SectionHiker’s Gear Closet: Backpacks

SectionHiker’s Gear Closet: Backpacks

I have a collection of backpacks that I use for day hiking, backpacking, bushwhacking, winter peak bagging, and fly fishing. Some of them are general-purpose and some are more specialized for the kinds of activities that I enjoy when I’m out of a trip. 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. Do I really need to own all these backpacks? God no. But I get a lot of pleasure out of using them.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 Backpack

HMG Southwest 2400 Backpack-

The HMG Southwest 2400 is still the pack I use the most frequently for everything from bushwhacks and multi-night backpacking trips. At 32 ounces, the Southwest is not the lightest weight Dyneema DCF backpack you can own, but the solid side pockets, shovel pocket, and hip belt pockets can withstand a lot of abuse. 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. I’m now on my second Southwest 2400 after the first one started to develop holes and loose stitching after 4 years of hard use. For maximum durability, you’ll want to buy the black version of this pack, but I prefer the white color. Read my HMG 2400 Review.

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HMG | REI | Backcountry

Granite Gear Crown2 38L Backpack

GraniteGear Crown2 38
The Granite Gear Crown2 38 is a roll-top backpack with an optional top lid that can be removed if you don’t want to use it. It also has an adjustable length hip belt so I can get a really comfortable fit. I mainly use this pack for fly fishing because the side pockets and compression system make it easy to securely carry several fishing rods at once. I fly fish on mountain streams primarily and there’s a lot of scrambling involved as well as some bushwhacking to get to the best fish habitat. This pack works well in those conditions and is large enough that I can carry overnight gear or waders and other fishing gear with me. Note: The latest version of this pack has the side pockets shown above. Read my Granite Gear Crown2 38 Review.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw | Amazon

Cold Cold World Valdez 40L Backpack

Cold Cold World Valdez 40
The Cold Cold World Valdez is a climbing pack that I mainly use for winter hiking and peak bagging. It a top loader with a floating lid, ski straps, dual compression straps, a crampon holder, two ice ax holders, and daisy chains galore so it’s really optimized for hauling bulking and sharp-pointed winter equipment. It has a simple webbing strap for a hip belt so it can be worn with a climbing harness, but I really just use it for winter hiking. It’s made by a one-person pack company with an international following and is also surprisingly affordable. Read my Cold Cold World Valdez 40L Review.

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Cold Cold World

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 when I want to carry more food, bulkier clothing, and insulation. 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 HMG 3400 Review. 

Check for the latest prince at:
HMG | REI | Backcountry

Cold Cold World Chaos 66L Backpack

Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack
The Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack 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 ax loops with integrated shaft holders. It’s a classic that’s withstood the test of time.  Read my CCW Chaos Backpack Review.

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Cold Cold World

Seek Outside Unaweep 4800

1-Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 Backpack
The Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 is a high volume, external frame backpack that I use 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 Dyneema DCF, 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

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Seek Outside

Accessory Items

I always list the following items with my backpacks because they’re always packed inside or attached to its exterior. I move them from pack to pack when I switch between them.

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 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 static 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

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

Classic Swiss Army Knife

Swiss-Army-Classic-Knife
I always attach a 0.7 ounce Classic Swiss Army Knife 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

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Shoulder Strap Pocket

HMGShoulderPocket

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Shoulder Pocket is the best pocket I’ve found for carrying a smartphone, camera, or a Garmin inReach Explorer+ strapped to my backpack shoulder pads, where I can easily access them during a hike. It’s made with Dyneema DCF, with a waterproof zipper, and seamed taped to make it waterproof. It also has an open exterior pocket which is sized to hold a cell phone, making it easy to check your location if using a Phone GPS App like Gaia or Guthook. This accessory pocket is easy to attach to any backpack with a vertical daisy chain running down the shoulder strap, with a clever buckle system that can span a sternum strap without interfering with it. That is an awesome feature that sets this pocket apart from all the others I’ve used in the past. Read my HMG Shoulder Pocket Review.

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Hyperlite Mountain Gear

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.

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dyneema DCF Stuff Sacks

HMG Stuff sacks
I like using Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s heavy-duty Dyneema DCF stuff sacks 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 fly fishing tackle. 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.

Check for the latest price at:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Last updated 2020.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He also volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.
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13 comments

  1. Do you have a favorite, traditional 3 season day pack, something smaller and without a frame, or do you just default to the HMG 2400 Southwest/whatever you are testing at the moment?

    • Nope. I just use my smaller volume packs (they have compression straps) or load up whatever I’m testing. Also, I day hike in the mountains so my day hikes usually last all day and require extra gear, clothing, water, and food than most people take on day hikes in less remote surroundings.

  2. I can’t believe that I have two more packs than you. Granted four of them are daypacks but I, for one think you have shown great restraint.

    • I make a point to get rid of the packs I review by giving them away to friends or raffling them off to readers. Backpacking gear can take over your living space if you let it. However, a lot of my friends now own more packs than I do. Chuckle.

  3. It must say a lot about HMG that you keep a total of 6 packs and two of them are Southwest models (plus the HMG stuff sacks and Shoulder pocket). I dream of the day when I can justify a 3400 AND a 2400.

    • It’s just an accident that I have both. You can just buy a 3400 and roll the top down it down so that it’s a 2400. The only difference between the two packs, dimensionally, is that the 3400 has a longer extension collar. Otherwise, they’re identical.

  4. I need a hipbelt down to 26″– Currently the kids osprey 50L is fine for 1st day, then I lose girth and have to take up the slack by wrapping clothing items around the belt for the remainder of the trip and which need to be readjusted every 30 mins or so.

    Recommendation???

    • Sew some loops into it to shorten the length or buy a new pack.

    • For Susan: Some brands and models offer interchangeable hipbelts in different sizes and some do not. If a retailer’s website isn’t clear, then try the manufacturer’s website. When I lost some weight, I bought a smaller hipbelt for my Gossamer Gear Mariposa. If you like the Osprey, most Osprey models permit changing the hipbelt. Some brands and models also allow for interchangeable lumbar pads. While those are mostly to reduce lower back strain, they can also help fill out space that would otherwise be filled by a stouter person’s lower body. Be sure to buy from a supplier with a good return policy, to allow for trial and error. Older postings on SectionHiker.com have highlighted backpacks designed specifically for women, which might help you.

  5. When you line your pack with the trash compactor bag, how do you close it at the top? Do they have a drawstring or do you fold them in any particular way?

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