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Hyperlite Mountain Gear Backpacks: How to Choose

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Backpacks How to Choose

Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) specializes in making rugged multi-sport backpacks and shelters with Dyneema Composite Fabrics. Their distinctive white and black backpacks are quite popular and easy to spot on National Scenic Trails and in the backcountry.

One of the things that sets Hyperlite apart from other cottage ultralight gear manufacturers is its multi-sport and multi-season focus. Instead of just building packs for the thru-hiker market, Hyperlite also caters to climbers, skiers, winter hikers, packrafters, and off-trail hikers, with backpacks that are tailored to their needs. It makes sense, especially since the need for lightweight, waterproof, and extremely durable backpacks is even more important for these pursuits.

I’m a fan of Hyperlite’s backpacks because they strike a good balance between lightweight and durability. I’ve owned many ultralight backpacks and most of them have never lasted much more than a year without getting torn to shreds in the mountains where I hike. Some haven’t even lasted a day. But my Hyperlite Southwest 40 and Southwest 55 backpacks have endured several years of near-constant on-trail, off-trail, and winter use. That’s unusual for an ultralight style backpack in my experience and a testament to the durability of Hyperlite’s products which are deliberately overbuilt to make them last.

If you’re interested in buying a Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpack, it can be a little confusing to understand how the packs they sell differ from one another and which one you should get, especially if you can only afford one backpack for multiple sports. While the Hyperlite website makes it look like the company sells a lot of different backpacks, they only make a few basic models which differ in terms of volume, sports-specific styles, and the materials used. Not all packs are available in all materials, which can be hard to suss out on their website.

Material Abbreviations

  • DCH50 which is a 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid
  • DCH150 which is a 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid
  • DCHW which is a 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid

Internal Volumes

  •  30L – 1800 cubic inches
  •  40L – 2400 cubic inches
  •  55L – 3400 cubic inches
  •  70L – 4400 cubic inches
  •  85L – 5400 cubic inches

Sports-Specific Styles

  • Porter
  • Southwest
  • Windrider
  • Junction
  • Unbound
  • North Rim
  • Ice Pack
  • Headwall
  • Prism
  • Summit
  • Stuff
Backpacking the Cape Wrath Trail with a HMG Southwest 3400 Backpack
Backpacking the Cape Wrath Trail in Scotland with an HMG Southwest 55 Backpack

How to Choose the Right Pack Material

HMG makes the upper “body” portion of their packs with three different materials, listed below in increasing order of abrasion resistance, durability, and expense. The lower base portion of their packs is made with a 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid or a 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid, which are both quite durable. Higher denier (abbreviated with a D) fabrics are generally speaking stronger than lower denier ones made with the same materials.

  1. 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid  (abbreviated on the HMG website as DCH50)
  2. 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid (abbreviated on the HMG website as DCH150)
  3. 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid (abbreviated on the HMG website as DCHW)

Most people who are backpacking on trails in the lower 48 can use packs made with the regular 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid. If you thru-hike an extended distance or travel in very rocky terrain where your pack is likely to rub against rock walls a lot (ie. New Hamshire or Maine), you’d be better off getting the tougher and thicker 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid used to make HMG’s black colored packs. Most people don’t need the extra durability provided by the 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid unless they’re mountaineering guides, hard-core backcountry skiers, they do thru-hikes, or they have a trust fund.

The bottom of HMG’s 50D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid and 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid pack models are made with a double-reinforced 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid to provide extra abrasion resistance. HMG’s packs are flat-bottomed and this extra level of protection helps keep the base from getting worn through by abrasion with the ground. The packs that are entirely or partially (usually just the base) made with 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid are by far Hyperlite’s most durable backpacks and tougher than most of the backpack fabrics in use today. (The only comparable fabric is something new called Ultra 400. It’s very similar to 375D Woven Dyneema but made with non-patented UHMWPE fibers instead of Dyneema fibers which are woven together and backed with a waterproof fabric. It’s really only available from custom backpack makers.)

