I have a small set of backpacks that I use for 4 season hiking and backpacking. Over the years, the durability of my backpacks has become even more important to me than their weight, because I like to keep gear I really like for a long time and use it frequently.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 Backpack
The HMG Southwest 2400
($300) is the most durable ultralight backpack I’ve ever owned and it’s the pack I use the most frequently for everything from bushwhacks and winter hikes to multi-night backpacking trips. At 32 ounces, the Southwest is not the lightest weight cuben fiber backpack you can own, but the solid Dyneema side pockets, shovel pocket and hip belt pockets have withstood tremendous abuse over the past two years. I like every feature of this pack: the roll top provides excellent top compression, the frame stays provide a body hugging fit, the hip belt is the perfect size for me, and there are plenty of external attachment points to haul extra gear.
Read my Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Backpack Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 Backpack
The HMG Southwest 3400
($340) is basically just a higher volume, taller version of the HMG Southwest 2400 pack. I use it for longer multi-day trips and AT Section Hikes when I want to carry more food, bulkier clothing and insulation, or more winter gear. It is too big for the majority of three-season trips I take, but I like the fact that it’s identical to the HMG 2400 in every respect except added volume and height, so I don’t have to change my style of packing or how I use the larger pack when I need to carry more stuff. It weighs 32.4 ounces and holds 55L of gear.
Read my Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Backpack Review
Seek Outside Unaweep 4800
The Seek Outside Unaweep 4800
($399) is a high volume, external frame backpack that I like to carry on winter or packrafting trips when I need to carry a lot of bulky or heavy gear. It’s made with XPac, a waterproof laminate that’s more durable than cuben fiber, but lower cost and not as lightweight. Weighing 58 ounces, the Unaweep can carry 40, 50, 60 pound or higher loads with ease. While there are many stand-out features on the Unaweep, the lightweight external frame and wide hip belt are the features that make it possible to carry so much weight. My Unaweep also has a blaze-orange external pocket, that I like to carry on my off-trail trips during hunting season.
Read my Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 Review
Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack
The Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack
($245) is a 66L alpine-style winter pack that I’ve been using for the past 8 years. Weighing just under 4 pounds, the Chaos uses a removable foam pad for a frame, like a lot of old school ultralight backpacks. Built as a climber’s pack, the Chaos is optimized for winter use in mountainous terrain with gear loops on the hip belt, a rear crampon pocket, floating lid, and dual ice axe loops with integrated shaft holders. I first learned about the company in Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism
and the rest is history. It’s a classic that’s withstood the test of time.
See more photos of my Cold Cold World Chaos
Pack Accessory Items
I always list the following items with my backpack because they’re always packed inside or attached to its exterior.
Fox Plastic Whistle
While many backpack makers include a cheap whistle on the sternum strap of their packs, there’s no substitute for having a really loud one like the 0.1 ounce Fox 40
($6) when hiking. Blowing on a whistle is a lot less exhausting than screaming and a much more recognizable distress signal. I also use mine for signaling other hikers when we’ve lost sight of one another in dense vegetation. My whistle is attached to a piece of cord that I girth hitch to a shoulder strap making it easy to transfer from one pack to another.
Read my Review of the Fox 40 Classic Whistle
Classic Swiss Army Knife
Isuka Dry Map case
Hikin’ Jim of Adventures in Stoving fame
recommended the Isuka Dry Map Case ($14)
to me for off-trail hiking. I had to order it from Japan. It rolls up and clips to my shoulder strap, which makes it very convenient for bushwhacking because I can refer to it frequently and it doesn’t get snagged on vegetation. I prefer using this map case to a Ziploc baggie because I can use the case to hold multiple maps. including maps that I’ve prepared in advance using Caltopo, writing tools, permits, and other navigation paraphernalia. The case weighs 2.8 ounces.
LowePro Dashpoint 20 Camera Case
I like to carry a point and shoot Canon Powershot 120 camera
in a pocket attached to my backpack shoulder strap when I hike because it’s easy to access. The trick is finding a camera pocket that’s easy to attach to a wide variety of backpacks with different attachment options. The best camera pocket I’ve found is the LowePro Dashpoint 20
($17.95) because it can be securely attached to pack straps with daisy chains sewn on the front, using a quick attach tri-glide
, or on packs with horizontal elastic hydration hose keeper straps. The factory waterproofing on the Dashpoint 20 also lasts for several years without reproofing. I bought a second Dashpoint 20 camera pocket this year, after using the previous one for seven years.
Read my LowePro Dashpoint 20 Review
White Trash Compactor Bags as Pack Liners
I always line my backpacks with white, unscented trash compactor bags
to keep the contents of my backpack dry when it rains or I set my pack down on wet ground. Trash compactor bags are thicker and more durable than other garbage bags and the white color makes it easier to find things in my pack. I like them better than backpack rain covers because they prevent *any* leakage and I don’t have to worry about having them ripped off by the surrounding vegetation. Each bag weighs 2 ounces and lasts 1-2 years of pretty constant use.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Cuben Fiber Stuff Sacks
I like using Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s heavy duty cuben fiber stuff sacks
($16-22) because they’re more durable than the CF stuff sacks I’ve purchased from other manufacturers. While I pack a lot of my gear loose in my pack in a trash compactor bag, I like using draw string stuff sacks to keep smaller items organized like my first aid kit, electronics, and water purification drops. Draw string stuff sacks allow air to escape when stuffed into a backpack with my other loose gear and I’ve found that they last longer than dry bag style stuff sacks. The ones I use all weigh under 0.4 ounces each.