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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Add load lifters to the base pack
- Add an ice axe loop to the base pack
- Offer an optional crampon holder attachment like the one on HMG’s 2400 Ice Pack
- Offer a pair of closed side pockets that can be hung on the sides of the pack
- 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.
Disclosure: Philip Werner received two 4400 Porter backpacks from Hyperlight Mountain Gear for product testing and review.
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