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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > RIBZ Sportswear > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
Reviewed by Jamie DeBenedetto
Reviewer's Information Back to contents
Product Information Back to contents
Description of Product
The RIBZ front pack is quite simply two big panniers worn similar to a fishing vest. The pockets hang down to just about waist level and extend up to mid-chest. The two compartments, one on each side, zip together in the middle. There are two zippered pockets on each pannier, one with a vertical opening and one with a horizontal opening. The horizontal compartment also has two organizer dividers inside to keep gear separated for a total of three internal storage spaces. There are two adjustable nylon straps extending from the front pocket up over my shoulders and down to the back part of each pocket and three elastic straps running horizontally across the point where the pack crosses my mid-back. The straps are all slightly more than 1.5 inches (4 cm) wide.
Arrival Condition and Informational Material Back to contents
The RIBZ front pack arrived in perfect working order. No informational material was included to speak of. Mr. Richardson, the owner, did include a couple of business cards with his contact info. and the company's website URL. I emailed him directly to find out their warranty policy, care instructions and the country in which the front pack was made. He was very helpful.
Mr. Richardson's email stated, while an official warranty is still forthcoming he, "would happily replace any pair that had any malfunctions". As for care instructions the only information given was not to machine wash them. I asked Mr. Richardson about this too, he said it's possible the straps could get wrapped up in the machine so it's not advisable. Obviously hand washing, as with other nylon style backpacks, would be fine.
First Impressions Back to contents
In some respects the item I received is exactly what I was expecting and in others it was not. The website did a fair job of communicating through pictures what the product would look like and how it was to be worn but the actual storage space it offers is larger than I expected from viewing the site. It's also a much heftier item than I thought it would be. The website hits on the idea of using these as part of an "ultralight backpacking strategy" which gave me the impression it would be made out of much lighter materials with slimmer zippers and more petite straps. Not so! That's not to say it cannot be used in this way, I'm just saying the materials are not the type I associate with ultralight gear, which is so commonly stripped down to its lowest useable level.
I am impressed with the storage capacity of the RIBZ so far. The actual compartments cover more of my mid-section, front to back and top to bottom than I was expecting. I'm very interested to see how they are going to perform. As a woman there are certain considerations when wearing gear near the chest area. I'm luckily not overly chesty but the RIBZ do hit me just about the breast line. I will also be watching to see how well they work over jackets and vests, and more importantly for this desert dweller, how they do when the temperatures start to rise again. I certainly don't want to feel like I'm hiking inside a big nylon stuff sack!
I originally received the large size. Having tried the RIBZ front pack on and loaded the pockets with some gear I've come to the grim realization the large is too big for me. I measured myself at the base of my ribs as the website suggested and I was at the high end of the medium so after some consideration and chatting with Mr. Richardson, who called me personally before he mailed the RIBZ to make sure I was getting the correct size, I asked for a large. My thinking was that I'd rather have some extra room for a jacket or for ventilation. Given the location where the front pack rides on my torso, I can see my thinking was flawed. I tried the RIBZ with my day pack and there was just too much extra material bunched up between the waist belt and the shoulder strap connection point for me to assume I could make do. If I can get the fit dialed in, I have high hopes these babies will be a neat addition to my current packing system.
Update as of December 23rd, 2008
The medium RIBZ arrived quickly, even with Christmas looming. It fits great, definitely my size. Putting it on is simplistic and required very little adjustment. I'm looking forward to getting on the trail with this item.
After the medium RIBZ front pack arrived I integrated it into my regular hiking kit right away. To date I have worn it alone and in conjunction with my GoLite 24 Hr daypack on twenty-five day hikes and two day trips to the snow.
December Back to contents
In late December my kids and I loaded up our snow play paraphernalia and headed to Northern Arizona, along with thousands of other families seeking a day of fun in this white wonderland. Not being one for crowds we ventured off the beaten path to a lesser known sledding area. This required some snow hiking that would have been much easier with snow shoes but we managed. The only "pack" I wore that day was the RIBZ. In it I carried our water, my 10 essentials kit, my sons' hats, lip balm, sun glasses, my camera, cell phone, car keys and tissues. It was bulky but not cumbersome. I had full range of motion when bending, lifting, etc. The only thing I couldn't do was carry my younger son on my hip. I was able to carry him on my back with no problem, however.
