North St. Bags Pioneer 12 Hip Pack Review
The North St. Bags Pioneer 12 Hip Pack’s large size makes it somewhat cumbersome to wear, though the available space is paired with clever accessibility.
- Large amount of space for bulky items
- Can open up fully clamshell-style
- Front pocket accessible from the main compartment
- Feels large for a hip pack
- Rightmost pen pocket a bit tricky to access
- Zippers obstructed by compression straps’ buckles
10 oz (283.5 g)
7.5 in x 12 in x 4 in (19.1 x 30.5 x 10.2 cm)
X-Pac, Lenzip Zippers, Duraflex Hardware, CORDURA® Nylon, Nylon
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The expression “Go big or go home” doesn’t translate particularly well in the world of travel gear. Having the biggest bag doesn’t guarantee a smooth travel experience. Of course, you should always pack according to your needs, and sometimes that means going big. But other times, it’s possible to have too much in terms of size.
North St. Bags’ Pioneer 12 Hip Pack doesn’t quite work as a hip pack (or waist pack) for us. The sheer size of it gets in the way of walking, so we opt to use it as a sling. However, once we look beyond the largeness of it, the Pioneer 12 is one capable bag. It can open up fully clamshell-style, and you can even access the front pocket directly from the main compartment. There’s something to be said for when a big bag comes with clever features like these, so without further ado, let’s dive in.
Materials & Aesthetic
The large size of the Pioneer 12 isn’t something we can skirt around. It’s honestly the first thing we noticed when we first got it in our hands, and it’s a part of the looks. The overall shape is rectangular with rounded corners—nothing too out of this world. It doesn’t stand out too much in the world of waist packs, but that’s okay. We’re not too stingy when it comes to something as subjective as looks. Function will always trump form for us here at Pack Hacker, and the Pioneer 12 delivers competently on that front.
Okay, there is a bit of a snag. We’ve seen one or two loose threads around the logo and the edge of the Pioneer 12. However, these blemishes are purely cosmetic and not something that will lead to the bag falling apart. Speaking of the logo, it’s quite tasteful as a centerpiece because of its brown pleather and cork-like looks. It lends a touch of heritage vibe to the contemporary-looking bag, which we dig. The only downside is that North St. Bags also added a small logo tab on the right side—having two logos at the front just feels redundant to us.
Moving onto the more practical side of the Pioneer 12, the main material on this Bright Blue colorway is EcoPak EPX, mainly composed of recycled polyester. It also has a waterproof laminate which gives it a somewhat slick texture. In fact, the fabric has the familiar texture and pattern of X-Pac fabric, but not as intense. There’s a ton of choices for colorways, including Kelp Green, Blaze Orange, Ocean Blue, and Black. There’s also a 1000D CORDURA Nylon variant available at the time of writing if you want something more structured.
Other materials include Lenzip zippers and Duraflex buckles and adjusters. The Pioneer 12 has a fair amount of zippers and buckles scattered around. Fortunately, all of them work smoothly with no jams worth noting. We do struggle a bit with the tight gatekeeper clips of the waist strap. That’s no big deal to us, though, as we’d rather have a clip be too tight than too loose.
At 5.7 liters, the Pioneer 12 is one big hip pack. To put that in context, EVERGOODS’ Mountain Hip Pack is 3.5 liters, and we consider that a pretty sizable hip pack. Despite its large size, North St. Bags kept the strap simple and straightforward. It’s a removable nylon strap that mounts to the sides of the bag via gatekeeper buckles. In the middle of the strap is a side release buckle so you can quickly take the bag off and put it on.
The strap itself has three loops at each end. By default, the gatekeeper buckles are attached to the outermost loops. You can make small adjustments to the strap’s length by attaching the buckles to the inner loops, though the primary way is to use one or both of the adjusters. North St. Bags also lets you choose what size strap you want on the Pioneer 12. Sizes range from XS/S to XL/2XL, with the exact measurements available on their website.
Right out of the box, the strap is mounted on the sides of the Pioneer 12. That’s not the only way to do it, though. There are nylon loops along the top edge, both at the front and backside, where the gatekeeper buckles can hook into. There are also two nylon strips running vertically across the back panel where North St. Bags’ optional Handlebar Kit can be attached. This accessory allows the Pioneer 12 to mount directly to your bicycle’s handlebars like a front basket.
