A few months ago, I published a Q&A article with San Util founder Adam Nicholson, a Colorado-based rider who began making hip packs and other riding bags in 2020 and has spent the last couple of years refining his designs and developing new products. I've had the opportunity to test out three editions of his Covert Hip Pack representing three different stages of development, and have spent the last several months putting them through the wringer in the Pacific Northwest.
As my daily driver, the most recent iteration of the Covert Hip Pack has been through a whole lot of rain, a few washing machine cycles, and some sun exposure. It's been overstuffed, under-packed, and everything in between for short rides and big epics alike.
Features & Construction
Covert Hip Pack
• Made-to-order with custom colors and materials
• 2L capacity, "stuffable to 3L"
• Xpac VX21, Dyneema, or 1000D Cordura
• Magnetic Fidlock hip and top flap closures
• One main compartment with a drawstring
• Removable water bottle attachments on each side
• Straps to hold a jacket or compress the load
• Weight: 208g
• MSRP: $115 USD, varies with customization
• Online: San Util Design
One priority in making the flagship Covert Hip Pack was to incorporate the right features while keeping the pack lightweight and streamlined. For Adam, that means no zippers, just one main pocket, Fidlock closures, a drawstring collar on the top, and compression straps on the bottom.
The design is simple. The pocket will fit about 2L, or 3L if it's stuffed, San Util says. (I didn't measure specifically, but that seems accurate.) For me, that means I can easily fit everything I'd need for a long day of riding, especially if I use the two removable Quick Draw Holster water bottle holders that attach to the side. In the large main pocket, there's space for a decently bulky jacket, a multitool (though San Util also makes a tool roll, which we'll get to later), and plenty of snacks. Unlike most hip packs, especially the more sophisticated ones, there are no pockets on the waist belt or hidden anywhere on the pack - the idea is simple, not feature-filled.Smaller details:
There's nothing on the pack that seems like it could break easily, particularly no zippers or small clips of any sort. The drawstring closure has been refined over time and now uses a glove-friendly plastic tab to adjust it. The hip strap closes with a magnetic Fidlock buckle that's operable with one hand, and adjusts with inward pull friction sliders on each side. As mentioned previously, there's a spot for a bottle on each side, and two compression straps at the bottom of the pack that can work to fit more gear or to cinch down and compress the whole thing when it's stuffed.Trail Report
If the mission was to make a hip pack that stays in place and weighs very little, consider the mission accomplished. The Covert pack is low-profile and sits nicely against my back, so there's no bouncing or the dreaded spin-around-on-steep-descents that happens with so many other hip packs.
I tend to fall on the minimalist side of the spectrum, so the straightforward design of the Covert pack worked well for me. I didn't miss having a bunch of dangly bits and bobs, even though I am a fan of one or two more complex hip packs on the market, too. I also didn't feel like I needed more internal organization, though it is noteworthy that there's no pocket to keep small items like keys and a phone safe and separate from the rest of the load.
As for quality and durability, the Cordura fabric has held up well to the PNW mud and several cycles through the washer over the course of the winter. The stitching on the first edition I received had a few minor inconsistencies, whereas this most recent version of the pack is tightened up and looks utterly dialed and consistent. I have no qualms about its sturdiness. It's clear that Adam has spent time and thought refining the product, adding a couple of features like the water bottle carry where it made sense, but still without adding much bulk and weight.
The trade-off for the hip pack's less-than-half-pound weight is, as mentioned earlier, it sacrifices features like internal organization and hip panel pockets in favor of the simple design. The result is a functional piece that feels like an easy option to repeatedly grab on my way out the door.
Durable and well-made+
Made-to-order with custom colors
No internal organization-
Pricier than some competition
I've also had the opportunity to test out the Lil Stache Daddy handlebar bag
and a tool roll
. Both work as expected, staying in place nicely thanks to the ever-helpful Voile straps. The handlebar bag lives on my curly bar bike and has come in handy for some big dumb multisport days in the mountains, while the tool roll moves from bike to bike, keeping me prepared when - as someone who is reluctant to bring a pack of any short rides - I decide to leave the house for a short spin.
All in all, I'm excited to see San Util refining its products and continuing to grow into its own as a small brand carving its place in the bike industry.