Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 50 Backpack
Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 50 Backpack
The Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 50 Backpack is, as the name would have you guess, a weight saving, alpine climbing-oriented pack for overnight or gear-intensive missions. I had an awesome opportunity to test out this pack on a series of search and rescue missions that thoroughly tried the baseline function, versatility, and durability of this piece of equipment.
The details of the operations are classified. If I told you, I’d have to kill you… Just kidding, kinda. What I can say is that I climbed, scrambled, and flew all over creation with the Alpine Light 50 in tow. I carried it stuffed to the brim, almost empty, and every load out configuration in-between.
After all that, I’m really, really impressed with this pack. Mountain Hardwear did a stellar job of not reinventing the wheel, but refining it elegantly. The standout features are the weight reduction, ability to shrink down and not lose functionality, and the culmination of nuanced design features that grant the pack its elegant character.
Light is in the Name
This pack is a pound and half lighter than my previous 50L pack that was already pretty darn light, and it carries wayyy better. Mountain Hardwear knocked the ounces off by utilizing lightweight materials and components and streamlining features. The majority of the fabric on this pack is Dyneema which is known for being lightweight, durable, and waterproof.
The frame of the pack is made of 7000 series aluminum that is implemented by the aerospace industry because of its excellent strength to weight ratio. It’s also removable if you want to shave a few more ounces. The theme of gram shaving is present all the way through the littlest details. Every drawstring, buckle, and zipper is exactly as strong as it needs to be and isn’t overbuilt.
All that said, weight savings alone aren’t revolutionary. What separates this pack from the rest is that it still carries heavy loads super well. I would go so far as to say that this is the most comfortable carrying pack I own.
Mountain Hardwear added some smart refinements and features to a tried and tested brain/body pack design. The body is top access with a drawstring closure and the brain has top and underside zipper compartments, as is standard. The body doesn’t have any quick access points i.e. zippered back panel or side zipper, but the compromise is two flush-to-surface zipper pockets at the top of the sides of the pack. They have just enough room for the things you’ll need for a water break. They’re also the best way to carry a radio that I’ve ever had as a standard feature on a pack.
The brain is designed to be removed, which becomes evident when you go to do so and the closure system works just as well without it. I was really impressed by that, and it’s one of the reasons this pack can actually function as a 30 or 40 litter pack.
Moreover, I’ve never owned a pack that really does function as a 30L, 40L, and 50L totally independently. It’s a game-changer to show up for SAR with a pack that can fit any mission profile, and better yet, go into the field or up to a high camp and retool to match the changing tasks throughout the day.
I’ve always felt the need to have a specific pack for each activity and amount of gear I needed to carry. As a result, I own about a dozen packs and would own a dozen more if I had the room for them. To my amazement, I think this thing has replaced two to three packs from my quiver – an unprecedented feat.
The Alpine Light 50 obviously screams mountaineering and alpine climbing pack, but it would also work really well for backpacking and overnight backcountry ski trips. The only thing it’s missing for winter use is a dedicated avalanche rescue tool compartment. Out of curiosity, I mocked it up for a winter trip and found that my shovel handle and probe fit in the frame sleeve and my shovel blade clips into the hydration bladder buckle. It seemed to work just fine and I plan on using it this winter.
Load suspension system
This pack carries like a dream. The hip pads and shoulder straps have the goldilocks density of foam that is forms to your anatomy but doesn’t fully compress under load. My favorite feature of the suspension system is the full-sized load lifter straps. Many lightweight alpine style packs don’t have them, but they’re what allows this pack to carry a full 50L load without pulling you over backwards. I don’t know how well they would work if you opted to remove the frame, but it’s so light that I’ve yet to take it out.
I’m 5’9” 140lbs and the S/M fit me really well. The frame length is just right. The hip strap cinches down as tight as I need it to, but it’s dangerously close to being too big. I have a 29/30” waist and tiny hips, and I don’t think that the hip strap would work with someone with a waist/hips much smaller than mine. One of my only points of feedback would be to either add some range to the lower end of the S/M sizing or create an additional sizing option to fit smaller folks.
Details, Details, Details
It’s the little things in life that make a big difference, right? I think the real value to this pack is the culmination of the dozens of little subtleties that MH nailed. There’s so many that to spell them all out would be tedious, so here’s a list of my favorites.
- Stiff panel under external crampon straps (keeps crampons secure if the pack is under stuffed, and keeps pack shape as you compress it down)
- Small, rigid tab with lid strap attachment point that secures top of pack when brain is removed
- Additional lid strap attachment point to secure a rope to the top of pack without the lid
- Extra tab above crampon straps that works with the lid strap to further secure crampons
- Dyneema loops for A-frame ski carry
- Glove-friendly buckles
- One gear loop and one pocket on the hip strap pads
- Sweet zippered stuff sack that comes with it
- Water-resistance (sufficient for most things Colorado could throw at you, but my stuff got a little damp during a sideways rainstorm on Rainier)
This pack is the solution to so many things. Basecamp supported alpine missions, winter hut trips, or just uncertainty of what you’ll find when you get to the trailhead. Ultimately, it’s the solution to having to decide between weight savings and functionality in the 50L pack size. I can’t recommend this pack enough. As long as Mountain Hardwear keeps making them, I’ll have one in my quiver.
Grab the 35L version here.