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HMG Porter or ULA Epic
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Michael S
(CascadeBackpacker) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
HMG Porter or ULA Epic on 12/15/2013 10:18:15 MST Print View

Are these the 2 main packs that packrafters are using? I'm looking at getting a pack that is suited for packrafting. I know the ULA Epic has been around for a while, but I'm seeing more Porters being used.

Do folks have a preference between these two? Does one have advantages that the other doesn't? I know the ULA Epic has the flexibility of using different size dry bags. If the Epic carries anything like the Circuit, then I know its a great pack. Does the HMG have advantages for packrafting that I'm overlooking (lash points, etc...)

Also, I've noticed some, ex: Forest McCarthy, carry everything (packraft and paddles) inside their pack. It seems most carry these things outside their pack. Again wondering if there is some advantage to having a pack big enough to carry everything inside, like it carries better?


Edited by CascadeBackpacker on 12/15/2013 10:19:27 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Ideas on 12/15/2013 12:49:18 MST Print View

I've played with the Porter and like it. I have only seen the Epic in pictures. According to Ryan Jordan the Porter carries more weight. Weight wise I don't think you save any real weight by using the Epic.

Another idea that might work is the Exped Lighting 60. Its a tad smaller then the Porter 3400 but most of the Porters extra volume is in the tall extension caller. The Exped has a really nice suspension system, I'd guess as good or better then the Porters. I carried 55 pounds in my Exped just to try it out and it handled the weight pretty well. The one downside to the Exped is the fabric isn't waterproof. You'd want a dry bag anyway but the Exped might pick up a bit more water weight. Also it doesn't have as many attachment points as the Porter. On the other hand its about $120 cheaper so you might be motivated to make it work.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: packraft pack on 12/15/2013 19:02:57 MST Print View

"Again wondering if there is some advantage to having a pack big enough to carry everything inside, like it carries better?"

Putting everything inside is very nice. It keeps stuff from snagging on brush. It doesn't in and of itself carry better, but tends to encourage more disciplined packing.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: HMG Porter or ULA Epic on 12/15/2013 21:19:44 MST Print View

"Also, I've noticed some, ex: Forest McCarthy, carry everything (packraft and paddles) inside their pack."

If you watch any of the videos on the Alaska Wilderness Classic pay attention to the brush-busting.

And IIR, Mr. Chenault lamented extraneous exterior stuff snagging the alders on one of his recent trips.

edit: Indeed he does, above.

Edited by greg23 on 12/15/2013 21:21:18 MST.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Porter vs. Epic on 12/16/2013 00:21:47 MST Print View

The Epic is an OK pack, but doesn't carry a lot of weight (40+ lb) well without sagging badly downward; plus, I've seen a few hip belts rip out under heavy loads...

I carry 45-55 lbs regularly in the Porter. No way I'd do that in an Epic, which is ... maybe 35 lb tops for all day long distance comfort. 55 is sheer misery in the Epic, 45 is OK for only 6 or 8 hours...maybe?

Neither pack absorbs much water, so both are well suited for the wet environments found while paddling.

I don't use a dry bag with my Porter and I flip and swim a lot more than Roman or Forrest...!

Edited by ryan on 12/16/2013 00:22:35 MST.

Jeff Gerke

Locale: Utah
Porter on 12/16/2013 11:45:32 MST Print View

I have a 3400 Porter and love it. I like the Porter enough that I just ordered a 4400 Porter to use for packrafting next year. I have never used an Epic. HMG made some modifications to the 2014 Porter so it can handle more weight. From what I hear around 65 pounds, not that you would want to carry that much.

Edited by mtnrunner on 12/16/2013 11:48:44 MST.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Packs on 12/16/2013 12:16:24 MST Print View

There's a few main considerations here:
1) Keeping your stuff dry / not taking on excessive water weight
2) Having the volume and structure to carry bigger, heavier loads.

A dry bag hauler pack like the Epic is going to be the best at keeping your stuff dry since it employs a dry bag. Next best is a pack made of waterproof material that is largely seam sealed like the porter. Following that would be a non-seam sealed waterproof packs and then packs that aren't waterproof. A similar relationship exists for water weight.

