I never quite understood the hatred of the “fanny pack”. I think that much of it stems from flashbacks to neon colors, bad music, and worse hair from their heyday in the 1980s. Most of those I have seen still rocking them are the people you don’t want to stand in line next to at Dollywood, but apparently they are making a bit of a comeback among the younger set.
Perhaps the oldest fashion trend in the world, the fanny pack first appeared about 5,000 years ago, as a part of the tremendous wardrobe of Ötzi, aka the Iceman, whose mummified bod was discovered in the Ötzal Alps between Germany and Austria. Ötzi, who lived some time between 3400 and 3100 BCE, wore clothing made from six different animal species and 17 different trees, according to the website PrimitiveWays.com—and it is from calf leather than he fashioned a belt with a pouch, aka a primitive fanny pack. “This simple leather belt would stay with him under all but the most extreme conditions,” writes PrimitiveWays.com. Skateboarders would develop much the same relationship to their bags thousands of years later. “The belt pouch contained three flint tools, one bone awl, and a lump of Fomes fomentarius or, true tinder fungus.” (Of course, that last part means something totally different today—but everything else about this bag feels surreally familiar…
…Their functionality meant they were quickly adopted by tourists, on whom the fanny pack was often a feature of a sloppily-assembled or ill-fitting outfit of T-shirt and baggy shorts. Tourism in both New York and Japan boomed during the ’80s, perhaps solidifying a worldwide image of the sloggy American cramming their belongings in a cheap little bag that rested gently on the butt.
I never entirely abandoned them for outdoor pursuits. I have a Mountainsmith that I purchased prior to my Kenya trip in 1998 that has served me well on countless hikes and fishing trips. I have a smaller, fishing-specific hip pack, but that would look even goofier than the Mountainsmith for everyday carry (EDC) use.
I have been using a 5.11 Moab 6 as my “go bag” in my truck, and as a personal “keep it all together” bag for several years. My wife calls it my “purse”. I respond “it’s a tactical man-purse”. It is smaller than a backpack and easy to tote, but the harness system absolutely sucks. It sucks so badly, that when it dries up one hole of suckitude, it drills another and continues to suck. But I absolutely love how it organizes my EDC gear, and I have never found something to replace it. Or have I?
Downsizing from 11liters to 2.5 was going to take some sacrifices. Gone are the water bottle pouch, fairly extensive first aid kit, and my sunglass case.
But I seldom use the leatherman, sunglasses case can clip to the ouside if needed, and my truck, where the 5.11 usually lived anyway has an even more extensive first aid kit. (I am a former EMT and Eagle Scout. “Be Prepared” is burned into my brain).
Before I get into the fanny-pack that is the Vanquest Dendrite (small), a bit of background on Vanquest. (www.vanquest.com)
My first exposure was at the 2022 Blade show, where their booth was down the aisle from ours. A brief visit allowed me to see the quality, but I never really struck up a conversation with the folks in the booth. I remedied that this year, and learned that the company was founded in 2011 by folks who used to be with Maxpedition packs. Our conversation didn’t go into much detail on that, but I figure if people reenter the industry and think that they can do better, than they are worth having a look at.
They carry a wide range of full sized and EDC packs, wallets, organizing pouches, etc. The company is headquartered in California, and its products are assembled in Taiwan and Vietnam, frequently from US sourced materials.
On the final day of the show, they gave me one of their Dendrite (small) packs to take home and review. I have been carrying it for the last month, and feel like I can give insights into this handy piece of kit. Unlike the gaudy neon fanny-packs of my younger days, or the more “tactical” aesthetic of my Moab, the Dendrite is going for more of a covert “grey man” vibe. In fact, most of their packs are designed with concealed carry of a firearm in mind.
I have been selling or using gear in a professional sense since 1998. I worked in a local REI type store in Cleveland after college, and learned how to critically look at the materials and stitching in a pack. I have seen plenty of gear fail throughout my 25 year career.
I have absolute confidence in the Vanquest Dendrite to hold up to way more than will ever be thrown at a pack this size. But I can easily extrapolate the quality of construction in such a small and relatively inconsequential piece of kit to give confidence that larger, more critical pieces in the Vanquest lineup will stand up to whatever gets thrown at them.
The shell is made from 400-D UrbanBlend™ Nylon-Poly fabric which is incredibly tough and extremely waterproof.
The zippers are robust, and have ergonomic molded pulls. I cannot recall ever binding one of the zippers with excess fabric from the pack. They have functioned flawlessly throughout a month of testing.
