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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > RIBZ Sportswear > Test Report by Richard Lyon
RIBZWEAR RIBZ front pack
TEST SERIES BY RICHARD LYON
Initial Report December 17, 2008
I've been backpacking for 45 years, on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1985. I do a weeklong trip every summer and frequently take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain at elevations of 5000 - 13000 feet (1500-5000 meters). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too. While always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight camper, and I usually chose a bit of extra weight over foregoing camp conveniences that I've come to expect.
Manufacturer: RIBZWEAR, at www.ribzwear.com
Sizing note: The RIBZ comes in two sizes, medium and large. When I was chosen to test the pack Ray Richardson, one of the company's principals, telephoned me to discuss sizing. While he requested my chest (46 in/117 cm) and waist (37 in/94 cm) size he paid greater attention to the uses to which I would put the RIBZ. When I told him that during the winter I'd be testing while hiking and skiing, he recommended the larger size so that it would fit comfortably over several upper body layers.
RIBZWEAR promotes its pack (which so far as I can tell is its only product) for "backpacking or snowboarding, fishing or hunting, biking or kayaking, or just out day hiking."
The RIBZ is difficult to categorize. It's definitely not a chest pack, as its two pack bags sit at waist level, rather like kidney protectors. It's not a lumbar pack; the bags are in front not in back and the RIBZ lacks a sturdy hip belt (or any other kind of hip belt). Photographs on the manufacturer's website indicate that one use for the RIBZ is as an auxiliary pack, to provide additional capacity to a backpack wearer, but text there indicates that it's intended also for use by those who employ "an ultralight backpacking strategy." There are fishing photos too, and the RIBZ bears some resemblance to a fishing vest, though its pack bags are larger and sit lower than most fishing-specific vests I've seen. Maybe the RIBZ is trying to become its own category.
The RIBZ is quite unlike any other pack I have ever worn or ever seen since leaving military service several decades ago. Its first noteworthy feature is the pair of pack bags that sit just at waist level when I am wearing the RIBZ. The bags are longer and wider than any others I've seen that are intended to be worn in a place accessible by the wearer without removing the pack - chest pack or hip belt pockets. Each side has two separate compartments. On each bag a 13.5 in [34 cm] horizontal zipper accesses the "inside" (next to me) pocket, which is 14 x 7 inches [35 x 18 cm], and a 6.5 in [17 cm] vertical zipper the outside pocket, 10 x 6 inches [25 x 15 cm]. Each inside pocket has two pouch pockets sewn to the back, for easy organization of and access to smaller items. When its pleat is folded out the inside pocket measures 2.25 inches [57 mm] deep, but since the pack bag is made of fabric wider objects may be stuffed inside. All this is an elaborate way of saying that the RIBZ has a very substantial capacity for a pack worn in front: according to the company's website, 800 cubic inches' [13.1 liters] capacity and fit for carrying up to ten pounds [4.5 kg] of gear.
The RIBZ's materials, construction, and overall design betray the pack's military origins. (Its designer was a longtime Navy SEAL.) Everything about it breathes strength and utility. The zippers are very large and stout. Each has a one-inch [2.5 cm] fabric pull and is easily handled even when wearing mittens. The shoulder straps are "extra-wide, heavy-duty nylon" for strength and comfort; extra wide in this case meaning 1.5 inches [3.8 cm]. The bags are also heavy-duty nylon (the "highest grade available") and are said to have a DWR treatment that makes them "water resistant," though not waterproof.
Wearing the RIBZ is like wearing a harness. A shoulder strap runs from corner to corner atop each pack bag. This can be adjusted by moving a metal slider up or down. Three 1.4 inch [3.6 cm] wide elastic nylon straps that run across my back from pack bag to pack bag, and a webbing strap connects the shoulder straps in back. The pack bags zip together in front with another large, heavy-duty zipper.
I tried the RIBZ on under my expedition pack (another SEAL-inspired piece of gear) and one of my day packs. In both instances the backpack's sternum strap connected a few inches/centimeters above the RIBZ pack bags, and the hip belt was easily maneuvered under the pack bags.
