I wrote some manprose on the HMG Expedition Pack back in November 2012. HMG have sinced changed the name to ‘4400 Porter Pack’. Expedition Pack was better. Regardless, these are my final thoughts and conclusions on this thing for carrying stuff on your back.
Before buying this pack four months ago I had not seen hybrid cuben fiber polyester material first hand. It sounded pretty cool on the internet though. Rationally it was the simple and adaptable design that appealed and I was pretty sure it’d be right for what I wanted to use it for, but it was a risk. Shipped to Australia with a couple of optional extras it was a USD $432.75 risk. That’s a lot of US rupees, but in AUDs it converts to about two vegemite sandwiches and a pint of Coopers. The price is in fact about on par with similar volume canvas packs from Aussie manufacturer One Planet (they make excellent gear, including gear for Antarctic exploration, and are the only remaining Australian outdoor gear manufacturer).
Since November in the twenty twelves I have used this pack for 15 days and about 300km of walking in various conditions. The pack has seen use through Victoria’s hottest day in 100 years, 4 days of constant rain, two of which were in an alpine area with winds of 50-100kph. It has been dragged through the Viking Chimney and through 12km of jungle like bushfire regrowth where there was no discernible track to follow. The pack has also endured many kilometers of your standard Australian scrubby singletrack and footpad. Possibly only because it was flipping drafting me on my back the whole way like a road cyclist on the brink while I blazed the trail, but maybe also because of its own attributes. Make your own mind.
This is expedition mode. The water bottle carrier on the side with the blue dry bag behind it was custom made by Chris from Zimmerbuilt. Highly recommended – the carrier is tough, light and very reasonably priced. He also made the shoulder strap pockets – also good.
Looking back over the last four months, it’s clear that I have abused this pack. I’ve filled it beyond its recommended load which I think is about 18kg. I had 23kg in it at one stage, including 9 days food and 4L of water. I treated this pack like a heavy duty canvas pack in spite of its lightweight cuben fiber construction. I was often too exhausted to care where I dropped it or what kind of abrasive rock or jagged stick I dragged it through.
So, while this pack started off as a cool toy from the internet, in its first days of use it became a tool.
Researching and talking about gear is just a way we give our blunt adult imaginations a hardline to the wilderness. I don’t know about all the well adjusted people out there, but thinking about manventurer equipment leads me to daydreams about the possibilities and capabilities that it affords. Often this is a hazardous pastime in the corporate environment because even the imagined mountains, a pale and inaccurate iteration of the real thing, are more immediate and direct than the purposeless back and forth played out in the suffocating and meaningless corporate miazma.
But I stand by my assertion. An internet toy earns its status as a tool when it is employed for its intended purpose and is forgotten among the other enabling equipment carried. A trip ‘testing gear’ is no manventure and if you’re thinking about your equipment in the mountains it’s either pissing you off or broken.
Anyway. The HMG Expedition Pack:
What are its capabilities?
The HMG Expedition is a lightweight (881g) high volume cuben fiber pack with external daisy chains that allow external pockets and accessories to be added. It is rainproof as HMG claim, with a roll top that also allows it to hold loads between about 40L and 75L. This means you can use it for an expedition or an overnighter with almost no weight penalty (about 20g over the smaller version).
Regardless of weight, the pack is durable. Australian bushwalking forums are often critical of cuben fiber, apparently arguing that the Australian bush is so much harsher than anywhere else in the world. Ridiculous. The HMG hybrid cuben fiber is a suitable material for the Australian bush and while I won’t get a lifetime of hard use from it, I’m expecting it to take a few years of my abuse. Considering the 2+ kilogram weight saving on a canvas pack, it’s impressive.
The HMG Expedition is light, versatile and durable. And this means by the ‘light, durable, affordable – pick two’ rule you’d expect it to be expensive, and it is. Like I said, it’s many, many USDs, but for that hard earned lettuce you get a quality pack that’s made in the USA and backed by what in my experience has been good customer support.
What are its limitations?
The optional hip belt pockets, for me, are a pain. I find them difficult to open and close and I need to use two hands to do it. This ends up in some cross body pirouetting barber’s pole maneuver just to close the zipper. The hip belt pockets on the Gossamer Gear Mariposa are far better.
However, for storing infrequently used gear they’re ok. During the day I keep a torch, a buff and sunscreen in them. I added two zimmerbuilt shoulder strap pockets for stuff I want ready to hand like my GPS and knife.
I contacted HMG before writing this review and they’re aware of the hip belt pocket issues and agree the pockets are hard to use. They’re working on a redesign with stiffer pockets that they say should help in opening and closing.
The sternum strap buckle [update - all sorted now]. The buckle did not engage correctly with the strap as shipped causing the strap to slip through the buckle during use. This was frustrating. I mentioned the problem to HMG and they got back to me with video on how the strap should be threaded through the buckle. Now it’s easy to see how it should go and it’s sorted.
The stitching near the top compression strap isn’t holding well. The holes are enlarging and although I think it’ll be a long time before this causes issues, it could be addressed by modifying the design or stitching. HMG are looking into this and now use spectra for the side seams. HMG let me know that a pack that fails because of design or materials would be repaired or replaced. Remember though, that I have taken this pack beyond the loads it was designed for, so this issue may not be encountered by everyone (and I wouldn’t make a warranty claim because it could be my fault).
Stretching – being addressed by HMG
A small puncture from a sharp branch, I’m surprised there’s only one – it’s not going to cause any problem.
Some wear on the bottom of the pack. There are multiple layers of cuben fiber here.
The pack gets dirty. This might be an issue for some people, but I don’t mind it. The fading blood stains are a reminder of trials past. You can wash it in a front end loader if you need to.
The HMG Expedition pack is rad. It does have some issues that I hope are addressed by HMG but even as it stands it’s one of my most satisfying pieces of kit because of its durability, versatility and weight. Once the hip belt pocket and stitching issues are addressed the HMG Expedtion pack will be a contender for the Basijet Academy of Manventurers Seal of Manproval.
Yerp – shit gets real, toys become tools and it’s beautiful in retrospect.