Spotlight on High Above kicking off our new weekly(ish) column on the most interesting gear we’re testing right now…
Words and Photos: Toni Walbridge
What We’re Riding: High Above Lookout Hip Pack
Welcome to the first installment of our new What We’re Riding column. In this recurring feature we will be covering the riding gear that we’re stoked on.
We’re kicking off this new column with High Above, manufacturer of hip-packs and gear bags based out of Bellingham, WA. Manufactured by hand using almost entirely US sourced materials, High Above is turning out some of the nicest packs I’ve yet to lay eyes on. I’ve been riding with the Lookout pack for the past few weeks and have been duly impressed. Everything about this pack is a cut above the run of the mill mass produced product on the market. For instance, the shell is made from a bomber-feeling fully water proof material, the zippers are all YKK #8 Uretek waterproof zippers and the zipper pulls are made from your choice of 17 colors of USA made para-cord. I’ve been so impressed with this pack that it made me get off my lazy ass and finally start this new column that I’ve been thinking about for months.
Storage and Organization
The Lookout Pack is the second largest hip pack, next to the Cascade, that High Above makes and what I would consider a mid-sized pack relative to the rest of the offerings out there. It’s dimensions are 9″x3″x5.25″ which means there is plenty of room for everything you need for most rides but it never feels like a “big” pack hanging off your waist. The space is smartly divided into a large main compartment accessed via the top and a smaller pocket on the front. This pack is not bladder compatible, I mean, you could conceivably force it, but it’s designed to hold bottles.
Inside the main compartment there are 3 dividers for keeping your gear organized and a key ring clip. The dividers keep my larger multi-tools, first aid, and snacks in order for quick access. The little orange pouch is a Backcountry Research Tulbag that I use to keep my small wrenches and emergency spares organized.
The angular blue fabric at the base of the waist strap, AKA the “wings”, visible on the left side of the pack below is one of the features that puts the Lookout pack ahead of the competition. This wide piece of fabric helps the pack grip your waist and prevents it from shifting when fully loaded or bombing down rowdy trails. On the right side of the pack, I have a single bottle holder attached, although it’s possible to run one on each side, or none at all. The bottle holders attach with a very cool little USA made clip called a Malice clip that makes them easy to install or remove as needed.
Another really cool feature is the waist belt adjustment system. I really hate it when my pack flops around and I also hate interrupting a fast descent to stop and mess with my pack. Most packs that I’ve used employ a simple cinch system on the buckle that inevitably backs off multiple times per ride. This really smart little piece of velcro locks the waist belt in place once adjusted and I have not yet had it come loose.
Nope, I’m not sponsored or paid to promote Honey Stingers, I just happen to love them. Fortunately, there is plenty of room for lots of Honey Stingers in the Lookout pack. I usually fill up the front pocket for mid-ride snacks.
The bottle straps also double as tie down straps for things like jackets and knee pads. It’s spring in the PNW and that means it’s still fairly wet and I often ride with my Mission Workshop Meridian Alpine jacket making this a really handy feature. Typically with a hip pack, unless I’m packing a super-light jacket, I wind up tying it around my waist which is not ideal. One caveat, I would not want a jacket strapped to the top of the pack when pointed downhill, it’s not quite stable enough for my liking.
Having the capacity and stability you would tend to associate with a backpack combined with carrying that weight low on your hips and the improved air flow of a hip pack, the Lookout is one impressive pack. Complaints? I keep thinking the water bottle straps should be made of bungee cord instead of static para-cord. It’s kind of a pain to re-adjust the straps every time you pull the bottle out where a bungee would be more of a set-and-forget setup. I ran this by High Above who feels that the durability of paracord outweighs the functionality of elastic bungee. Whatever you’re stance, it’s nice to know High Above is thinking long-term durability. Personally, I’m stoked on the Lookout pack. Is it something you’d be stoked on too? At an MSRP of $100, the price is a bit higher than the mass produced options, but I think it’s worth it. When you consider the quality, the fact that you get to pick your custom color combo at no extra charge, and the critical improvements in stability over a run of the mill pack it’s almost a slam dunk. If you’re still rocking a backpack and not sure if a hip pack is right for you, it is a lot of coin to spend but it’s also one of the best examples of what a hip pack can be and I’d still highly recommend it. If you’re already a hip pack convert and just looking for an upgrade, this is a no-brainer.
Details and Specifications:
On the Web: www.highabove.net
Model: The Lookout Pack
Colors: Camo, Charcoal, Black
Custom Colors: 17 zipper pull colors, 11 wing colors
Size: One size – 9″x3″x5.25″
Bottle Capacity: 1 included, a 2nd is optional for an extra $10
Water Bladder: Nope
Verified Weight: 249g