Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) specializes in making rugged multi-sport backpacks and shelters with Dyneema Composite Fabrics. Their distinctive white and black backpacks are quite popular and easy to spot on National Scenic Trails and in the backcountry.
One of the things that sets Hyperlite apart from other cottage ultralight gear manufacturers is its multi-sport and multi-season focus. Instead of just building packs for the thru-hiker market, Hyperlite also caters to climbers, skiers, winter hikers, packrafters, and off-trail hikers, with backpacks that are tailored for their needs. It makes sense, especially since they need for lightweight, waterproof, and extremely durable backpacks is even more important for these pursuits.
I’m a fan of Hyperlite’s backpacks because they strike a good balance between light weight and durability. I’ve owned many ultralight backpacks and most of them have never lasted much more than a year without getting torn to shreds in the mountains where I hike. Some haven’t even lasted a day. But my Hyperlite 2400 Southwest and 3400 Southwest packs have endured several years of near-constant on-trail, off-trail, and winter use. That’s unusual for an ultralight style backpack in my experience and a testament to the durability of Hyperlite’s products which are deliberately overbuilt to make them last.
If you’re interested in buying a Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpack, it can be a little confusing to understand how the packs they sell differ from one another and which one you should get, especially if you can only afford one backpack for multiple sports. While the Hyperlite website makes it look like the company sells a lot of different backpacks, they only make a few basic models which differ in terms of volume, sports-specific styles, and the materials used. Not all packs are available in all materials, which can be hard to suss out on their website.
- DCH50 which is a 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid
- DCH150 which is a 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid
- DCHW which is a 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid
- 1800 cubic inches (30L)
- 2400 cubic inches (40L)
- 3400 cubic inches (55L)
- 4400 cubic inches (70L)
- 5400 cubic inches (85L)
- North Rim
- Ice Pack
How to Choose the Right Pack Material
HMG makes the upper “body” portion of their packs with three different materials, listed below in increasing order of abrasion resistance, durability, and expense. The lower base portion of their packs is made with a 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid or a 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid, which are both quite durable. Higher denier (abbreviated with a D) fabrics are generally speaking stronger than lower denier ones made with the same materials.
- 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid (abbreviated on the HMG website as DCH50)
- 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid (abbreviated on the HMG website as DCH150)
- 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid (abbreviated on the HMG website as DCHW)
Most people who are backpacking on trails in the lower 48 can use packs made with the regular 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid. If you thru-hike an extended distance or travel in very rocky terrain where your pack is likely to rub against rock walls a lot (ie. New Hamshire or Maine), you’d be better off getting the tougher and thicker 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid used to make HMG’s black colored packs. Most people don’t need the extra durability provided by the 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid unless they’re mountaineering guides, hard-core backcountry skiers, they do thru-hikes, or they have a trust fund.
The bottom of HMG’s 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid and 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid pack models is made with a double-reinforced 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid to provide extra abrasion resistance. HMG’s packs are flat-bottomed and this extra level of protection helps keep the base from getting worn through by abrasion with the ground. The packs that are entirely or partially (usually just the base) made with 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid are by far Hyperlite’s most durable backpacks and tougher than most of the backpack fabrics in use today. (The only comparable fabric is something new called Ultra 400. It’s very similar to 375D Woven Dyneema but made with non-patented UHMWPE fibers instead of Dyneema fibers which are woven together and backed with a waterproof fabric. It’s really only available from custom backpack makers.)
The accent features on HMG’s packs are made with a checkered black Dyneema Hardline, which is nylon reinforced with Dyneema fibers. It’s used as the facing fabric on hip belts and shoulder straps on the 2400, 3400, and 4400 packs, all exterior pockets on the Southwest pack, the side pockets on the Junction pack, and the crampon/tool attachment panels on the Ice Pack. Many other manufacturers use the same material and while it’s reasonably durable, it’s not in the same league as the other materials used to make HMG packs. The accent features, bottom, and high wear areas on the North Rim and Headwall packs are made with tougher stuff, namely 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid, which is the toughest and most durable fabric Hyperlite uses on their packs.
Q: How does the Dyneema/Polyester Hybrid fabric used in Hyperlite’s backpacks rate in terms of durability compared to alternative fabrics such as XPac, EcoPak, Ultra, and Robic Nylon that are gaining traction with other ultralight backpack manufacturers?
