As backcountry skiers, what we carry and how we carry it translates into how comfortable we are and how safely and efficiently we travel. Be it sidecountry, ski mountaineering, or multi-day ski touring, we are always using a backpack of some sort.
It’s not a contest, but whoever carries the lightest and cleanest kit, gets the unspoken award. (Does anyone else play that game?)
My contender: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter. Fighting weight for the 40L pack: 709 grams.
The Porter is a simple, white colored, top loading, backpack made of 50D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid fabric (formerly called Cuben Fiber). In essence, it’s lightweight, waterproof, and carries gear well.
I’ve been putting the Porter and it’s Hyperlite Mountain Gear kin through the wringer for ski specific use for the last 5 years or so (250+ days per year), and I’ve definitely taken to liking it. A lot. It comes in 4 torso lengths, and 3 volume sizes (40L, 55L, and a 70L version).
The company is based in Biddeford, Maine, where they make all of their products there in house. Hyperlite Mountain Gear specializes in rucksacks, but also offers an assortment of other lightweight Dyneema® products such as shelters and stuff sacks.
The HMG Porter strikes a nice balance between utility, comfort, durability, and weight. To begin, these rucksacks just feel comfortable — plain and simple. Friends that use these packs also concur. That’s because four back panel size options (S, M, L, Tall) suit your body type.
The waist belt and shoulder straps are ergonomic and wide, with just the right amount of padding. However, like most simple, alpine climbing style backpacks, how you pack your kit is important. This is especially true when carrying heavier loads. I find 50lbs is still relatively comfortable when the pack is filled carefully. That’s commendable given the sub 2 lb. weight of the backpack itself.
The 40L Porter comes with two side compression straps on each side, while the 55L and 70L options have three compression straps per side. There is one small, zippered internal pocket, and the main compartment is sealed with a roll top hook-loop closure, akin to a dry bag. Top compression of the Porter is achieved via an additional 2cm wide webbing strap in a Y configuration.
The proprietary material, a 50D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid fabric, was initially developed for use in sailboat sails. It’s an incredibly strong fabric, and also importantly, waterproof. For skiers, it’s a nice advantage to have a rucksack that keeps your gear dry during bouts of heavy precip, and during long days in the field where your backpack is repeatedly set in the snow.
Additionally, there are two thin, aluminum poles that feed into sleeves in the back panel. They provide additional rigidity and support when carrying heavier loads. These are easily removable.
Note, there is not a separate shovel / probe pocket on the HMG Porter. In my opinion, a large avy tool pocket might be nice, especially when digging lots of snow pits throughout the day, but I don’t find it essential. Worth the weight? Possible, but how about the addition of a skin / crampon pocket as well? The thing is, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and HMG has drawn the line with a “less is more” design philosophy.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear offers the option of an additional a “ski mod” for an extra $100, which includes using fully woven Dyneema® to reinforce the side panels and bottom of the pack, and also includes fixed ski tail holsters on each side. They also offer the option of gear loops on the waist belt rather than of the small pockets that come with the stock edition.
I add a 1/4 length Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest to the interior of the back panel, and tie on a couple short loops of cordelette that serve as traditional ice axe / gear loops. The Porter packs also have daisy chains sewn up the sides for all sorts of custom configuration options (like a snowboard carry system for instance).
Rucksacks take the cake as the piece of gear that is the easiest to modify, customize and tailor to fit your specific backcountry ski touring needs. So by all means, don’t be too shy about getting out the sewing awl or the scissors.
Once You Go Light, You Can’t Go Back
Are the people skiing with the lightest and cleanest kits the people having the most fun? Not necessarily, but it’s possible.
As a ski guide, what my friends and clients carry in their backpacks is something I take note of. And something I think really limits the average Joe and Jane backcountry skier from skiing bigger lines and link ups, and thus having more fun! Perhaps a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter could help get the ball rolling in in the low mass direction. Because after your ski/boot/binding setup, your backpack is the piece of equipment that is easiest to save weight with.
If you can save 2+ lbs. on EVERY tour, just in the backpack itself, then that can be a huge help, especially when you are also carrying a rope, large first aid kit, sat phone, radio etc.
It’s said that “the more you know, the less you need to carry.” I’d agree with that to the extent of being practical and not absurd. Along those lines, adopting the go-light philosophy is a process, not an overnight deal. Should everyone adopt the old frontier adage of carrying only what you can carry at a full run? Probably not. But it might be good to consider that perspective from time to time (especially, if like us up here in Montana, we might play tag with a griz now and then).
Beau Fredlund is a backcountry ski guide and photographer based in Cooke City, Montana. He can be found on Instagram at: @bfredlund, and is the owner and lead guide of Yellowstone Ski Tours, www.yellowstoneskitours.com, a ski guiding service that focuses on leading trips in Yellowstone National Park.
