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Aarn Sport Balance Pockets

photo: Aarn Sport Balance Pockets front pack


Price MSRP: $60.00
Historic Range: $59.00
Reviewers Paid: $59.00


2 reviews
5-star:   0
4-star:   2
3-star:   0
2-star:   0
1-star:   0

Designed to be used as part of an Aarn Bodypack these versatile front bags have proven to work pretty well with other backpacks too. The balancing benefits of carrying a small amount of weight in the front are quite noticeable, especially with heavier loads in back. Easy access to water bottles, snacks, camera gear, and other items you need to use often on trail are a great fringe benefit.


  • Balancing effect increases comfort and safety
  • Includes inner dry bag
  • Easy access in line of sight
  • Pretty rugged


  • No longer sold in U.S., requiring international ordering
  • May need to create your own rigging
  • Freaks out judgy people on trail, though that can be fun sometimes


Aarn is a New Zealand based company that has been making a system they call a Bodypack in various forms for almost two decades. The man behind the designs, Aarn Tate has been focused on creating packs with an eye on balance since the '70s. One of the keys to his designs is the use of a small bag or bags carried on the front with enough weight to counter balance the load carried on the back.

I purchased a set of their Sport Balance Pockets in March 2015 and was soon able to figure out how to attach them to both my Osprey and Kelty packs. My application is not true to the intended design so please keep that in mind, but even used improperly I've been quite happy with these bags.


Construction & Durability:

These bags were clearly designed with function in mind, but also an eye towards durability. A wide variety of materials were employed including 500D Cordura, 210D, 100D x 70D and 40D ripstop nylon giving the bag chance to hold up to real world abuse.

The bags each have two outer mesh pockets with current models looking similar to the one on the right above in terms of positioning. The double straps provide great support for water bottles to prevent them from bouncing around with each step.

Inside each bag is a removable dry sack complete with roll top closure. The outer bag can completely wet out in an extended downpour while your electronics and snacks stay safe and dry. These bags are surprisingly tough and have endured any load I've thrown at them without a sign of stress let alone failure. I've carried my knife, multiple cameras at once and some very large bags of crushed up Doritos on various trips and despite the occasional frenzied hunt for a cheese stick I've never poked any holes in them.


The bottom exterior of the inner bags has a wide Velcro type fastener on a somewhat stiff band. This mates easily with a corresponding strip on the inside of the outer bag. Once attached it keeps the two securely connected. This feature really helps when you need to pull something from the bottom of the bag.


These bags were listed having a 12L combined capacity but I've never put anywhere near that sort of volume in them. They hold more than you'd want to carry in them is how I'd describe it. Even when not carrying water bottles in them I prefer to avoid over stuffing them to avoid feeling encumbered. Generally I try to keep the weight carried in front to no more than a few pounds unless I'm carrying a very heavy pack on my back, so space has never been an issue.


Admittedly I am not using these pockets as designed so I can't give a true assessment of how they work when used as part of a Bodypack system. What I can tell you about is my experience attaching them to a variety of packs, both internal and external framed.

Each of my packs benefited from the balancing effect of attaching the Sport Balance Pockets. Even with lighter loads in back, but especially with heavier loads, there was a noticeable sense of standing more upright. There was less stress on my shoulders where pack yokes often pull backwards leaving soreness. I also felt more confident on exposed rocky sections as loads seemed to move with me rather than need to be dragged along.

There is definitely some blocking of airflow as I use these bags. From their website I gather that the complete system allows the bags to hang away from the body more which they claim helps. I have found that I still have plenty of exposed chest area for my cooling shirt to do its thing so haven't found this to be a problem for myself.



Here you can see a couple of things that make a big difference on trail. Note that giant finger pull on the zipper. You can use this thing even with a moderate glove on because it is made to stay open, waiting for you to grab it. It also balances the tension on the zipper nicely allowing you to grab it from a variety of angles.

You can also see the large, black storm flap, here in the folded back position. When folded back it allows easy access and stays out of the way. If the rain gets serious you can flip it over the zipper and it does a great job of keeping water from coming through that way.


This buckle design is another area where they really put some thought into making something for use on trail. Simple, easy to use, hard to break—this thing is found at the top of the metal stay that runs the length of the back of the pack. Meant to clip into the Bodypack harness I have found that most of my packs have a nice spot to clip to on their shoulder straps.


At the bottom of the bag there is a snap meant to attach to the Bodypack belt which I have taken advantage of at times. Depending on trail conditions I will either leave the bag hanging loose for better air flow or attach it to the belt of my pack when doing ledges or climbs where I don't want the bags moving around.


A quick trip to the fabric store and I put together a couple of straps like this which I can attach to any of my packs. Once installed it gives me a spot to snap the bottom of the bag to my belt to keep it secured. Again, this is off-book use, but it works for me.

