Hanchor Marl 55L Backpack Review

Hanchor Marl Backpack Review

The Hanchor Marl Backpack is a 55L backpack that weighs 2 lbs 5.5 oz and includes load lifters. It is constructed primarily of X-Pac VX21 and comes in four different torso lengths and four different hip belt sizes. At $308, including international shipping to the United States, the Marl is priced very competitively considering its use of premium materials. Additionally, the construction is ridiculously good and the stitching is perfect. The pack is a little overbuilt, making it weigh a little more than comparable backpacks, but what stands out about this pack is its ability to carry heavy loads really well. If you’re looking for a do-it-all pack in the 2.5 lb category capable of carrying a lot of weight, put the Hanchor Marl on your list.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight:
    • 37.5 oz (1053 g) for regular torso, small hipbelt
    • 39.5 oz (1120 g) measured for large torso, small hipbelt)
  • Volume: 55L total, 51L not including side and back pockets.
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Frame: Internal
  • Closure: Roll Top
  • Pockets: 5, including hip belt pockets
  • Hydration compatible: side hose port and hang loop inside
  • Load lifters: Yes
  • Bear Canister Compatibility: vertically inside or outside under top strap
  • Materials: X-Pac VX21 main body and pockets, X-Pac VX42 bottom
  • Torsos sizes: Small: 15” – 17” / Regular: 17 – 19″ / Large: 19” – 21″ / XL: 21″ – 24″
  • Hip Belt Sizing: XS: 23” – 27” / Small: 27” – 31″ / Medium: 31” – 35″ / Large: 35” – 39″
  • Max recommended load: 44 lbs (20 kg)

Details

For those who are unfamiliar with Hanchor, they are a cottage backpacking gear company located in Taipei, Taiwan. Their products range from climbing packs to urban packs to multi-day packs. The Marl is their do-it-all multi-day backpacking pack, but they also have a larger version called the Marble (73.5L and 41 oz), and an ultralight pack called the Tufa (40L and 26 oz).

Side compression straps allow the pack to carry poles or paddles quite well.
Side compression straps allow the pack to carry poles or paddles quite well.

The Hanchor Marl Backpack weighs 39.5 oz when outfitted with a large torso and small hipbelt. The hipbelt, sternum strap, and both vertical and horizontal stays are all removable. The main compartment has a top circumference of 40” and a fully unrolled length of 35.5”. These dimensions place it in the same category as the Seek Outside Flight One Backpack and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400.

The Marl is made from X-Pac VX21 for the body and pockets and X-Pac VX42 for the bottom. VX21 has a 210d nylon face laminated to a polyester x-ply, a 0.25 mil PET waterproof film, and a 50d taffeta backing. It is a waterproof, durable, reasonably-priced material which helps to keep the cost of this pack lower than its DCF counterparts. VX21 is a popular pack material in the backpacking industry because it strikes a great balance between weight, durability, waterproofness, and cost.

There is binding on all internal seams.
There is binding on all internal seams.

Binding on the bottom of the pack allows it to stand up easily and probably makes repairs easy too. There is also a hang loop inside and a side port for a hydration system.

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Hanchor Marl is a rolltop backpack with two side water bottle pockets, each capable of carrying a Platypus 2L bottle and a small front mesh pocket that’s good for storing rain gear and snacks. All of these pockets have shock cord and cord locks at the top to keep things from falling out.

The Hanchor Marl is a do-it-all pack capable of carrying even a complete packrafting setup
The Hanchor Marl is a do-it-all pack capable of carrying even a complete packrafting setup

The main compartment is very similar in size to a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 or a Seek Outside Flight One. The circumference of the opening is 40” and the pack measures 35.5” unrolled. This is more or less the same as the other two packs mentioned. It fits a BV500 bear canister vertically but not horizontally. I purchased the Marl to use for packrafting and it easily accommodates all my gear: boat, PFD, paddle, etc.

The main difference, however, is external storage. Both the Southwest and the Flight have giant front pockets, whereas the Marl has a very small mesh front pocket that fits only my rain jacket, rain pants, rain gloves, trowel and toilet paper, and a few snacks. If you like to carry more stuff on the outside of your pack, you may be disappointed in this pocket. To solve this problem, I have weaved some shock cord through the daisy chains that run on either side of the front pocket so I can attach a PFD for packrafting.

The water bottle pockets on the Marl are also a little small. A full 2L Platypus wants to fall out of them so I made some shock cord loops with cord locks to secure the bottles to the daisy chain. This works great.

The side pockets are barely deep enough for a 2L Platypus
The side pockets are barely deep enough for a 2L Platypus.