The accent features on HMG’s packs are made with a checkered black Dyneema Hardline, which is nylon reinforced with Dyneema fibers. It’s used as the facing fabric on hip belts and shoulder straps on the 40L, 55L, 70L, and 85L packs, all exterior pockets on the Southwest pack, the side pockets on the Junction pack, and the crampon/tool attachment panels on the Ice Pack. Many other manufacturers use the same material and while it’s reasonably durable, it’s not in the same league as the other materials used to make HMG packs. The accent features, bottom, and high wear areas on the North Rim and Headwall packs are made with tougher stuff, namely 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid, which is the toughest and most durable fabric Hyperlite uses on their packs.

Q: How does the Dyneema/Polyester Hybrid fabric used in Hyperlite’s backpacks rate in terms of durability compared to alternative fabrics such as XPac, EcoPak, Ultra, and Robic Nylon that are gaining traction with other ultralight backpack manufacturers?

In a nutshell, the non-woven 50D and 150D Dyneema/Polyester Hybrid fabrics used by Hyperlite are significantly more durable than the Robic Nylon (also called High Tenacity Nylon) used by other ultralight backpack manufacturers like Gossamer Gear, Zpacks, Granite Gear, and many mainstream backpack manufacturers. They are less durable, particularly in terms of abrasion (caused by rock and sand) than other waterproof laminates like XPac, EcoPak, and Ultra. If you’re extremely hard on your backpack and expect it to last through multiple thru-hikes, then you should look at packs made with Ultra 400 or Hyperlite’s 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid packs. For general backpacking use or a single thru-hike, the 150D Dyneema/Polyester Hybrid fabrics are more than sufficient, they’re waterproof, and all of Hyperlite’s backpacks are seam taped so they don’t leak through the sewing needle holes. While you can wear a hole in a Hyperlite Backpack, you really have to work at it since the bottom fabric is usually a higher denier and reinforced.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Backpacks

How to Choose the Right Volume Pack

HMG classifies their 30L packs as urban or day packs, but they are large enough to be used as minimalist ultralight backpacks if you really want to push the envelope. HMG only offers two backpacks in this size, the Summit Pack and the Stuff Pack. Both are frameless. While the  Summit Pack can carry up to 20-pounds, the Stuff Pack maxes out at 10 pounds because it’s made with a much lighter weight fabric that’s normally used for stuff sacks.  The Summit Pack has a hip belt and daisy chains, which make it possible to add a rear mesh accessory pocket. The Stuff Pack is a minimalist roll-top pack without a hip belt or any daisy chains. HMG also sells two daypacks, the Daylight 17L interior (23L total) and the Elevate 22 (L) which are well-sized for that purpose, but are too small for overnight use. Of those two, the Daylight is much better for everyday use or travel because it has better pockets.

Here’s a list of the body fabrics they’re available in:

HMG’s 40L packs are a good size for thru-hikes with frequent resupplies or backpacking trips up to about 4 days in length (these are approximate guidelines based on a 10-15 lb gear load.)  The 55L packs are dimensioned identically to the 40L ones but have a taller pack bag so you can fill them up with 7 days worth of food or extra-warm gear for winter trips. If you can only afford one pack, the 55L is a good choice since you can “turn it into” a 40L by rolling down the top to shrink the pack’s height and extra volume. The 40L and 55L packs use two removable aluminum stays (the newer Unbound Packs only have one aluminum stay) to transfer weight to the hip belt instead of a full frame. Both have a max load of about 35-40 pounds. Here’s a list of the fabrics they’re available in:

HMG’s 70L and 85L packs are big, expedition-class monsters that you only need if you’re taking very long trips off the grid that requires carrying a lot of food or heavy technical gear. They have a larger circumference than the 40L and 55L packs which makes them deeper (so they stick out behind you more.) With a max (comfortable) load of about 55-60 pounds, they’re best used for gear-intensive multi-sport trips.

The 70L and 85L packs have a frame consisting of an internal frame sheet and two aluminum stays to transfer weight to the hip belt. They’re also only made with a 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid body for increased durability, unlike the 40L and 55L packs which are available in two different Polyester hybrid denier weights. The 70L and 85L packs are available in white or black, although we’d recommend getting them in white because the black material makes the interiors too dark to see your gear inside.

The Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack is a rugged multi-day Dyneema backpack good for thru-hiking and backpacking on trails and off.
The Hyperlight Mountain Gear Southwest 55 Pack is a rugged multi-day Dyneema backpack good for thru-hiking and backpacking on trails and off.

How to Choose the Right Sport-Specific Backpack

HMG tailors each of its backpack models in a number of sports-specific styles, which are enhanced by adding pockets or external attachment points so you can carry sharp or wet things on the exterior of the backpack.


The Porter is a streamlined backpack without any external pockets on the pack body that might catch on things or get torn off making it a good pack for winter sports, climbing, packrafting, bikepacking, and air travel. It has two daisy chains which make it equally easy to lash the pack to packrafts or bikes, or secure gear to the outside, like snowshoes, skis/snowboard, or ice axes. You just need to be a little creative in how you lash stuff on, but the Porter is kind of a blank slate, so it can be set up in many ways and for many different missions.


The Southwest is ideal for off-trail backpacking and bushwhacking when you want side water bottle pockets and a big rear pocket for carrying wet, smoky, smelly, or frequently used items that you don’t want to store inside your backpack.  The Southwest also makes a durable pack for thru-hiking on less traveled trails where overhanging vegetation can rip up exterior mesh pockets. While you can use the Southwest for winter sports, lashing snowshoes to the back of the pack will cover up the back external pocket and make it hard to access.


The Windrider is good for hiking, backpacking, and thru-hiking in very wet climates or very dry ones where you’re going to want to air out or dry wet gear as you hike. The mesh can catch on overhanging vegetation and rip, so it’s less durable than the Southwest in that respect. The mesh is sized the same as the Southwest’s rear and side water bottle pockets.


The Junction is a cross between the Southwest and the Windrider backpacks, with solid side pockets and a mesh front pocket. Hyperlite created it because so many people were asking for more durable side pockets on their Windrider or a mesh front pocket on their Southwest packs. The Junction is great for more humid locales, like the eastern United States where it’s nice to be able to dry gear in the mesh pocket while you hike, but where overgrown vegetation along the sides of a trail might catch and rip a side pocket. Having a mesh pocket also makes it easy to check whether you have all your gear packed properly at a glance, like a wet water filter or footprint, so you don’t have to unpack stuff to check.


The Unbound is an entirely new pack design (as of 2023) in the Hyperlite family and incorporates many of the features available in other popular thru-hiking backpacks, mainly from smaller competitive manufacturers. These include new foam padding in the back panel, a removable hip belt with a V-pull that’s more adjustable than the ones on their other backpacks, a bottom mesh pocket for storing layers or snacks with a trash port where you can stuff used wrappers, removable side compression straps, oversized side bottle pockets, and daisy chains. Chances are a lot of these new features will work themselves into their other backpack models over time. You should get the Unbound if you’re primarily interested in 3-season use, external accessibility (think better pockets) is a priority, and you want to strip some of the removable features to save weight or have a simpler backpack.

The North Rim

The North Rim is a tougher and more durable version of the Southwest backpack, intended for rough and abrasive conditions such as off-trail bushwhacking or canyoneering. While the body of the NorthRim is made with Hyperlite’s 150D Dyneema/Polyester hybrid, the accent pockets on the sides and front of the pack, as well as the hip belt pockets are made with extremely durable 375D Woven Dyneema, which is “way” more durable than the Dyneema/Nylon Grid that Hyperlite uses on their other packs. If you have a history of ripping up packs made with Dyneema Grid, the NorthRim may well be the last backpack you ever buy.


The Headwall is a dedicated ski mountaineering or backcountry ski backpack with external daisy chains, three tiers of side compression straps for attaching skis or split board in A-Frame carry, and a front avalanche/probe pocket. It has a removable hipbelt which is useful, particularly if you wear a climbing harness and a padded back panel to insulate your back from hot water bottles stored inside. The headwall has two ice axe loops and daisy chains on the shoulder straps where you can hang accessory pockets or gear. Like the North Rim, the base and high wear areas of the Headwall are made with 375D Woven Dyneema, which is “way” more durable than the Dyneema/Polyester hybrid that Hyperlite uses on their other packs.

