Gear Review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider Ultralight Backpack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
$340, 55L/3,400 c.i., 1 lb. 15 oz. (medium)
Sizes: S (fits torsos 15-17 ins.), M (17-19 ins.), L (19-21 ins.), Tall (21+ ins.)
When the 3400 Windrider was delivered to my house, the box looked much too small to contain a backpack—if I’d had no idea, I might have guessed it contained a small tent. It’s not often that a backpack, or any piece of gear, leaves an impression on me before I even remove it from its packaging. Intrigued by its incredibly low weight—it’s by far one of the lightest packs made for lightweight backpacking and thru-hiking—I loaded it up with about 35 pounds of gear, clothing, and food and took it out on a three-day, 39-mile backpacking trip in mid-September in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Having used other ultralight packs that simply did not have the support for more than 20 to 25 pounds, I entered this experiment with healthy skepticism. But the 3400 Windrider made me a believer. Here’s why.
At under two pounds, it’s 10 ounces lighter than a leading ultralight pack, the Osprey Exos 58, and almost a pound lighter than the smaller REI Flash 45, and compares in weight with competitors from other specialty pack manufacturers. Given its place among the lightest backpacks on the market, key questions are how well it compares in terms of carrying capacity and comfort and durability. In these areas, it excels.
Beyond its low weight, the most obvious unique quality of the 3400 Windrider is its fabric: fully waterproof and seam-sealed Dyneema Composite Fabrics (previously called Cuben Fiber), a non-woven, ripstop composite laminate originally designed for sails built for world-class sailboats. HMG describes it as 50 to 70 percent lighter than Kevlar, but four times stronger, saying it flexes without losing strength, floats, and is highly resistant to chemicals and even ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. We got three waves of thunderstorms one afternoon in the Winds, with heavy rain and hail, and the pack kept everything inside absolutely dry. I doubt it’s built to remain waterproof with long-term, full immersion—but given that it floats (which I don’t doubt because it’s largely airtight when closed tightly), that wouldn’t become an issue for backpackers. The pack fabric is so structurally strong, in fact, and the hipbelt so supportive, that the pack stands up on its own even when empty. I don’t know of a more durable pack in this weight class.
The fixed suspension comes in four sizes—even most high-end pack makers offer only three sizes—each with a fit range of two inches, assuring that many people will find a size that feels good. However, HMG does not offer women-specific sizing. With two removable, contoured aluminum stays and an internal plastic framesheet, the pack carried 30 to 35 pounds with remarkable comfort for hours a day, directing most of the weight onto my hips. But at 35 pounds, with the pack filled nearly to capacity, I felt a little tugging on my shoulders. HMG says the pack can carry up to 40 pounds comfortably.
There isn’t a whole lot to the harness, but it works. The lightly padded Dyneema Hardline dual-density hipbelt, with one-eighth-inch closed-cell rigid foam, quarter-inch closed-cell foam, and spacer mesh closed-cell foam, distributes weight evenly and didn’t buckle at all under the max weight I put in the pack. The Dyneema Hardline shoulder straps with three-eighths-inch closed-cell foam padding and spacer mesh, and a quarter-inch-thick foam back pad appear thin, but were entirely adequate for the moderate load I carried. The frame allowed some air movement to ventilate my back, although not as much as packs with trampoline-style harnesses that hold the pack bag off your back.
A top-loader with a roll-top closure and five external pockets, the 3400 Windrider is noticeably bereft of features found on many other packs, like a lid pocket, zippered external pockets on the pack body, or a panel zipper accessing the main compartment—all of which would add weight and/or prevent the pack from being waterproof. HMG describes the internal capacity as 55 liters when filled to its maximum while still being able to securely roll up the top closure (at least three twists when rolling it). With lightweight gear and efficient packing and food planning, that’s enough space for going several days between resupplies—making the 3400 Windrider unique in how long a trip (in days) it can handle relative to the pack’s weight (empty). The roll-top design essentially acts as compression and has some “slack” capacity to expand the pack upward. Two straps on each side deliver ample compression, and the Y-shaped top compression strap really cinches the load down.
The three external mesh pockets add nearly 10 liters (600 cubic inches) of capacity between the larger front one—which easily swallows a rainfly and held my camp shoes and various small items—and the two on the sides, which each have space for a liter bottle and then some. The durable, tearproof mesh used in those pockets will clearly survive hard use much better than the stretch-mesh used on exterior pockets of many lightweight packs—I tossed the full 3400 Windrider onto rocky ground and up against abrasive granite and it shows no damage. The Dyneema Hardline zippered hipbelt pockets will hold a large phone and a bar or two—but I did find that, with the hipbelt buckled, it’s a little hard to get fingers into those pockets and pull a bar out. There’s nothing else in the way of features except an ice-axe loop and a single daisy loop on the front, an internal sleeve for a hydration bladder, and four external triglide buckles for attaching optional accessory straps.
I got a little tired of having to open three clips and unroll the top every time I wanted to get something from inside the pack; and while the outside pockets have plenty of space, I wouldn’t want to keep some items there in the rain, like a long-sleeve top that I wanted handy. With no secure, zippered pockets (beyond the hipbelt) for small items like a map, lighter, and knife, I used a tiny stuff sack for them; but digging out that sack from the main compartment obviously lacks the convenience of a zippered external or internal pocket for them.
HMG’s slogan is: “Precisely what’s needed and nothing more,” and that philosophy shows in its products. While its fabric jacks up the price compared to competitors, the 3400 Windrider stands out as a waterproof (and bombproof) pack with exceptional capacity and comfort for its impressively low weight—a strong choice for thru-hiking or lightweight backpacking, as long as you’re happy with minimalist organization.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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