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Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Porter Expedition Backpack – Review

Hyperlight Mountain Gear 4400 Porter Backpack (Expedition) with optional hip belt pockets and front pocket
Hyperlight Mountain Gear 4400 Porter Backpack (Expedition) with optional hip belt pockets and  clip-on front pocket

Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 4400 Porter Backpack (formerly called the Expedition and the Porter Expedition) is one of the highest capacity packs available today from an ultralight backpack manufacturer. Reminiscent of the famous white Kelty Spectra Cloud backpack, the 31 ounce/72 liter cuben fiber 4400 Porter is targeted at packrafters, hikers, and mountaineers who need additional pack volume for larger loads or longer distance hikes.

I have been testing this pack for nearly a year primarily for use as a winter backpacking and mountaineering pack, but also with an eye towards very long unsupported hikes lasting up to 2 weeks in duration. During that time period, Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided me with two sample packs for review which had slightly different dimensions, but shared the same design and performed similarly.

Hip belt and shoulder straps - the yellow bottle holders are not included with the backpack.
Hip belt and shoulder straps – the yellow bottle holders  and orange whistle are not included with the backpack.

Pack Description

The HMG 4400 Porter has a spartan, climbing-style design with a single main compartment, three tiers of side compression straps, and a pair of long daisy chains on the front sides of the pack. The pack uses a roll top closure which is secured using side straps and a top Y strap which can be used as an external attachment point for hauling additional gear on top of the pack. The pack also comes with a sternum strap, more daisy chains on the shoulder straps, and lightly padded shoulder and hip belt straps. While there is no external storage provided with the base model of the pack, it can be purchased with add-on hip belt pockets or a front external pocket that clips onto the side daisy chains.

Suspension

The suspension system on the 4400 Porter is very simple. It has a fully integrated back pad and two optional aluminum stays. This is coupled with a fixed hip belt which is sewn to the back off the pack.

The Porter hip belt is sewn directly to the back pad providing excellent load transfer to the hips
The Porter hip belt is sewn directly to the back pad providing excellent load transfer to the hips

Despite its simplicity, this pack provides better load-to-hip weight transfer than most of the other ultralight packs I’ve tested. The reason for this is simple. Most ultralight backpack manufacturers do not have permanently sewn-on hip belts or back pads, opting instead for replaceable hip belts and in many cases a removable or optional back pad. This translates into less efficient weight transfer because the hip belt, back pad, and backpack are not tightly coupled as a unit.

Having a sewn-on hip belt and back pad is a very desirable feature for a high volume pack, particularly because a typical winter backpacking/mountaineering load exceeds 40 pounds of gear, water, food, and fuel. What is puzzling, is that the 4400 Porter does not include load lifters. When fully packed, the 4400 pulls noticeably backwards throwing the wearer off balance. Adding load lifters would help counter this.

Double-reinforced pack bottom
Double-reinforced pack bottom

Materials

The 4400 Porter is made using a proprietary formulation of cuben fiber and polyester that Hyperlite Mountain Gear claims is more resistant to UV light than the regular cuber fiber used in many UL tarp shelters and backpacks. While the fabric itself is effectively waterproof, HMG does not seam seal most of the seams on the 4400 Porter so they will leak in rain or if the pack sits on wet ground or in a wet packraft. As with other backpacks, it’s best to line the inside of your pack with a trash compactor bag to keep the contents dry and augment with waterproof stuff sacks as required.

Evaluation

I have found it very difficult to use the 4400 Porter backpack in winter or for 3 season use because it does not have enough external storage. Try as I might, there is something about my style of packing, gear organization, and gear list selection that makes it difficult for me to use the 4400 and hike the way I like to hike.

While I like backpacks with large main compartments, I like to pack so that all of the gear that I might need during the day is stored in exterior pockets which I can access quickly without having to open up the main compartment of my pack. I get cold very quickly in winter when I stop hiking to pull out gear that is deep inside my pack and it’s something I go to great lengths to avoid.