Here's a photo of a packed RIBZ ready for transport. With the bags zipped together it's a carry-on sized bag with two ready handles (the shoulder straps).
ON THE SLOPES
My RIBZ arrived just before my first ski trip of the season, a three-day excursion to Alta, Utah. On two inbounds days, both very cold and snowy, I wore the RIBZ as a standalone pack, over a base layer, down sweater, and lined ski jacket. I carried snacks, sunscreen, and lip balm in one inside pocket, and a folded-up wind shirt in the other. One outside pocket held a 0.7 liter (0.75 qt) SIGG bottle. On a half-day warm-up in the backcountry the RIBZ supplemented my Mystery Ranch Mountain Monkey (a day pack), and was similarly stocked, although I used the other outside pocket for some packaged hot drinks.
Thanks to this try-out I'm really looking forward to testing the RIBZ this winter. Through hiking, traversing, and downhill skiing the RIBZ stayed firmly in place. None of the pockets' contents was even damp despite blowing snow and the occasional tumble in the powder. I never had to unhitch the pack to ride a lift, as often I must when wearing a pack on my back. The RIBZ's capacity was more than sufficient for a day's skiing, and with the excess capacity the pockets stayed flat. After a short while I really didn't notice I was wearing a pack. I could easily open each of the pockets with one gloved hand, without removing the pack. An all-around stellar performance.
I have worn my RIBZ during six backpacking days and twelve ski days since filing my Initial Report, plus many day hikes. I'll remark on two other uses I've found for it as well. Each time I strap it on I'm reminded what a useful piece of gear this is.
Backpacking. In Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, over the New Year's holiday I wore the RIBZ with my R2 Telemaster pack (separately reviewed) on an overnight backpack, and as my only pack on a day ski following a course I took there. The overnighter was a relatively flat eight-mile (13 km) loop on touring skis amid snow squalls and a daytime high of 20 F (-7 C), with constant wind that occasionally gusted to an estimated 25 mph (40 km/hr). On the four-hour day ski the temperature rose from -22 to -5 F (- 30 to -21 C), on a calm, sunny day.
Gear stored in the RIBZ was similar on all three days, as most of my backpack stash was camping gear and spare clothing. I stored a water bottle (inside a neoprene cozy) in the front left pocket (the one accessible by means of the vertical zipper) and distributed other items needed ready to hand between the two rear pockets: sunscreen, lip balm, knife, energy bars, headlamp, balaclava, cashmere watch cap (for rest stops; I hiked in a lighter weight hat), and a wind shirt.
Other backpacking use has been in north and east Texas on short overnighters in January and February, with good weather and temperatures in the 50s and 60s F (10-20 C). Again I wore my Telemaster pack.
Skiing. Inbounds skiing took place at Bridger Bowl, Montana, on January 5, Snowbasin, Utah, on January 21, and Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee, Wyoming, in February and March. Bridger was cold, windy, and snowy in the morning, merely cold and snowy later in the day. A high temperature of 20 F (-7 C) perhaps. Snowbasin had an inversion the day I skied there, with temperature about 25 F (-5 C) at the base and up to 50 F (10 C) at the top of the lifts; both areas were sunny. Except for two snowy days the Wyoming areas were partly cloudy to bluebird clear, with temperatures ranging from 10 to 30 F (-13 to -1 C), with occasional moderate winds.
Fishing. So far my winter fishing has been limited to the creek that runs through my back yard, where I've spent several short practice stints to keep my casting stroke from getting rusty. This has given me a chance, however, to stock the RIBZ with the fly fishing kit I would take on a backcountry trip. That includes a reel; small fly box; necklace with floatant, nippers, forceps; and a caddy with two spools of tippet; a small container of split shot; and a few extra leaders. All of these fit easily into the left rear pocket, leaving one front pocket available for a water bottle and one front and one rear pocket for ready-to-hand gear similar to that carried on my backcountry ski trips.
Day hikes. In addition to the Yellowstone ski day described above I have worn the RIBZ on several day hikes around Dallas. Once I wore it with my Mystery Ranch Mountain Monkey (a day pack, also separately reviewed), but usually it was just the RIBZ, and again its contents were more or less the same other than adding a small vial of bug dope.
