Review: San Util's Handmade Hip Packs are Durable & Lightweight

Aug 11, 2022
by Alicia Leggett  

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 current design (back) has been refined since the last version.
And even more refined since the first edition.

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.

One of the latest updates is the addition of optional water bottle holders.
The bottle holders clip into straps on either side of the waist belt.

There's a magnetic Fidlock buckle at the waist closure, with adjustments on both sides.
And there are compression straps at the bottom.

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.


+ Lightweight
+ Durable and well-made
+ Made-to-order with custom colors


- No internal organization
- Pricier than some competition

Pinkbike's Take:
bigquotesThe San Util Covert Hip Pack is functional, utilitarian, and extremely lightweight. Those looking for internal organization and abundant pockets should look elsewhere, but for anyone else, the Covert pack is an excellent mid-sized option. The fact that Colorado-based San Util custom-makes each pack to order in its Winter Park workshop adds some cool points. Still, the best part for me is that it's low-profile and stays in place no matter what.Alicia Leggett

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.

Author Info:
alicialeggett avatar

Member since Jun 19, 2015
729 articles

  • 21 0
 Looks not too dissimilar to my High Above pack... Which is also great. Great to see more smaller brand 'local' made products!
  • 11 0
 I was in Fraser having beers with a buddy that lives there earlier this summer, after the interview with Adam was published, and mentioned it to him asking if he'd heard of San Util. He pulled out his San Util bag to show me, and wow, really nice, impressive quality. Top of my list for when it's time to get my next bag.
  • 5 0
 Thanks! Honored to be on your list period! Just let us know whenever you're ready!
  • 10 0
 Give me a hip pack with a dedicated, padded phone pocket made to fit our enormously large modern phones and I'll buy six. My Camelbak Podium does the job but could be better. This looks like a good alternative.
  • 16 0
 Shoot me an email, we can definitely do some custom work on one.
  • 3 6
 Dakine hot laps does the trick for about 50 bucks
  • 6 0
 I love reviews like this - highlighting the product and best use cases etc. Looked around and saw some other stuff they make and am intrigued by possibly using the tool roll combined with the Occam Apex strap...
  • 3 0
 Agreed. Alicia killed it. I haven't tested a tool roll with the Occam straps yet, but love the idea!
  • 1 0
 I use an Occam Apex with a small waterproof zip bag from Ultralitesacks (made from Ultra 100 and is 8g), holding tubolito type tube, levers, patches and tire boot. Full 1/2lb less than dakine gripper with regular tube!
  • 5 0
 Thanks so much for the words! @alicelego_ You nailed it. I designed the Covert to be as minimalist/versatile as possible. The Covert isn't for everyone, but the people who like simple designs will hopefully like this one!

Appreciate you and everything you do.
- Adam
  • 7 0
 Flashbacks from 1995 and Mountain Smith "Fanny Packs" were all the rage at the MTB/Climbing shops and Teva's.
  • 2 2
 Yes it is funny how trends come and go. Mountain bikers love to strap as much stuff to themselves and their bikes as possible. I'm more on the minimalist, keep it simple side....and that has worked for 25 years. Each to their own!
  • 4 0
 I have a tool roll and a mini pouch from Adam, top quality products! Awesome materials, and kick ass colors!
  • 5 0
 No internal organization seems like a miss for me.
  • 3 0
 Thanks for the feedback. We sell a few different organization pouches if you want some internal organization. In the future, maybe my design philosophy will change some. Keep your eyes peeled.
  • 4 0
 San util = Without purpose

Kind of reminds me of the Nova in Spanish speaking countries.
  • 1 0
 Significant omission in the review is that he is using waterproof fabrics like Vx21 and dyneema (though appears only Vx21 is currently an option). While I don't think the seams are taped, the fact is that the Vx21 version would be extremely water resistant - a major selling point for many, including me. Love to see an Ultra 200/400 version
  • 4 0
 Fully loaded photo would be nice
  • 2 0
 Adam is a super genuine and great dude who makes a great product. But to be clear, I'm definitely faster and way sicker than him.
  • 1 0
 Looks cool! How floppy is the detachable water bottle holder with a full bottle when riding? My gf bought one of the Jammy bags, more thought out than most others on something that's been done 100 times.
  • 3 0
 Read: Sam Hill's

Wondered if he'd given up on his enduro career
  • 2 0
 Same here : )
  • 2 0
 You should link the Q+A article in the beginning when you mention it. It was a great interview!
  • 1 0
 If I were a tourist visiting England, would it be considered a faux pas to ask the Queen what she keeps in her fanny pack?
  • 1 0
 Pretty expensive considering you have to purchase the bottle holders separately
  • 1 0
 Hip packs pull my pants down…
  • 2 5
 Yawn….this story was already published awhile back.

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