The Vanquest website calls the Dendrite a “sling pack” which is definitely cooler than “fanny-pack”, and the strap can be lengthened for easier slingability. That said, the adjustment system on the strap is ideally set up for hip carry, which it does quite comfortably. The straps are removable entirely if one wants to use the attached belt loops with a different belt or strap.
The Dendrite is well thought out, and thus well laid out.
There are 3 primary pockets- all lined with bright orange fabric to make discerning the contents easier. The front pocket is where I carried my wallet, where a quick “press-check” could always tell me if it were inside.
The primary pocket has a hook-and-loop panel to which Vanquest’s CCW inserts or other pouches can be affixed. I used this pocket to hold onto my Altoids tin, phone, EDC pocket pouch (when not in use), a Renegade Provisions handkerchief, some business cards, aspirin, chap stick, and keys. These were spread among the various pockets and zippered pouch inside.
Speaking of keys, the Dendrite includes a double sided key-clip, and there are multiple loops throughout the pack so one can pick the point that best suits their needs.
As an aside, here is a close up of my Altoid tin kit, which is the subject for another post at a future time.
The final rear pocket is perfect for a phone, if I had not been using it for a bare-bones first-aid kit of some gloves, band aids, 4x4s, neosporin, tweezers, and clotting powder.
In the end, the Vanquest Dendrite (small) maximizes the efficiency of its 2.75liter volume.
The Dendrite is not marketed as a waterproof pack, and it is definitely not so. But the 400-D UrbanBlend™ Nylon-Poly fabric sheds water like a duck. While there are packs with waterproof zippers, these are mostly in the fishing space, and if included on the Dendrite would boost the price over $100 almost certainly. Not a necessary feature for most EDC users, and those that do need it are specifically seeking it out.
That said, folks need a safe place to put their wallet, phone, airpods, and other such items, in a significant rain, or to protect it from a brief slip into water on a trail. I decided to test the pack for a full 10 second submergence.
As a bit of insurance, and to see how much water would get in, I put a piece of paper towel in each pocket before dunking the pack – with my wallet, Altoids tin, and other items still inside.
It definitely is not “waterproof”, water came in through the zippers, but items inside fare much better than they would in a pocket, and I think I would even trust it with my phone while fishing a creek in the Smokies. A (very) brief dunk like from a slip while wading is not going to harm the Dendrite or what is inside.
I have been using the Dendrite since Blade show, so it has been about a month. In that time I have taken it hiking around with the family, to the Farmer’s Market, and in and out of my truck as I went about my daily tasks. For the most intensive test, I carried it on my recent trip to Cleveland, where it served as my primary organizational hub when sharing a hotel suite with my wife and kids, and kept my essentials close at hand as we bounced around from place to place.
In the above photo I am carrying my son’s water bottle. While it would be nice to have a means to carry water, it is not the purpose of this pack. If I were carrying it on a backcountry hike, a LifeStraw would be an easy and necessary add. Problem solved, at least in the East TN smokies where free flowing water is abundant.
It was on my trip to Cleveland where I really appreciated the Dendrite the most. It is even easier to lose track of one’s stuff when sharing a hotel with 2 kids and a wife, and there is nothing worse than having the kids ready to go and realizing you can’t find something and the family ends up waiting on you.
The Dendrite helped me keep my essentials together, keys, wallet, phone, and my sunglass case clipped to it for convenience. While the convenience of a water bottle and place to stash a sweatshirt was missed, the Dendrite’s size allowed me to tuck it to the side of my seat and not intrude on my son in the back.
In the past I had to toss my 5.11 in the back as it was simply too big for the cab of a Tacoma with 4 people inside. I felt much better having my essentials with me, and the Dendrite worked out great for me on the trip. This is a large part of the reason I will be sticking with the Dendrite for the foreseeable future. (spoiler alert!).
A note on Durability, the Dendrite has been dragged in and out of the house and my shop, tugged, yanked, and tossed in and around the truck for a month. You can’t tell a bit. There is no scuffing or fraying to the fabric or stitching, even where the bag attaches to the straps, and bears the brunt of the abuse.
It is a seriously durable pack. Virtually all of the pictures were taken at the tail end of testing, many on the day I started writing.
I am really glad that the folks at Vanquest gave me the Dendrite to test. I was skeptical heading in, since I am set in my ways, and I have been using my Moab for years. While the latter serves as more of an “EDC locker” for all my stuff, the Dendrite forced me to distill my kit down to the bare minimum, and as a result, I actually carried more of it with me as I walked about Cleveland than I would have with most of it locked back in the truck. Now that I have found a convenient place to stash my Leatherman in the console of my truck, and can clip a sunglass case to the pack while at home, I find I don’t need the larger bag. I am going to stick with the Vanquest Dendrite, with no plans to actively look for something better.