High Above is the brainchild of JC Canfield, who got his chops under Dana Gleason at Mystery Ranch before deciding hip (fanny) packs needed a serious come back. Based in Bellingham, WA, High Above has created everything from backpacks, to hip packs, to a sweaty-gear focused duffel successfully funded through Kickstarter.
I would say that the Lookout falls into the second wave of High Above offerings. I still have an original, pre-updated Das Radpack that I use all of the time. The Lookout is the culmination of JC’s experience in designing hip packs. It’s durable, lightweight, and full of features you’d want on or off the bike.
|Capacity||142 cu. in.||2.5L|
|Primary Materials||Dimension Polyant X50 (or VX21, or X51), 1000D Cordura, YKK Aquaguard #8|
Quality and Comfort
High Above isn’t cutting any corners here. The materials and workmanship are all top notch. The main body of this particular model is made up of Domension Polyant X50, but it’s also available in X51 or VX21 as standard options, depending on your color preference. Though, they’ve been known to do limited and custom runs in more exotic materials like Dyneema. The wings are full 1000D Cordura, which is borderline overbuilt, and the zippers are all YKK Aquagaurd #8 which will keep sweat and rain off of your valuables.
The zippers, however, are a pain point for me. Neither the main access zipper or the front access zipper have pull-tabs to help with opening and closing. Because of this, accessing the contents of the bag on the fly is a pain. I found myself grabbing the fabric of the bag just to get some leverage to move the zipper. The front pocket suffers from this even more since it’s gusseted. I’m not sure why High Above chose to go without them, especially since they use pull-tabs on other, older models like the Das Radpack.
Unlike some other hip packs, the lookout has a padded airmesh back panel. It’s a nice addition on a bag you’re probably mostly going to wear during aerobic/anaerobic activities. The wings themselves are just two layers of 1000D and come with a single row of PALS webbing on each. Part of me wishes that the mesh extended through the wings, but I haven’t had too many issues with breathability.
The belt is made from a heavy duty nylon, and the ends of the belt have one-wrap stitched into them to keep them from flapping around. This is one area where I wish the pack was a little less heavy duty. The material is fine around town, but it’s a little rough on the bike when you’re usually wearing thinner, lighter clothing. A seat belt style material would have felt a bit nicer here.
The stitched in one-wrap, I felt, could also have been replaced with some non-fixed elastic keepers. This would help with some of the rigidity of the belt, and make adjustments much easier. Usually, when you’re adjusting a belt you’re pulling by the ends, and with the ends being secured, it makes adjustment slightly more annoying as you have to adjust from the middle-out. Especially when I’m riding my bike, I want to be able to make my adjustments quickly. Because of this, I often find myself just riding with the strap ends unsecured. The one-wrap has also caught on my riding jersey more than a few times. I’ve thought about just removing it.
High Above offers two different options for securing the belt; a typical plastic ITW buckle or an upgraded AustriAlpin Cobra buckle for an extra $20. The Cobra buckle is a cool addition, especially if you’re looking to add some style on the trails or around town. However, it adds some not insignificant weight. If you’re looking to shave some ounces, I’d go without it.
The top of the pack has two little eyelets on either side, which allows for the use of some toggle-threaded paracord to keep a rain shell, vest, or as High Above has pointed out in the past, a burrito. It’s a simple feature that really works well. You often don’t want to take an oversized bag on a ride, but if the weather looks iffy, it’s easy to lash a jacket or vest to the top. The fact that they’re removable makes it even better, and I tend to keep them both inside the pack when not in use so I don’t lose them.
As mentioned above, both wings have a row of PALs webbing to attach the provided bottle pocket, which comes with a Tactical Tailor MALICE clip. I typically don’t use the bottle pocket, as I keep a bottle cage on my bike, but it’s definitely handy on hotter days when I want to carry an extra. The newer bottle pockets have a cinch top, but I haven’t had any issues with standard sized bike water bottles falling out or shaking around.
The front pocket is gusseted and has it’s own volume, which is great on a small bag like this. There’s no further organization inside – I tend to keep the things I access more often on my rides in this pocket, like my phone and some energy blocks.
The main compartment is spacious and has three internal pockets and a keeper for your keys. This is where I keep the bulk of my items while riding, from a small handpump and tools, to my keys and wallet. It’s rare to see this many pockets on such a small bag but for me it’s a huge plus – something I wish other similar bags would embrace. It’s difficult to bring your own organization when bags are smaller than a typical backpack. The contrasting internal colors are also nice.
- Perfect size for a day on the trails, or as a sling around the city.
- Internal organization and key leash are well thought out.
- Dimension Polyant X-Pac and YKK Aquaguard zips keep your gear dry from rain or sweat on those humid days.
- Removable burrito-lashing straps on the top of the bag are what every other hip-pack needs.
- Removable bottle pocket is great for carrying an extra bottle on hot days, or if you don’t run a bottle cage.
- The zippers really need pull-tabs on either side to help with opening and closing.
- The hip strap webbing is stiff – I’d prefer something like seat belt material.
- The end-attached hook and loop keepers make adjustment difficult and can get caught on clothing.
- The AustriAlpin Cobra buckle is cool, but if you’re worried about weight go without it.
The High Above Lookout is a really solid, well thought out hip pack. While it was designed for mountain biking, I’ve never felt uncomfortable taking it on hikes, dog walks, or just to get a coffee. There are a few improvement points that I’d like to see implemented on future versions, but it’s nothing that has stopped me from owning two of these. If you want, in my opinion, the best dedicated riding hip pack out there, you really can’t go wrong with the Lookout.
The Lookout is available directly from High Above in a variety of colors and options starting at $100.
Disclaimer: the High Above Lookout was purchased privately and used subsequently for this review. The content of the review was not shared with High Above prior to publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never edited to keep brands happy.