THE SHAKEDOWN – 01: ULTRALIGHT BACKPACK

THE SHAKEDOWN – 01: ULTRALIGHT BACKPACK

SOME STATEMENTS ABOUT GEAR
THAT CARRY SOME WEIGHT.

Whether you’re a backpacker, thru hiker, backcountry packrafter, bikepacker, climber, or world traveler, the one thing everyone could all give three cheers to is the mighty pack. No one is getting very far in their pursuits without one that’s accommodating, dependable, and comfortable. As you might expect, we’ve got a few opinions of our own about what differentiates a knapsack from a true mobile home, and evidence from others that we might be on to something.


MIKE’S ROUTE

 

 

The one piece of equipment that probably translates most across multiple outdoor languages is the backpack. In many cases, your proposed endeavor won’t get off the ground without one.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpacks speak in some cases to specific activities, but their simplicity and versatility make them suitable and easily tailored to bring success to whatever you are scheming. Given the central role they play, Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are offered in specific torso sizes rather than extraneous load lifting systems for an organic, true-to-you fit.

A well-fitting pack with 20-25 lb shouldn’t be noticeable on your back. At 20 lb I forget I have one on, at 25 I start remembering it’s there, at 30 it’s starting to feel slightly heavy, at 35 - 40 I start fidgeting with the straps and adjusting them regularly. At that point, it’s still manageable. At 50 lb, it’s a slog. On many of the trips I’ve done in the Grand Canyon with my 3400 Southwest, we needed to carry 8-10L of water per day as there was just no water to be had for long stretches. That’s almost 20 lb of water. All the more reason to keep a base weight as low as possible. However, going as light as possible and knowing you can carry 8L of water or 10 days of food opens up lots of new places that would have been too difficult to get into with a traditional base weight of say 20 lb instead of 10 lb.


OUT IN THE FIELD

 

"Nature abhors a vacuum.” We humans fill whatever space we have to capacity, so starting with a smaller pack encourages you toward carrying less. While I had been eyeballing the 3400 Southwest pack for a multi-year international expedition, when it came time to pull the trigger, I went with the 2400 and never regretted it. My first piece of advice on selecting a pack is when in doubt, go smaller.

I selected the 2400 Southwest in black for multiple reasons. For one, I liked the ample pocket space on the outside but also that the material is opaque, thus reducing the temptation to others to swipe your things. The black fabric has the advantage of being slightly heavier duty, so if someone tries to pierce it with a blade (a common petty theft technique is to pierce the bottom of a tourists' bag and expect it to rip open and dump out the contents) or it gets hung up on barbed wire (that one was my bad), the result is just a small hole that does not rip further and is easily patched. The black color also makes your bag lower profile and more easily tucked and hidden in a corner somewhere.


 

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear models are similar enough that I mostly consider the size of the pack rather than the model. I could make any model work on any trip (filled with a packraft, skis strapped on, etc.). That said, I’ve been defaulting to the Porter with a Stuff Pocket. I appreciate being able to strip the Porter down to a clean exterior when I know I’ll be travelling through thick brush, and the lateral compression straps work well to hold skis. The Accessory Pouch is a pretty critical addition for things I want to access without opening the pack.

I like the 3400 Porter for daytrips with minimal gear (backcountry skiing), 4400 Porter for day trips with more gear (packrafting) and multi-day summer trips, and the 5400 Porter for extended trips. I put 80 lb in the 5400 for a two-week ski traverse, and that felt like a maximum load for the pack (and me!).

I love that the Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs shed water, and after seeing how well the material holds up to hard use, I’ve never looked for an alternative. The main piece of advice I give new owners is to not insert poles into a stuffed pack. The fabric is incredibly durable, except when under tension. If I avoid that style of packing, I expect at least three years of hard use.


 

I purchased this pack in the fall of 2017, before the new hip belt changes. I used it on three shakedown hikes in Western North Carolina, Roan Highlands, Tennessee, and Grayson Highlands, Virginia. In the spring of 2018, I headed out to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail Northbound with my 3400 Windrider.

