The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider pack is a cutting edge and versatile frameless backpack. Here I use it as a day pack while backcountry skiing.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear, a new small company making gear for ultralight backpacking, likes to be on the cutting edge, which definitely attracts our attention. I previously reviewed their Echo Modular Shelter System, which is innovative and highly versatile. Their Windrider pack is likewise well designed and versatile. It’s made of a Cuben Fiber/ripstop nylon laminate, which is unique and something I didn’t know even existed. As you will see in our Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011, there are a growing number of backpacks for ultralight backpacking, and most of them are highly refined. How does the HMG Windrider compare with the competition?
|Year/Model||2011 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider (www.hyperlitemountaingear.com)|
|Style||Frameless backpack with removable stays, top loading, drybag top closure with two side straps and one top compression Y-strap|
|Volume||Size Large/Tall tested.
Specified volume: 2650 cubic inches (43 L) including pockets and extension collar
Measured volume: 2590 cubic inches (42 L)
|Weight||Manufacturer specification: 25.5 oz (723 g)
Stays weight: 2.1 oz (60 g)
Measured weight: 27.3 oz (774 g) with stays
|Sizes Available||Unisex S, M, L, Tall|
|Fabrics||Pack body is 2.75 oz/yd2 (93 g/m2) Cuben Fiber/ripstop nylon hybrid fabric, front and side pockets are durable mesh|
|Features||Wide padded hipbelt with two waterproof zippered pockets, mesh front and two side pockets with elastic binding, two compression straps each side, sternum strap, 7-in (18-cm) extension collar, drybag type closure and top compression Y-strap, one ice axe loop, one front tool loop, four front attachment buckles for accessory straps, haul loop, sewn-in backpanel foam pad, hydration sleeve and one hose port, double-reinforced flat bottom|
|Volume to Weight Ratio||95 in3/oz, based on 2590 in3 and measured weight of 27.3 oz (size Large/Tall)|
|Maximum Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity||30 lb (13.6 kg) estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day|
|Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio||17.5 (based on 30 lb load and a measured weight of 1.71 lb with stays)|
|Options||Southwest version with Spectra Hardline exterior pockets (same weight and cost)|
The fabric used in the HMG Windrider is truly unique. It’s a Cuben Fiber/ripstop nylon hybrid weighing 2.75 oz/yd2 (93 g/m2), and that’s all they will tell me about it. The Cuben Fiber is on the inside and ripstop nylon on the outside. The pack is sewn together like a conventional frameless pack, rather than using adhesives as in a Cuben Fiber pack. The construction is very high quality.
Close up of the HMG’s Cuben Fiber/ripstop nylon fabric. It’s a bit stiff, and it wrinkles and crinkles.
Views of the HMG Windrider pack: The pack is a traditional style with a large mesh front pocket and two mesh side pockets (far left). The mesh used in the outside pockets is a coarse pattern and quite durable. A Southwest version of the pack with even more durable mesh pockets is available. The backpanel (second photo) is the pack fabric against your back. Each side (third photo) has a large mesh pocket and two compression straps. The top closure (far right) is a drybag type with two side straps and one top Y-strap.
Frame and Suspension: the Windrider comes with two thin flat removable aluminum stays (left) that insert into sleeves on the inside of the pack’s backpanel. The backpanel has a sewn-in foam pad on the inside, plus a shallow hydration sleeve. Shoulder straps (upper right) are 2.75 inches (7 cm) wide, fairly stiff, and have 3D mesh on the underside. Hipbelt wings (right) are 4 inches (10 cm) wide, also fairly stiff, and also have 3D mesh on the inside.
Features: Each hipbelt wing (above) has a large attached Dyneema ripstop pocket with a water resistant zipper.
I tested the Windrider on fall and spring backpacking trips in the southern Rockies and southern Utah canyon country, as well as numerous winter day trips while backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.
The Windrider pack is claimed to be waterproof, no pack cover required: so is it? I also noticed that the pack’s outside ripstop nylon layer absorbs water. So I decided to test the pack’s waterproofness and water absorption by soaking it in the bathtub for half an hour. When I lifted the pack out of the water and opened it up it had about a pint of water in the bottom, and the only way it could have gotten there is by soaking through the seams. I reweighed the pack after allowing it to drip for five minutes and found it had absorbed 11 ounces (312 g) of water. The outcome: the pack is not waterproof as claimed, so the Windrider needs a rain cover like any other pack. The pack’s padding and seam binding accounts for a lot of the absorbed water, but the fabric surface also absorbs quite a bit, certainly more than silnylon would.
A nice feature of the Windrider is its flat bottom, so it stands up on the ground. Many packs readily fall over, which is annoying.
The Windrider has two compression straps on each side and compresses down to half of its full volume, which is very good compared to other packs I tested. The front mesh pocket is fully accessible when the pack is compressed.
