Gear Closet: Backpacks and Packing Accessories

Gear Closet Backpacks and Packing Accessories

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

HMG Southwest 2400 Backpack-
The HMG Southwest 2400  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 side pockets, shovel pocket and hipbelt pockets have withstood tremendous abuse over the past four years. I like every feature of this pack: the roll top provides excellent top compression, the frame stays provide a body-hugging fit, the hipbelt 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

HMG Southwest 3400 Backpack
The HMG Southwest 3400 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

1-Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 Backpack
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 pounds 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

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 10 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

Fox 40 Classic 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

I always attach a 0.7 ounce Classic Swiss Army Knife ($14) to the outside of whatever backpack I’m wearing with a mini-biner. I rarely use anything other than the tiny scissors or nail file on it, but it’s a very useful tool to have along on my trips.

Read my Review of the Classic Swiss Army Knife

Isuka Dry Map case

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

Lowepro Dashpoint 2
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

Trash Compactor Bags
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

HMG Stuff sacks
I like using Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s heavy-duty Dyneema 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 drawstring stuff sacks to keep smaller items organized like my first aid kit, electronics, and water purification drops. Drawstring 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.

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Updated 2019.

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  1. For those that don’t want to order a map case from Japan, map cases made for sea kayaking work very well and are widely available at outdoor retailers that sell boating supplies. Mine is a SealLine case and looks very similar to the Isuka pictured.

    • The attachment system is key. If it’s rolled up in your pack, it’s worthless. Hung on a lanyard around your neck like the Brits do, is a good way to strangle yourself off trail. Clipped to your shoulder pad. That’s fabulous. They don’t sell that for sea kayaks in my experience, having been a kayaker myself.

      • Gotta say that the Isuka map case is the best I’ve seen anywhere, and I’ve seen more than a few. The Isuka is light years ahead of what I’ve seen in my time as a Sierra Club leader, is far better than what we had in Army, and beats the HECK out of just using a gallon ziploc. I used to just stick a gallon ziploc with my map in the cargo pocket of my pants, but after losing a map on a bushwhack, never again.


  2. I’ve used this map case extensively:

    It seals very well, can hold a lot of paperwork, and has multiple attachment points for wherever you want to carry it (shoulder strap is my preferred attachment). Only real complaint is that they put a stupid logo on part of the clear map viewing area, and it’s not small or unobtrusive either.

    My favorite trick with the map case is that I can use dry erase markers to highlight routes, triangulate, and make notes as I go!

    • String around neck? Uh, no.


      • Only if you like strangulation! I removed the straps on mine, then added an S-biner at the end of a paracord length and another S-biner clipped to the case. I clip both to my shoulder strap. I can either roll up the map case to clip with both S-biners, having it be fairly unobtrusive, or let it dangle at the end of the paracord if I’m actively using it.

      • Ordering from Japan was not a big deal. Globalization, baby!

      • It’s not so much that it’s difficult to order from Japan, it’s the fact that it’s $18 to ship a $12 item that weighs very little. As much as I hear about these, I’m surprised some outfitter hasn’t started carrying them here in the US.

      • I agree, Joshua! 150% of item cost in shipping is annoying. I wonder if it’s a possibility to get enough people together to bulk order from the manufacturer, then reship to buyers (the Massdrop model)… I’d definitely get one if it has the recommendation of both Hikin’ Jim and Philip.

      • Hmm. I wonder if Massdrop could be persuaded to carry them.


      • I doubt there’s enough demand. How many people do you know who use a compass and hike off trail? Probably a small subset of the hikers out there. Just saying. The postage isn’t that bad, really. Massdrop makes you pay for postage too, I bleive.

      • Hmm. Yeah, you’re probably right. It’s a bit of a lost art (true map and compass work).


  3. For those using hmg packs I can’t say enough good things about their pod system. I bought a few and it kept everything perfectly organized, uniform and even more waterproof . I didn’t have to pack a bunch of spheres and ovals and it helped the pack fit even better. I used a large for quilt, pad and pillow, large for tent body and stakes, small for clothing, small for misc tools like filter and cook kit and a small for food. May seem silly but it has not only lightened my load but made something I love to do even more enjoyable! They may be stupid expensive but they are worth every penny…. especially when someone else buys them for you as a gift!

    • Those pods look great, except I cannot fathom the price point. The water proof zipper+cuben combo seems kinda silly. Using a overly heavy component with a super light component to get something that is super expensive while not being remarkably light. And at the end of the day, its still only water resistant and will probably be in a pack lined with a garbage bag anyway. I like the form factor, but frankly the granite gear air zippsack’s are functionally equivalent (though not nearly as sexy to look at) for <1/3 of the price. And the best of all is you can get one, realize it is trivial to sew yourself and make as many as you want, and in any size you want (to it a particular pack) for about $2/each.

      • The large only weighs 1.4 oz so the weight issue is mute…and time is money so if I don’t have to sew a ton of mess up bags until I get it right and blow material in the process annnnddd it’s sexier to look at? I’m going with the pods every time. But seriously they are at a silly price point and I judged myself when I bought them…… even with gift cards but I immediately got over that when I realized how great the organization was and how quickly I can pack up, distribute weight evenly and get moving in the morning.

      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to come across like a jerk. Just had some serious sticker shock. They look like nice bags that I would surely use if I had em. And HMG is made in USA so there is a bonus there too. I really just wanted to point out that granite gear makes a functionally similar product that is a bit more affordable.

      • I didn’t interpret it negatively at all. I really do like the Granite Gear Crown 2. It has a spirit that is different than the 3400 SW and one that’s more like a lot of packs that I’ve used in the past.

  4. Any chance you might be reviewing the Hanchor Marl in the foreseeable future? I’ve seen it pop up a place or two now with excellent, albeit premature and terse, reviews. I like my wife’s HMG 3400, but I don’t see the benefit of cuben over xpac for packs other than it lightens my wallet more efficiently. I’d like to see some more durable laminate competition to HMG’s packs to help lower the cost for that class of pack.

  5. I would’ve thought for sure you’d have a Granite Gear pack listed…

  6. Phillip, why wouldn’t dry sacks be superior to stuff sacks and trash compactor liners? They help me protect and organize the contents of my backpack.

    ~ Rib

  7. Hi Philip,
    Read ur pack review of the new Gossamer Gear Mariposa and thought it was one of your favorite go-to backpacks. The review included several glowing compliments and I promoted the Mariposa to the top of my list. Why didn’t it make this list? Thanks.

    • Because this is a list of the gear I use myself and I stopped using gossamer gear packs because they’re not durable enough for my style of hiking. I use to replace them every year because I destroyed them. I’m on my 3rd year now with the same Hyperlite mountain gear pack. Far more durable.

  8. Philip, do you line your HMG packs with trash compactor bags, or have you found that the DCF effectively waterproofs the pack’s contents for all practical purposes? Would you trust your HMG packs as deck bags on a kayak or packraft or in a canoe? Thanks, as always, for your advice!

    • The HMG co-founder, Mike, is a big packrafter. Even he doesn’t trust the HMG packs and insists people use their cuben stuff sacks inside. But yeah, I definitely line my HMG packs. DCF is waterproof but needle holes aren’t.

      • Thanks, Philip! Do you think the combination of a HMG pack and HMG pods or stuff sacks would add up to effectively waterproof, even in a paddling environment?

      • My preference would be for seal line or S2S bags personally, dry bag style, not drawstring.

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