Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $295
Pros: Extremely light for volume, very comfortable on approach, good ice tool attachment, 100% waterproof.
Cons: No bivy pad, less comfortable for climbing than average alpine pack, crampon attachment is poor (but can be easily fixed), shoulder strap material uncomfortable when used over thin shirt.
Best Uses: Ice Climbing, Winter Alpine Climbing
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack is our favorite pack for ice climbing and arguably the most comfortable alpine pack for multi-day hiking and ski touring. It is extremely lightweight for its capacity, very comfortable, simple in design, and made from a Cuben Fiber/polyester hybrid fabric that's seam sealed, meaning it's 100% watertight- a unique feature among the packs tested. The fabric, although very light and extremely strong in terms of tear-strength, is more susceptible to abrasion than the average alpine pack tested here. For this reason we found that the Ice Pack is best used as an ice climbing or alpine snow/ice pack (as the name implies) rather than as an alpine rock pack. Previous editions of this pack had certain features that were lacking (the crampon attachment for example), but HMG has been refining the design, and the newest Ice Packs are fantastic.
NOTE: HMG has updated their pack line. The Ice Pack in this review is now one generation old. The Ice Pack now features a more abrasion resistant Cuben / Polyester hybrid fabric on the bottom and bottom "rand", and an improved crampon attachment. This should increase the overall durability of the pack. As soon as we get our hands on the new version we will post photos of the new bottom and see how it performs.
Ordering this pack is not very convenient because it is not available from major retailers, and only directly from the small manufacturer in Maine.
If you're looking for a go-to smaller pack, or a pack primarily for long alpine rock routes consider the CiloGear 30L WorkSack or CiloGear 30:30 WorkSack. For epic, multi-day technical endeavors in the world's greater ranges consider the CiloGear 45L WorkSack.
Make sure to check out the full Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing Backpack Review to see how the Ice Pack compares to the competition.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The primary selling point for the HMG Ice Pack is perhaps how light it is for the capacity it offers. It is offered in 2400 cu. in. (39L) and 3400 cu. in. (55L) options. We have tested both versions and recommend the larger capacity because the extra room adds a lot of versatility to the pack (can be used for longer trips) while adding less than 2 oz. total weight. The Ice Pack is a roll-top pack so the capacity increase of 1000 cubic inches between the smaller and larger versions is only a matter of adding a bit more fabric at the top of the pack. The 3400 Ice Pack has a weight to volume ratio of .62oz/L, which is extremely good. Other packs we reviewed in this capacity range have to be fully stripped (no lid, no hip belt, no straps) to be this light for their volume.
Get an ultralight sleeping bag and an ultralight shelter if you want to go on fast and light multi-day trips.
We have put over 60 days of (mainly ice) climbing on one particular HMG Ice Pack, and it has held up perfectly fine. However, while Cuben Fiber is extremely strong in tear strength, it lacks good abrasion resistance. The Ice Pack addresses durability by having a double layer of fabric on the bottom and bottom sides of the pack, and by featuring an additional external fabric patch in the center-front where the crampons attach. In the end however, if you are looking for a pack to take primarily alpine rock climbing, you might prefer a pack with better abrasion resistance like the CiloGear 30:30 Guide Service WorkSack, or WildThings Guide Pack. IMPORTANT NOTE: Hyperlite Mountain Gear has just updated their pack line. The newest HMG Ice Packs have more abrasion resistance on the bottom and along a bottom "rand". The pack we tested here is the previous version. This new bottom fabric should increase abrasion durability (good news!). We now have this newest version in hand and will put it to the test.
What exactly is Cuben fiber? Cuben fiber is a laminated fabric made from layers of tiny strands of Dyneema. This is also know as non-woven Dyneema (NWD - which is what CiloGear calls it). The specific fabric used by HMG on their packs is a "hybrid" - mid weight bare NWD glued to a woven polyester face fabric. Take a look at HMG's technology page here for more details.
Overall we found the Ice Pack to be extremely comfortable for its intended use – as a go-to ice climbing pack. There are two (removable) aluminum stays in the Ice Pack, which make for a lightweight, but very effective frame. The hip belt on the Ice Pack is relatively low profile, but substantial enough to take most of the load of the shoulders. When purchasing the Ice Pack make sure to measure your torso length and order the appropriate size (offered in Small, Medium, Large, and Tall). Our lead tester found the Ice Pack to be one of the most comfortable packs tested.