In a nutshell, the non-woven 50D and 150D Dyneema/Polyester Hybrid fabrics used by Hyperlite are significantly more durable than the Robic Nylon (also called High Tenacity Nylon) used by other ultralight backpack manufacturers like Gossamer Gear, Zpacks, Granite Gear, and many mainstream backpack manufacturers. They are less durable, particularly in terms of abrasion (caused by rock and sand), than other waterproof laminates like XPac, EcoPak, and Ultra. If you’re extremely hard on your backpack and expect it to last through multiple thru-hikes, then you should look at these newer fabrics or Hyperlite’s 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid packs. For general backpacking use or a single thru-hike, the 150D Dyneema/Polyester Hybrid fabrics are more than sufficient, they’re waterproof, and all of Hyperlite’s backpacks are seam taped so they don’t leak through the sewing needle holes. While you can wear a hole in a Hyperlite Backpack, you really have to work at it since the bottom fabric is usually a higher denier and reinforced.
How to Choose the Right Volume Pack
HMG classifies their 1800 series packs as urban or day packs, but they are large enough to be used as minimalist ultralight backpacks if you really want to push the envelope. HMG only offers two backpacks in this size, the Summit Pack and the Stuff Pack. Both are frameless. While the Summit Pack can carry up to 20-pounds, the Stuff Pack maxes out at 10 pounds because it’s made with a much lighter weight fabric that’s normally used for stuff sacks. The Summit Pack has a hip belt and daisy chains, which make it possible to add a rear mesh accessory pocket. The Stuff Pack is a minimalist roll-top pack without a hip belt or any daisy chains.
Here’s a list of the body fabrics they’re available in:
- 1831 ci Summit Backpack (30L)
- 1831 ci Stuff Pack (30L)
HMG’s 2400 cubic inch packs are a good size for thru-hikes with frequent resupplies or backpacking trips up to about 4 days in length (these are approximate guidelines based on a 10-15 lb gear load.) The 3400 packs are dimensioned identically to the 2400 ones but have a taller pack bag so you can fill them up with 7 days worth of food or extra-warm gear for winter trips. If you can only afford to buy one pack, the 3400 is a good choice since you can “turn it into” a 2400 by rolling down the top to shrink the pack’s height and extra volume. The 2400 and 3400 packs use two removable aluminum stays to transfer weight to the hip belt instead of a full-frame. Both have a max load of about 35-40 pounds. Here’s a list of the fabrics they’re available in:
- 2400 ci Porter Pack (40L)
- 2400 ci Southwest Pack (40L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 2400 ci Windrider Pack (40L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 2400 ci Junction Pack (40L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 2400 Unbound 40 (40L) + 9L of external storage
- 2400 Ice Pack (40L)
- 2400 Prism Pack (40L)
- 3400 ci Porter Pack (55L)
- 3400 ci Southwest Pack (55L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 3400 ci Windrider Pack (55L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 3400 ci Junction Pack (55L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 3400 ci North Rim Pack (55L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 3400 ci Headwall Pack (55L) + 7.1L of external storage
- 3400 ci Ice Pack (55L)
HMG’s 4400 and 5400 cubic inch packs are big, expedition-class monsters that you only need if you’re taking very long trips off the grid that requires carrying a lot of food or heavy technical gear. They have a larger circumference than the 2400 and 3400 packs which makes them deeper (so they stick behind you more.) With a max (comfortable) load of about 55-60 pounds, they’re best used for gear-intensive multi-sport trips.
The 4400 and 5400 packs have a frame consisting of an internal frame sheet and two aluminum stays to transfer weight to the hip belt. They’re also only made with a 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid body for increased durability, unlike the 2400 and 3400 packs which are available in two different Polyester hybrid denier weights. The 4400 and 5400 packs are only available in white or black, although we’d recommend getting them in white because the black material makes the interiors too dark to see your gear inside.
- 4400 ci Porter (70L)
- 4400 ci Southwest (70L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 4400 ci Windrider(70L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 4400 ci North Rim (70L) + 9.8L of external storage
- 4400 ci Ice Pack (70L)
- 5400 ci Porter (85L)
How to Choose the Right Sport-Specific Backpack
HMG tailors each of their backpack models in a number of sports-specific styles, which are enhanced by adding pockets or external attachment points so you can carry sharp or wet things on the exterior of the backpack.
The Porter is a streamlined backpack without any external pockets on the pack body that might catch on things or get torn off making it a good pack for winter sports, climbing, packrafting, bikepacking, and air travel. It has two daisy chains which make it equally easy to lash the pack to packrafts or bikes, or secure gear to the outside, like snowshoes, skis/snowboard, or ice axes. You just need to be a little creative in how you lash stuff on, but the Porter is kind of a blank slate, so it can be set up in many ways and for many different missions.
The Southwest is ideal for off-trail backpacking and bushwhacking when you want side water bottle pockets and a big rear pocket for carrying wet, smoky, smelly, or frequently used items that you don’t want to store inside your backpack. The Southwest also makes a durable pack for thru-hiking on less traveled trails where overhanging vegetation can rip up exterior mesh pockets. While you can use the Southwest for winter sports, lashing snowshoes to the back of the pack will cover up the back external pocket and make it hard to access.
