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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Opening the pack is a pain, not durable, no bivy pad
Manufacturer: Hyperlite Mountain Gear
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack is a niche pack that is great for glacier travel or alpine ice climbing. We found the fabric is too fragile for alpine rock and didn't like all the straps and buckles we had to deal with when opening and closing the pack. This pack is quite light and surprisingly comfortable for its weight.
This pack can be difficult to find at major retailers but can be purchased directly from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. If you want something easier to find, consider the Black Diamond Speed 40 for your adventure. It's available all over the place and costs considerably less. The Mountain Hardwear Direttissima 50 Outdry is only slightly less weather resistant but a lot more abrasion resistant.
RELATED: Our complete review of mountaineering backpacks
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The 3400 Ice Pack 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 much 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) and kept away from rock as much as possible.
If you're looking for a go-to pack, or a pack primarily for long alpine rock routes, consider our Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45. When its roll top is deployed, the Alpha FL is very weather resistant, though not watertight.
The primary selling point for the HMG Ice Pack is perhaps how lightweight it is for the capacity it offers. The 3400 Ice Pack has a weight to volume ratio of 18.7 g/L with the stays and hip belt in, and 19.8 g/L without them, which is better than most other packs in this test except for the Alpha FL. Removing the hip belt and taking out the stays shaves 10 ounces from the max weight. Our testers found it easy to compensate for the missing stays with smart packing, even when the load was heavy.
While Cuben Fiber is the strongest material in our test in terms of 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. The Ice Pack we reviewed has been updated from the previous version with a more reinforcement on the bottom and the lower part of the front and sides. While this doesn't make this pack as abrasion resistant as some of the other packs in the test, it is definitely an improvement our testers liked.
What exactly is Cuben fiber? Cuben fiber is a laminated fabric made from layers of tiny strands of Dyneema. This is also known 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 for more details.
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 fabrics used 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. We also wished the crampon attachment system, (burly shock-cord) was removable. Then we could use the daisy chains to strap on crampons when we need to, like with the Patagonia Ascensionist 45 and the Black Diamond Speed 40. Our testers prefer to carry their crampons inside the pack when possible and want a more streamlined pack for when they don't need crampons at all.
That being said, we find the 3400 Ice Pack to be a good versatile size for winter climbing because the pack accommodates a variety of loads with ease and 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.
The Ice Pack has some features that are great, and others that are not great. The ice tool attachments are secure, simple, and easy to use. Each side of the pack has two standard compression straps and one daisy chain. The lack of load lifter and stabilizer straps (see "Comfort" below) keeps things simple and makes stripping the pack down easier. The padded hip belt is removable with no option for a minimal strap to secure the load when the padding is removed. It comes in one of two options – the standard belt with gear loops, or with small stash pockets (one on each side). We like the stash pockets for hiking, but they get in the way when climbing if the hip belt is not removed. The interior of the pack has one hanging pocket that is great for smaller items.
We were not big fans of the closure system on the Ice Pack. We found it makes accessing anything inside the pack a bit of a chore; forget about digging out that snack while you're belaying your partner up. It consists of a velcro roll top and a "Y" shaped top compression strap. We had to unbuckle 3 buckles (one on the top strap and two on the roll top) and then separate the velcro on the roll top to open the pack. While this system is extremely weatherproof, our testers found it isn't worth it, as there are other ways to keep pack contents dry without compromising the ease of access. All of the buckles don't have to be used; climbers can remove the straps that secure the ends of the roll top and buckle it to itself. This improves access slightly but still leaves you with the velcro, which is hard to open, particularly with gloves on. Our number two wish for this pack is for some webbing pull tabs to help us open the velcro. Our number one wish is that it was offered with a traditional drawstring closure.
The thin foam pad on the ice pack is permanently sealed inside the pack. This is a 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. The Wild Things Guide Pack and CiloGear 45L WorkSack give us this option. It would be fantastic if the pack kept its dual stay system and made the pad removable so we could use that space for other things when we wanted to.
Overall we think the Ice Pack is 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 is relatively low profile, but substantial enough to take most of the load off the shoulders. Of the packs that didn't have a lot of padding on the hip belt and shoulder straps, this one is the most comfortable. This pack is second to the Alpha FL in weight-to-volume ratio, but the cost of removing that extra suspension weight can be felt when this thing is loaded with more than 35 pounds.
One advantage to the complicated roll-top/top strap system is that it compresses that pack really well. We really like how this pack climbs and think that compression helps. When purchasing the Ice Pack, make sure to measure your torso length and order the appropriate size (offered in Small, Medium, Large, and Tall).
The Ice Pack doesn't have load lifter straps (the ones that connect the top of the shoulder strap to the pack body) or stabilizer straps (that run from the hip belt to the pack). While some of our testers were concerned that this would be a comfort issue, we found that with a good fit we don't need these straps.
This pack is most at home ice climbing and alpine (snow/ice) climbing, particularly in foul weather.
At $320 this pack is on the expensive side. If money isn't a big deal, this could be a good pack to have in your quiver. Compared to other packs made of the various Cuben fiber/Dyneema concoctions, it's actually reasonably priced. See our Price Versus Value Chart to compare performance and retail price.
This is a niche pack. It's great for snowy or icy alpine terrain. If you find yourself out in the rain a lot and liking it, this could be a good pack for you. We really like that Hyperlite Mountain Gear has been refining and improving this pack through the years. If you're looking for one pack to do everything, year-round, and survive for a while, consider a more durable option like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL.
How to Get It
This specialty pack most likely won't be found at big box stores. Order it directly from Hyperlite Mountain Gear.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Ice Pack 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 (it can be used for longer trips) while adding less than 2 oz. total weight. The Ice Pack is a roll-top, 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.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear also has two other interesting packs, both of which are available in three sizes (2400, 3400, and 4400 cubic inches) and use the same basic design as the Ice Pack but vary the features on the outside. The Porter pack has two daisy chains and no ice tool/crampon attachment. The Southwest Pack has 3 external pockets for hiking. Again, we feel the larger size is a much better value and more versatile.
— Ian McEleney
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 30, 2015
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