After going down the rabbit hole of ultralight gear and hours of research, I was drawn to Hyperlite Mountain Gear for many reasons, the main one being SIMPLICITY. Consisting of basically one main pocket and no moving parts, it forces you to evaluate the rest of your kit and understand what really needs to be carried on a long-distance hike like the Appalachian Trail. Hyperlite Mountain Gear claims that this product is “highly water-resistant”, but I’d say waterproof. 2018 was one of the wettest years for thru hikers on the AT, and I’m proud to say, that claim is 100% TRUE! It rained 22 days alone when I hiked through Virginia and never had rain leak into my pack. I can specifically remember hiking through a 1 1/2-hour downpour in Tennessee to the Overmountain Shelter and found the contents of my pack bone dry. The beating that gear takes on a thru hike is a true test of the durability of this pack. Aside from fitting to my back like a glove, it held up the entire 2,190 miles. Also, I should mention, I’m hard on my gear. The only signs of wear after the six-plus months of use was a small tear in each of the mesh side pockets due it being jammed through the gauntlet of boulders that is the Mahoosuc Knotch in Maine. This type of wear after six months of use is expected and by no means affected the functionality of the pack. The 3400 Windrider I used on the Appalachian Trail could easily go on another thru hike. The only reason I decided to upgrade to the new pack is because of the updated hip belt pockets. Yes, these packs are expensive, but for good reason. The Dyneema® Composite Fabric material used to make these ultralight packs isn’t cheap for starters, and for what you’re getting for that price is well worth it. I will continue using the Windrider on all my future thru hikes including the PCT and CDT. 


 

My 3400 Southwest is hands down my favorite piece of gear. I absolutely love it. I was on the hunt for a pack for my Appalachian Trail thru hike when I first stumbled across Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I immediately loved that they were ultralight, they are a local company to me, and they come in black! They were totally accommodating when I wanted to come in and try one on, and it was way more comfortable than other packs I tried out! I have the 3400 (50L) and it’s the PERFECT size for a thru hike. It fit all of my stuff comfortably, and I love that I could roll down the top when I had extra space. I love that it’s a simple design, yet it still has everything you need down to the smallest details. It’s super durable and waterproof, it lasted my entire thru hike, and it’s still in perfect condition. Best investment I made. I’ve since bought the Daybreak for a smaller day hike pack, and I love that too!


 

When I pack the 3400 Southwest, I put my sleeping bag stuffed in a dry sack at the bottom of the pack and then stack my food bag in top of it, stacking my hammock and other heavy items up the back panel as I go. I stuff lighter weight insulating layers and clothing behind the heavier items to hold them in place, and then put my lightest items in the extension collar (mainly clothing and personal effects). I then use the pack's roll top to compress the items in the extension collar and shrink the volume they require. This weight and volume distribution provides the best load control since heavy items are located near my hips and there's a direct transfer of kinetic energy from my core to items located just above the small of my back.


 

I started the Appalachian Trail with 28 pounds in my pack before any consumables. I know all the mistakes one can make because I have made them myself, probably multiple times! With that being said I know success when I see it, and my pack is high in the highlight reel of gear.

The 3400 Windrider is a perfect full-sized pack in almost every single way. Its 55 liters gives you plenty of room to fit many, many days of food or the supplies needed for your niche activity, and more importantly, it can handle the weight. Oversized hip belt pockets with watertight zippers easily fit and help protect even larger phones with cases. Exterior mesh pockets add a large capacity in an easy to access fashion.

I had my pack sent to me specifically for the Greater Yellowstone Traverse knowing that the strength of the Dyneema® Composite Fabrics would be critical for this adventure. At roughly 500 miles long, and nearly a quarter being entirely off trail or on trail reclaimed by nature, I had concerns for the mesh exterior pockets getting snagged on undergrowth. The first four days of the trail allowed us only 30 miles through painfully thick brush and over a steep, unnamed pass and down to the valley on the other side. Not once did the mesh get caught on the scraggly branches that swallowed us.

After making it through the Wind River Range and completing the trail, there were a few small holes in the mesh, all of which I believe were my fault. I had completely overstuffed the main pocket with a tripod, my cold soak jar, and a few other items that I would want to be able to access quickly. Combine that with the fact an ice axe was strapped down the middle of the pocket really put an unnecessary and ill-advised strain on the mesh. Through the Winds several glissades were done including one thrilling 700+ foot drop, and that was enough abrasion to rip some holes in the mesh. But once I got home, I packed up my Windrider and shipped it off for repair and a few weeks later she was back with all the holes repaired and ready to go. 