I haven't used the Epic, but I have used a drybag style hauler pack (NRS Paragon) and find them a bit finicky to use, as you've got a lot of straps and the whole thing kinda falls apart at night when you empty the pack. As mentioned, the Porter can carry more weight.

I mulled over this same decision for a while before opting for a cuben hybrid ULA Catalyst pack. I like the idea of the Porter, but I prefer to have a pack with a few more features (ie. waterbottle pockets, rear pocket). This makes it a bit heavier than the porter (40oz vs 33oz) but I'm happy with the trade off. I also consider the Catalyst frame to be a better and more substantial design, as it employs a stiffer foam sheet in addition to the dual stays, and the stays are positioned smarter (\/ shaped rather than parallel like the Porter, which prevents the pack from rounding into a "sausage" when packed full).

Edited by dandydan on 12/16/2013 12:18:11 MST.

Jon Holthaus
(t25hatch) - M
Packs on 12/16/2013 14:04:24 MST Print View

The Porter pack (or style rather) gets my vote for sure. I made my own Porter replica 50L out of VX21 this past spring to take for late Spring and Summer packrafting trips, and the stripped down features to a basic pack is all I can ask for. As Dave C. mentioned it makes you more of a conscience packer, (where as with an Epic you would just throw everything in a drybag and worry about how it carries after you attach it to pack, cinching straps, smacking the side getting everything to 'fit right'. I as well used to really enjoy having pockets for water, but I've realized that when I want water, I really enjoy stopping for a minute anyways. Hip belt pockets are nice for small things if you go the Porter route.
I recently purchased a 4400 porter based on their big winter sale which I'm looking forward to using for winter packrafting trips, 70L is enormous. This is the first pack I've purchased in a long time as I usually prefer my own creation. There is a ton of positive feedback on the hybrid cuben aside from some of the stitching that can tend to look stretch, but it'll definately be different from that feeling of being able to beat up xpac for my use here on the East (WV, Penn, NC, Ky, Tenn).

Michael S
(CascadeBackpacker) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
HMG Porter or ULA Epic on 12/19/2013 19:33:03 MST Print View

Thanks for all the insightful feedback. I very much appreciate you sharing your experience with these packs. I ended up going with the HMG Porter. This pack will be great for packrafting as well as the occasional mountaineering excursion. Thanks again.

Steven Duby
(JHypers) - M

Locale: Interior Alaska
When in doubt, get both...or neither on 05/15/2014 16:04:33 MDT Print View

I have both packs, and if I were to pick one I'd go with the Porter simply because it's a more efficient system. I've used the Epic for three solid summers of packrafting adventures, and the weaknesses are twofold: 1) the load hangs low, and 2) it's difficult to pack fast & efficiently, especially when carrying heavier loads. I think the Epic still holds a place among "raft packs", especially day boating with a 35-liter bag...but the fact is that Alpacka, since they came out with the zipper boat, has effectively eliminated one of the problems packrafters face: the need for a waterproof pack.

Now, breaking it down to basic economics, let's assume you have limited funds and the choice of either getting a new pack designed for packrafting, or the zipper boat retrofit for your Alpacka. The cargo fly retrofit is currently $275, and it includes two dry bags for gear storage inside the tubes. Unless you use a huge expedition pack, whatever you have should fit empty inside the raft, totally protected unless you suffer the extreme misfortune of a torn tube. And with your gear stored at your sides along the stern, your center of gravity is lowered for the "fringe" benefit of increased performance in rougher waters.

Compare this to purchasing a new pack...and for the sake of argument we can even toss in the Exped Lightning 60 because it's in the same class as the Porter and Epic. The Porter is $345 for the 4400 model...the Epic remains $275...and the Lightning is $289. The only truly waterproof design is the Epic, and even then the suspension system is subjected to getting wet unless you have enough space to put the harness inside the dry bag. I've personally never had an issue with it being wet, but it's something to consider.

Some might be concerned about the reliability of the zipper boat, but in my mind that concern was laid to rest when guys started boofing 20-foot waterfalls in those boats without failure.

My point to all of this might seem obvious, but in case it wasn't....if you have an adequate pack that can comfortably carry all of your packrafting gear, but it wasn't specifically designed for "rafting the pack"...consider the zipper.