Ice Pack

The Ice Pack is good for ice climbing, ski mountaineering, and winter hiking/backpacking. It has a puncture-proof crampon/dual ice ax holder on the back of the pack so you can keep the sharp or wet points away from the delicate gear inside. If you use crampons or axes a lot, this is a very desirable feature on a winter backpack. The ice pack also has dual daisy chains and side compression straps, giving you a lot of additional external attachment points to carry even more gear. There are also gear loops on the hip belt instead of pockets.

Prism Pack

The Prism Pack is also good for ice climbing, ski mountaineering, and winter hiking but is substantially more durable than the Ice Pack and has a more technical feature set including a top lid with a drawstring closure, a crampon pocket, and a removable hip belt so you can wear it with a climbing harness.

Summit Pack

The Summit Pack is a low-volume (30L) pack good for day hiking and peak bagging when you don’t need to carry an overnight load, although it’s technically large enough that it can also be used for minimalist backpacking and thru-hiking. It comes with daisy chains, elastic cord, and dual ice ax loops so you can lash clothing or gear to its exterior. It is frameless though, with a minimal hip belt, so limited to about 20-pound loads.

Stuff Pack

The Stuff Pack is more of an urban or travel daypack (30), much like the Summit, but without any external attachment points. At 30L, it is technically large enough for minimalist backpacking and thru-hiking but has no frame or hipbelt. It is made with the same fabric as Hyperlite’s stuff sacks so it is limited to about 10-pound loads. It can also be used as a pack liner/town laundry bag on resupply days.

Torso Lengths and Sizes

It can be difficult to find any documentation of the torso lengths that correspond to Hyperlite’s backpack sizes on their website. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Size Small: 15″-17″
  • Size Medium: 17″-19″
  • Size Large: 19″-21″
  • Size Tall: 21″+

What happens if your torso length is on the boundary of two different sizes? Most people size up to the larger size since it ensures you’ll get some load transfer to the hip belt. That won’t happen if the pack is too small for you.

See Also:

Disclosure: Hyperlite Mountain Gear has provided the author with sample products for review in the past.

Last updated: 8-21-23

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  1. Oh my god! You’ve digested everything on the entire Hyperlite website into one page. Fantastic job.

  2. They also patch up just fine with pack tape. My sw3400 has got me through some pretty narlie stuff for the last 6 years.

  3. Great summary article Phil!

  4. Really great write-up here, Philip. One thing I was surprised when I got my Southwest 3400, was that their pack volume specs are for the main compartment, so they actually hold a lot more than they spec compared to other companies that take side pockets into account for volume. The 3400 holds significantly more volume than my Zpacks Arc Haul and Arc Blast.

    Unfortunately, I personally had major issues trying to like the pack, and thankfully I got it at REI so I can return it even though it is used. It would be cool if they offered some adjustability in the shoulder straps along with some load lifters. I also noticed that some of the seams were very sloppy and not aligned. The frame stays were sewn a half inch off-set from the shoulder straps sideways. I’m actually liking my Arc Haul a bit more for winter use, even though it isn’t as durable. Shame, cause the HMG Southwest is one of the best-looking packs on the market.

  5. A good overview or HMG’s offerings..thx. But.. Bear canisters? What fits where? If you buy a 3400 variant, nominally a 7 day pack, will a BV500, nominally a 7 day bear can, fit inside, horizontally or vertically. or must it be strapped on somehow? If the latter, how well does that work. Seems like there is a single top strap with Y connection that looks a bit precarious for that purpose. Other options?

    • Bear canister fit vertically or strapped to the top. The latter works fine if the bag below it is fullish so you have a flattish surface. Other options – bungie cords. Don’t be bashful – tie/tape it on anyway you can.

  6. Phil,

    Thanks for your very thorough review. I have two questions:

    1) How would you compare the COMFORT of a Hyperlite 3400 Southwest pack with a ULA Circuit backpack, aside from the fact that they have different capacities?