The Ice Pack has some features that are great, and others that are not great. Let's begin with the good. The roll top closure may take a bit getting used to, but it is effective at keeping weather out, is simple, and has no drawstring to break. The ice tool attachments are almost identical to the CiloGear packs, they are secure, simple, and easy to use. The top of the pack has a rope holding strap, which (uniquely), is “V” shaped and seems to keep ropes a bit more secure than the standard single strap more commonly seen. Each side of the pack has two standard side straps and one daisy chain. The hip belt is removable, and comes in one of two options – the standard belt with gear loops (one per side), or alternatively, a hip belt with small stash pockets (one on each side). We love the stash pockets for hiking, but they might get in the way when climbing if the hip belt is not removed. On the interior of the pack is one hanging pocket for smaller items, set against the back. Older versions of the Ice Pack had a large interior mesh pocket, The newest version of the Ice Pack does away with the mesh pocket in favor of a bigger zippered interior hanging pocket. A great improvement.
Earlier versions of the Ice Pack featured a hard to use and somewhat breakable crampon attachment. It consisted of a burly shock cord and plastic clips, which we found impossible to use in warm weather, let alone while ice climbing. The next version switched to plastic hooks, but again there was a flaw - breakage. We finally just made our own attachment - we cut the stock cord off, and replaced it with a length of thinner shock cord which we ran through the nice plastic eyes along the edge of the crampon fabric patch. We added a simple cord lock cinch and called it good. Our aftermarket set up is tried and true, and easy to replace.
The strap system is basic and functions well for most applications. Lengthening the fixed side traps would make it easier to fit a rolled/folded closed cell foam pad. Going with a CiloGear style strap system would allow for the greatest versatility and weigh less (because you can bring straps if you need them).
There's no removable bivy pad. This is a huge bummer for multi-day climbs because when you want to go as light as possible it's often nice to use your pack for a groundcloth under your feet, to seal the opening of a flat tarp, or other things. But the Ice Pack's thin foam pad is permanently sealed inside the pack. It would be fantastic if the pack kept its dual stay system and added a removable bivy pad slot between your back and the stays.
The versatility of the HMG Ice Pack is mostly a matter relating to durability. As we mentioned above, the cuben fiber / polyester hybrid fabric that HMG uses is extremely strong and waterproof. However, its resistance to abrasion is worse than the heavier fabrics used to reinforce the high wear areas on many of the other packs in this review. As a result, the Ice Pack performs much better for winter climbing than it does in the warmer seasons since plopping your pack down on some snow is much nicer to the fabric than plopping it down on some sharp rocks.
That being said, we find the 3400 Ice Pack to be a good versatile size for winter climbing because the roll top closure accommodates smaller and bigger loads with ease and the pack is light enough to be used for single day climbs.
Its incredible comfort on the approach also makes it very good for hiking. This is our favorite alpine pack for backpacking.
Ice climbing and alpine (snow/ice) climbing.
This pack costs almost $300, which is a great value considering its top-tier performance, particularly for multi-day ice and snow climbs. Though the Ice Pack's durability is relatively, low many top alpinists argue that low weight is always the # 1 performance factor. There are cheaper options but all other similarly light packs cost (Cilo 30:30 and Cilo 45L in NWD or W/NWD) cost at least $575. See our Price Versus Value Chart to compare performance and retail price.
For ice climbing, this is our go-to pack. If you’re looking for one pack to do everything, year-round, and survive for a decade consider a more durable option. The CiloGear 30:30 or CiloGear 45L WorkSack are both good options for a bit more durability (depending on the fabric option you choose).
Other Versions and Accessories
You can choose from hipbelt pockets or a waist belt with a harness style carabiner clips.
The Ice Pack comes in 2400 and 3400 volume options (cubic inches – about 40L and 55L). We feel that the 3400 size is the best value and most versatile.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear also has two other stand-out packs, both of which are available in two sizes and use the same basic design as the Ice Pack. Again, we feel the larger size is a much better value and more versatile.
Porter - Identical to the Ice Pack except for it has two daisy chains and no ice tool/crampon attachment. Best for ultralight multi-sport trips, packrafting, and backpacking, but ice tools and crampons can easily be attached. Though not well suited to alpine climbing, this is arguably HMG's best pack.
Southwest - 3 external pockets for hiking. Very good for backpacking. But we like the Porter better.
The photos below show these two packs in action.
— Chris Simrell
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Most recent review: August 19, 2013
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