I have three Hyperlite Ice packs (okay,okay, I might have a problem. . . ) They are nearly identical to the Porter with the addition of a reinforced front panel for attaching crampons. I used the 70L version for a couple of climbing/ski mountaineering trips in the Ruth Gorge. Carried a huge pile of gear shockingly comfortably up to the Root Canal a couple of times. Also packs down well when only carrying a day load so it’s not ridiculous. Love them!
I bought a Cilogear 30z ski pack with woman’s hip belt for my wife for her 70th birthday. It can be used with a weight of 1.5-2 lbs, waterproof, with an avy gear pocket. How do you think the Cilogear compares to the Hyperlite? I’ve never seen a hyperlite. My wife loves her Cilogear. I might be buying a new pack soon that needs to be light weight, more voluminous than my Osprey Code 22 but much lighter than my Deuter Guide 35+. Do you ever wish you had a front loader?
So without an avy gear pocket or separate place to stash skins, how do you realistically keep the rest of your kit dry and happy dumping those things in with the rest? How about getting to shovel and probe in an emergency? I’m tempted by the HMG pack so I’m curious how you address these things.
Here, when we use single compartment packs, we carry a skin bag if we think wet is an issue, but often the skins are actually quite dry and we just fold them up and stash, or perhaps they’re even inside our jacket staying warm. We don’t dig many snow pits, if so we shake the snow off the shovel before stashing. In emergency, everything is in there, easily accessed, just not in a separate compartment. I understand the tool compartments but for many folks they’re over rated in importance. I’m more concerned if my pack has small pockets on the hip belt, for incidentals. Lou
That pack looks excellent. Is the Dyneema still waterproof after extended use? It would be interesting to see pictures of the typical pack contents and how it’s loaded.
I have a a 30L and 45L w/nwd packs from cilo gear. They looks fairly similar. 1 and 1.5 lbs respectively striped down. Although w/NW d is very water resistant I am not sold on any of these dynemya packs being waterproof. The stiches are not taped. This being said I have never had a problem with anything getting wet. On long wet days when it’s snowing sometimes the w/nwd will be wet but everything inside is still dry. Although there is no specific Avy tool pocket the blade of my G3 spade tec shovel which is quite flat fits great inbetween the foam bivy pad slot. Can anyone give real info on how water resistant dynemya and non woven dynema is??
As Lou said, gear storage is fairly straight forward. I put my shovel handle and probe in the corners against my back and the shovel blade against the front of the pack. Skins just get flopped on top of everything else. Any water sensitive items in my back are packed in at least water resistant stuff sacks.
The Dyneema fabric it self is water proof. That is from the nature of the lamination process and is this proven to be very durable.
Ty and See, I’ll second Dyneema’s durability as it relates to water resistance. Consistent over the long run.
Jon, I am with you on avalanche rescue gear configuration: shovel handle and probe are stowed in the corners (kept in place by the Ridgerest pad), with the shovel blade against the front of the pack.
And agree that 70L HMG packs are awesome for expeditions. Shockingly comfortable while caring big loads, yet they pair down wonderfully for technical climbing.
Andy Carey, I like the classic, top loading style. However, as a photographer, I’d also like to see if HMG could integrate back panel zipper access to the main compartment. I typically wear an additional camera bag slung over one shoulder, but on steeper skiing and climbing routes, it’s nice to have your camera rig stowed inside your backpack. Back panel access could be a relatively quick and efficient way to access everything. (without adding much additional weight)
I understand that some people like to keep things organized. If this is important to you, you should have compartments. Having things the way you like them is not trivial and is worth the ounces if it’s your style. But in most cases having separate compartments adds little benefit other than a sense of order.
For years I have used packs with a single compartments as well as floating lid with a pocket (except for my airbag pack, which I wish had the same configuration). My shovel and probe always go in the same place, so when I open the pack I can shove my hand in and pull them out without thinking. On the way down I put skins inside my jacket, either in a pocket (one of my jackets has a big, zipper-less pocket perfect for skins) or just floating on top of my hip belt. This way I don’t have to fiddle with my pack as much, and keeping the skins warmer helps the glue stick better if I’ll be using them again. On balmy spring days when I’m skiing jacket-less I’ve used a strap designed for securing a rope under the lid to hold skins. It’s quick and keeps things dry.
Again, I’m not trying to bash packs with compartments, but if anyone is worried that a pack without pockets will lead to soaked gear or confusion, your fears are unfounded.
I borrowed my son’s HMG pack last year to climb Moose’s Tooth (because it was the pack I found most comfortable) after having clavicle surgery. I was thoroughly impressed with it, wishing I had my own for ski alpinism. Jazzed to see someone else feels the same way. Less is Best!