    2) Would you know if the 3400 Southwest pack can accommodate the Bearikade Weekender bear canister (9″ Dia x 10-½” Long?

    • 1) ULA has slightly more hip belt padding, but neither has much. The thing with the ULA hipbelt is that it has two straps, so you have better control on the shape of the hipbelt, since you can adjust the tension high and/or low. Even though they’ve added a two-tiered V-pull to the new unbound backpack, the ULA hip belt is still much better. Fussier to adjust, but much better
      2) Vertical, but most people just strap bear cans to the top using the top Y strap.

    • You can add a canister harness if strapping on top of pack to stabilize it better, company Simple Outdoor Solutions makes ones specifically for Bearikade canisters. Have not used them, I prefer canister inside pack. Maybe Philip has experience/opinion on them. I really like my 3400 Southwest pack, unfortunately Weekender canister takes up quite a bit of room vertically in the pack, just have to pack around it.

  7. thanks for making all this information easy, great wright up. as i am looking into a new pack and my wife will devorce me if i buy another pack just to tear it to shreds in a season. i killed 2 in the last 3 years. i am concidering the windrider 2400 or the CTUG 45. i would love your insite on this. thanks

    • I’ve shredded a lot of backpacks in my time (most of them actually) but the hyperlite packs have stood up to tremendous abuse from me, especially from New England bushwhacking, which is insanely tough. If you get one, I’d wouldn’t get the windrider, but a southwest which has solid pockets because the mesh will tear eventually. Same comment about the CTUG, but there you also have extended delivery times to deal with since they’ve really slowed their output.

  8. Thanks, I needed this material guide.

  9. I really appreciate all of this information. Are any of the 4400 series better at having gear strapped to them? I have been using an external frame pack from 1973 and am very used to strapping tent above and bag/pad below. I understand more modern bags are designed,to have more materials inside the main body, but I wonder of it’s possible to augment that with a built in adjustable strap or even external strap threaded through a loop on the pack? My pad setup is a bit bulky.

    • Many modern bags are designed to have more gear inside, but some don’t. The 4400 porter is your best bet in that department. Just be aware that these HMG packs do not have load lifters. Personally, I think you should look at a “modern” external frame pack from Seek Outside, They wear like an internal frame pack, but these are indeed external frames and you can really load them up.

  10. Wow, thank you so much – I found the Hyperlite website pretty overwhelming and you broke things down so clearly. Now I know exactly what pack I want for my backpacking needs and style preferences – the black 3400 Junction! The only question I have is about rain covers, which I might need once in awhile – if I want to get a separate rain cover for my pack, is there a brand you recommend that fits these packs well?

    • You really don’t need a rain cover for these packs. They are effectively waterproof, although I would still advise you to line the inside with a white trash compactor bag. it makes finding stuff in a black backpack much easier in addition to a little emergency moisture protection in case you fall into a stream.

    • I have the HMG Windrider. I have about 600 miles on it. I’ve never had water inside it. I still use a pack liner, just in case.

  11. Thank you for writing this informative article! I’m debating on whether the SW or Windrider makes more sense. I’m worried that the mesh pockets will rip on the Windrider, yet I’m also worried that the solid pockets on the SW will catch and hold rain water/dust/debris. Do the SW pockets have holes on the bottom to let water/dust/debris drain?

    • Go with the SW. It has drain holes and will easily stand up to anything you throw at it. Mesh pockets are stupid (low durability) and nothing dries in them anyway. I’d add, the NorthRim is even tougher, and I’d get that if you want to put aside any durability concerns. That pack is indestructible! It’s basically a SW with woven Dyneema – which is much tougher. that what they use on their other packs.

  12. I don’t really agree that something as tough as the woven dyneema 375D fabric is only for mountain guides or trust fund babies. I’m neither and bought a pack with an Ultra 800 bottom + exterior pockets and Ultra 400 body from McHale Alpine Packs. It weighs a bit more than I envisioned (about 6 lbs for a 100L pack) but it’s really nice to know I don’t have to baby it and it’ll probably be used for 10+ years of mountaineering trips.

