Three Points of the Compass has been losing a bit of upper limb flexibility in recent years. I used to be able to easily reach behind me and pull out and return a water bottle from my pack’s side pockets. Age advances and this is more difficult to manage comfortably these days, or perhaps pack design had changed. I finally caught up with the rest of the hiking world and began looking at hanging a bottle or two from the front of my pack’s shoulder straps.
I use an Osprey Manta pack on day hikes, and one of two Gossamer Gear packs on longer multi-day hikes, either the framed Mariposa or the frameless G4-20. None of the three have any front bottle pockets built in to their design so I was forced to look at what I could fit retrospectively. A bottle hanger in this position has a few advantages. It brings some weight forward so that not everything is hanging off the back, it enables a closer monitoring of how much water is being carried, and obviously makes it a little easier to drink said water. I experimented with the Gossamer Gear Bottle Rocket, mostly combined with one of the soft flasks from HydraPak and wrote about those trials here. I like the flasks and continue to use them frequently, but I found the fixing system for the Bottle Rocket a bit fiddly and was never particularly happy about adding another 40g just to hang a bottle at my front.
There are many types of after-market bottle pockets. You can also source drinks bottles that have a built in loop for attaching to the shoulder straps on packs. But I was looking at what could be the most minimal and lightest fitting I could utilise to hold a standard water bottle ‘up front’. There were numerous clips that looked as though they may suit and I had tried a few of these over the past couple of years. These variously had rubber, plastic or metal clips that fix around the neck of a bottle. Some had some sort of fabric strap to attach to the pack in some way, others had a mini carabiner. But not only were these, again, adding unwanted weight, but I simply couldn’t find a way of easily and efficiently attaching them to the Gossamer Gear pack shoulder straps.
All I required was a hook to hang off the pack and some way to stop the bottle bouncing around. So it was back to the web, eBay and Amazon to see what was available. I briefly looked at mini carabiners and S-Biners however none of those would fix to or hang right on the bottle neck.
What I wanted was something I could fix directly to the neck of my bottle with a trimmed cable/zip tie. I tend to use Smartwater bottles on trail and in common with many other bottles, these have a plastic lip on their neck that is just right to nest a cable tie underneath and against. A length of tie slightly over 100mm, then cut back is all that is required to go round the bottle neck. The remnant white ties shown are 4mm and weigh 0.4g. I also tried black 5mm ties which came in at a whopping 0.9g, shock, horror! Both sizes fit but I eventually went with the smaller.
For the hooks, I first went as small as possible with a quite beautifully crafted titanium ‘Dutch Hook’ from DutchWare Gear. Intended for use while hammocking, and not a cheap purchase, it is well made and tiny. Weighing 0.4g, it is 15mm in length. In use this proved my concept but it simply didn’t work in practice. It was absolutely fine while hiking but almost every time I removed my pack the hook would slip off the pack of it’s own accord. I tried a slightly larger open metal hook that I had sitting around in a gearbox but that had the same issue. It was obvious that a gate was required to stop this occuring. It looked as though a spring-gated mitten hook was required.
First I tried a plastic mitten hook. Again, this was another item that I had sitting around in a gearbox, cut off from some long forgotten piece of gear in the past. Using a plastic hook was just another attempt to keep the weight as minimal as possible. But nope, it didn’t work. Even with the lighter 500ml bottles rather than the heavier 850ml capacity bottles, the plastic mitten hook looked a little strained at times and close to failure. I had no confidence that these wouldn’t suffer catastrophic failure while actually on a longer hike. Worst than that though, the plastic squeaked annoyingly against the plastic bottles while walking. I tried hanging it from the elasticated shoulder strap on the Gossamer Gear pack instead of the plastic D ring. That reduced the noise a little but it persisted nonetheless. I couldn’t live with it. It was back to metal options.
I thought I had succeeded with the next mitten hook I tried. This was 25mm long, had a spring closure gate and weighed 2g. It worked, it didn’t fall off. As you can see from the accompanying image, this mitten hook design lends itself to bringing the bottle closer to the body when clipped on to the pack. There is an indentation in the back of the hook that curves around the plastic lip on the bottle. Also, by having the gate orientated in this way it is really easy to clip a full bottle on, pushing into the clip rather than pulling away. Again, the concept was proved.
However following longer term use I found it just a bit too small and fiddly to remove and replace on the shoulder strap hanger. I actually preferred the gate facing outward for two reasons. Firstly- it meant an outward facing gate wasn’t under any stress while simply walking, secondly, while it is invariably easy to clip a bottle on, it is the getting it off that is just slightly more problematic. Others might find an inward facing gate the best orientation, I didn’t.
“mini carabiner clip snap spring clasp hook keyring camping karabiner tool…”description on ebay is all-encompassing
So, to what turned out to work best. The little pieces of hardware I settled on go by different names to different people. They are best described as a mini carabiner with eyelet. Each weighs 2.9g and is 31mm long. Here are the type of hook though there are a lot of alternative vendors for similar pieces of hardware.
And what about the bottle swinging around wildly as I walk I hear you cry. That was simple. All it took was a 2.2g 360mm loop of 2mm shock cord (that could have been shorter if I had wanted) with a small 1g cord lock. More stuff I had sitting around from headlight strap experimentation. This is looped through the lowest D ring on the Gossamer Gear shoulder strap.
When a bottle is fitted, it is near enough to my face that I can pull the bottle from the shock cord loop, remove or flip the lid and tip and drink with it still attached. As I get to the final couple of hundred millilitres, I just unclip it entirely to drain the remainder.
It works perfectly and has solved my issues. I can now hang one or two bottles from the front of my Osprey and Gossamer Gear packs. I can drink on the go, I can keep an eye on how much water I am carrying ‘up-front’, it is a cheap, simple and lightweight solution. All components together weigh 6.5g. But to fit the cable tie to the bottle I first had to cut off an existing 0.3g ring of plastic, so a net weight gain of 6.2g per bottle for this DIY bottle hanger. You are never going to see this sort of thing sold as an entirety as it is simply a cable tie, a length of shock cord, a metal carabiner and a plastic cord lock. I know I haven’t invented the wheel with this minimal and lightweight solution and have almost certainly reinvented something. I care not.
Alternatively I could have returned to using a hydration bladder with drink tube over the shoulder. These permit easy on-the-go drinking ad libitum. I have used various types of hydration bladders over the years and just about all of them have done what they promised to do, but all bladders share similar issues. They are a heavy option and it is difficult to monitor how much water is left inside the bladder.
Some soft flasks, such as those made for trail runners, have a plastic loop that can be attached to a packs shoulder straps, however, as mentioned, my aim was to find a lighter solution incorporating a standard water bottle. I may adapt this further to hang my BeFree filter with its HydraPak 650ml soft flask from one strap and a ‘solid’ Smartwater bottle from the other. Or not…
This is not the most dramatic of DIY hacks. Simply an example of looking for a lightweight, cheap(ish)’n’cheerful solution to a small problem. It works, it’ll do for now
I appreciate that not everyone wants things hanging off the front of their pack and in the past I would have been part of that group. But I found it necessary with changed circumstances to try an alternative and for now, this is what is working for me.