Let me tell you a little story of my email correspondence over the years: I post a review of a Mystery Ranch bag, or a GORUCK bag and in the review I talk about how comfortable those bags are. Then, I get a message from someone telling me that I should really try Hill People Gear bags, because there are no more comfortable harness systems on the market — they tell me.
So I go look at their gear, and everything seems to odd looking for me to use day to day, and I move on. Until recently when a member sent me a really good offer on Hill People Gear’s Connor Pack v2, so I went for it. That was months ago, and I have never really got around to reviewing the bag or using it a ton. I did take it to the office and used it rucking a bunch and then it fell away.
So the question then is: are the fans right, is it more comfortable to wear than GORUCK or Mystery Ranch? Yes, yes it is.
But that’s really the limit, because when it is on, adjusted correctly, and settled in — great. Anything outside of that: not great.
Let’s get into it then…
Size and Specs
This is a really nicely sized bag at 26L, making it something that is a nearly ideal all around size for a bag. Even the overall proportions are nice: 21” tall x 10” wide x 5” in depth. It is heavy at 3.5lbs (it has metal stays in the frame sheet, so this is rather understandable). Those stays allow you to shape the framesheet to your back, and also help to distribute the load across your back.
To give you an idea of how serious Hill People Gear take their ‘chassis’ on their backpacks, they also spec out how much weight it can handle:
- Beltless Chassis Capacity: 80lbs
- Belted Chassis Capacity: 150lbs
I believe it too. The bag is mostly 500D cordura, with some mesh and stretch tweave on it. Hypalon in spots and First Spears velcro/PALs grid thing as the entire back panel inside the bag. It’s all high quality stuff, well made — very well made actually.
There’s really three parts to the story of this bag: it’s configuration for storage of stuff; the way it feels when you are wearing it; and actually using the bag. So I am going to break it apart and talk about each separately.
Storing of Things
The layout of this bag is really clever. It’s essentially a big open rectangle, as you get the full space of the bag. The zippers do go all the way down to make it clamshell, but are blocked from really achieving this the same way a GR1 does, by the water bottle pockets on each side. I don’t think this matters in practice for what this bag is designed for: outdoors.
In the main compartment you get the First Spear’s loop back with laser cut PALs compatible slots. So no matter if you are a hook back pouch guy, or a MOLLE pouch guy, you can make either or both work here. It’s really a nice setup, with my only complaint being that it is a little saggy and could use a few strategic bar tacks to the back panel of the bag to keep the material from sagging.
The inside of the lid has a large mesh pocket that opens at the top and is the full length of the front panel. This pocket is less about organization, than it is about gear separation. The bag is easy to use in that respect, and makes for a versatile bag: lay it out how you want it, or don’t and shove it full. Doesn’t matter — less organization here than even a GORUCK bag. I dig it.
The outside of the bag has two water bottle pockets each side, which are design to house a 32oz Nalgene, they don’t stretch or do anything to secure the bottle. That’s because there’s Hypalon type wings on this bag (with laser cut PALs) that wrap around the bag to compress it, and hold in the bottle. This same technique can also hold hiking poles or tripods — it’s fairly versatile and makes it a clever design overall. Those two wings clip with side release buckles on the front of the bag, but you can modify that (per Hill People Gear) to have the buckles simply snap into the other wing, and thus have less range for expansion. I didn’t bother, as I am skeptical as to the overall value of that change.
At the bottom of the bag are two smaller webbing straps with buckles, this is either for gear storage or minimal compression on the bottom of the bag — again this is primarily an outdoors pack, so this makes a lot of sense.
More interesting is the front of bag, it has two mesh pockets with open tops for quick stash of items. There’s a tall centerline zipper which opens an amorphous area, which is expandable given that the material on the face is a stretch tweave — I dig this pocket. It’s very useable, and swallows up gear. Exactly the kind of pocket you want to stash stuff in and out of a bag when hiking.
All in all, for holding things, this is a fantastic bag design. I am a big fan. In person I also think it looks pretty solid, except the straps which are very messy looking.
When You Wear the Bag
This bag takes a lot to get it adjusted correctly. I had to bend the frame stays, and adjust every single strap on the bag multiple times until I got it right.
The shoulder straps are thin, and extremely wide — wider than anything you likely have used before. The bag is designed to pull down on your shoulders while driving the weight towards the small of your back. So it hangs the weight about 55% on your shoulders and 45% on your lower back/hip area. (I would say Mystery Ranch bags do a 75%/25% and GORUCK does a 90%/10%.)
Once you get all that stuff adjusted, and get the bag on — wow. I pushed this at 45lbs of shit for my morning rucks over a couple of weeks and dozens of miles. It’s comfortable in a different way than my other bags. It feels kind of firm when you put it on, and for the first quarter mile, I wonder why I recall it ever being comfortable as it doesn’t feel comfortable. And then it sort of settles in and all is good, something changes, and everything feels nice.
When people talk about how comfortable these bags are, this is what they mean. This bag is superb when you are wearing it. It mates right to your back, and off you go.
The wide straps keep anything from digging and you can kind of keep on moving without adjusting — it’s hard to convey it. So suffice to say, it would be my pick for a backpack I would need to wear for long stretches of time with any amount of weight — but only specifically for that. Because…
In Actual Use
Here’s the thing people gloss over with this bag: it’s a nightmare to take on and off. Even when I took it to the office and was only using it with a light load — getting it off, or on, sucks. It feels like I am strapping into a spaceship to take off. I hate it.
Because of the absurd amount of adjustments this bag requires to get setup, you are not supposed to adjust the normal ladder locks which lengthen and shortens the straps on the bag. Instead, if you need help to ease taking on and off the bag (per HPG) then you release the load lifters at the top of the bag. This actually works, except that it’s nearly impossible to release those adjusters. Because the webbing used is really serious shit, thus it doesn’t slide through the ladder locks well, and the position of the release requires more flexibility than I have — I can’t release the tension on the load lifters while I am wearing the bag.
I can take the bag on and off without doing this, but it is really annoying. So much so that I can’t imagine actually wanting to hike with this unless you figured you were not taking off the bag until you got to your destination — but that’s odd for a 26L bag. That’s a size you use for day hikes and thus would likely take on and off a fair bit — no thanks on that.
And that’s why, I have to assume, Hill People Gear makes the ‘Kit Bags’ which ride on your chest and clip into their harness. I have one, and tried that, works well enough. So you shift all your quick access gear to your chest to make up for the fact you don’t want to take your backpack off, and in doing so make it even harder to easily get the backpack off.
It absolutely makes no sense to me.
One last point: oh my god, this bag could not have more straps and shit all over it. There’s so many straps, it’s like what airplane cockpits are to switches, this backpack is to straps, adjusters, and little bits of elastic webbing. Visually it’s a bit of a nightmare, but also practically it is a little hard to know which strap is which easily.
I don’t know. Objectively ,this is a really good bag. It’s comfortable and smartly designed to hold all your stuff. It could legitimately work for just about anything this size of bag could be needed for — I used it for all of it without really that much practical issues.
At the same time, it has way too many straps to use outside of outdoors use. And it’s very frustrating to take on and off, and that’s simply the reality of my life: I need to feel welcome to take my bag on and off as much as I like to get at my stuff. Otherwise, what’s the point of having the stuff?
I begrudge no one for liking this bag, but I’m not a big fan. I can’t think of a better bag to strap on to walk over a long distance should I need it — and with all those straps I can keep adding whatever I want to it along the way. But for a bag I would use in any realistic scenario — it doesn’t work for me.
Still… it is the most comfortable bag to carry weight I have tested.