While the Pioneer 12 is first and foremost a hip pack, we find it too large to wear as one. Walking around with a large bag hugging the waist feels cumbersome. This is especially noticeable for those among us with smaller builds. The good news is that since the strap is fairly long, it can also be worn as a crossbody sling. This is our preferred method of carrying the Pioneer 12 since it’s more comfortable this way.
In order to tame the Pioneer 12’s large size, there are compression straps at the sides. Using these to cinch down excess bulk does help with carrying comfort. This helps prevent the bag from leaning forward too much and maintaining a closer fit to the body. At the same time, the straps also have side release buckles so you can quickly disengage them and loosen the bag for accessibility.
Lastly, there’s also a carrying handle at the top. There’s nothing too special about it; it’s just a simple nylon handle. Whereas other bags mainly have this for quick grabs, the Pioneer 12’s handle can be used to hang it. The reason why you would want to hang the Pioneer 12 is that it can open up fully clamshell-style—more on that in the next section.
Inside The Pack
First up is the front pocket. It’s quite roomy, courtesy of the Pioneer 12’s sheer size. We can toss in an iPhone XR, some pens, and an AirPods case with room to spare. A lot of the space is underneath the top lip, though, so tall items need some shimmying to fit. Additionally, the relatively soft EcoPak fabric does bulge out if bulky items are inside, further compounded when the main compartment is fully packed out.
It’s worth noting that our Bright Blue sample comes with a neon yellow-green liner that makes the interior really easy to navigate. Other colorways come with a different color for the liner, so keep that in mind.
The main compartment opens up fully clamshell-style, with the zippers going all the way to the bottom edges. As one might have noticed, the compression straps at the sides are directly in the path of the zippers. Because the compression straps have side release buckles, this is a non-issue for us. Just keep in mind that fully unraveling the main compartment this way can make items inside spill out. The zippered opening does form a wall around the compartment, but it’s only a shallow one.
Towards the back (or the top side, if the Pioneer 12 is fully open) is a row of liner pockets. There are two wide ones, each able to fit an Apple Magic Mouse, and three pen pockets. Our only gripe with these liner pockets is that the rightmost pen pocket is tricky to access because its opening is near the corner. It’s not totally impossible to get a pen in and out of there, but it’s still fussy to do so.
Behind the liner pockets is a wide zippered compartment where travel documents and smaller accessories can go in. This compartment has two additional liner pockets, bringing the total number to seven. We’d typically prefer a mesh pocket or two, but considering that the liner pockets do a fairly good job of holding in our travel mouse and charger, we’re giving it a pass.
Two horizontal VELCRO strips are on the front side (bottom side when fully open). This is for North St. Bags’ VELCRO-lined accessories like the Small Velcro-in VX Pocket; a small pouch to further organize items inside the Pioneer 12. Of course, you can mount your own hook-sided accessories.
There’s a lot of available space inside the main compartment, enough that we can fit our 18-ounce Hydro Flask. This on its own is already impressive. Keep in mind, that’s in addition to the accessories we already have inside the liner pockets. There’s a substantial amount of floor space at the bottom, similar to something like Chrome Industries’ Mini Kadet, which also lands around the 5-liter capacity mark. With this much room, we can really deck out the Pioneer 12 with a bunch of tech accessories and not need to worry about the size of, say, our battery bank. We’d probably hit the 100Wh limit most airlines follow before we max out the space.
Arguably the most clever feature of the Pioneer 12 is that the front pocket can be accessed from the main compartment through a zipper along the bottom. In clamshell mode, this means you don’t have to flip the front side over to get to what’s in the front pocket. As we alluded to earlier, you can even hang the Pioneer 12 and still have access to all of the pockets—convenient! Mind you, the bag has to be fully opened to take advantage of this bottom zipper. Small accessories like USB thumb drives may slip through, but bulkier items like smartphones will struggle through the 90-degree bend.
While the Pioneer 12 doesn’t work as well as we’d hope as a hip pack, its sheer size and clever design have their merits. The roomy interior and flexible accessibility make it quite versatile, not to mention that it carries well as a sling too. The large size may not be for everyone, but there’s still a lot to dig about the Pioneer 12’s practical design.
- The buckle’s quite large with respect to the pack itself
- Front pocket’s opening is shrouded for added weather-resistance
- The cord pulls feel durable and easy to grab
- Feels a bit too large to be a hip pack
- EcoPak EPX material has held up well and is easy to clean
- Bright lining is great for visibility
- Plenty of pocket storage for small gear