Removable Add-on Front Pocket
Removable Add-on Front Pocket

For example, I like to have instant access to glove liners, heavier fleece gloves, above treeline mittens, ski goggles, an extra fleece hat, a balaclava and face mask, sunglasses, maps, compass, pencil, rite in the rain log book, snacks, an insulated water bottle, crampons, ice axe, snowshoes, a hardshell and dermatone sunscreen when I hike in winter without ever having to open the main compartment of my pack.  I can manage this with my regular alpine style winter pack, which has a floating lid with several externally accessible pockets, but there is no way I can organize this same gear selection in an easily accessible manner with the 4400: most of it has to go into the main compartment.

The same holds for 3 season backpacking. The 4400 Porter does not have enough external storage for me to store a dripping wet water filter, platypus, 2 x 1 liter plastic bottles, a wind shirt, hard shell, rain pants, food, compass, map, hat, altimeter/gps, pencil, rite in the rain log book, SPOT locator beacon, digital camera, dermatone and lip balm, glove liners, rain mitts, tarp, and plastic ground sheet that I like to keep on the outside of my pack when I backpack. I don’t take a lot of breaks when I hike  and I don’t want to take even more in order to rummage around in my backpack for something. Plus if it’s raining, I like be able to get to my tarp and pitch it without having to open up my pack. Being able to  store my tarp in an external pocket has saved my ass more than once.

I have tried rigging up all kinds of different accessory pocket systems on the 4400 P0rter to overcome its external storage limitations including: adding additional accessory pockets to the shoulder straps, overloading the optional front pocket, adding a mesh crampon pocket, and by attaching Gatorade bottles to the shoulder straps using elastic cord and cord locks. None of these experiments provided much satisfaction and overcame the fact that the pack has too little external storage for my preferences.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Expedition Backpack
The 4400 Porter has excellent load to hip weight transfer with heavy loads

While the 4400 Porter does come with the option to add pockets to the hip belt, these alone are still insufficient for my needs. The same goes for the add-on front pocket that HMG also sells for this pack, which clips onto the front daisy chains. While convenient and fairly large, it is open, so not a suitable storage compartment for extra gloves, hats, and electronics in winter.

Suggestions for Improvment

The 4400 Porter has a number of revisions and features added to it since I started testing it last winter, but I’d like to suggest still more because this pack  and its wonderful suspension system has a lot going for it. Given the weight savings provided by cuben fiber, there’s little downside to modifying elements of the pack that would substantially improve its functionality.

  1. Add load lifters to the base pack
  2. Add an ice axe loop to the base pack
  3. Offer an optional crampon holder attachment like the one on HMG’s 2400 Ice Pack
  4. Offer a pair of closed side pockets that can be hung on the sides of the pack
  5. Offer an optional top lid w/pocket that can be attached over the roll top closure.

Adding these options would help alleviate the external storage issues that prevent me from enjoying this pack fully today. The last time I spoke to Mike St. Pierre at Hyperlite Mountain Gear, building out add-on pockets and features was definitely on his radar, so I hope to see some of them become available before too long. After all, winter backpacking and mountaineering season is just around the bend.

More photos of HMG 4400 Porter

Disclosure: Philip Werner received two 4400 Porter backpacks from Hyperlight Mountain Gear for product testing and review.

 

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23 comments

  1. Great review, thanks, Phil!

  2. It’s tempting for a weight-conscious pack manufacturer to skip the external pockets — 2 oz there, 3 oz here, another few ounces over there, etc. It’s a slippery slope.

    But this is a classic “stupid light” decision. Yes, HMG saved some weight, but in doing so they compromised the user’s efficiency, or their ability to keep making “constant forward progress.” The weight-savings will never make up for the ~30 minutes lost everyday by having to stop and take off the pack in order to get something from the main compartment. In addition to the time loss, it’s also just really annoying.

