The design is streamlined, and the vinyl coated HardTarp fabric can handle some abuse. Also, the nifty three-point rope strap on top can be tucked inside when not in use, via a convenient velcro flap. Who would want to carry a full 20L pack topped with an eight-pound climbing rope without a hip-belt? We're not sure. We just hope updated versions feature a removable way to support more cumbersome loads.
Mountain Hardwear Hueco 20 Review
Cons: No hip belt, ineffective pockets
Manufacturer: Mountain Hardwear
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Mountain Hardwear Hueco 20 has been designed to combine many of the most useful features of a climbing backpack into a sleek and comfortable form. We like many things about it, but the lack of a hip belt was a deal breaker for many climbers.
The HardWear Tarp 18 fabric used to reinforce the outside panel of the Hueco adds a little extra weight to its design. Nevertheless, this pack still weighs in at a reasonable 17 ounces. This places it slightly below the middle of the field of
contenders in our fleet.
The long-term durability of this pack is hard to evaluate because of inconsistency in the materials. It has an accent of shiny, haul bag-like fabric on the exterior that is especially abrasion resistant. However, the zippers on its top closure and on the outside pocket of the pack are small and weak. The Petzl Bug uses the same size zipper but at least covers it with a flap. Additionally, the base is not reinforced but instead sewn with the same 400-denier nylon as the rest of the body, making the bottom another potential point of failure.
Many features enhance this pack's climbing utility. It's got dual handles for hauling or clipping into an anchor. The rope strap on top is great for attaching a coiled rope on the approach or descent and stows easily inside when not in use. There's also a gear loop inside for organizing big cams or other specialty gear you don't need on your harness every pitch. The whistle included on its chest strap buckle is a safety and communication feature we wish we saw on all climbing backpacks. The Hueco is fairly streamlined and puts up little resistance when you bungle the walk-off and find yourself bushwhacking.
This pack has two exterior pockets, the only pack in the review to do so. Unfortunately, they're sewn such that they fill internal space. If you put stuff in the pockets first, packing the bottom of the pack becomes tricky and the stuff can be hard to get out of the pocket later. If you fill the main part of the pack first, getting anything into the pockets becomes tricky. There's also a small pocket inside the pack. A newer phone will fit in there, and maybe some Jolly Ranchers. Our testers would rather see fewer pockets that are more useful.
We found the lack of a hip-belt a detriment. The 20-liter capacity and rope strap both enable you to carry loads heavy enough to want a hip belt.
Beyond technical rock climbing, the Hueco is useful but less so than some of the other packs tested. The styling isn't too technical, our testers felt confident wearing it around town or to class. The exterior features a four pocket daisy chain, dual haul loops, and a rope strap that are all able to stay out of the way until needed.
Though it will fit into a larger pack to be carried on extended trips, it's not our first choice for that task. The REI Co-op Flash 18 does that extremely well, and the Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Cinch 20L is our pick if you need a 20L pack. There aren't any good options for attaching an ice axe to the outside of the pack. However, if your axe is 50cm long (or less) it will fit inside.
The absence of a hip belt is fine for many outdoor activities, like day hikes or biking, that don't require lugging around heavy metal gear and climbing ropes.
This pack is shaped in a tapered design; it's wider at the shoulders, thinner at the waist—that makes it a pleasure to climb with. The shoulder straps and padded mesh back panel also form to your body to help it smoothly adjust to any movement. The Hueco's major weakness in the comfort department is its lack of hip belt, which makes carrying a full pack and rope over long distances painful on the shoulders and back. The Black Hole is the only other pack with no hip belt. Our testers noticed that this pack had a longer than normal back-length, and so seemed to fit taller climbers better. Climbers with shorter torsos found that the pack was often interfering with access to their chalk bag and rear gear loops.
We like the Hueco for straightforward multi-pitch climbing. Its larger capacity (20L) makes it especially useful for bigger objectives, inefficient packers, or anyone that likes the added safety margin of bulkier insulating layers.
At $80.00, this pack costs a dollar more than the second most expensive pack, the Patagonia Linked. This price seems high for a dedicated climbing backpack, but if you can find other uses for it, it might become more reasonable.
If Mountain Hardwear can add a hip belt—while also making it removable—they would have a stylish and versatile contender for our Editors' Choice award.
— Ian McEleney