Photos & text by Andrew Altepeter
For the last five years I have been working as an instructor of hiking, lightweight hiking, climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering, and skiing courses in and around the American West for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). The courses that I instruct range from one to four weeks in length with pack weights ranging from 30 – 65 lbs depending on the skill type, environment, and number of days between resupplies. I have experimented with a variety of ultralight packs over the years and spent time modifying, stitch ripping, and chopping various bells and whistles to create simple, lightweight, and functional packs for work…and play! I have also significantly downsized from the 90+ liter sized packs that are standard for our long expeditions by making deliberate gear choices appropriate for the given environment and gaining better understanding of how to plan and pack just what I need to have a successful backcountry experience.
In Spring 2011, I discovered what Hyperlite Mountain Gear was making and my eyes lit up! I saw that the 4400 Porter Pack could be the solution to all of the modifications and an answer to the desires that I was trying to satisfy by modifying other packs. I was skeptical at first about whether the lightweight Porter pack would carry loads comfortably due to a lack of classically designed load lifters on the shoulder straps, as well as the minimalist design of the back panel and aluminum stays, but I took the plunge, bought one, and started taking the 4400 Porter Pack on my NOLS courses and personal outings. I am happy to report how pleasantly surprised I was at how well the pack carries loads. For instance, on some travel days in the desert we carry up to ten liters of water (on top of the 35-45 lb pack weight) knowing that our camping destination for the day is dry. I found the pack to be just as comfortable, if not more so, than the complex, bulky, and heavy packs I had used in the past. With a little care, the pack has been appropriately durable as well. When lowering fully loaded packs down sandstone slabs in Southeast Utah the Porter Pack took some abuse but was not worse off than other thick nylon canvas packs I’ve used. I believe Hyperlite Mountain Gear has hit the mark for me with their high-end minimalist design aesthetic that accomplishes a lot without extraneous features. Hyperlite Mountain Gear has stripped away all that is unnecessary and incorporates exactly what is needed in a pack design to make sure it is functional and carries well. For this I am grateful!
It is going to be another busy summer in the mountains with a month long Wind River Mountaineering course starting soon followed by a lightweight hiking course in the Winds that is nearly as long. I will be taking a 4400 Ice Pack for this mountaineering course as we’ll need personal and group technical gear like crampons, ice axes, climbing ropes, and snow protection, plus course paperwork, communication devices and educational tools/resources, which all add to the challenge of a sub 60 lb pack. But I’m looking forward to meeting the group, getting geared up (as light as makes sense), and heading off into the mountains. And I’m also eager to share the experience and what I learn about going even lighter on institutional expeditions when I get back in a month.