Durable, waterproof, and comfortable, the ultralight, Cuben Fiber Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 weighs just 2 lbs, but sacrifices zero performance. It's hands down the best backpacking bag you can buy.
What It's Supposed to Do? This is an ultralight backpack designed for adventurers who are looking to shave weight without sacrificing features and durability. At 55L, it has plenty of capacity for longer trips with fewer resupplies (such as the Pacific Crest Trail) and can hold a full-size bear can vertically. The Southwest differentiates from HMG's flagship pack, the Windrider, by using a solid material for the external pouches (the Windrider uses mesh instead.) This slight change makes it well suited for backpacking in the American southwest, because it's less likely to snag on the ever present chaparral.
The HMG Southwest utilizes a roll top design with side compression straps.
How It's Supposed To Do It? The biggest contributor to the Southwest's light weight and durability is its use of the space-age material Cuben Fiber . It's 15 times stronger than steel, is stronger and lighter than Kevlar, and doesn't lose it' technical integrity when folded or crinkled. Cuben Fiber is also 100 percent waterproof, meaning gear doesn't wet out or absorb water weight. HMG's packs use a rip-stop Cuben/Polyester hybrid material that offers greater abrasion resistance than Cuben Fiber alone, while remaining light. In order to provide support, the pack uses two removable, internal aluminum stays.
The Southwest has a rolltop closure, Y-strap top compression (which can be used for securing a sleeping pad or a jacket,) and zippered, water-resistant hip belt pouches. By using lightweight, but strong materials and a simplified design the Southwest manages to weigh in at exactly two pounds — half the weight of some similar-capacity packs. Recommended carrying range for the 3400 is 20-40 lbs.
Hip belt pockets can be opened with one hand and are large enough to hold a few meal bars each.
How Does It Perform? The first thing that I noticed about this pack is how durable the Cuben Fiber felt. I had seen several photos of the pack online before seeing it in person, and it doesn't appear that sturdy in photos (probably due to my lack of experience with Cuben Fiber). However, the material feels substantially thick, and like it could take some abuse. My initial in-person impressions were held true once I got it out on the trail.
I tested the pack while out on a couple of different trips in the Sierra Nevada, the latter of which was an 80-mile long variation of the High Sierra Trail. Even when loaded with close to 40 pounds starting out (a week's worth of food, camera gear, and backpacking gear) the pack was incredibly comfortable.
As with any pack, fit is key, so make sure to properly measure your torso and size the pack accordingly.
The cylindrical shape of the Southwest makes it easy to pack. The rolltop has a sturdy velcro seal, folds over, and clips in on the sides, allowing for a very secure closure. The more packs that I use, the more I'm learning to love rolltops. Rolltops are easier to open and close than packs with a top lid; they are more streamlined too.
Side pockets on the Southwest are large enough to hold a couple of 1.5L tall water bottles in each, or a combination of items including a Joby Gorillapod.
The front and side pockets are ample in size and have a stretchy elastic band on the top to securely store items. I could fit two 1.5L water bottles in a single side pocket. The hip-belt pockets are large enough for 4-5 meal bars each and can be opened and closed with one hand.
That being said, organization plays a key role in successfully utilizing this pack. I found myself stuffing a ton of smaller items into the front pouch because it's rather large — but then I'd have issues finding specific items without having to dig through everything else. Once I started grouping my smaller miscellaneous items better, it became less of an issue. Definitely a case of user error.
At $310, the Southwest costs about 50 percent more than similar capacity backcountry packs. The premium price is a definite consideration for purchasing this pack, but in this case, the saying is true: You get what you pay for. All HMG packs are handmade in Maine, USA.
The Southwest was still comfortable even when loaded down with 35-40 lbs of food, backpacking gear, and camera equipment.
Adventure Ready? When you're counting ounces, whether for an ultralight backpacking or climbing objective, lightening your Big Three (Shelter, Pack, Sleeping System) is the quickest way to shed weight. The Southwest definitely lends itself to that process, while providing tangible benefits achieved only by using the most advanced materials available. After dragging the HMG Southwest through hundreds of miles in the Sierra Nevada, I can definitely say that it's the best pack I've ever used. It's comfortable, durable, lightweight, and looks great. This is my new go-to.
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