The elevation of the area was 8,000 ft (2,400 m) and the temperatures that day were in the upper 40's (9 C). We played in the snow, sledded and snow hiked for 4 hours. The RIBZ performed perfectly for my intended use.
Hikes this month lasted between two and four hours and took place in several local desert mountain preserves within 20 miles (32 km) of my home. Elevations in these areas range from 1,500 ft (450 m) up to 2,100 ft (640 m). Temperatures in January were very irregular this year. In any given week we had highs anywhere from 60 up to 80 F (15 and 26 C) with lows around 40 to 60 F (5 to 15 C).
I work in the outdoors. Some weeks I'm hiking five of the seven days, almost always with two or more dogs in tow, and I constantly need stuff. Things like a dog water bowl, my camera, dog-doo clean-up bags, first-aid kit, treats, an extra leash, my cell phone, car keys, etc. I have put the RIBZ to work as my go to dog carry all. So far the four capacious pockets have done a wonderful job of swallowing everything I've needed stowed. I don't like having to dig for things so I really appreciate the organizer compartments inside the horizontal zippered pockets. Smaller items, like spare batteries, are so much more accessible when they are stowed in there. That is a really well thought out feature in my opinion.
During this month of testing I wore the RIBZ front pack with a GoLite 24 Hr daypack. The fit was fine, in fact I'd say it's comfortable but I noticed one drawback. The GoLite pack has pockets on the hip belt located next to the pack body. These are somewhat difficult to reach with the RIBZ pack on because it overlaps the hip belt.
February Back to contents
In addition to using the RIBZ on several more day hikes like those described in the January section, this month I also used the pack on another day trip to the snow. This outing was for work so I needed to carry my usual canine gear in addition to some personal safety items. The weather was perfectly sunny with temperatures around 50 F (10 C). The trailhead elevation was 6,200 ft (1,900 m).
This was the first time I had worn the RIBZ over a jacket, albeit a light jacket since it was a pretty mild day, but up to this point I was wondering how bulkier clothing would affect the fit, if at all. It didn't. The RIBZ ride quite loosely around my body normally, even while wearing a daypack. This relaxed fit was only slightly diminished by the jacket even though I had the pockets pretty full.
One negative I discovered while wearing the RIBZ with my jacket, which hadn't occurred to me before, was an inability to access the hand warmer pockets. I was able to get in and out of the two chest pockets on the jacket without any issue, however. I consider this to be only a minor shortcoming because with the added storage capacity of the RIBZ I certainly didn't need to use my jacket pockets. I could see it being more of a pain if I actually wanted to use the pockets to warm by hands, but for me, that rarely comes into play while I'm moving because I'm either holding dog leashes or hiking poles.
March was much like January in that I primarily used the RIBZ as part of my regular work day hikes (as described above). The main difference being temperature changes. March is an odd month here in the Sonoran Desert. Some days we'll kiss 90 F (32 C) and other days it's breezy and the thermometer barely peaks over 70 F (21 C).
Regardless, I have now wornmy test set of RIBZ in cool conditions and in fairly warm and as such I think I have enough time in it to comment on one of the initial concerns I had, which was how this front pack would feel in higher temperatures . Having more of my body surrounded by nylon laden gear certainly does create more sweat zones and I do feel warmer overall. This was nice in the winter but as we heat up it has taken some getting used to. I can't say it's been a nuisance but then again it's not really hot yet. For now I'm okay with the added body coverage but I'll weigh in with my final opinion after April and May when the temps around here go up a few degrees.
