds a little bit more to her list of must-haves: “I carry my phone, tissues, Chapstick and sunscreen. I also have mints, because Gatorade mouth is nasty. I’ll carry sunglasses (if they aren’t already on my face), Handi-Wipes, which I use to clean my hands and to wipe my feet at lunch when I change my socks, and of course, extra socks.”

The other 3-Day coaches I asked had more robust lists. Alyssa, my 3-Day social media cohort (who walked her first 3-Day in San Diego last year) shared her list:

  • Tissues – for a runny nose and runny eyes, which may afflict you at any point
  • iPhone – fully charged and in airplane mode, of course.
  • Pink bracelet – because everybody likes to wear pink.
  • Sunscreen – because reapplication is so important!
  • Small packet of trail mix – for a heart healthy boost if I’m hungry but have eaten too many grahamwiches
  • Headband – to keep fly-aways out of my eyes when wind acts up
  • Fresh pair of socks – because this is the best idea ever. Change into them at lunch and rejoice.
  • Chapstick – to keep those plump puckers hydrated
  • Gum – Chewing gum while going up a hill just makes it better.
  • Large capacity, wide mouth water bottle – so crew can easily fill it with ice and sports drink
  • 3-Day Flair – a badge of pride, and to remember why I’m walking.susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles waist fanny pack supplies packing

Gayla, our Dallas/Fort Worth local events coach, leads or joins training walks throughout the year and has her fanny pack (which she bought in 2005 and has trained with for 10 years) contents down to a science:

  • 2 – 20 oz. water bottles with wide openings for ice
  • Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder-Gel by Monistat (I don’t walk anywhere without this gel. I prefer this over the “stick-style” anti-chafing products.)
  • Spark energy drink mix
  • Pen (for autographs, ha!)
  • Phone charger & plug
  • Tissues
  • Cash
  • Mirror
  • Lip balm
  • Fundraising business cards
  • Clean, dry socks in a Ziploc bag to swap sweaty socks mid-day
  • Driver’s license
  • Mints or gum
  • A little extra room in my pack for all the stuff I seem to collect on the route at the cheer stations.

Seattle participant support coach Paula, who, with 15 events under her belt has walked more times than any other coach, totes quite the impressive array of goodies in her pack:

  • A copy of my credential with my cell number, so my pack will find its way back to me if I lose it!
  • My driver’s license/ID and my debit card and/or cash for those must-have 3-Day souvenirs or a Starbucks along the route! (This is in the most secure spot in my pack.)
  • Phone/camera
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand sanitizer (clips on to my pack)
  • Tissues
  • Pain relief meds (Tylenol/Advil/Aleve)
  • Chapstick with SPF
  • Sunscreen
  • Hairbrush, ponytail rubber band
  • My 3-Day bub
  • Rain poncho
  • Large trash back to sit on if the ground is wet at lunch
  • Extra pair of socks in a Ziploc bag (bag will hold dirty socks after lunch)
  • Body Glide
  • Blister kit – bandages, moleskin, small scissors
  • Sticky notes and a  permanent marker pen (to jot down names/emails of new friends)
  • A soft “squeeze” ball (mine is actually pink ribbon shaped) which is great to help circulation in your hands and keeps your fingers from swelling from all that arm swinging! J
  • Any stickers or items I may want to pass out to people along the route. I have some cool pink ribbon temporary tattoos that are a big hit with kids and adults alike!
  • For training, it’s all of the above, plus sports drink powder for hydration and snack bars for some carbs.susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles waist fanny pack supplies packing


What goes in your pack?

The ABC’s of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, Part 6

Welcome to part six of the ABC’s of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®. This special alphabet is made up of 26 people, places or things you’ll encounter on the Komen 3-Day. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Part 1 (Letters A – D), Part 2 (Letters E – H), Part 3 (Letters I – L), Part 4 (Letters M – P), Part 5 (Letters Q-T) and don’t forget to share your ideas for each letter here on the 3-Day blog or with us on Facebook. You can also help us spread the word about the 3-Day® by pinning these images on Pinterest. The more people who learn about the 3-Day, the more we can make a difference in the fight to end breast cancer forever.

United Susan G Komen 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk
We are all united in the fight against breast cancer. Walking the Susan G. Komen 3-Day is one of the boldest things you will ever do, and we’re thrilled to support you every step of the way.


Every year, the Susan G. Komen 3-Day volunteers and crew members check-in walkers, put up tents, pick up trash, hang route signage, set up pit stops, cheer on tired walkers and much, much more. We’re always amazed by our volunteers’ spirit and endurance. Visit this link to find out how you can be a part of volunteering on the 3-Day.

See Also: Val Skinner FoundationVictory Shirt

Susan G Komen 3 Day Breast Cancer Walkers Walk

Without walkers, there would be no 3-Day. Every year, thousands of people show their support and dedication by fundraising and training to walk 60 amazing miles.

See Also: Workshop , Waist pack, Water Bottle, Widget , Walker Stalker


Do you have any other ideas for letters U, V, and W? How about for the last three letters: X, Y, and Z? We can’t wait to see what ideas you have! Share them with us in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.