    Optional pockets may help this some, but Philip didn’t seem to think that they were enough. Removable pockets also just don’t attach to the pack as cleanly as sewn-on pockets do.

    • A buddy of mine used the smaller version of this pack (The Porter) on a long 6 day trip we did this year in Maine. It was very hot and dry (drought) during that trip and we had to carry extra water. I noticed that he did not stop frequently enough to eat and drink during the day because he would have had to fumble around inside his pack to get more water and food. He was carrying it, but he didn’t use it! I think that cut way down on his comfort and efficiency – I was chugging water all day – pulling bottles from side pockets as we hiked – but he hardly drank at all.

    • “While I like backpacks with large main compartments, I like to pack so that all of the gear that I might need during the day is stored in exterior pockets which I can access quickly without having to open up the main compartment of my pack. I get cold very quickly in winter when I stop hiking to pull out gear that is deep inside my pack and it’s something I go to great lengths to avoid.”

      I have to agree. Let’s be honest, that item you need is always at the bottom, no matter how carefully you pack, so I prefer to have it in the outer pockets so I can get to it easily or my companion can. The Gorilla is great for that and some hip-belt pockets for my old one wouldn’t go amiss. And water is essential – so easy to wait for rest breaks and find you’re already dehydrated, legs weak as a result and you get weaker with each mis-placed footfall. AS is right – it’s a ‘stupid light’ decision. I have often moaned about packs with too much going on (Osprey, who make great packs otherwise, have the best examples of that disease) – one cavernous and simple main compartment, as few openings as possible and 3 external pockets – one big one, two small side ones. The rest is all nuance.

    • Gosh, I am going to have to disagree with the blogger and with the King of Distance Walking and say that I don’t miss the external pockets at all.

      This pack (the Expedition version without the mesh back) has been my go to pack fro everything from big loads to day trips for the last six months. It is actually my new favorite pack

      Maybe it’s just that I have been using packs with one or fewer outside for so long that I don’t miss them. I do, of course, like hip pockets for snacks, but find that with this particular pack, I simply put the things I need on top.

      I mean really? What do you need besides food to get at without stopping?

      Need a rain jacket? Or pants? tuck them in the shoulder straps attachment at your hip of on the sides under the compression straps.

      A map? keep it tucked inside your shirt in a plastic bag.

      A camera? around the neck or in a pants pocket.

      I guess that I think packs without pockets are closer to what I think of as being a good place to cut weight, rather than “stupid light”.

      One person’s stupid light might be another’s abstraction. For example, maybe I am being stupid light but I also pull the stays out of my pack and just use the integral foam.

      I stop every hour anyway for a break when not trying to make time and I can easily get the stuff at the top during this break by not rolling the top closed but just closing. I also find that when packrafting and bushwacking that the clean lines of pocket less designs make travel much easier.

    • Well, your comment is stupid and undifferentiated..
      There are 100’s of different rucksack designs available so you should be able to find the one which perfectly fits your needs.

      This one fits mine.
      Basic, simple, no external pockets, waterproof for packrafting.
      If you guys need to have all your pussystuff ready then go and look at the Aarnpack (with frontpacks, so you don’t even have to take the sack off)
      or at the ultracustomizable zPack.

  3. Good point about the side pockets, or lack thereof. What I’m wondering is when UL companies will start making women-specific packs. I know one or two companies that do, but most don’t. Those of us females with tiny shoulders really need a women-specific pack, because otherwise the pack straps just slide off our shoulders and make for a really uncomfortable hike.

  4. Thanks for being very specific in why you the pack doesn’t fit your style. Conversely, I could see this pack in my future since it definitely fits my style. My first pack was an EMS Long Trail 70 and I “learned to hike” with that pack. I enjoy my stops :p

    How abrasion resistant is the material? I am looking for a bushwhacking backpack for overnights off trail, so a material that can withstand the spruce branches grabbing at the pack is essential. Thanks.

