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Fanny Packs or Belted Satchels for Travel: Benefits vs Risks

It has come to this: I’ve begun carrying a fanny pack. When I went to make the above video I found myself wishing that these bags had a different name than this. In point, nobody wants to go around with something called a fanny pack strapped to them — especially when “fanny” means vulva in [...]


It has come to this: I’ve begun carrying a fanny pack. When I went to make the above video I found myself wishing that these bags had a different name than this. In point, nobody wants to go around with something called a fanny pack strapped to them — especially when “fanny” means vulva in most other English speaking countries. So I put some research into the matter and discovered that others have had the same concern, so much so that various manufacturers of these bags have tried to introduce other names for their product, such as belt pack, belly bag, Buffalo pouch, hip sack, waist bag, hip pack, bum bag, moon bag, and, my personal favorite, belted satchel. Whatever you want to call it it’s a damn fanny pack, and, yes, I’ve really been using one.

Why?

To solve a long term travel blogging/ writing/ photography problem. I need a way to carry my camera and notebook so that I can access them with lightning speed. In point, I habitually take photos. I have to, my job as a travel blogger relies on getting the right photos and videos to illustrate a story. I need to be able to dig my camera out of a bag and be ready shoot within a couple of seconds. My Nikon Coolpix S8100 only takes one second to boot up, and I want to carry it in a place where I can access it just as quickly.

If you’re just out taking tourist photos, then it doesn’t really matter too much where you keep your camera. You can store it in an iron safe if you want to, as the things you will generally be taking photos of are not moving, they are more or less static — you will have the time to dig out your camera, set up the shot, click, and then put it away again. Speed is not of essence for the tourist photographer.

For the blogger/ travel writer who wishes to get the shots to document a story they need to be able to draw their camera as fast as a gunfighter. For this, a good holster is needed.

I also need to be able to take notes in a streamlined manner. I do not want to stop what I’m doing 24 times a day as I take off my EDC backpack, take out my notebook, take a note, put it back in the bag, and put it back on my back. I need to be able to whip my notebook out, take a note, and put it back in its storage place without breaking stride.

For these reasons I’ve been testing a fanny pack here in China, and it seems to be working very well.

In fact, because of the inherent ability to “quick draw” items out of fanny packs, gangsters in the USA have begun using them to conceal carry their pistols. In fact, some fanny pack manufacturers have started making models with a built in holster to market to hand gun owners. So the fact that it is incredibly easy and fast to withdraw items from a “belted satchel” is no secret. It is this speed of access that I am after as I travel the world taking photos and jotting notes.

The down side of the fanny pack — other than the fact that they look stupid and are called fanny packs — is that they are HUGE targets for theft. I don’t know how many stories I’ve logged from travelers who have had their fanny packs stolen off them/ pick-pocketed in the streets. Sometimes a thief will just unhook the belt and snatch it, sometimes they will use a knife and just cut the strap, and other times they just walk up to someone, look tough, and say “Give me your bag.”

90% of travel theft prevention is not making yourself a target for thieves. Once you are in the sights of a professional thief it’s often too late. The task of the traveler is to be a harder target for theft than the people around you. A fanny pack is a big bull’s eye on your waist, it is a big flashing dollar sign, a homing beacon for the thieves in whatever ecosystem you wander through. When carrying a fanny pack you may as well also be wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words  “my money is here” in big letters over a downward arrow pointing to the bag. This isn’t something I want to do in many countries of this world.

I will not wear my belt bag in any place with a vibrant thieves culture or a high prevalence of petty street crime. I would not dream of wearing such a bag in Latin America. No way, the probability of this item attracting bad situations is just too high. This isn’t just a matter of potentially losing my camera (that’s an acceptable risk), but of attracting rough and potentially armed individual. I am using this bag in China, a country that has a relatively low incidence rate of street crime. I am not overtly worried about being robbed in the streets here — it could happen, true, but the probability of such is not very high, and I deem the risk acceptable.

In point, how to carry items like cameras when traveling is a balancing act of probability and possibility, between balancing out the risk of theft against the risk of breakage, and then weighing that against usability and the inherent benefits of a particular system.

I need to take pictures in live settings for my work. Punto. I need it to carry my camera in an accessible place. If it gets stolen because of this then it’s an acceptable loss.

I also need to carry my camera in a way that inhibits breakage. I have had around seven cameras break on me in my travels. Most often this was because of way that I’ve carried them (i.e. in my pocket, buried in a backpack etc . . .). What the fanny pack lacks in theft prevention it gains in the ability to inhibit the breakage of the items inside of it. The breadbasket, the area of the body right below the navel, is a well protected place to carry items — your hands are right there to protect it, it’s close to the body, and it’s no likely that even a full frontal fall will result in your full body weight coming down on this area. I’ve had many cameras break on me in my travels, I have never had a camera stolen. This tells me that there is a bigger risk of me breaking my own camera than there is of it being stolen, therefore I should steer my risk/ benefit assessment towards secure storage more than theft prevention.

When it’s all measured out against other alternatives, using a belted satchel to carry my camera here in China is the best option I’ve tried yet. But I have to ask the question: what’s next for me, khaki shorts, safari vest, and a flying saucer hat? Return next Friday when I will review another piece of travel gear if you will know.

