Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 17, 2019, and was updated on September 19, 2020.

Having accessible “pockets” on your pack is useful for keeping little bits of gear handy without taking off your pack.

Fastpackers and FKTers know this well – it makes them incredibly efficient on the trail, allowing them to log long miles in short periods. Not just because they’re moving particularly fast, but because they just keep moving. We talked about this with Jeff Garmire on the last episode of the podcast (Jeff just set the unsupported speed record on the Long Trail).

My expedition backpack – a McHale Windsauk – includes pretty big hip belt pockets that I use to store snacks, hydration kit, and inReach. I’ve been experimenting more with multi-use pouches, which give me the flexibility to have a dedicated (fanny-style) pack I can use while hiking away from camp when I bag a peak or go fishing.

But fastpacking and ultrarunning packs with lots of easily-accessible pockets on the shoulders and hips are specialty items – they tend to have smaller volumes, and don’t carry much weight well.

One exception is the new Mountainsmith Zerk 40L, which we reviewed recently. It may have the best stock pocket configuration of any pack we’ve ever used. That’s why it’s gaining popularity in the thru-hiking community.

Wide shoulder straps on the Mountainsmith Zerk 40L give plenty of space for deep, stretchy pockets. In this photo, mine are holding a camera, extra batteries, 800 calories of food, bear spray, my phone and wallet, extra batteries, a pocket knife, headphones, and chapstick.

Another approach is to use add-on pouches. Three of my favorites are the ZPacks Multi-Pack, ZPacks FUPA, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa because all of them can work as either standalone pouches/packs or integrate with a backpack’s shoulder straps, chest strap, or hip belt. The main reason I want this separability is so I can also use the pouch for traveling away from my campsite – when I go try to bag a peak or go fishing.

Watch this IGTV video to see how I use the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa on the trail:

ZPacks Multi-Pack
The ZPacks Multi-Pack is one of the larger options available, and is popular among photographers for stowing mirrorless cameras and small DSLRs. It’s most commonly rigged as a chest pouch (shown here) or as an outside accessory pocket on the back of a backpack (e.g., attached to a pack’s daisy chains). Related: Read our review of the ZPacks Multi-Pack here. Photo: ZPacks.
The ZPacks FUPA (“Front Utility Pack Accessory”) is smaller than the multi-pack but instead of one large compartment, offers a divider, zipper compartment, and thus, additional organization ability. Photo: ZPacks.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa Pack
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa is a fanny-style pack with removable straps and a slotted area behind the main pack that can be used with a chest strap, hip belt, etc. Photo: Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

The following table compares the specs of these three packs, plus a few others from cottage brands Gossamer Gear, Thrupack, and LiteAF.

ZPacks Multi-Pack DCF2.9 oz (82 g)3" x 8" x 9" (7.5 cm x 20 cm x 23)3.5 L$55
ZPacks FUPA DCF2.8 oz (79 g)2” x 6” x 8.5” (5 cm x 15.25 cm x 21.5 cm)1.7 L$65
Hyperlite Versa DCF4.2 oz (119 g)2.25" x 6" x 9" (5.7 cm x 15.25 cm x 23 cm)2.25 L$70
LiteAF Fanny Pack DCF2.2 oz (62 g)2.75" x 4" x 8"1.4 L$40
Gossamer Gear Hipster Nylon1.9 oz (54 g)3" x 5.75" x 9" (7.6 cm x 14.6 cm x 22.7 cm)1.0 L$19
Thrupack Summit Bum3.5 oz (99 g)3" x 5" x 10" (8 cm x 13 cm x 25 cm)3.0 L$45

This summer I used a LiteAF Fanny Pack on a 9-day backpacking trip in the Sierras and stowed some minor essentials in it while on trail runs out of my campsites. Its small size made it great for running, but limited the amount of gear I could take in it. My preference today is the Versa, for its reasonable capacity, organization capabilities, integration with my backpack’s chest strap, and stable shape that keeps it from bouncing around when worn as a bum pack, or in front.

Here’s the gear I typically store in my pouch while it’s attached to my pack:

  • Miniature sunscreen/lip balm stick
  • Insect repellent in a tiny dropper bottle (+ a headnet if it’s the peak of bug season)
  • Microfiber cloth for cleaning my sunglasses
  • My satellite communicator
  • My phone/camera
  • A tiny notebook and pen for writing notes
  • That portion of a paper map for the section I’m currently hiking
  • Electrolyte/hydration kit – a 16 oz water bottle, bottle filter, and some electrolyte tablets
  • A few hours of Calories in easy-to-eat packaged snacks.

When I go on a short day hike away from camp, I’m typically packing the same stuff, but I’ll add a wind shirt as well. When I take it fishing, I’ll add a few flies and an extra tenkara line.

So as you plan your strategy for maximum efficiency on the trail, consider this:

  • Be as efficient as possible by keeping the gear you use on the trail accessible without taking your pack off.
  • Consider adding an accessory pouch that serves as a multi-use item like the Multi-Pack, FUPA, and Versa that can also be worn independently of the pack, for wearing around camp and for excursions away from camp.

What other types of “multi-pack” and “accessory-pouch” strategies do you use to increase your on-trail and in-camp efficiency?