Indoor use. I had three hectic but enjoyable days in January on the floor of the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah, representing BackpackGearTest.org in the Winter Outdoor Retail trade show. This meant visiting manufacturers' booths to check out new gear and to discuss future testing opportunities for our group. The RIBZ was perfect for storing a note pad, business cards, a water bottle, and samples pressed upon me by eager gear makers.
Design. As noted in my Initial Report the RIBZ has military origins, so I'll use a military word to describe my opinion of its design: outstanding. I think the fit and functionality of the RIBZ are well-nigh perfect for inbounds and backcountry skiing, and almost as good for hiking. I haven't used the pack for fishing sufficiently to rate it for that activity but based upon my backyard practice I expect a similar grade in my Long Term Report.
Stated capacity is if anything understated. Lunch, snacks, water, camera, sunscreen, pocket knife, and a wind shirt fit easily into the RIBZ. The compartments sewn into the larger, inside pockets allow easy separation of small items so I'm not groping about for a snack bar or pocket knife. An outside pocket can hold a one-liter water bottle, with room to spare for a map, small flashlight, or whistle. My backcountry fly fishing box, which holds all my fishing gear except the rod and reel, is a 5 x 7 x 1.5 in (13 x 18 x 4 cm) rectangular canvas pouch; that and the reel can go into the other front pocket when hiking. Even when that box is added there's still room for other another whim item or two such as a small tripod or paperback book. I'm talking about an easy fit, one that doesn't cause a bulge on my side that interferes with arm movement or reaching into my trouser pockets.
By wearing the RIBZ I can downsize significantly the pack on my back. The only things I normally carry on a day hike that won't fit in the RIBZ are rain pants and a water bladder; on a ski day I need to find another place for a probe and shovel. For a day's skiing I have used my Mystery Ranch Broomstick pack (large enough for just a shovel, avalanche probe, and small repair kit, with loops for carrying skis when boot packing) instead of a 1600 cubic inch (26 l) day pack. On the Yellowstone overnighter I used my smallest overnight pack rather than the expedition pack I normally carry on winter overnighters. On day hikes when sustained rain is unlikely I've left the rain pants at home, relied on a water bottle or two instead of a bladder, and hiked with just the RIBZ.
I like carrying some of my pack weight at my sides; balancing the weight between sides and back makes for more comfortable hiking. This re-distribution is particularly noticeable and much appreciated on a ski day that includes downhill turns, as I no longer need to adjust my skiing stance for an altered center of gravity.
As noted in my Initial Report wearing the RIBZ in no way interferes with the hip belt, shoulder straps, or sternum strap on my various backpacks and day packs. I can even access the hip belt pockets on two of my packs, which sit just forward (toward my navel) of the RIBZ's pockets. I must put the RIBZ on first, of course, so that the other pack can fit on top of the RIBZ's rear straps.
When skiing I scarcely notice that I am wearing the RIBZ. On two ski days the temperature or uphill hiking made me too warm when wearing a down sweater as a mid-layer. The sweater was stuffed into its stuff sack and stashed in a RIBZ outside pocket, replacing the wind shirt that I donned in place of the sweater. As noted in my Initial Report, I also don't have to remove the RIBZ to ride a ski lift. The pockets when filled don't impede arm movement in either kicking and gliding (Nordic skiing) or pole-planting (downhill telemark skiing).
The large zippers are another great feature. They are easily opened and closed without the necessity of zipper pulls or removing mittens. I haven't had one snag yet. All pockets are easily reached by the opposite hand (left hand opens right pocket and vice versa). Thanks perhaps to my long arms I can reach to the bottom of the inside pockets with no trouble.
I have only one suggestion for design improvement, and it's to correct a very minor problem. If I need to retrieve an item from a pocket on my bibs or inside my parka I must unzip the parka to a point below the RIBZ's center zipper. When that center zipper is unzipped a RIBZ shoulder strap occasionally slides off. A small pair of clips, a lightweight cord with a mating button or clip, or perhaps a small hook-and-loop fastener would alleviate this problem.
