Hyperlite Mountain Gear - Southwest 3400
I've been a user of this pack for the last four years. After such an extended period, I think I can give an honest review of the HMG Southwest 3400. I've been talking about the company and the Dyneema fabric deeply on my review of the HMG Summit pack.
I knew about the Southwest way before buying the Summit Pack. At that time, I had heard about DCF characteristics, the sturdiness, and the lightweight while watching review videos on YouTube. Until last year the Southwest (and the other packs of the same line) were considered a must-have for Thru-Hikers and minimalism enthusiasts. As soon I had the chance to test the Summit Pack (my first Dyneema pack), I wouldn't think twice switching my beloved Osprey Exos 48 for this Dyneema beauty.
Besides, using this pack made me realize how simple is the construction of a DCF pack and eventually led me to DIY my backpacks.
The Southwest came in three different capacities: the 2400 (40L), the 3400 (55L) the 4400 (70L). The concept behind the 3400 is a backpack that can be used for both summer when the gear is minimal, and winter when your carry is bulkier. The 55L version is basically a longer version of the 40L, by rolling the top, it's almost impossible to distinguish between a 2400 and a 3400.
For about two years and a half, I've used this backpack in many situations, from long multi-days hikes to winter mountaineering. Recently I felt the necessity to have a more dedicated pack for these specific activities that require great versatility, quick ice axe attachments, and possibly a top lid with zip pocket.
The Southwest is a simple minimalist rolltop bag design. It is similar to his little brother (the Summit pack), which is one piece of Dyneema with straps, sewed on the front. Instead, the Southwest has two parts of DCF150 dernier, the front section where pockets and daisy chains are attached and the back panel. The main difference from the Summit is the ultralight internal structure: Removable, contoured aluminum stays.
Pockets and straps are in UHMWPE (grid-stop nylon, coated with Dyneema and coated in a water-resistant backing). I would recommend checking the HMG page where they explain the materials; I genuinely believe that to rationalize the premium price of this backpack, you must understand the merit of using Dyneema fabric.
Storage & Comfort
A 55L backpack is probably more than enough space for a week of summer backpacking. It is also what many thru-hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail select as their main backpack.
I've been able to push the limits of this 55L in winter, when carrying heavy climbing gear, camping gear, food for multiple days, a rope, ice tools, crampons, a helmet, etc. I noticed how comfortable the Southwest was even when fully loaded to capacity, carrying around 20kg.
The external pockets are capable of contains more gear than what it looks.
The shoulder straps are well padded (something I would like to have on the summit pack), and the hip belt, complete of pockets, also feels comfortable.
The total weight of the pack is 852g for the white version and 917g for the black Dyneema version.
The Southwest 3400 all open to capacity.
When half empty it gets quite annoying to grab anything inside this long "tube".
HMG claims this pack to be a 55L, but I think with the external pocket I was able to push it to 60L.
The compression straps on the sides look flimsy but in reality, they work beautifully and they never lose the grip when full tighten.
What I liked
I don't need to describe the few minimal features of the Southwest 3400, plenty of websites and youtube videos already did a great job. What I can say is that this backpack is worth the money. I couldn't stop thinking that is without no doubts, the most comfortable pack I ever used. The fitting is just perfect. I pushed it to the limit in winter expeditions, bringing a full load of winter camping gear, climbing rack, rope, ice tools, ice screws, crampons, snow shovel, and much more. Incredibly, the almost absent back panel padding feels like a more traditional framed osprey pack.
HMG guarantees the waterproofness of DFC, but I honestly never really used the pack fully loaded in the rainy season, so I can't say if it's waterproof. Although watching other review videos on Youtube looks like the sealing of the seams will lose strength after a few years of use. For this reason, I always use a big plastic bag as "redundant protection" for my gear, especially camping gear like the sleeping bag.
The HMG Southwest 3400 cost about 330.00 dollars. Quite a premium price. For a similar amount of dollars you can find alternatives at ZPacks, Mountain Laurel, Atom packs, Lite Af, Pa'Lante, Mc Hale, Zimmerbuild, CiloGear staying in the USA, or Bonfus and Exped in Europe. If looking for a budget option, I recommend checking in those brands (except HMG) the X-PAC fabric backpacks, a highly durable and mildly waterproof material, but indeed cheaper than Dyneema.
Who does it suit
Everybody looking for a water-resistant, ultralight 55L backpacks. People who understand the merit of a packed made of Dyneema. Also, suit people who look for a versatile backpack with essential features.
People looking for more traditional backpacks with compartments, organization, modularity. Who really enjoy the bulky backpack frames, extra padded straps, extra adjustments webbing.
As usual, I wish this backpack was perfect. I had to figure out a system to strap my ice tools and crampons on the outside. I know this is not the model supposed to become an alpine pack (HMG has the Ice Pack model for that job). Also, I would like to see a top lid add-on, to complete the pack for these days the roll-top is just bummer. For this premium price, I wish they had some add-on to strap gear on the outside, but as I said before, this type of backpack has to be understood for what it is and loved for what it is.