"I have the perfect pack and everyone should just buy this one."
- No One. Ever.
A little context: before I left for my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, I bought, tested, and returned several different backpacks. I tried out different models from Osprey, Arc'teryx, and Granite Gear, before finally settling on a pack from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. The strange thing is that I had my eye on an HMG pack for a long time, but just couldn't get myself to believe that such a minimal pack would be enough for something like the PCT. All the other packs I had tried out had clever compartments, compression strap strategies, fancy suspension systems, and pockets for, well, everything you could possibly want to carry. They had checked all the boxes for all the features for the average customer.
A thru-hiker is not your average customer.
By contrast, the HMG Windrider 2400 seemed to have only one checkbox: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It had no load lifters, no hipbelt adjusters, no external zip pouches, no lid with secrect chambers, no fancy-schmancy suspension system, no meteorologist-designed airflow system, no isolated sleeping bag compartment, no trekking-poles-only lashing, and no gyroscopic hipbelt.
More features, more weight, more confusion
The Windrider is a single 39L main compartment, with basic shoulder straps, a basic hipbelt with small-ish pockets, two mesh pouches on each side for water bottles, and a larger mesh pouch on the back for random junk. That's it. Yeah, it has an internal mesh pouch for a water bladder, but it's really small and water bladders are for day hikers anyway, right?
When I loaded the Windrider with my stuff, I was surprised how well it contained it. There was no awkward bulging in the backpanel, thanks to two aluminum frame stays and a tiny amount of extra foam padding (that's sure to wear thin over time, but hey, it's something). Putting on the pack is simple too. Standing in my living room, I slid my arms though the shoulder straps and positioned the hipbelt over my hips. I gave the shoulder straps and hipbelt straps a quick tug and took a few bouncy steps around the couch. "Huh." I thought, "This is actually comfortable. Wait, this is comfortable? How?"
While the hipbelt and shoulder straps of these other brands hugged me close, the pack itself seemed like it was somewhere else entirely.
With all of the other pack brands I had bought, tested, and returned, each had its own elaborate suspension system that would hug my body, yet try desperately to keep the pack away from me. That is, each of them had some method of creating a space between my back and the pack to allow for airflow. The idea was that a proper suspension system would keep me cool, dry, and comfortable while I hiked uphill in sandy terrain in 100 degree temps. Yeah, sure it will. People sweat! Get over it! By creating a void between my back and the pack, the suspension system pushed the pack so far away from me that I felt an eccentricity that I didn't feel with the Windrider. While the hipbelt and shoulder straps of these other brands hugged me close, the pack itself seemed like it was somewhere else entirely. With the Windrider, I was one with my stuff: the suspension system and the pack. Where I went, the pack followed immediately. In short, there was no pack sway whatsoever with the Windrider. The ride was great. Putting it on and taking it off was straight forward. No fussy straps. No endless dialing-in. Just put it on, pull the straps tight, and go.
The shoulder straps are somewhat thin, using only 3/8" closed cell foam for padding, but I never noticed any unbearable pressure until I got over 32lbs of junk in the pack. The hipbelt is minimal too, using only 1/8" foam for padding, but it too remained comfortable until about 32lbs. I can't imagine what 40lbs, the listed carry limit, would feel like. Probably not fun, but this is an ultralight pack for ultralight gear. It's not a pack for carrying a 6lb Coleman tent and 5lb synthetic sleeping bag. At $300 USD, it's an expensive UL pack made to carry expensive UL gear. It is, literally, the price you pay for an ultralight pack.
Moving on, the HMG Windrider 2400 is also waterproof-ish/waterproof-er than pretty much any nylon pack on the market, thanks to its thick — but lightweight — cuben fiber construction. It weathered all sorts of cold, wet, hot, and dry conditions on the PCT. Even with days of rain, the fabric never wet through. There are some seams on the Windrder that just can't be seam-taped, and on one occasion — after more than six hours of downpour — it did eventually allow a tiny bit of moisture though the sewn seams above the shoulder straps. That said, I still used cuben stuff sacks for my clothes and down quilt. I walked directly into many a storm, confident that everything inside the Windrider would stay dry — and it did.
The Windrider also held up against daily abuse from me scuffing it against rocks, tossing it into the dirt, slamming it against trees, and scraping it against branches. The thicker cuben that HMG uses is really tough stuff. At the end of more than 2600 miles, there were a few scuffs on the reinforced bottom of the pack, but no rips or tears or fraying. Zpacks, in comparison, uses a much thinner cuben for their packs, and while they are lighter for it, they have durability issues galore. No thanks. I'll take the tougher stuff. Heck, the Windrider is still only 28oz, so HMG appears to have struck a great balance between weight and durability.
HMG nailed the basics, but missed a few of the finish details.
The Windrider is so close to my ideal pack — but only if HMG gets their act together. There are some problems with the Windrider. Starting out, I noticed that the hipbelt pockets are really small. I could fit 4-5 energy bars in the two pockets, but not my iPhone 7. A little bigger would be better. Or keep the hipbelt pockets small, but add a shoulder pouch for a phone or GPS. There are lots of options here.
Staying on the zippered hipbelt pockets, HMG decided to include a second zipper pull tab inside the pocket. It must be there so that the mouse in my pocket can exit from the inside, without my help. Must be.
Zipper pulls on the inside?
Moving on to straps, the side compression straps do not have a folded and sewn end to them, so there is nothing to keep them from sliding right through the ladder locks — which they do all the time, due to the smooth webbing that HMG uses here. HMG chose rougher webbing with folded and sewn ends for the hipbelt straps, shoulder straps, and Y-strap over the rolltop enclosure. It's a little bit of missing fit and finish that — if added — could all but eliminate the frustration of my water bottle falling out of the side mesh pocket for the billionth time.
Shoulder strap left; Compression strap right. Notice the different ends?
The Windrider includes a sternum strap with a built-in whistle, but I could never get the position right — the strap was always too tight or too loose — so I never used it. I think I needed to position the sternum strap higher up the shoulder straps, but HMG put their logo badge in the way.
And last, the back mesh pouch. It has so much potential, but so little space. My only suggestion here is to extend the pouch further up the back panel of the pack, making the pouch deeper. Several other brands have a tall back panel pouch, and curiously, HMG does not. Having a little extra space in the back mesh pouch can make a big difference. It could mean being able to dry out your shelter while you walk... or not being able to dry out your shelter. Kind of a big deal. HMG might consider adding in an option for using a 4-way stretch mesh instead of the heavy duty mesh too. Just a thought.
While there are probably other points to hate on, the HMG Windrider 2400 is a super simple, comfortable, durable, waterproof pack. HMG nailed the basics, but missed a few of the finish details. Even with the detractors, when I got back home from the PCT, I immediately ordered another 2400 for use on the AT, this time in black (for even more durability).
It looks so cool in black!