Gear Review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 NorthRim
The NorthRim is Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s most durable multiday backpack, meant for adventures on-trail and off. The design is similar to HMG’s Windrider and Southwest packs, but the use of 375-Denier fully woven Dyneema Composite Fabric ramps up the durability factor. This backpack is designed to be used hard; whether it’s exploring slot canyons, bushwhacking off-trail, or thru-hiking in any conditions, the NorthRim is an exceptional choice when toughness and durability are priorities.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 NorthRim At-a-Glance*
Weight: 2.19 pounds
MSRP: $410 (on sale for $350)
Capacity: Up to 40 pounds
Internal volume: 3400 cubic inches (55 liters)
External volume (Five pockets): 600 cubic inches (9.8 liters)
Height (fully unrolled): 34 inches
Back width: 10.5 inches
Materials: 375-Denier fully-woven Dyneema® Composite Fabric
* These specs are for the NorthRim 3400. The 4400 (70 liters) varies slightly. Details found here.
Circumstances of Review
The 3400 NorthRim was my go-to pack for a summer of guiding backpacking and multiday canoe trips in Western North Carolina, as well as fast-and-light personal excursions.
3400 NorthRim Features
- Insanely durable, waterproof Dyneema fabric.
- BIG, deep front pocket; roomy side pockets; two large pockets on hip belt with water resistant zippers.
- Roll-top closure with straps (3/4 inch nylon webbing) for vertical and horizontal compression; Y-strap compression on top for securing gear.
- Body compression straps, ice axe loop, grab loop.
- Adjustable sternum strap with whistle.
- Quarter-inch foam back panel pad; shoulder straps feature 3/8 inch closed cell foam and spacer mesh
What’s the Deal with Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)?
When I thru-hiked the AT in 2015, Cuben Fiber (CF) was all the rage. My trail buddy, Qui-Gon, had all the top of the line CF gear: tent, backpack, stuff sacks, T-shirt, shoes… OK, kidding about the shirt and shoes, but you get the idea. I was in awe of its ultralight, ultra-waterproof abilities. While I was scrambling to put my pack cover on in a downpour, Qui-gon whipped out his Cuben Fiber umbrella (no joke there) and kept on hiking.
As it turns out, Cuben Fiber was being rebranded as we hiked. It became Dyneema Composite Fabrics in 2015.
Dyneema is hardcore, this I know. But I was curious about the science behind it, so I did a little research. Hyperlite Mountain Gear explains Dyneema in depth on their website, but here’s a basic breakdown: Dyneema fibers are produced by extruding a polyethylene gel through a spinneret. It is then heated, stretched, and cooled, creating a fiber with long-chain molecular alignment and high crystallization. The resulting fiber is the strongest in the world. Dyneema Composite Fabrics (which is what the Northrim is made of), is created by laying Dyneema® fiber in opposing grid orientations, sandwiched between thin layers of polyester film, and using high pressure to meld them together. The result is a highly durable, lightweight material. The unicorn of the ultralight backpacking gear world, if you will.
3400 NorthRim Pros
Now that we know a little bit more about Dyneema®, let’s talk about how awesome this backpack is.
Pockets for Days
The 3400 NorthRim has five external pockets, all of which are roomy. The front pocket is the biggest and has become my catchall, especially for wet gear that I don’t want inside the pack and things I need to be able to access quickly. When I’m guiding, the front pocket is the perfect spot for a program first aid kit (keep in mind, though, that the pockets are not 100% waterproof. Things stowed in them will get wet if the pack is submerged in water or if it rains hard for days, like it often does in Southern Appalachia).
The side pockets are large enough to hold two water bottles in each, meaning I could carry four+ liters of water in those pockets alone. I really appreciate the ability to carry extra water for participants, and this feature also comes in handy on long, dry stretches.
There are two hip-belt pockets with water-resistant zippers. Keeping with the “big pocket” theme, these are also large and roomy. I can easily fit my brick of a cell phone, snacks, a jar of peanut butter, headlamp, and map/route information in these pockets, with room to spare. They are one of my favorite features of the NorthRim.
And I do mean unrivaled. I’ve never seen or used a backpack that is as tough as the NorthRim. I don’t think twice about crawling through rhododendron or hiking off-trail through spiky blackberry bushes with the NorthRim on my back. This pack was put through the ringer while I guided this summer, and it came out swinging. I especially love the fact that there is not an ounce of mesh webbing on this bad boy, meaning I didn’t have to deal with any ripped pockets or sneaky, gear-eradicating holes.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear designed the NorthRim to be used on off-trail adventures, to be thrown around in slot canyons and hauled up rough rock faces. This backpack is certainly durable enough to excel in those conditions, but it’s also an exceptional choice for folks who want an ultralight pack they can count on to go the distance. I would put my money on the NorthRim to survive and thrive on multiple thru-hikes in varying landscapes.
Have I mentioned how awesome Dyneema is? It’s light, durable, AND waterproof. The body of the NorthRim is 100% Dyneema Composite Fabric, meaning everything inside the pack stays dry. The roll-top closure (similar to a roll-top dry bag) provides extra waterproofing and peace of mind.
As if hiking all summer in wet and wonderful Western North Carolina wasn’t enough, I put the NorthRim to the test to haul gear on a four-day canoe trip. I didn’t dump my boat, so the pack was never fully submerged, but it sat through days of rapid spray and rain. I won’t lie, I held my breath each night as I opened the pack, thinking maybe it had somehow leaked, and each night I was thrilled to discover everything inside was completely dry.
Because the external pockets are somewhat open to the elements, things inside them will eventually get wet. The zippers on the hip-belt pockets are water resistant, but things stashed inside them have always stayed dry. I stored my cell phone inside the pack on my river trip, but I’m fully confident keeping it in a hip belt pocket while I’m backpacking (even in rainy weather).
3400 NorthRim Cons
If you’ve ever hiked with someone who uses Dyneema anything, you know it’s not the quietest material. The NorthRim is no different, and packing/unpacking it is not a silent experience. The sound is similar to crinkling a paper grocery bag. It’s not a bad sound, but if you’re up an hour before your hiking partners and trying to quietly pack up your gear, you’ll have to step away from the area.
Honestly, though, this backpack is waterproof, durable as heck, and lightweight, so it can be as loud as it wants.
Lack of Ventilation
The back of the NorthRim is also Dyneema Composite Fabric which, despite all its other amazing attributes, is not the most breathable material. My back consistently gets hot when using the NorthRim, especially on humid days.
Again, it all comes down to trade-offs. One of the reasons the NorthRim is so lightweight is because extras, like a back ventilation panel, weren’t included in its design. Personally, I’ll take a hot back over a heavy pack any day.
Overall Thoughts on the 3400 NorthRim
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear NorthRim 3400 is a true workhorse (of the ultralight, ultradurable, waterproof unicorn variety). It serves me exceptionally well while guiding because I know I can carry an appropriate amount of gear and water without sacrificing comfort or durability. On personal trips when I’m carrying less, I love the fact that I can adjust the roll-top to make the pack smaller and more compact.
The NorthRim is a great choice for those who need an incredibly durable and lightweight pack, especially backcountry guides, trail crews, and thru-hikers looking to put a lot of miles on their backpack.
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This product was donated for purpose of review.
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