Introduction

The YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L (~18 oz / 510 g, MSRP $200) is a light and modular fastpacking pack that can accommodate heavier loads for short distances if need be. It is reasonably priced, aesthetically pleasing, and multi-functional.

a backpack sits on the ground.
The YAR.gear 38 L Mountain Drifter. Photo: YAR.gear

Highlights

  • unique hybrid fastpacking harness
  • light at 16.6 oz (471 g) without sternum strap or hip belt or 19.8 oz (561 g) with padded hip belt and sternum strap
  • modular design with a removable padded or webbing hip belt for fastpacking and occasional bigger loads
  • durable materials/construction
  • aesthetically appealing look
  • very reasonably priced at $200

Review Rating: Highly Recommended

I am giving the YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L pack a Highly Recommended rating because, like many other frameless packs, it is small, light, well made, and durable, but the modularity of the removable padded hip belt and exceptional comfort of the hybrid fastpacking harness set it apart from others in its category. It was designed with the utilitarian, somewhat ultralight hiker in mind, someone who may need to carry heavy loads on occasion but who likes to move fast when possible. My experience in the field bears this out. The design of YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L (particularly the hybrid fastpacking harness) successfully addresses the problems it sets out to solve.

Where to Buy

  • You can purchase the YAR.gear 38L Mountain Drifter directly from the manufacturer here.

Review Context

It has been a slow journey getting my overall pack weight to a point where using a YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L would actually be feasible. It’s just so hard to admit to myself that I can’t actually read five books in three days, but I’m getting there, usually only carrying one book now.

A loaded pack sits on the ground.
The YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L in the Mazatzal Mountains of central Arizona.

For this reason, I often use larger framed packs. More recently, however, I have been using a Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus DCF 55L, getting used to the concept of a frameless pack. I knew that using the YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L meant I would have to dial in my system even more. It forced me to leave things behind. All this is to say I don’t have many years of experience with packs in the ultralight frameless category, but I hope that this makes my testing appeal to others who are considering the shift from framed packs or the luxuries of carrying books to the world of moving fast – and what it takes to make that shift and how a quality pack can facilitate it.

Truth be told, I do have a desire to move fast, especially when alone. I enjoy 25-mile (40 km) days, and I wouldn’t mind doing more of them. The YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L should help me down that road.

This is a Performance Review based on extensive backcountry use in a variety of use-cases. Read more about our types of reviews here.

a man poses awkwardly to show off the pack he's wearing.
This pose doesn’t look fake at all…

Features

  • hybrid fastpacking harness
  • several external storage pockets
  • removable padded or webbing hip belt
  • roll-top closure
  • durable materials/construction
  • modular design for fastpacking and occasional bigger loads
  • reasonable price at $200

Specifications

  • dark gray/black X-Pac VX21 RS pack body (other options available including 2.92 oz Dyneema Composite Fabric hybrid and Liteskin
  • The tag that came with mine said 19.5 in (50 cm), but usually, they are one of two sizes:
  • 17 in (43 cm) torso fits 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)
  • 19 in (48 cm) torso fits 18 – 20 in (46 – 51 cm)
  • 16.6 oz (471 g) measured without sternum strap or hip belt, 17.2 oz (488 g) measured with sternum strap but without padded hip belt, and 19.8 oz (561 g) measured with padded hip belt and sternum strap
  • sternum strap alone weights 0.6 oz (17 g)
  • webbing hip belt alone weighs 1.5 oz (43 g)
  • padded hip belt alone weighs 2.6 oz (74 g)
  • G-hook top closure
  • 210D Dyneema Composite Fabric grid-stop padded S-shaped/fastpacking hybrid shoulder straps
  • 210D Dyneema Composite Fabric grid-stop side pockets
  • Dyneema Composite Fabric mesh bottom pocket
  • Dyneema Composite Fabric mesh front pocket
  • removable sternum strap
  • removable hip-belt (padded version optional)
  • 30L (1831 ci) interior, 2L (122 ci) side pockets, 4L (244 ci) stretch mesh pocket, 2L (122 ci) bottom pocket
  • 32 in tall x 11 in wide x 5 in deep (81 x 28 x 13 cm)

Product Category Overview

The YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L falls into the ever-growing fastpacking category. As far as I know, there is no official definition for fastpacking. But generally, it refers to backpacking at an increased pace and lowered weight in order to cover a lot of miles very quickly. Because it tends to occasionally cross over with trail running, some fastpacking packs have either vest-style or hybrid vest-style/fastpacking harnesses while others have traditional s-shaped shoulder straps. If you’ve ever tried running with your fully loaded, 60L, framed backpack you know that it’s pretty awful. Vest-style or hybrid vest-style/fastpacking harnesses keep the load secured to your torso to eliminate the uncomfortable bounce experienced when attempting to run while wearing a regular pack with a regular harness.

Because I own and have used the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus quite a lot, I will be comparing these packs a bit, mindful of the obvious size and harness differences. Another pack in this category that I will be comparing the YAR.gear to is the Mountainsmith Zerk 40 which Andrew Marshall reviewed in 2019, and another is the Pa’Lante Packs V2 which Mark Wetherington is reviewing (forthcoming). There are many others I could compare but which I don’t have direct or even indirect experience with including the Nashville Packs Cutaway (review forthcoming), the Mountain Laurel Designs Hell 27L, the Six Moon Designs Flight 40 FKT, the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40, the Superior Wilderness Designs Superior 35, and the Nunatak Liten 35 (by allmansright) among others.

Some packs in this list have vest-style harnesses and some have traditional s-shaped straps. I’m comparing the Mountain Drifter 38 to both because it overlaps both these categories.

Performance Assessment

Description of Field Testing

My first trip with the YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L backpack was in the Mazatzal Wilderness of central Arizona in mid-March. I carried five days of food but finished the 52-mile, on-trail, off-trail, and bushwhacking trip in three days. I had one fairly heavy water haul on the first day of this trip, but otherwise, my pack was pretty light. My trip in the Mazatzal Wilderness saw heinous bushwhacking through manzanita, catclaw mesquite, juniper, and many other gnarly plants.

low shrubs and spiky plants in the Utah desert.
I bushwhacked through manzanita, juniper, catclaw mesquite, and other spikey plants for a good portion of my Mazatzal trip.

My second trip with this pack was in Grand Staircase-Escalante in southern Utah in mid-April. I carried four days of food, although I finished this 48-mile trip in three days, as well. I had one major water haul on this trip, carrying five liters across deep sand and slickrock for about 12 miles (19 km).

Late May through July I also used this pack on several one-nighters in the Uinta Mountains of northern Utah. None of these trips saw big water hauls or bushwhacking. My overall pack weight stayed low, and I was able to run on some occasions.

How Many User-Days?

11 days backpacking and an additional 13 days day-hiking and trail running. One day mountain biking.

List of Performance Criteria

  • durability
  • hybrid Fast-Packing Harness
  • hipbelt
  • fit and Comfort/ How does it carry?
  • capacity
  • pockets/Storage
  • weight
  • finish Quality/ Aesthetics

Durability/ Fabric Technology

The YAR.gear Mountain Drifter 38L tested is made from Xpac VX21 RS. This is pretty much the same as the VX21 fabric folks may be familiar with, with the addition of a ripstop grid in the face fabric. I’ve used both the non-ripstop and ripstop versions and I don’t know if I’ve used either enough to be able to judge any huge difference in durability, but I will say I put the Mountain Drifter through some intense bushwhacking.

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