Another issue I'll be watching as I wear the RIBZ over the next two months is the appearance of loose strings. I have noticed more strands of green thread breaking free on the underside of the zippers as of late. In fact, on more than one occasion I've had a couple of zipper snags as a result of this. The picture to the right shows a big section that appeared all of sudden in the left horizontal pocket. While trimming it, I noticed more starting to peel away from the fabric. This made me take a closer look at the other pockets and sure enough there are a few other places where it's happening too. If it gets worse I'll make a note of it in my last report.
A Few Other Random Observations
The wide straps are more comfortable than I assumed they would be, granted the RIBZ is not a weighty pack, even when stuffed to the gills. I especially liked being able to wear a tank top and not feel straps digging into my skin. I also could not feel any zippers or seams in the line where my arms swing. Kudos to RIBZ Sportswear for taking that part of the design into consideration.
Pros and Cons Thus Far Back to contents
Collective Use and Field Conditions over the Last Two Months
Since posting my Field Report I have worn the RIBZ Front Pack on twenty-nine more day hikes for a cumulative test series total of fifty-four hikes and two day trips to the snow. On most of these outings it was used to complement my daypack but I have used it by itself on several occasions as well.
All outings during April and May lasted between one and half and three hours. For most of these hikes I was on desert trails within 20 miles (32 km) of my home, the exceptions were a few walks in some urban washes. Elevations in these areas range from 1,500 ft (450 m) up to 2,100 ft (640 m). Temperatures were as low as 55 F (13 C) up to as hot as 98 F (37 C).
Long Term Conclusions Back to contents
The RIBZ Front Pack as become an invaluable part of my hiking world these last few months. I've left it behind only twice since receiving it back in December and its convenient storage options were quickly missed. What can I say, I like it. I think it's a neat idea and I plan to continue using it until it wears out or I find something better.
That may take awhile though because so far the RIBZ have been quite sturdy. The only construction issues I have encountered have been some loose threads separating from the edges of the nylon inside the pockets. Most of it is happening in the larger horizontal pockets on the underside of the zippers. This has created some zipper catching on a few occasions. I found pulling the threads was not the best idea because doing so resulted in more threads accumulating along the strip. I have instead been cutting the ones I find and that's worked pretty well. I have had to go through and "groom" the threads three times now, each time I found less and less to cut.
I have also cleaned the RIBZ once. It wasn't retaining any odors, although I have certainly done my share of sweating on it. It was, however, looking a bit grubby on the outside, no doubt due to too many encounters with dirty dog paws. Since the manufacturer doesn't recommend machine washing I just rinsed it off with my hose and rubbed the soiled spots with my hand. It didn't come out sparkling new but good enough for my needs. I'm sure I'll need to give it a go with soap at some point because the lighter colored shoulder straps have a few dirt marks that didn't budge with the water only treatment.
With regard to comfort in hot conditions let me start by saying I hike in pretty high temps so I pay close attention to how my body is feeling and how much I'm sweating. That being said, I have to say since the RIBZ cover most of my mid-section they do make me feel ever so slightly hotter. I have become so used to wearing the pack though, I hardly notice the increase in sweat zones until I take it off. Ideally, I'd rather not have a sweaty shirt along my mid-drift, of course I'd rather not have a sweaty back either but I haven't found a backpack yet that stops that so I consider wet shirts just part of desert hiking.
On the fit front, I'm pleased with the performance of the RIBZ. As a woman I was concerned I might have an issue with the top of the pack hitting me awkwardly along the chest line. That has not been a problem. Nor have the straps felt cumbersome or constricting. In fact, as I mentioned in my Field Report, I have been able to comfortably wear this pack with tank tops without any negative contact with the shoulder straps whatsoever. The back straps and the waist section of the pack might as well be non-existent. I just don't notice them at all while hiking unless something gets twisted and that has only happened once.
With a daypack on, the RIBZ stay in place nicely. Without a pack, I have had trouble with one or the other of the shoulder straps drooping off my shoulder. This happens more often when I'm bending or doing something more active like jogging. I've tried readjusting the strap tension without any luck. A chest strap would no doubt do the trick but I think I'd like it to be removable because another strap would be overkill when wearing the RIBZ with a backpack.
Final Thoughts Back to contents
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