Sometimes we get hooked on weird gear, really, just the weirdest things that there is a good chance you’ll never need – unless you do? I got the Ribz under with the idea that I think I’ll need it, not sure how, but I want it. It is a very odd pack, and I get weird looks every time I wear it. On my last trip I met a couple of hikers for the second time, so we had a nice chat, and the lady mentioned my “unique and unmistakable kit” as how she recognized me.
But let me step back for a second. The Ribz is a frontpack that has two big pockets that fit in the area just under your chest. Frontpacks are a niche cross-over product that is used by backpackers, hunters, for fishing and the like, aiming to help both distribute loads and allow for better access to some items. This product idea really started from fishing, where backpacks are rarely used, gear is small but needs to be easily accessible, from flies to tools and more. It was not long until hunters, hikers and of course long distance backpackers noticed these and some were “borrowed” into the new activity.
Another big activity that has always favoured front packs is photography, specifically nature photography. Frontpacks have been used for a long time as a quick access pack for lenses, film (back in the day), batteries, etc. The frontpacks used by photographers tend to be big and bulky, aimed to carry sensitive gear safely.
As I mentioned, I got the Ribz based on some obscure idea that I might need it, maybe it was my suppressed need for preparedness that got me interested in the product: the idea of having big comfortable pockets on you at all times was very attractive. When I got the Ribz I immediately saw them as a great potential addition to family hikes while using the baby carrier, where storage space is a premium. It didn’t take long before I started using the Ribz on pretty much every trip, allowing me to use smaller and smaller backpacks and increasing my weight distribution.
Ribz is a one product company, making a really good frontpack but that is pretty much it. The company started back in 2000, and seem to have been perfecting and adjusting it since then. Based in California, the Ribz was designed by one of the co-founders of Sierra Designs.
The real uniqueness of the Ribz in the market is the fact that it is a stand alone pack, not a pack that is connected or supported by a main backpack. Many of the frontpacks offered today are in some way mounted on to the backpack’s straps, making for a single frame that distributes the weight very well. The Ribz, on the other hand, is a stand alone pack that stays with you even when the backpack is off. This concept makes the pack slightly heavier and a little cumbersome with the need to have another set of straps on your shoulders, but I have found no problem with that.
The Ribz is made from a water-resistant ripstop nylon (210d) by Cordura.
The pack is constructed from two main pockets, with a big zipper between them (on the front) to close the Ribz on you. Each pocket has an internal mesh divider that is split into two and a small zippered external pocket at the front. The back is a cross strap the is held in place with a flat flexible plastic square.
Recommended comfort weight: roughly 3.5kg (7-8lbs)
Weight: 311g, 11oz
Measured weight: 357g
Volume: 8L/500 cubic inches for the small and medium, 11L/700 cubic inches for the large and xl
The Ribz come in 4 sizes: Small (26-34 in waist), Medium (34-38 in waist), Large (34-38 in waist), XL (40+ in waist)
Last and not least, the Ribz come in 5 colours: green, grey, black, orange and camo
How I use it
The Ribz quickly became one of my almost always take gear, no matter which backpack I use. As I’ve increased my daily mileage by having long days, cutting out breaks and stops has been vital and the Ribz allows for exactly that – having my “while walking” gear in hand so I don’t need to stop or take my backpack off for the whole day.
What I usually carry in the Ribz:
1L Platypus and Swayer filter (the empty bottle for refill in the side pocket of the backpack)
Compass and map
Trail mix or any food I’ll consume during the day (bars etc)
Notepad and pencil
Camera and tripod
Emergency gear (flint, survival blanket)
With the gear above I can walk without a stop or barely any stops for hours without a problem.
I ordered the Ribz in a small and it fits my waist perfectly (I’m a 30in waist), but I found that the shoulder straps were too long and the pack was actually sitting on the backpack’s waist belt. I was pretty surprised with that issue as I’m pretty average in height (178cm) but the Ribz was still too long, I guess short torso-ed people shouldn’t buy it?
There is a way around the long straps problem: removing the glue on the fixed front strap on the front and re-lacing the strap through the ladder to lock, this allows you to adjust the height that you need (see photographed guide below).
As for use, the Ribz been with me on a few trips: all along the Ridgeway (section hiking), the South Downs Way (Section), on a weekend in the Lakes district, a short weekend escape to Snowdonia and on my Cape Wrath Trail adventure. So far I have probably spent about a month all together with it on me, and I really enjoy the accessibility. I haven’t noticed any major weight distribution changes, but I changed backpacks pretty much at the same time as starting to use the Ribz so it might be off set by that.
I have used the Ribz a handful of times in conjunction with the baby carrier and the increase of space is noticeable. I have yet to use it on a camping trip that included the whole family and a hike to the site which was what I was hoping will be the main use for it.
- Very accessible
- Good volume and weight distribution
- Comfortable to carry, even on very long (15 hours) days
- Flat shoulder pads mean no problem while carrying a backpack
- A stand alone frontpack
- Requires some DIY to get the sizing right
- The zippers on the small external pockets feel wrong, opening from out to in, I’d rather them the other way around
- The main zipper can be a little strained and slide a little
- The main pockets only have on zipper that opens in to out, I would rather have a double zip to avoid the chance of small gear falling out when opening the zipper
- No way to compress the pockets so it is not really usable for running
I think the Ribz is a great little pack, and at $65 offers a great solution for fast hikers, backpackers or for people who want to utilize pack volume better. There some tweaks and some little design flaws that could be fixed and the sizing should probably be set to work for more people, but the fact that it comes in sizes is a great thing that allows most people to use it comfortably.
I have yet to use it for my original purpose, but I will continue taking it for any future trips even as my backpacks are getting increasingly smaller, or maybe thanks to the Ribz?