    I think it also bears mentioning that for a lot of folks, HMG packs are terrible when loads are above about 30 lbs. The lack of load lifters and “minimalist” suspension is crazytown bad design but they tout it as a feature of their genius designs when in reality they made a poor choice and don’t want to own it (especially the load lifters). That is basically per Dan McHale, who’s been designing dyneema bags for a lot longer. The Prism was my first mountaineering bag but only use it for day loads or maybe a very carefully packed summer overnight bag. I’d much rather use the McHale with it’s perhaps overbuilt materials and suspension for any serious weight. It really feels like the load disappears compared to HMG, which feels like a small but strong toddler is yanking on my traps :)

    • How much did you pay for your custom McHale Pack, how many trips did you have to take to have it fitted, and how long did you have to wait to have it made?

      easy to throw stones…

      • I paid $1200 and while that’s a haircut, I feel like it’ll outlast a Hyperlite undergoing similar use by at least 3X. That’s based on the number of HMG climbing packs I see on OfferUp with holes in them already and my intuitive sense. I do wish the upcharge for Ultra was less, but I doubt Dan is making a fortune off these packs. Maybe the material cost of UHMWPE will come down with recent changes in that corporate realm.

        I happen to live in the same city as the pack maker so it took 2 in-person visits to dial in the sizing and he paid attention to every little detail, and also let me make numerous annoying little changes along the way. I had to wait about 10 weeks but Dan gives you a demo pack to use while you wait, so the waitl time was functionally zero. He also lets/expects you to make changes to the custom pack based on use of the demo, which was really nice.

        I didn’t mean to sound snooty or anything re: throwing stones, I think these two types of packs maybe just serve two different purposes. I wouldn’t expect most HMG customers to need as much bag as I was looking for, but I also am a little irked by HMG’s marketing (specifically with the Prism and Ice packs) because I don’t think they’re really designed or built sufficiently for big mountains and big loads. The ultralight deal goes a bit too far in its claims sometimes, IMO. But if they’re accessible to more people and get them out climbing compared to a $1000+ custom pack, that’s great!

  13. David R Swinehart

    Excellent Reveiw! I have used the 2400 (40L) Southwest & 3400 (55L) Northrim for many years. Living in Colorado I have used both packs extensively for backpacking and mountaineering in all seasons (& in the Utah Canyons). The packs have worked very well for me and are amazinginly durable, especially given how light they are for their size (the Northrim is a work-horse in the canyons and when bushwhacking). With 35 lbs or less, which is almost all the time, the backpacks ride very comforatably, even though the belt and shoulder straps are fairly thin and there are no load lifters, etc. I used the Norhtrim on the PCT and setting the pack down in the dirt and mud for such a long trip, the white belt pockets and back large pocket got filthy! I didn’t pay much attention to it until I brought it into a restuarant on resupply stop – the waitress told me the pack was almost as much of a dirtbag as I was! When I got home, I washed it with a mild soap and garden hose and it mostly cleaned up. The Southwest black pockets do not get nearly as dirty looking. I keep looking at all the new backpacks and materials hitting the market and seeing them on-trail, but nothing has convienced me to move away from Hyperlite packs. One question: I have had a difficult time coming up with a system to properly carry a large bear cannister with the 3400 Northrim. Do you have any ideas? Would the 70L be a better choice (I could use on winter trips too)?

    • Try carrying the bear canister empty under the Y strap and carry your food inside the pack in a stuff sack. Then transfer it to the bear canister in camp.

      • David R Swinehart

        Phil, thanks for the great tip. One thing I have found is when my pack is very full on a long section between resupply, the Y-Strap is not long enough to wrap around the cannister, whether it is full or empty. Hyperlite doesn’t appear to offer strap extentions. Have you experienced this problem? I have also had problems with the cannister falling out when mounted on top and if this happens in the wrong location, the cannister could be lost. In any event, having an empty, lighter cannister on top would help it from falling out and it would improve balance, etc. I love my 2 Hyperlite packs (I am leaving with one in a few minutes to go and hike a 76 mile section of the Colo Trail), but I hate using them when a cannister is required. Thanks again.

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