The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest came with me on my Continental Divide Trail thru-hike (what's essentially the most grueling test on Earth for any piece of gear) and it performed exactly as I hoped it would – spectacularly. It's currently my default pack and I've been using it since with few complaints (more on what those are below).
This pack is not an super ultralight frameless pack (aka it's not a limp Dyneema shopping bag with two straps sewn on). What the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest is, is a lightweight and versatile pack capable of comfortably carrying respectable loads and looking sexy while standing up to constant and unrelenting abuse.
What's a “respectable load”? Awesome up to around 30 lbs / 13.6 kg, and acceptable up to 40 lbs / 18.1 kg.
THE SOUTHWEST VS. THE WINDRIDER
A quick note for those of you diving into the Hyperlite Mountain Gear options.
When looking at the options available, you may be confused by the Windrider, another pack offered by Hyperlite Mountain Gear. On the packs page, you'll see the 2400 Southwest, 3400 Southwest, 2400 Windrider, and the 3400 Windrider.
Do not be confused. These are four variations of the same pack.
The difference between the Southwest and Windrider packs is that the Southwest packs have Dyneema Hardline exterior pockets and the Windrider packs have mesh pockets. The difference between the 2400 and 3400? The capacity (it's in cubic inches, 2400 = 39.3 liters and 3400 = 55.7 liters). And yes, there are also the 4400 versions of each pack. These are 72 liters.
- Weight 32.4 oz / 918g (White) | 33.6 oz / 953g (Black)
- Load capacity: 20-40 lbs / 9-18 kg
- Materials: 50D and 150D Cuben / Polyester Hybrid and Dyneema Hardline pockets
- Volume: 55L + 9.8L of external storage/li>
- Pockets: Three external
- Made in: Maine, USA
- Available colors: White, Black
- Available sizes: S, M, L, Tall
- MSRP: $340 US
- Removable, contoured aluminum stays
- Dyneema Hardline shoulder straps with 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
- 1/4” foam back panel pad
- Compression System
- Roll-Top closure system with side compression straps for vertical compression
- Side compression straps for horizontal compression
- Top Y-strap compression (to secure gear)
- Dyneema Hardline hip belt with 1/8” closed cell rigid foam, 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
- Dyneema Hardline zippered pockets on hip belt with #5 YKK zipper
- Adjustable sternum strap with self-tensioning elastic
- Ice Axe loop
- Hydro port and internal mesh hydro sleeve
- Four exterior triglide buckles for optional pack accessory straps
- Proprietary seam sealing on all side seams and behind all sewn-on pack features
WHAT WE LIKE
THE DURABILITY | I was worried this pack would prove too fragile to stand up to the level of mistreatment I expect my pack to endure. It has defied expectation. I have yet to tear the pack's fabric, any of the exterior pockets, or any straps. The only thing I have noticed is that the threads connecting one of my shoulder straps to the pack have begun to sag (just a bit). I suspect this is because I always pick up the pack using this strap.
THE WATERPROOFNESS | This pack is waterproof, simple as that. There is a small drainage hole at the bottom of the pack, so it's not submersible, but bar being submerged in water, if you're using this pack as intended (on your back), your belongings will stay dry. The outside pockets are also waterproof, but (obviously) water can enter from above. The only downside, or really observation, is that the pack becomes semi-transparent when wet (at least the white version).
THE WEIGHT | The 3400 Southwest in a size medium (my size), weighs 31.08 oz / 881 g – lighter than the Osprey Exos 58 I was using before. The small is 30.69 oz / 870 g, and the large is 32.59 oz / 924 g. There's also a tall version that comes in at 33.09 oz / 938 g. For the weight it can carry comfortably, it's one of the lightest packs available.
THE EXTERIOR POCKETS | Another point for durability, I have yet to destroy the exterior pockets. The Dyneema is tough (which is why I chose the Southwest instead of the Windrider) and the pockets can stand up to being dragged through dense bush (towards the end of the Continental Divide Trail I noticed tears in other hikers' mesh Windrider pockets). I suppose a con would be that I need to empty the pockets occasionally as they collect plants and dirt (that's extra weight, bro!).
WHAT'S JUST OKAY
THE ADJUSTMENT | This pack is semi-minimal when it comes to adjustment. You can adjust the hip belt, the shoulder straps, and the chest strap. There are no load lifters or fancy frame mods to be found. The roll-top closure can be cinched down on either side and then secured with a third buckle that goes back to front. There are two compression straps on either side of the pack, one for the body and one for the side pocket.
THE SIDE POCKETS | Yes, I said that I like the pockets, but that was the durability. The side pockets of the Southwest are stretchy, but not too stretchy. This means that getting things (aka waterbottles) in and out of the side pockets (while the pack is on) can take some practice. That being said, I have been able to squeeze quite a bit into the side pockets (but that doesn't mean they couldn't be stretchier and slightly more user-friendly).
THE BACK PANEL | The HMG Southwest 3400 has a 1/4 in / 0.635 cm foam back panel pad to keep you comfortable. However, if you aren't careful about how you load your pack, you'll feel all the hard or sharp points of your gear sticking you in the back or shoulders. It isn't a big deal once you figure out how to best pack your gear, but it can be an inconvenience at times (when compared to packs that sit up off the back).
WHAT WE NO LIKE
THE HIP POCKETS | The hip pockets have since been updated and this criticism no longer applies – nice job HYMG!
I really wanted to like everything about this pack, but the hip belt pockets are nothing to get excited about (and I've found that most hikers with this pack feel the same way). The good? They're waterproof. The bad? They're small, difficult to open/close when filled, and allow their contents to press into your hips if not packed carefully.
THE DIRT FACTOR | This is really a matter of personal taste, but I've included it here because I've head complaining about it. “It” being how the pack (the white version) quickly loses its original shine and fades to a more weathered and stained version of its former self. Personally, I see the signs of wear as a badge of honor, “Behold how much I have used my pack!” I've washed it once, and despite the water (in the tub) turning a dark and opaque shade of brown, the stainage remains (thankfully).
WHO IS IT FOR?
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 is an excellent choice if you're looking to do a thru-hike, be a savage weekend warrior, or even if you're traveling and want something minimalist. If you're looking for a comfortable, lightweight, waterproof pack that will carry up to 40 lbs / 18.1 kg without making you hate yourself, then you owe it to yourself to give the HMG Southwest a try (or go with the Windrider if you're into mesh pockets).
I went with the Southwest instead of the Windrider because the pockets are more durable and they look sleeker (nobody wants to see all your crap poking through your mesh). Check out Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest here.
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