Overall, my experience using the 3400 Windrider has been amazing. In the vast majority of cases I would imagine the mesh pockets to not only be adequate, but preferred. I found the mesh makes organization and access much easier since I could see each item I was looking for and didn’t have to dig for what I wanted. The only times the mesh’s durability was compromised was a perfect storm of overstuffing the pocket with rigid objects and experiencing extended periods of high abrasion. I am looking forward to putting many more adventures on my favorite piece of gear.


 

I choose the 2400 Windrider for most hikes whether it be a quick weekend, section, or thru hike. It’s lightweight, simple, and water resistant ­– all things I look for in a pack. This pack kept all my gear dry when a group of hikers and I had to swim across a river while hiking through the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem on a new route called the GYT (Greater Yellowstone Traverse) this last summer. I also prefer the mesh netting because it allows for wet gear to more easily dry while hiking. When it comes down to it, though, the Windrider is just plain comfy.


 

During my journey on the Appalachian Trail in 2016, I used a total of four packs before landing on the 4400 Windrider. The first three broke on me, all failing in the same place (stitching connecting shoulder strap to body of pack). There were obvious quality control issues with the company that made my first three packs, and I began looking for a new pack while at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs caught my eye; their form and color seemed high-tech to me – like the space shuttle. Functionally, I was impressed with the material it was made of the most. Having a pack made of a material that is inherently hydrophobic is valuable for trails like the AT where wet conditions are frequent. I have peace of mind that everything I secure inside my pack will stay dry, without having to deal with rain covers which will eventually wet out anyways in sustained downpours. This pack made the entirety of way of the AT from Damascus VA to Mt. Katahdin without any problems whatsoever and still has much life in it for future adventures. I could not be more pleased in my decision to put faith in Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs and their performance for my needs thus far.

This pack has come with me on the Teton Crest Trail, sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, and it’s my workhorse pack for my job in Wilderness Therapy. Contrary to popular belief, the desert can be very wet in the Southwest during monsoon season (July-Mid September). This pack is bomber for keeping moisture out and my gear dry inside during those times.

Having the extra room in the 4400 vs. the 3400 is especially helpful for all of the additional group gear I am required to carry for my job (Communications, Sharps, Paperwork, Meds, First-Aid, Staff Food). Everything fits snugly inside (warm gear) and in the winter time, everything fits inside but the med/first aid bag which I strap to the outside (med/first aid bag should be easily accessible at all times anyways).


I have a 4400 Southwest. I love this pack because it can fit my packraft, my dry suit, my paddle, my PFD, AND my overnight gear. It’s cavernous. What’s extra cool is that I can also use it for daytrips with my packraft.  The roll-top makes it easy to tighten it down even if it’s not full, and the pack material itself is super light, so there’s not a big price to pay for carrying the “extra” fabric.

Speaking of fabric, I chose the Southwest over the Porter or Windrider because of the pockets. I am a huge fan of external pockets and use them for every trip, so I figured I might as well have them sewn on (which ruled out the Porter). And then I’d read reviews that said that the mesh in the Windrider might get caught on all the dense vegetation around here, especially on brushy trails or off-trail. So, to be safe, I went with the Southwest and couldn’t be happier. (Bonus - the external pockets perfectly fit a 4-piece paddle!)

For trips where I’m not carrying my packraft at all, I like the Summit Pack - super minimalist and lightweight, and easy to add an external pocket (because, pockets!) by attaching the Porter Stuff Pocket.


INTRODUCTION
ULTRALIGHT PACKS
SLEEPING BAGS AND QUILTS
STUFF SACKS + PODS
ULTRALIGHT TENTS + SHELTERS 
SLEEPING PADS + PILLOWS
STOVES
KITCHEN COOKWARE
HYDRATION VESSELS
WATER TREATMENT // 4/22
APPAREL // 4/29
HEADLAMPS // 5/6
MULTI-TOOLS // 5/13
TREKKING POLES // 5/20
HYGIENE // 5/27
ORGANIZATION // 6/3

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