Like most alpine packs, the Ice Pack ditches creature comforts like beefy foam on the shoulder straps and hipbelt, and a nice padded back panel, in favor of raw weight savings.
This is certainly not a pack I’d like to carry 50 pounds on an approach with (and HMG does specify that the load range tops out at 40 lbs). The frame consists of just two aluminum stays, not even a thin foam back panel to double as a bivy pad. But despite the absolute minimum of a suspension system, the pack carried surprisingly well.
I used it while instructing an 8-day Outward Bound course, and carried approximately 35 pounds for the entirety of the course in relative comfort. (Unlike most trips, my pack got heavier over the course…it’s a long story involving student emotional meltdowns.) My hips and shoulders were definitely more sore at the end of each day than they usually are with a beefier pack, but not significantly or uncomfortably more so.
Durability and Waterproofing
As I mentioned above, HMG has always used Cuben fiber on their packs, which is a high-tech weave originally developed for World Cup sailing events. This year, HMG started constructing full Dyneema packs that are theoretically even more durable than the Cuben versions, on top of being 100% waterproof.
After dragging the Ice Pack up multiple rough granite chimneys in the Tetons without putting a hole in the fabric, I feel confident in saying the Dyneema pack is significantly more durable than an equivalent nylon pack. However, the Dyneema weave is not indestructible. I managed to put a tiny hole in the pack after catching it on a granite edge, and noticed several spots where the fabric is visibly wearing thin after repeated abrasion. And yet, I have not noticed a decrease in the waterproofness of the pack. All the seams are fully taped, much like you’d see on a hard shell jacket. And while I’ve laid out previously on Blister my general dislike of roll-top closures, I don’t have an issue with the roll-top on the Ice Pack, since the pack is actually waterproof. I’ve carried the pack through the pouring rain for hours, and haven’t had any leakage into the body of the pack.
In the Field
Although using the Ice Pack while instructing gave me some indication of the carrying capacity and comfort of the pack, it was no substitute for going fast and light in the big mountains, the gladiator’s arena of alpine packs.
Itching for some alpine action, I headed north from Leadville, CO, to the playground of Jackson, WY, and Grand Teton National Park. A friend and I met up in Jackson and headed into the hills to attempt the Grand Traverse, going up and over all the major peaks of the Tetons in one big, light push.
At 6 am, we left the parking lot and headed up Teewinot. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to weigh my pack before we left, but with a rope, rack, bivy gear, and two days of food, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 pounds.
To make climbing easier, I elected to leave the hipbelt behind and just use the shoulder straps to carry the pack.
About half an hour into the hike, I began to mildly regret that decision when my shoulders started to ache. But I was able to adequately manage the burn by adjusting the length of the shoulder straps and sternum strap on the fly every ten minutes or so. Still, I learned that I personally would rather have the hipbelt for any hike over a couple hours.
The next two days comprised of 13 miles of the most exposed ridge scrambling and soloing on 4th and 5th class terrain that I’ve partaken in. We roped up for a total of 9 pitches, along with a whole bunch of adventure rappelling, and down-soloing.
The Ice Pack climbed better than any other pack I’ve used. Unlike with most large-manufacturer packs, where removing the hipbelt leaves a slim webbing strap, the hipbelt on the Ice Pack comes off completely, leaving nothing in the way of accessing gear loops on your harness, a key feature when leading the crux pitch of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton. The Ice Pack also stayed nicely centered on my back, even when leaning over or ducking around exposed blocks. That’s not unique to this pack, but it’s still a nice aspect.
Dyneema isn’t cheap, and at $550, the Ice Pack is one of the most expensive packs on the market. You’ll have to decide whether a two-pound, nearly-indestructible pack is a smart investment.
I’ve got about 30 days with the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack 3400, and I’m very impressed with the construction and usability of the pack. While a longer test period (ideally somewhere in the hundreds of days) is necessary to really put the Dyneema fabric to the test, my initial impression is very favorable.
This is not a pack for everyday adventuring, nor for those who require lots of pockets for organization. But for those who put a premium on low weight and durability, the Ice Pack deserves very serious consideration. It is one of the best packs I’ve ever used.