(Originally published in February 2016)
I’ve been looking forward to getting this review published since November when a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Pack arrived at my door. Seeing HMG’s new re-brand and website launch today was the kick in the pants I needed to finish this review. So here it is!
As soon as I took it out of the plastic I knew I was holding a well designed pack. A 55 liter technical backpack that felt indestructible in hand but only weighed 34 ounces, made out of waterproof highly durable fabric. At the risk of sounding cliche… it felt like the future of high end backpacks had arrived. A month later it waited patiently by the door for its first trip up Mount Washington:
I’ve since enjoyed a dozen days of ice climbing and a couple back-country ski tours with this pack and have formed more than just a first impression. I want to share with my readers what makes this pack… and HMG in general… one of the coolest outdoor gear companies I’ve come across.
Only 6 years old, Hyperlite Mountain Gear has quickly risen to compete with the best of the best in the outdoor gear industry. Their philosophy boils down to making bombproof technical gear that will perform in the worse possible conditions outdoor recreationalists throw themselves at. Design feedback from a diverse team of ambassadors goes right to head of the company. From bombproof HMG shelters to technical basic essentials like stuff sacks this company doesn’t take outdoor function for granted. To top it off, their products are all made in good ole’ USA, only a few hours away in the great state of Maine!
So what really sets this company apart from most competitors? It’s obvious it’s their choice of fabric for their products. While most companies use various “deniers” of affordable rip-stop nylon and Cordura, Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses Dyneema® + Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (Formerly Cuben Fiber) Technology to provide incredibly lightweight, long lasting, water & abrasion resistant products. Read more on these materials here.
I went with this model as I wanted a pack I could guide both ice climbing and back-county skiing with. For those end uses there are some differences in how the pack performs that I will dive into, but first the manufacturer supplied description and specs:
“We designed the 3400/55L series of Ice Packs to function perfectly for passionate adventurers trudging through snow, climbing big ice or alpine lines and spending multiple days in wintry landscapes. Streamlined and minimalist, this ultralight backpack becomes a seamless extension of the athlete wearing it, enabling light and fast alpine ascents. Achieve your optimal self on your one- or two-day FA in the Ruth, Alaska or while attempting a Teton’s Grand Traverse-style link up. Given a four-star review in Rock & Ice magazine’s 2013 Photo Annual issue, this pack offers exactly what you need and nothing more (i.e. no frills, gizmos or the latest trending colors). Made from 100% waterproof Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber), the 3400 Ice Pack is highly durable and weatherproof. Use it with our Stuff Sacks for a nearly perfect waterproof kit.
We can custom fit this pack for skiers by adding reinforced Dyneema® side panels, bottom and ski holsters.
- Made in Maine – External crampon and ice axe attachment system
- Four external daisy chains
- Removable, contoured aluminum stays
- Dyneema® Hardline shoulder straps with 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
- 1/4” foam back panel pad
- Compression System
- Roll-Top closure system with side compression straps for vertical compression
- Four side compression straps for horizontal compression
- Top Y-strap compression — Designed to secure gear
- Internal zippered pocket
- Dyneema® Hardline hip belt with 1/8” closed cell rigid foam, 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
- Hip belt option with gear loops or zippered pockets with #5 YKK zipper
- Adjustable sternum strap with self-tensioning elastic
- Proprietary seam sealing on all side seams and behind all sewn-on pack features”
Weight: 2.16 lbs | 34.6 oz | 981g
Load capacity: 25 – 40 lbs
- Body: 50D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid
- Bottom: Double reinforced 150D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid
- Crampon Patch: Dyneema® Hardline
- Interior: 3400 cu. in. (55L)
- Top Circumference: 40” (95.3cm)
- Bottom Circumference: 33.5” (85.1cm)
- Height (fully unrolled): 34” (72.6cm)
- Back Width: 10.5” (26.7cm)
So how does it perform? Well the closest pack I have extensive experience with that I could compare it to is my long loved Wild Things Guide Pack. Rugged? Check. Streamlined? Check. Lightweight? Check. Where this pack strides forward is in volume. Weighing only 6 ounces more than my 1600cu. in. Wild Things pack this pack more than doubles capacity. I find this extra room, even for a day of accessible cragging, to be a boon for two reasons;
1. It swallows all my gear without me getting OCD about my packing. While I start off a trip super well organized at the end of the day when you’re ready to beat feet to the car I just want to dump my gear in without trying to “put the puzzle back together”. This pack opens up wide so I can dump my harness, helmet, and rack in and start making tracks to the trail-head!
2. Unplanned bivy. While I carry an AMK SOL Emergency Bivy Sack on every trip the 34 inches of unrolled length, half of which have has 1/4″ foam, would help insulate someone spending an extra night out.
I put together a quick video the other day showing what I typically pack for a day of ice climbing, so if you want a closer idea of what I shove in this pack check out this clip:
But how does it climb?
I’ve lead over 4000 feet of technical ice climbing up to Grade 4 wearing this pack so far this season. That’s enough to know it climbs well.
The real beauty of this pack is it can haul 40 pounds of climbing gear to the route comfortably, then cinch down into a little streamlined assault pack that you can forget you are wearing. While the waist belt is remove-able I just opt for reverse clipping it when it’s time to harness up.
If I were to give this pack a grade based on end use it would look something like this:
Ice Climbing/Mountaineering A+++
Back-country Skiing B-
Ski Mountaineering A+
So why the lower grade for BC skiing? Well, because you can’t have one backpack that is awesome at everything. You just can’t. In the case of back-country skiing I want those convenient features like fleece lined goggle pockets and zippered compartmental access. A dedicated snow safety tool pocket is a must for those who ski in avalanche terrain a lot.
But you know what? Most great BC ski packs suffer in volume when it comes to Ski Mountaineering. Need to toss in some crampons and a bit of rope for when the terrain you’re accessing is getting a little gnarly? This pack has you covered. Heading into Baxter State Park for a few days of long alpine routes & maybe a ski descent off Hamlin Peak?
This is the pack I would bring.
Basically, if the route is demanding and technical in nature this is the pack to arm yourself with. If you’re sticking to wearing your skis in terrain under 40 degrees you might be better off with a dedicated touring pack like the Patagonia SnowDrifter.
But if you’re swinging the tools and getting into steep technical terrain this pack is an excellent choice.
I’m excited to get some ski mountaineering trips in with this pack over the next few years. While this winter has really lagged in the Northeast I’m content knowing this pack will long outlive this El Nino by a decade or two. I’m also keen to test out more of HMG’s product line. If you are in the market for a top of the line ice climbing/mountaineering pack, this is definitely a company you should be looking at.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
DISCLAIMER: While HMG supplied me with this pack for the review my opinions stated above are 100% mine, derived from 2 decades of wearing out packs ice climbing and skiing in the North East. Affiliate links help support this blog.