    • I haven’t tried this pack on a bushwhack, but I had the same thought as you when I first saw it, especially because it is so plain on the outside. The cuben fiber on this pack is very thick and a polyester coating has been laminated on top of it to make it even tougher. While you can puncture cuben fiber if you have a really sharp tool/claw, it won’t tear along the puncture.

      I’m glad you picked up on the reasons this pack doesn’t work for me. I know many people who love the smaller Porter version of this backpack and rave about its suspension.

  5. Thanks for the honest evaluation of the pack. I bought a Kelty Cloud several years ago just for winter backpack trips. I love its external pockets, floating lid, and simple design.

    • I am envious. Where did you buy your Cloud? I’d buy one in a flash – even over $500 – if one was available.

      • I bought in on the Internet. I bought it before the Iraq War while there was still a supply of material. The last time I did a search I couldn’t find any listings but I haven’t checked eBay.

  6. Philip,
    I was interested to see your comment regarding the excellent load-to-hip weight transfer. I own the Windrider and had HMG make the side pockets with the cuben-hybrid fabric to be snag resistant and the back pocket with the mesh in which to put my wet gear. I have seen very few reviews on the Windrider but I have found the load-to-hip weight transfer to be the very best of any lightweight pack I have ever owned.

  7. You were smart to make the side pockets out of cuben. I haven’t purposely tried to tear the mesh on the optional front pocket that came with my pack, but I have enough bad experiences with side mesh pockets on the sides of other manufacturers backpacks to know what happens to them. Looks like a nice size – 2400 cubic inches – just about the sweet spot for a UL pack. Must carry like a charm.

  8. I have used the Windrider and Porter pack and it sounds like the Windrider would have been the better choice because of the external pockets and nets. The Porter is made to start as a pack that can be added to to suite your needs. I like the fact that HMG made it this way. I don’t need the external pockets that the Windrider has all the time.

    As for durability it is excellent. My pack is going on two years old and has been on a A/T through hike and continues to do the job

    I also bushwhack in the Dacks with my Porter pack and really like there are no external pockets to snag

    HMG products being made Maine, light and durable are by far my choice.

  9. I think there is one key thing readers should ask themselves in relation to this review, which is “Do I hike all day without stopping?” It appears the main thing Mr. Werner doesn’t like about this pack is that it doesn’t fit his style of hiking, which is to not stop. Based on the lengthy gear list of things he prefers to store in pockets, it appears the only things he wants to keep in the main compartment are his tent, sleeping bag, and stove. If you hike non-stop and have long arms, this review might be good for you. Perhaps a traditional pack is more appropriate for hiking in winter since you have to carry more clothing, food, and fuel anyway.

    If you’re a three-season UL camper who stops to take breaks, however, HMG’s (or any UL pack’s) lack of a plethora of pockets should not be a problem. I have a Windrider 3400 and, since I prefer to take pack-off breaks now and then plus a stop to sit for a relaxing lunch (and as a woman I prefer to take pack-off potty breaks for better balance), my HMG pack works well for me. If you are stopping to take a few breaks anyway, there is no need for so many pockets. If you plan ahead and pack your bag well, everything you need can be right on top (or in my case, in a mesh pocket or hip pocket). I disagree that everything you want ends up at the bottom. That is where my sleeping bag goes, and I have never found its position usurped by something I put near the top. Besides, my arms are simply not long enough to reach around and remove things from pockets or straps on the back while wearing the pack, anyway.

    Someone asked about how the suspension/straps work for women, and as a 5′ 4″ woman I think they’re great. They have you send in back measurements and customize based on those numbers. This is also, unfortunately, why I didn’t buy a small Windrider for my daughter last year; she is still growing and a traditional pack with adjustable back made more sense. Thus, I still carry a bit of her gear to make up for the heavy weight of her traditional pack (which is the only reason I have a 3400 instead of a 2400). HMG customer service is excellent and they (Mike, I should really say) seem very willing to customize.

    All that said, I do wish HMG would seam seal.

  10. I’m sure hmg seam seal now as mandatory.

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