The pack’s hip belt has two big pockets with waterproof zippers. They’re large enough to fit my smartphone, sun gloves, COVID mask, sunscreen, and all the pretty rocks my partner loads me up with. They’re a little hard to open with one hand, but I’ve found that to be the case with many hipbelt pockets.

There is one side compression strap on each side and a single top compression strap. The top strap might be better as a Y strap for accommodating packrafts or bear canisters, but it does work as-is. Two toggles on the bottom of the pack that compress the base for daypack mode.

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The Hanchor Marl is a fixed-length internal frame backpack. My large torso version has a 24” frame with shoulder straps sewn on at 20” from the bottom of the pack. These are the dimensions I’ve been searching for to accommodate my 19.5” torso. The fit is perfect.

The two-track ventilation system doesn't offer a ton of ventilation but is very comfortable.
The two-track ventilation system doesn’t offer a ton of ventilation but is very comfortable.

The pack has two vertical stays and one horizontal stay. All can be fully removed. The horizontal stay is inside a Velcro sleeve right behind the area where the shoulder straps are sewn-in and add a good amount of rigidity. The vertical stays are shipped straight and the user has to bend them themselves. I matched mine to the pre-bent stays in a Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and it took a little muscle, but I was able to bend them fairly easily by hand.

The shoulder straps are thin but 2.5” wide, making them very similar in feel to HMG straps. The stays sit behind a “two-channel ventilation system”, and the hipbelt sits underneath the foam but in front of the stays, resulting in a lumbar area that appeared ungainly. I wondered if the foam of the two-channel system would create pressure points. When I first put the pack on I could distinctly feel the two points of contact on my lower back. But now that I’ve put a decent amount of miles on the pack with pretty heavy loads I can tell you it is very comfortable. After less than a minute on the trail I completely stopped noticing the two-channel system.

The vertical stays are not pre-bent and must be bent to fit your torso before use.
The vertical stays are not pre-bent and must be adjusted to fit your torso before use.

While the hipbelt and shoulder straps are fairly thin, they are wide enough to disperse pressure. The two-channel ventilation system does not create pressure points at all. It does not offer as much ventilation as the Seek Outside Flight, but sweat doesn’t really bother me.

Most importantly, the Hanchor Marl has a stiff frame and load lifters that really work. With loads around 30 lbs, I can easily transfer 100% of the weight off my shoulder and onto my hips if I want to. I think this is due in part to finally finding a pack that fits me really well. But it’s also due to the fact that there are 4” between the top of the shoulder straps and the load lifters. This sort of distance is needed for load lifters to work effectively. Other packs with only an inch or two between shoulder straps and load lifters won’t work as well. I should also note that all Marl torso sizes feature this 4” distance between shoulder straps and load lifters.

The flat bottom keeps the Marl from falling over when you put it down on the ground
The flat bottom keeps the Marl from falling over when you put it down on the ground

Recommendation

The Hanchor Marl is an aesthetically appealing, lightweight, durable, and exceptionally well-constructed backpack that carries loads impressively well for its weight. While other packs in this category may be a little lighter, I have yet to test one that carries as comfortably. The Marl’s load lifters effectively transfer weight to the hips and keep it off the shoulders.

The only downside to this pack that I can identify is the very small front pocket. I’d like to see them make it just a bit bigger. The other thing is the use of binding on all seams and on the bottom of the pack. This certainly increases durability and makes the overall construction look incredible, but it could be overkill and may add a bit of unnecessary weight. I have a feeling that some decisions on this pack (possibly including binding) are aesthetic rather than practical, and I do applaud this. The pack is gorgeous.

I know I keep comparing the Marl to the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest, but the comparisons make sense. The Hanchor Marl shares many of the same qualities like simplicity and durability, the main difference being the addition of load lifters. This is precisely what I was looking for in a pack. If HMG would put a 24” frame on a medium Southwest 3400, with load lifters sewn to the top of the frame, for example, that would be my pack. But they don’t do that, and Hanchor does! And with only a one-week shipping time from Taiwan, and a cost of only $308 including international shipping to the U.S. compared to $340 for the SW, I’m very very pleased with the Marl.

Disclosure: The author purchased this product.

About the author

Ben Kilbourne has been backpacking at least once a month every month for the last twelve years. His explorations have taken him all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. The geography of the west has become familiar to him. He has developed a rudimentary understanding of its geology, and an awareness of the subtle changes in flora and fauna due to soil, elevation, aspect, and precipitation and how these elemental things interact with both ancient and modern humans. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for the work he does. Find Ben’s paintings, songs, and essays here http://benkilbourne.com/.

