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 for their needs. It makes sense, especially since they 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 light weight 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 2400 Southwest and 3400 Southwest packs 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

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

Sports-Specific Styles

  • Porter
  • Southwest
  • Windrider
  • Junction
  • North Rim
  • Ice Pack
  • 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 3400 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 is 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 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 2400, 3400, and 4400 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 on the North Rim pack 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 these newer fabrics or Hyperlite’s 375D Woven Dyneema/Polyester hybrid packs. For general backpacking use or a single thru-hike, the 50 and 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 1800 series 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.

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

HMG’s 2400 cubic inch 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 3400 packs are dimensioned identically to the 2400 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 to buy one pack, the 3400 is a good choice since you can “turn it into” a 2400 by rolling down the top to shrink the pack’s height and extra volume. The 2400 and 3400 packs use two removable aluminum stays 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 4400 and 5400 cubic inch 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 2400 and 3400 packs which makes them deeper (so they stick behind you more.) With a max (comfortable) load of about 55-60 pounds, they’re best used for gear-intensive multi-sport trips.

The 4400 and 5400 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 2400 and 3400 packs which are available in two different Polyester hybrid denier weights. The 4400 and 5400 packs are only 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 3400 Southwest 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 their 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.

Porter

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.

Southwest

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.

Windrider

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.

Junction

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 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.

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: 8-22-22

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18 comments

  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.
      2) Vertical, but most people just strap bear cans to the top using the top Y strap.

  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.

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