Fit. Following RIBZ's suggestion I home tested the shoulder straps, over my normal ski layers, and adjusted them to ensure a secure and comfortable fit and suitable height for the pockets. Before my fine tuning the size Large pack hung rather loosely over my long torso and not-so-svelte frame; I had to shorten the shoulder straps by several inches/centimeters before wearing the pack for the first time. I similarly home tested fit over a t-shirt to see if I could snug the straps down for summer fishing use. There's ample webbing to make this adjustment. The larger size seems very large. This isn't criticism, rather something that prospective buyers should consider in selecting size.
Durability. Also outstanding. The only noticeable wear on the pack after twenty-plus days' field use that included some aggressive skiing, plus the rigors of the OR show, is a fading of the RIBZ logo on the front and some frayed threads inside the inside pockets. This latter phenomenon hasn't interfered with zipper use. Not even a scratch, much less a tear or puncture, after plowing through the brush in Wyoming. The pack has been resistant to snow; nothing inside (including that down sweater) has become damp. I've had no reason to clean anything.
Attention. Never have I had as many inquiries about a piece of gear I've been testing as with the RIBZ. Skiers, ski patrollers, backcountry guides, snowshoers, participants at the Outdoor Retailer show, a fishing guide, even BackpackGearTest.org's chief moderator, have asked "What's that you're wearing." I'm always happy to reply with an explanation and a glowing endorsement.
Summary. I think the RIBZ is a genuinely innovative piece of gear that's suitable for many backcountry activities. I'm looking forward to some early season flyfishing use over the next two months.
Day Hikes. In the past two months I've worn the RIBZ on five day hikes around Dallas, in the Texas Hill Country, and in Montana. Temperatures have ranged from 5 F (-15 C) in Montana in early April to 90 F (32 C) in the Hill Country in May. I encountered rain on one day hike and a blizzard on another, but most of my use was in dry weather.
Fly Fishing. I've also tested the RIBZ as a fly fishing vest, in April in Montana (both wade fishing and from a drift boat), and when wade fishing in Texas in May. Poor catching conditions: sunny and bright, with high temperatures about 50 F (10 C) in Montana and 80 F (26 C) in Texas.
Backpacking. Backpacking use has been limited to a three-day, two-night trip in the Texas Hill Country in April. Great spring weather – no warmer than 75 F (23 C) during the day with no rain and many pleasant breezes. This trip was noteworthy for using another pack, a frameless Cuben-fiber backpack that weighs less than a pound (400 g), in combination with the RIBZ. Even though I carried a large group stove that I was also testing I could fit my entire kit in the two packs.
Altogether, about 28 field days' use, not counting the Outdoor Retailer show mentioned in my Field Report. Scheduling changes and the Christmas holidays made mine almost a six-month test period – more than ample time to put this great front pack through its paces.
Fly fishing. As its manufacturer advertises, the RIBZ works really well as a substitute for a fishing vest. I used the left top pocket (the most easily accessible for this right-handed fisherman) for fishing gear: two spare leaders, my tippet wallet, two medium-sized fly boxes, floatant, a nail knot tool, two small boxes of split shot, and a square of paste-on strike indicators. A one-liter SIGG bottle went into the lower left pocket. The right-side pockets handled a rain shell, camera, many small, often-used items I regularly carry on a day hike or backpack in the upper and my lunch in the lower. I pinned two zingers to the right front strap for my clippers and forceps. (Zingers are spring-loaded loops of wire for tools that may be needed at a moderate distance from my vest or pack.) Here is a picture of all the RIBZ's fishing-related contents.
As has been true when hiking and skiing the large zippers are easy to handle. They haven't stuck or snagged on adjacent material. The inside dividers are handy for keeping fly gear or other small items sorted. After a few days' fishing I had developed a system for which items go in which divider. The RIBZ's deep pockets are an improvement over my fishing vest, as it's easier to avoid having a loose item fall out of a pocket when bending over to net or release a fish.