The measured pack torso length (size Large/Tall) by the BPL method (inside of shoulder strap to middle of the hipbelt) is 20.25 inches (51 cm), and 22.25 inches (57 cm) by the conventional manufacturer method (top of shoulder strap to bottom of the hipbelt). The Windrider is available in four torso lengths, and the tallest one (tested) ranks in the top three for long torso length; the Granite Gear Virga is the same, and the Gossamer Gear Mariposa and Six Moon Designs Traveler are slightly taller.
Our pack load carrying capacity tests show the Windrider will comfortably carry loads up to 20 pounds (9.1 kg) without stays and up to 30 pounds (13.6 kg) with stays. The Windrider ranked in the middle of six packs tested that have removable stays. Interestingly, the stays help support the pack quite well up to a 20 pound (9.1 kg) load, then collapse more beyond that weight (see Part 2B of this series for specific test results).
The aluminum stays in the Windrider weigh just 2.1 ounces/pair (60 g/pair), one of the lightest among the packs in our roundup that have removable stays. They are flat aluminum stays one-half inch wide and one-sixteenth inch thick (1.3 cm x 2 mm) that will hold a bend, but they are not rigid enough to resist deformation. In other words, they readily flex with the pack’s backpanel, and bend with heavier pack weights. In my opinion, the contoured tubular stay unit used in the Gossamer Gear, Elemental Horizons, and Six Moon Designs packs is better. Its contour can be customized and it’s more rigid to resist distortion with heavier loads.
In its defense, the Windrider is a smaller volume frameless backpack, which is not intended to carry heavy loads, so perhaps the stay system is adequate for the pack’s intended purpose. For the pack’s volume, a normal load of lightweight gear plus expendables would weigh between 15 and 25 pounds (6.8 to 11.3 kg), which is well within the pack’s comfortable carrying capacity. This agrees with my field testing, where I comfortably carried 22 pounds (10 kg) in the Windrider on a three-day backpack on the Boulder Mail Trail in Southwestern Utah.
Our pack volume measurement shows a close agreement with the pack’s specified volume; the specified volume is 2650 cubic inches (43 L), and our measurement is 2590 cubic inches (42 L).
The pack’s hydration sleeve appears to be too shallow, only 9.75 inches (25 cm) deep. However, when I put a filled 2.5-liter Platypus flask in the sleeve, the bottom of the flask is level with the shoulder strap seam, so it appears to be designed to place the weight as high as possible and make the flask as accessible as possible. The side mesh pockets are also tall enough to hold a hydration bladder.
Comparative specifications can be found in my Frameless Backpack State of the Market Report 2011 Part 3 (coming soon). The closest comparisons are the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet, ZPacks Dyneema X 26, and Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) CDT. The first two are about 10 ounces (283 g) lighter, and the third is only slightly lighter.
Although I managed to find a few flaws, I want to emphasize that the Windrider is a very nice pack. It’s cutting edge, as far as materials, design, and construction. The fact that it’s not waterproof as claimed is really a non-issue because no backpack is waterproof unless the seams are taped, and taping seams is tedious and adds weight. The stay system is simple and lightweight, but it is not as robust as some of the other packs. Actually, it’s encouraging to see a 2650 cubic inch (43 L) frameless pack come with removable stays, because it reinforces our finding that stays improve a pack’s comfortable load carrying capacity for loads heavier than 15 pounds (6.8 kg). The stays that come with the Windrider weigh only 2.1 ounces per pair (60 g), so they add minimal weight to the pack while providing multiple benefits.
The Windrider is a smaller volume frameless pack in the “sweet spot” for ultralight backpacking. With a lightweight and compact gear kit, the Windrider is a perfect size for shorter three-season backpacking trips up to about four days. On the plus side, the Windrider is durable and very well designed and constructed. The main downside is that the Windrider is on the heavy side at 25.5 ounces (723 g). Most of its competitors weigh in the 12 to 20 ounce (340 to 567 g) range. It gets down to a basic question of: “does the extra weight equal extra comfort?” The answer is basically yes, but the next question is: “do I want extra comfort features in an ‘ultralight’ frameless backpack, or do I want it Spartan and also comfortable?” That’s a question that you will need to answer for yourself. It’s like deciding between a Lexus and a Prius. If you don’t mind an extra 10 ounces (283 g) of pack weight and extra cost, then the Windrider is a pack that you will be proud to own, and it will perform as well or better than its peers of similar size.
- Excellent volume reduction system
- Durable fabric and mesh
- Removable stay system included, one of the lightest stay systems currently available
- Excellent suspension system for a frameless backpack
- Comfortably carries moderate loads
- Large mesh front and side pockets for convenient access to items needed on the trail
- Excellent construction, very sturdily built, with adequate reinforcements
- Fits well (if you choose the correct size); four torso lengths available
- Large hipbelt pockets included
- Bottom is flat so pack stands up by itself
- Hydration sleeve positions the weight higher and makes the reservoir more accessible
What’s Not So Good
- Pack is not waterproof as claimed
- Outer fabric absorbs water
- Stays less supportive with heavy loads
- At 25.5 ounces (723 g), the Windrider is on the heavy side compared to its competitors
Recommendations For Improvement
- Offer a contoured tubular stay
- Reduce the weight of the pack