The Windrider is good for hiking, backpacking, and thru-hiking in very wet climates or very dry ones where you’re going to want to air out or dry wet gear as you hike. The mesh can catch on overhanging vegetation and rip, so it’s less durable than the Southwest in that respect. The mesh is sized the same as the Southwest’s rear and side water bottle pockets.
The Junction is a cross between the Southwest and the Windrider backpacks, with solid side pockets and a mesh front pocket. Hyperlite created it because so many people were asking for more durable side pockets on their Windrider or a mesh front pocket on their Southwest packs. The Junction is great for more humid locales, like the eastern United States where it’s nice to be able to dry gear in the mesh pocket while you hike, but where overgrown vegetation along the sides of a trail might catch and rip a side pocket. Having a mesh pocket also makes it easy to check whether you have all your gear packed properly at a glance, like a wet water filter or footprint, so you don’t have to unpack stuff to check.
The Unbound is an entirely new pack design (as of 2023) in the Hyperlite family and incorporates many of the features available in other popular thru-hiking backpacks, mainly from smaller competitive manufacturers. These include new foam padding in the back panel, a removable hip belt with a V-pull that’s more adjustable than the ones on their other backpacks, a bottom mesh pocket for storing layers or snacks with a trash port where you can stuff used wrappers, removable side compression straps, oversized side bottle pockets, and daisy chains. Chances are a lot of these new features will work themselves into their other backpack models over time. You should get the Unbound if you’re primarily interested in 3-season use, external accessibility (think better pockets) is a priority, and you want to strip some of the removable features to save weight or have a simpler backpack.
The North Rim
The North Rim is a tougher and more durable version of the Southwest backpack, intended for rough and abrasive conditions such as off-trail bushwhacking or canyoneering. While the body of the NorthRim is made with Hyperlite’s 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid, the accent pockets on the sides and front of the pack, as well as the hip belt pockets are made with extremely durable 375D Woven Dyneema, which is “way” more durable than the Dyneema/Nylon Grid that Hyperlite uses on their other packs. If you have a history of ripping up packs made with Dyneema Grid, the NorthRim may well be the last backpack you ever buy.
The Headwall is a dedicated ski mountaineering or backcountry ski backpack with external daisy chains, three tiers of side compression straps for attaching skis or split board in A-Frame carry, and a front avalanche/probe pocket. It has a removable hipbelt which is useful, particularly if you wear a climbing harness and a padded back panel to insulate your back from hot water bottles stored inside. The headwall has two ice axe loops and daisy chains on the shoulder straps where you can hang accessory pockets or gear. Like the North Rim, the base and high wear areas of the Headwall are made with 375D Woven Dyneema, which is “way” more durable than the Dyneema/Polyester hybrid that Hyperlite uses on their other packs.
The Ice Pack is good for ice climbing, ski mountaineering, and winter hiking/backpacking. It has a puncture-proof crampon/dual ice ax holder on the back of the pack so you can keep the sharp or wet points away from the delicate gear inside. If you use crampons or axes a lot, this is a very desirable feature on a winter backpack. The ice pack also has dual daisy chains and side compression straps, giving you a lot of additional external attachment points to carry even more gear. There are also gear loops on the hip belt instead of pockets.
The Prism Pack is also good for ice climbing, ski mountaineering, and winter hiking but is substantially more durable than the Ice Pack and has a more technical feature set including a top lid with a drawstring closure, a crampon pocket, and a removable hip belt so you can wear it with a climbing harness.
The Summit Pack is a low-volume (30L) pack good for day hiking and peak bagging when you don’t need to carry an overnight load, although it’s technically large enough that it can also be used for minimalist backpacking and thru-hiking. It comes with daisy chains, elastic cord, and dual ice ax loops so you can lash clothing or gear to its exterior. It is frameless though, with a minimal hip belt, so limited to about 20-pound loads.
The Stuff Pack is more of an urban or travel daypack (30), much like the Summit, but without any external attachment points. At 30L, it is technically large enough for minimalist backpacking and thru-hiking but has no frame or hipbelt. It is made with the same fabric as Hyperlite’s stuff sacks so it is limited to about 10-pound loads. It can also be used as a pack liner/town laundry bag on resupply days.
Torso Lengths and Sizes
It can be difficult to find any documentation of the torso lengths that correspond to Hyperlite’s backpack sizes on their website. Here’s what you need to know.
- Size Small: 15″-17″
- Size Medium: 17″-19″
- Size Large: 19″-21″
- Size Tall: 21″+
What happens if your torso length is on the boundary of two different sizes? Most people size up to the larger size since it ensures you’ll get some load transfer to the hip belt. That won’t happen if the pack is too small for you.
Disclosure: Hyperlite Mountain Gear has provided the author with sample products for review in the past.
Last updated: 1-15-23
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