The RIBZ won't become a permanent replacement for my fishing vest. The vest has greater capacity and a larger number of small pockets, which I prefer over two or three large ones, even with the RIBZ's dividers. My vest (and, I believe, most vests) include a large pocket across the back that accommodates a 3-liter water bladder, rain shell, lunch, and gear needed only occasionally (line cleaner, gloves, wool hat, first aid kit, and the like), making it a one-piece "pack" for most contingencies for days on the river.
On the trail, however, the RIBZ will see frequent fishing duty. I often select day hikes and backpacking routes for their fishing opportunities. I'm considerably more selective with fishing gear when I have to carry it long distances or uphill (and besides most backcountry fish are suckers for just about any fly), and the RIBZ is more than adequate for my usual backcountry angling kit. When I get to the stream I can stash or hang my backpack and the RIBZ becomes my fishing vest. I lengthen the shoulder straps so that the pack bags sit a bit lower than shown in the top photo, making pocket access a bit easier. The straps and mildly bulging pockets don't interfere with casting or my center of gravity (an important consideration as fly fishing often involves stream crossings). I'm barely aware I'm wearing it. Since it complements my backpack on day hikes and overnights, I've got a fishing vest that's part of my regular backpacking gear rather than an extra item. With the backpacking benefits discussed below, as part of my pack system for backcountry fishing the RIBZ is nothing short of terrific.
Day hikes. Particularly when I don't need a heavy sweater – just about anytime between April and November in Texas – the RIBZ's capacity is more than enough for my day hiking. I've found that I prefer the weight in front to a standard day pack on my back, and of course everything is accessible without having to remove the pack. The only thing I normally carry but can't fit into the RIBZ is a water bladder, so if I want more than one water bottle I must add a hydration pack or day pack with a hydration sleeve.
Backpacking. My backpacking results are similar to those mentioned in my Field Report. The RIBZ allows a split between front and back, meaning a smaller load on my back. On the Hill Country hike with the lightweight pack (1800 in3/30 L capacity) I saved at least a kilogram (>2 lb) of total pack weight (taking the RIBZ's weight into account) over my lightest-weight backpack. I've found that I like dividing the weight for comfort as well as stability and, as on a day hike, I prefer the convenience of accessing the RIBZ's high capacity pockets over stopping and taking off my backpack.
Durability. The logo printed on the front of the RIBZ is now but a memory. But that's the only durability issue I've had with the RIBZ. All straps, zippers, buckles, and stitching remain intact and fully functional. The frayed threads on the inside of the large pockets haven't impacted moving things in and out of the pockets much and so far I've not had a tiny fishing fly catch on one. The pack has picked up a smudge or two from brushes with trees and rocks; all were easily removed with a mild soapy solution after returning home.
The RIBZ front pack's best attributes are versatility and simplicity. I've found a new pack that's great for skiing, fishing, day hikes, and backpacking. For skiing it's just about perfect. It's easy to put on and take off, and there's very little that can go wrong. (During the test period nothing did go wrong.) It works well on its own or as a supplement to a backpack.
RIBZWEAR is a new manufacturer, and I hope that the RIBZ will succeed well enough to allow the company to experiment with variations on the front pack concept. Here are some things I'd like to see:
· Different pocket configurations, particularly one that would allow use of a 2-liter or larger water bladder hydration system. But a separate, smaller zippered pocket for a camera or cell phone, a small out-of-the way pocket (maybe with the zipper on the back side of the pouch) for car keys or other item not expected to be needed but worthy of secure storage, or a single large pocket rather than the present two on one or both sides might enhance use for particular outdoor activities.
· Some way of reducing the fraying threads inside the pockets.
· Perhaps a bungee-cord type holder for a water bottle on one or both shoulder straps. This would be strictly a day hike accessory, as I doubt it could be accessible when a backpack's shoulder strap lies atop the RIBZ's straps.
· The RIBZ could certainly be made with lighter weight fabric and straps. I'm not dissatisfied with its weight and I like its durability but a lightweight version might broaden this pack's audience. I want to see this product succeed so that I can be sure it will still be on the market when mine wears out, because if it is I'll surely buy another one.
My Test Series ends here. This has been an enjoyable and genuinely rewarding exercise – many thanks to RIBZWEAR and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity.
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