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14 comments

  1. I bought this pack a year ago on the strength of Andrew Skurka’s review and agree with everything said here. Very well made and fitting pack. One thing to add is that Hanchor was very easy to work with on some customization as well. I have a Seek Outside pack, and wanted to be able to use a home made back panel talon system for greater capacity and organization on the Hanchor. I had them add a second set of side compression straps and switch the buckle/strap orientation so the (now four total) side compression straps can be used to clamp a home made back panel pocket to the pack.

    Very pleased with this pack, it’s become my preferred pack for any trip with loads under 40 pounds or so.

    • That’s good to know. And good to have you corroborate my observations. Maybe I’d try and get them to make a slightly larger front pocket if I did it over. Talon is also a good idea… Also, you can get the pack in coyote brown for an extra $27, which I sort of wish I did. I like the blue too though.

      BTW, since this review, I’ve put another 32 miles on the pack with one heavy water haul and it was comfortable.

  2. Any idea how the side pockets on the Seek Outside Flight One compare with this pack in regards to carrying 2L Platypus? I would assume that the SO would be better since Philip described them as description of the pockets in his Flight One review deep (12″).

    • Ben would know. He’s owned both packs.

    • Flight One side pockets are way better. They’re giant and deep. I have a photo with a 2L Platypus in the Flight side pocket here: http://benkilbourne.com/blog/2020/7/16/seek-outside-flight-one-backpack-review

      • Thanks for the response. It was the exact information I was looking for and I found your review informative (to complement the one Philip did). I use Evernew bags to carry extra water, which may have a little more rigidity than the Platypus bags, but they still flop around too much in my side pockets, for my liking.

        The problem you had with the load ratio (hips to shoulders) is interesting and one that I run into when my ULA pack is loaded at higher weights (because of extra food and/or water).

  3. Can you compare the Marl to the SO Flight regarding where you can horizontally pack a BV500? Specifically, I believe there are limitations with the Flight due to the intrusion bar. My concern is if you pack your sleep system first on the bottom & next the BV500 horizontally – is this better w the Marl? Is this even possible w the Flight?

    Also my torso is 19”, so would your pack size be ideal for me (given only .5” difference)?

    Thanks for the great review. I keep forgetting about this pack. I have it narrowed down to the HMG 3400 & Flight One – & now maybe this (if the side & front pockets aren’t deal killers).

  4. Ben,

    I misspoke, I meant vertical instead of horizontal. (I had just seen Andrew store a BV450 horizontal). But I’m interested in the BV500 vertical in each pack. Thanks!

  5. Steve H –

    BV500 can fit vertically but not horizontally in the Marl, and it fits BOTH horizontally and vertically in the Flight One. The intrusion bar doesn’t affect it. You can also remove that thing if need be. If you have a 19″ torso you’d like the large Marl. I’d also probably recommend the 24″ Flight One over the 22″. The 22″ was too small for me because I want full use of the loadlifters. If loadlifters are less of a priority, the 22″ Flight and the HMG (M or L) will be fine. Hope that helps.

    • Thanks Ben! Nice review. If you had to choose one from Flight, Marl & HMG, which would it be? Assuming a base weight of 12-15 which includes the bear can. Had to ask.

      • Hard question to answer. Right now my preference is the Marl because it fits me perfectly and has effective loadlifters. The HMG 3400 is a pretty useful pack but I recently sold mine because it doesn’t have loadlifters, so it’s not in the running. I did rig loadlifters on the Y-yoke though, and that worked decently. The Flight I can’t fairly judge because I’ve only used the 22″ version which was too small for me. Theoretically, the 24″ Flight would work really well and be more versatile than the Marl. I could see it carrying more weight comfortably too. That said, I’m too skinny for the hipbelt currently offered on the Flight. So it’s a tossup between the Marl and the 24″ Flight if it had a smaller hipbelt. Sorry for being inconclusive. Hope it helps though.

    • Hi Philip

      Will the Marl make your top 10 list for the lightweight category or similar class? And if yes, how close to the top? I’m between the Marl and the Flight, gathering as much data as possible. Thank you for the reviews and info?
      Ken

      • No. While I haven’t used the Marl, I have used a very similar pack made by Hanchor and really didn’t like it. I’m also still on yhe fence with the Flight. I dont like the sizing, amongst other things and think a lot of people are going to be disappointed by how much they can carry with it since there are different load ratings for diffent torso lengths. I far prefer SO’s adjustable external frame packs.

  6. I appreciate the first hand experience & particularly the rationale behind your position. Thanks! Unfortunately, the puts me exactly where I already am ;)

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