Test Conditions:

These bags have seen four season use since March of last year. Sub-zero winter trips in the Pemi to hot sweaty summer Baxter adventures with a fair bit of rain and snow along the way.



The fact that I like these bags so much even though I'm using them wrong makes me really curious about just how good an entire Aarn Bodypack system would be. They were high on my list last year when I was shopping for a new bag, but the load handling ability of the Seek Outside system won out in the end. As you can see from the picture above I've put the Sport Balance Pockets on the Unaweep to help balance out my winter pack in order to enjoy the best of both worlds.

When I first started using these bags I was really happy about having access to my cameras and my snacks without having to take off my pack. The number of pictures I took skyrocketed and easy access meant I was eating better throughout the day. Since then I've traveled some really rocky, exposed sections of trail and noticed how much more confident I felt in those situations. The small amount of weight in front really gave me a much better sense of balance. That is also really nice when rock hopping water crossings, especially the ice covered ones.

This past year I've started using these bags differently as I've switched to drinking out of water bottles rather than the Platy bags I've been using for years. I am terrible about keeping hydrated on trail and am finding that bottles really help me drink more during the day as opposed to sucking from a hose. Having those bottles in easy reach is a big part of why this is working much better for me.

In that winter pic you'll notice I have an insulated bike bottle on one side and a stainless steel thermos on the other. The thermos is filled with boiling water in the morning which is used to keep the other bottle refilled and thawed out during the day.


One thing I have noticed is that wearing these things on trail can trigger an interesting response in some folks you meet; They believe you are carrying much more than you are. I've had a man accuse me of carrying a 75lb pack on a day I was carrying 35lbs and once had two ladies gasp at my heavy load when I had an empty backpack on just to have something to attach the Balance Pockets to and the only thing in them was my cameras, an apple, and two cheese sticks for lunch at the summit.

Interesting and very functional concept is my final word on these bags. I keep checking to see if they have gotten a new U.S. distributor after their previous one disappeared last year, but so far no luck. I'd love to get a better look at one of their full systems as my experience with these bags has left me impressed with both the product and the company behind it.


I contacted the company to see what their plans were, if any, regarding future U.S. distribution. They got back to me saying that they are looking into setting up a small warehouse which they will stock with all current models in the near future. They also say they would like to find an actual distributor to handle U.S. sales, so it sounds like their stuff may become more accessible here in the U.S. soon.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $59


Great review, LoneStranger!

5 years ago

I like this idea. Who doesn't hate having to take a pack off to get at or stow gear?

5 years ago

Have you tried or compared balance pockets with Ribz front pack?

5 years ago
Michele Bullock

I have been looking at these and like for a while. The intl source is a non starter for me w/o seeing them in person.

5 years ago

@A.T. Haven't had a chance to try the Ribz, but I'm not sure that design would work for me. From the look of their position I'd soak them in sweat and I'm afraid they'd hide my feet too much.

5 years ago

@LoneStranger, your review is very through, and I was sold on the idea right away, unfortunately it seems like it's not possible to buy the product anywhere in North America. I would buy even from NZ but their pricing and shipping cost is not reasonable. I did find a good deal on Ribz on Amazon and ordered. I do feel what you mean about Ribz design but based on other reviews I looked at I hope it would work for me.

5 years ago
Mike Bilbo

Your review got me to thinking if MOLLE sustainment pouches or other MOLLE pouches might work, so started messing around with my sustainment pouches and looks like they might be adaptable in the counter-balance fashion. The drawback is that they of course do not have the features of the Aarn pouches or the RIBZ Front Pack. We'll see what I can rig up and if it works. My main application will be for a search and rescue pack - a Teton Escape 4300. Thanks for bringing this idea to everyone's attention.

5 years ago

I agree with the comments AT and Michele have made about the distribution issue. It is hard to take a chance on an item sight unseen and international shipping is rarely much fun. Pretty sure I wouldn't have tried this product if they didn't have a US distributor in Colorado I purchased them from who was very responsive to my questions prior to ordering.

5 years ago

@Mike Bilbo I have attached the Aarn pockets pretty easily to a MOLLE vest I use in the winter as a pulk harness so I'd wager you can probably work out a way to attach the MOLLE pouches to your pack in a similar fashion. Fabric stores can be a great place to find strap material in small quantities as well as fasteners like snaps and clips for making your own rigging. If you're happy with what you come up with show us a pic or two in the forum sometime :)

5 years ago

I asked Aarn about their US plans and it looks like they may be coming back to the US in one form or another in the near future. The review has been updated with their response.

5 years ago

Thanks for the inquiry and update, LoneStranger.

5 years ago

Yes I start by now this summer 2011 on my second year with balance pockets. They are great, I am perfect balanced and seldom get tired. These pockets remind me of British soldiers gear during second world war.  

Ole Due Jakobsen

Walking the camino in France and Spain

Price Paid: 50 Euro

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