May I recommend trying stashing skins in the side zip/vents of your snowpants sometimes? I started doing so a few years ago and rarely put them anywhere else now (Thanks for the idea Beau!). I also find that my skins just don’t get other things that wet, to the point of frustration or causing problems. The saved weight seems worth the trade off. I do however have a friend that used the gear loops along the sides to attach a crampon pouch to the pack, and he puts his skins in there. He likes that system a lot. I’ve seen others put skins in the crampon attachment on the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack as well. I skied in that pack for two years before switching over to a Porter— worked great.
I like to be organized, and have actually not found the open compartment pack to be less organized. In some ways I think it forces me to be more organized. I have a few small stuff sacks that I carry (one for food/snacks, small first aid kit in the other), and that seems to keep things orderly when wedged/arranged between the shovel blade and back panel/foam.
I too use a custom cut piece of foam on the back panel to assist with organization and hold my shovel handle and probe in place.
CiloGear packs have already been mentioned, so I’ll throw out another pack to consider in this category: the Arc’teryx Alpha 45. While not made with Dyneema, or as adaptable as the CiloGear models, the Alpha 45 is great “less is more” ski touring pack. I switch from using an avy bag in the winter to the Alpha 45 for spring touring and mountaineering day trips.
Cons: Expensive; one size; need to add your own ski carry straps; doesn’t carry well beyond 33L of gear even though it can extend; waist belt is just stiff webbing.
Pros: 650g (!); comfortable and carries/skis really well; the waterproof material is durable and stiff (the tube stays upright when loading/unloading); has a nice external zippered compartment with a key clip; crampon and ice axe carry work really well and the crampon cinch cord can compress the pack; has a unique combo of an internal roll top nested within a cinch top, so it creates a nice “compartment” for skins or the extra length of glacier rope.
Andrew, excellent point about Arcteryx. I do like the Dyneema packs because they’re not going to rip open while butt sliding down a scree field. But then, not everyone butt slides down scree fields. Lou
Anyone care to chime in on the exact technical differences of Dyneema, Non-Woven Dyneema and Woven / Non Woven Dyneema. My understanding is W/NW Dyneema is slightly heavier but tougher than woven dyneema. I have always been a little confused by the different types.
For multi-day trips I use a pack from a UK company called Crux, specifically the AK47. Made from a kevlar/cordura fabric it is a little under 300g more but the hip belt, shoulder straps and back pad are simply the most ergonomic and comfortable I have ever experienced on any pack. This comes from having sculpted padding and a removable alloy frame ( titanium on the latest version) that is contoured to follow the curves of the spine.
I’ve used the same pack now for over 10 years with little signs of wear and fully expect another 10 from it. Designed as a stripped down alpine climbing pack it fits perfectly into ski touring. Not cheap, or easy to come by, but over the expected life of the pack it was money well spent.
TyFalk, here is a good link to Dyneema fibers and fabrics:
The weight is beautiful, I just wonder about the durability of a pack like this.
Will it rip after extended use? Will the straps hold or pull out eventually? Can I trust it with my skis on it at times when it will be under stress for extended periods and you absolutely can’t afford a pack failure?
Also, philosophically, is the weight savings worth it? Heavier packs also carry loads better, more balanced and are more rigid. This can make a pack feel lighter anyways. Secondly, these single duffle style packs mean there is no easy access to tools. And so tools take longer to acquire affecting safety delivery.
Wondering if anyone can speak to the value of adding the “ski specific” mod to the pack for $100. Is the standard fabric going to get shredded from ski edges?
Nice write up! I am curious if you knew of dyneema pack with a gear pouch on the outside? You know how Pat and I like to have our shovels and tools super accessible:)
Little late to this thread, but seriously considering either the HMP Ice pack or the Arcteryx Alpha FL 45 as a lighter, weather-resistant alpine and ski mountaineering pack up here in the Cascades/PNW.
Is there any way to try HMG packs for fit/comfort before buying (or just hope torso measurement is good when they send it)?
I’d second Marc’s question about whether the “ski specific” modification option that HMG offers is worth the extra cash?
Andrew… on the Arcteryx pack, I was almost sold on that (my friend raves about it), but can barely find any info on people successfully rigging side straps to efficiently carry A/T skis on multi-day tours. How did you set your up and are they still working well on longer uphill climbs? Thanks.
Anyone care to weigh in on how this pack carries skis sans the ski strap mod the company offers? I’ve used the Ascensionist and it does okay without dedicated ski straps. Would be nice to support a small builder however we WA folks sometimes haul skis on our back for a while…thanks.
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