Founder/Chief Editor of Benosh, Josh is a husband and father who loves outdoor activities, from fishing to hiking to skiing, and finds meaning in the journey.
From the time I first pulled open the packaging, this thought has been going through my head: what exactly is the Mountainsmith Lumbar Day Classic? Backpack or fanny pack? Satchel? Hiker or grand-tourer? Let’s see if we can figure it out.
If you’re too young to remember fanny packs, they were hip-hung bags that reached the height of their popularity in the 80s and 90s when, yes, I had one. While the cliché tourist with black fake-leather fanny pack perhaps predominates our thinking, some outdoor manufacturers have quietly continued producing a line of packs for people with limited need for gear.
But while Mountainsmith doesn’t make fanny packs, they do make lumbar packs designed to sit at an optimum height on one’s lower back (or lumbar area)—ideal for load bearing. And of these lumbar packs, the Day Classic is perhaps one of their most iconic products.
Mountainsmith describes the Day Classic thusly: “For hiking, urban touring or school, our lumbar packs are designed to stash all of the bare essentials you can’t imagine leaving home without.” And indeed, the Classic can hold an impressive amount of stuff (854 cu in/14L), and I can see why it’s popular with photographers and others.
So when Mountainsmith was so good as to send us a Classic for testing, I loaded up both adjustable water bottle pockets, packed out the interior with a day hike’s worth of gear, and cinched it all down to my lumbar to find out how the Classic stacks up against more traditional backpacks.
One of the first things I noticed is that the Classic is very well-made—great attention to detail has every zipper, handle, and compression strap feeling well-positioned and of high quality. The zippers are robust, the 100% 500d Cordura™ fabric durable but soft to the touch. Everything shows lots of planning and forethought—kudos Mountainsmith for good product planning and execution and to their US artisans for their craftsmanship.
Despite flawless manufacturing, I found myself wondering at some features, namely the single shoulder strap—the Classic is “strappette” compatible, which is Mountainsmith-speak for being able to buy and attach their clever $25 double shoulder strap system. But the single strap? Without detailed instructions, I found myself experimenting, finally settling with putting the strap over my right shoulder and going crosswise, under might left armpit, and back to the pack. That worked pretty well.
The majority of the Classic’s weight is supposed to sit right in the small of your back, using the compression straps to pull it tight with the wide, comfortable waist belt bearing most or all of the load. I learned that it is the unusual shoulder strap that makes this system work. When loaded heavily, simply strapping the waist belt can be awkward; with the strap holding the weight while you get situated, it’s suddenly a synch. And while I didn’t try this, the waist belt is self-stowing, so you could just throw the strap over your shoulder and use the Classic as a casual man-tote.
The Classic’s back panel is foam-padded and covered in air mesh for good ventilation, and even while exerting myself in mid-80s, my lumbar stayed pretty cool. With the two adjustable water bottle pockets (which can handle even 32oz bottles), I was able to carry plenty of heavy hydration comfortably along with light loads. I never really racked it up to see how heavy I could make it comfortably.
And this really leads me to what I consider the Classic’s most likely natural environment—rather than the standard day hikes to which I subjected it, I see a greater value for the travel set than the hiking set, though it’s versatile enough to do both easily. As a dad, I see its value as a zoo companion, and photographers I talked to drooled over it as the ultimate camera bag. And with little thoughts like the back panel airline ticket pocket, the Classic is ideal for being your primary piece of carry-on luggage.
Unfortunately, this takes us back to the original question: backpack or fanny pack? Satchel? With the functionality leaning toward grand-touring and travel, I’m inclined to think of the $110 Mountainsport Lumbar Day Classic as the ultimate fanny pack—I mean lumbar pack—the coolest holdout that natural selection has allowed to find a market niche as a versatile light-hiking/traveling companion for all those things you can’t bear to leave at home, just as Mountainsmith describes it.
If you’re a day hiker who doesn’t like hydration backpacks, a mom in need of a versatile tote for the urban jungle, a photographer after the ultimate camera bag, or a traveler looking for the coolest lumbar pack ever made, go no further than Mountainsmith’s Lumbar Day Classic! Best of all, it’s hand-made in the USA by true artisans, so when you grab a Classic, you’re supporting US-based manufacturing of a high-quality, durable product. The fanny pack may be dead, but long live the lumbar pack!