I recently took a kayak trip down in Florida and wanted a better system for carrying survival kit essentials than my old standby (the belt kit). As you’re doubtlessly aware, belts don’t work terribly well in the close confines of a kayak cockpit; making a greater hazard of being hung up in mid "bail-out" action. I decided to test a second generation Ribz Front Pack (Ribz), as my original model has performed pretty well up in the Boreal Forests of Alberta, Canada. The Gen 2 model has some design modifications which I was keen to put to the test!
For proof of concept, I asked myself to consider the following questions while wearing it throughout the trip:
1. How comfortable is the Ribz?
2. Will the Ribz mate with a PFD?
3. Will the Ribz enable easy access to its pockets while in the cockpit?
4. Will the Ribz enable easy ingress & egress from the cockpit?
5. Will the Ribz carry the survival kit comfortably over extended periods?
6. Will the Ribz pose any hazard to me while kayaking?
7. Will the Ribz pass my criteria for survival kit of: lightweight, versatile, durable & affordable?
I wore the Ribz both in and out of the kayak, walking and while stumbling around the various bivouacs we established.
Here are my results:
- The Ribz is pretty comfortable! I found it fully adjustable to my body shape. I was initially a little concerned that the vertical front zipper (closing the Ribz) would make the Ribz fit "vertically" on my V-shaped torso, creating potential discomfort. The straps over the shoulders and across the back negated my concerns, giving me full adjustability to suit my body frame. The Ribz has a lot of room for size adjustment too, so it'll be as useful over 3 clothing layers as it is over just a single shirt. The Ribz is made from waterproof fabric, so breathability is an issue you'll have to address. However, no PFD I've ever worn has got great breathability either, so the issue was moot to me.
- The Ribz mated very well with my inflatable PFD! I didn't expect it would, but I was surprised to discover how well they worked together! I wore the Ribz on the lower half of my torso, and the PFD belt adjusted to fit directly above the Ribz, on the upper half of my torso. I do not, however, think a Ribz will work well with a standard PFD. If you have a need to use a standard PFD and you want to carry survival kit components on your body (which you should) then I'd recommend a PFD with pockets.
- Access to Ribz pockets was a piece of cake while wearing it – both in the cockpit and when standing & moving. The zipper pulls were easy to locate and utilize (thanks to the Gen 2 modifications). Further, inside pocket design features enabled quick access to all components within the Ribz pockets while on the move. Super comfortable and convenient!
- Ingress and Egress from a kayak cockpit was a concern of mine. Especially given the small cockpit of the kayak I was using (Acadia 12 foot). I've had problems with wearing a belt kit within the kayak cockpit before, due to the extra width on the hips of pouches, and the resultant "catching and hanging" of gear on the edge of the cockpit – a safety concern. The Ribz easily passed this test, as it is worn above the waistline and below the armpits. The smooth exterior also prevented any gear "catching and hanging" onto the cockpit rim when I was getting into or out of the kayak. Please note that you should wear the Ribz so that the bottom of it is at or just above your belt line. This will enable you to do your "kayak abdominal crunch" when preparing to get out of your kayak.
- Comfort over extended periods is really important! Here the Ribz met my needs of both kit carry and comfort easily, if it is wisely packed. Keeping in mind that the Ribz conforms to the shape of my body, I had to avoid putting long, straight objects in it, or hard objects that would bump up against my ribcage. The Ribz easily took pilot's flasks for water, canteen cups and other kit that is shaped to meet the curve of the human torso, and rode comfortably for days. I did discover that the Ribz uses waterproof fabric, so venting (breathability) will become an issue if you are concerned about this. You can mitigate moisture build-up if you periodically unzip the vest (while in the kayak), especially if you're on calm water, so the weight of the kit in the pockets doesn't create problems for you! The key to comfort with the Ribz is to size it to your body after you've put your essentials into it, enabling it to take the shape of your torso and minimize chafing or pressure points from hard objects.
- The greatest concern I had about the Ribz was whether it would create a hazard for me while kayaking. Ingress, egress and mating with a PFD system were foremost on my mind. In my experience, however, the use of the inflatable PFD and the design of the Ribz negated my concerns. For details, please read again my answers to questions 2 and 4.
- I'm really fussy about what survival kit I use. I am one of those folks who – for both work and recreation – spend a lot of time outdoors and depend upon quality survival kit that I actually use daily, rather than storing in a pocket and hoping it's never necessary. That said, the Ribz had to pass my test of being lightweight, versatile, durable and affordable before I could possibly recommend it to anyone else. Happily for me, the Ribz passed with flying colours!
The Ribz is very light to hold. The weight of a full vest in the hand is – of course – heavier than empty, but when I wore it (properly fitted to my torso shape) it became a part of my torso and I hardly "felt" the weight at all.
The Ribz is versatile, being able to work completely full, partially full, and in every weather condition I've put it in. There was no change in perceived comfort and no decrease in performance whatsoever. The waterproof fabric will come in handy in wet autumn hunts too!
The Ribz is pretty durable, given the lightweight design. The fabric used is lightweight ripstop nylon, with good, strong stitching. The seams are NOT waterproofed, so do not depend upon it being waterproof. Rain and splash resistant, but not waterproof. At no time did any seams, zippers or other components fail me on my trip (or since, when using it back in Alberta).
The Ribz' affordability I will leave up to you to decide for yourself. For what I got out of the Ribz, I found the price competitive.
- Very comfortable to wear
- Affordable to buy
- Easy to fit and use
- Convenient carry system for anything you want quick access to (survival kits, water, food, gloves, sunglasses, or whatever else you want to carry on your body).
- Venting or breathability is restricted with waterproof fabric
- Buckle designs enable the shoulder straps to slide. This doesn't change the fit, but it did get on my nerves a bit.
- Pockets were (in my experience) a bit too "short". I use USGI canteens and canteen cups in the bush, and carrying these things vertically in the Ribz was a challenge when the Ribz held other items. I'd like to see the Ribz be about 1 inch taller, to enable proper carry of these canteens.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this product for kayakers! The Ribz isn't universally useful (especially depending upon what PFD you use) but it is a very useful tool for making sure you keep the essentials close to hand and quick to access. I'm giving the Ribz a 9/10, because I think this product – with a few thoughtful modifications – will become my primary survival kit carry system everywhere I go, in all seasons. I'm a fussy bugger and very hard to please, so this recommendation isn't a frivolous one.
I do not work for or represent Ribz. I get no money or other compensation from Ribz. What I do get is the satisfaction of using Ray's quality gear and working with him in any way I can to make sure he makes the best quality gear for outdoorsmen and women.