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About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

16 comments… add one

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  • trevor July 20, 2012, 4:01 am

    who invented that word..’fanny pack’ lol u guys on the other side of the pond i guess…. makes us english laugh…..a very practical BUT as u say , theif attracting piece of kit….
    i use a rather slow point and shoot and keep it in my pocket within a ladies pink Adidas sport sock (much better for dust protection and cheaper too than a camera case) and the wrist strap is attached to a piece of string which is tied /karabina ‘d on to some where like a belt loop or day sac…

    how do u rate the Nikon s8200? the S8100 upgrade ??

    great website i must say yet again….. when is GAR due to post another item?

    have been on to Caxton with regard to Pre paid Credit card validity…. they quote me 3 years..!!!! and free international ATM withdrawals on the Global traveller card…..

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    • Wade Shepard July 20, 2012, 4:59 am

      I could make a crude joke here about “fanny” by your definition of the word, but I think I’ll keep it to myself 🙂 But function comes over style, man, function over style. At least this is what I tell myself. But, yes, there are some pretty big drawbacks to these bags. I only recommend them if someone needs to use their quick draw functionality.

      Good call on the pick sock camera bag.

      No idea about the s8100. I only know that the price tag is much higher. I’ve read reviews that said that they are pretty much the same camera. If you wait to next year it will probably come down to around $130 like the S8100. It’s truly the best point and shoot I’ve yet to use.

      Gar should be up again next Wednesday. He’s having some internet connectivity/ housing issues at the moment in Mexico. But, rest assured, he’ll be back.

      Try out those prepaid credit cards/ money cards. I’ve never needed one but they could be good.

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  • Ciro July 20, 2012, 6:00 am

    wow it’s exactly what I need! really! Have this kind of problems during my trips. Fast access to camera, wallet and notebook, that’s all I need. Wondering also how to (totally) get rid of my 60+10 liters La Fuma backpack…

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    • Wade Shepard July 20, 2012, 8:21 am

      I have a few tips on how to rig these fanny packs up so they are more secure. I will share them next week. Before I began traveling with my kid I would use a 44 liter pack. It’s big enough to keep everything in but small enough to carry on.

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    • trevor July 20, 2012, 9:43 am

      carrying in a wallet is really not wise. period!!! specially not in a ‘fanny’ (grin grin) pack…. i have my main money stash under my clothes and what i need for daily use i have in a pocket.. easily accesible for buying stuff and also to give to some one who wants to rob u…. and a (fake)10$ note with an out of date credit card in another pocket, mostly in front pocket of jeans… very hard to get pickpocketed and i dont carry a waist security money belt… EVERY one knows that this is where travellers keep their cash/passport… think of some where less original…

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  • Callie July 22, 2012, 7:10 pm

    No shame! Rock that fanny pack…or should I say “belted satchel.” Or perhaps “bloggers’ quick-draw camera holster” would be more appropriate? 🙂

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    • Wade Shepard July 22, 2012, 8:17 pm

      Like that name. Sounds like something someone could market haha. Thanks.

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  • Jack July 22, 2012, 11:02 pm

    Don’t knock the Safari vest! 🙂 I got an Eddie Bauer fishing/safari vest that can store just more than you can imagine(and weigh a ton). I use it(and my cargo pants) when I fly……anal budget airlines do not weigh your jacket or pants. 🙂 I should make a video showing just how much stuff I can stick in it.

    I’ve got a good sized belly(down significantly in the last year) so using a fanny pack(I prefer belt bag) doesn’t feel particularly comfortable. I use one of those over the shoulder square size bags you see all over China for my EDC. I wish a belt bag was more comfortable for me because they are convenient, I even have a Jansport one sitting unused.

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    • Wade Shepard July 23, 2012, 12:33 am

      Haha, didn’t mean to hate on the safari vest. I actually think they’re pretty cool [insert embarrassed faced emocon here]. It’s a shame that functionality and fashion often run at odds with each other. Would love to publish an article about your use of safari jacket and cargo pants to subvert airline baggage regulations if you’re interested.

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  • trevor July 23, 2012, 3:40 am

    hey guys….. cant u just call it a bum-bag ??

    the thing with Safari jackets , they look like ur going on a safari… practical as they no doubt are….LOL what about one on those jackets by SCOTTVEST the dude from ‘everything-everywhere.com, Gary Ardnt.. he has one… sponsered though.. high price tag but with 210 pockets for just about everything… quick draw pockets ? big enough for Wade’s note book, and S8100??

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    • Wade Shepard July 23, 2012, 7:42 am

      Yes, the Scottvest jackets are pretty cool. The only downside is that jackets are one of the easiest things to lose in travel. Get hot on a bus, take it off, it falls on the floor, and, vrooom, it’s gone. Had a friend (Sam Langley, writes on this site sometimes) lose his jacket once in a bar that had all his money, id, debit cards, everything in the pockets once while working out of town the night before having to jump on a plane to go home. Rough scenario.

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  • trevor July 23, 2012, 9:39 am

    and who wants a very expensive jacket ? unless one is sponsered… and in warm countries….. ur never gonna wear it….

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  • trevor July 23, 2012, 6:29 pm

    Wade…. go to Turpan or Dunhuang in winter… good to wear one of those Scottvests…….same temps as in Siberia

    i am getting a free CONTI UK (Continental Tyres) T shirt …. they said they gonna send me one..(waiting for my dad to email me to say it arrived)… does that me i am also sponsered?? free gear .. LIKE… lol hahah..

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    • Wade Shepard July 23, 2012, 8:00 pm

      Right on, good to see you’re moving up in the world of travelers 🙂

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  • Anonymous December 31, 2012, 3:00 pm

    As far as Latin America goes, I think it would probably be an ideal place to wear a fanny pack. I’ve been traveling here for a while now and I just bought one today based on how many locals wear them.

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