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Review: Hanchor Marl backpack || Novel brand, clean look, core features

The Hanchor Marl is best suited for small but dense 3-season loads. It has 50 liters of total volume, twin aluminum stays, a practical feature set, and a clean look. It retails for $260 and weighs 37 oz.

For nearly two full seasons a new Hanchor Marl backpack sat in my garage, waiting for the right opportunity to be taken out. It should not have taken so long, but it did — I was preoccupied with designing the Flex Capacitor, and I need more than 50 liters of capacity when guiding trips.

Last month it finally got called up, for an off-trail 9-day/8-night route in Yosemite National Park. It was the perfect pick, and I will definitely use it again on similar outings.

Review: Hanchor Marl

The Marl is ideal for small but dense 3-season kits. If the weight of your consumables often weighs as much or more than your streamlined setup (e.g. a thru-hiker crossing a desert or going a week between resupplies), the Marl is worth a look.

In my case, I left the trailhead for my first loop with 30 pounds: a 15-pound base weight, 2-pound bear canister, 5.5 days of food, and 2 pounds of water. (My pack weighed just 22 pounds when I left for the second loop, which was shorter.) This load did not push the Marl to its max, in terms of volume or comfort.

Its main compartment has 42 liters of capacity (plus ~10 liters of external storage), and the load is well carried with twin aluminum vertical stays and a modest harness system. The shoulder straps, hip belt, and back panel are cushioned and supportive, yet firm and not overbuilt.

The Marl sits close to the body, has a tall-and-narrow main compartment, is made mostly of premium durable fabrics, offers minimal but practical external storage (rear pocket, two side pockets, two hipbelt pockets), and has a clean overall aesthetic.

Among other packs that I have used, the Marl reminds me most of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400. Of the two, I’d prefer the Marl. It has more generous hipbelt pockets (at least relative to HMG’s older design) and a taller rear pocket. It costs less, has a slightly better and more comfortable suspension and harness (e.g. load-lifter straps, more ventilated back panel), and is more novel.

The Marl has twin aluminum stays that anchor directly into the hipbelt for efficient load transfer. Padded mesh columns on the back panel cushion these stays and provide some ventilation.

About Hanchor

Hanchor is a Taiwan-based cottage gear company that specializes in packs — daypacks, climbing packs, messenger bags, chalk bags, and two hiking packs. It ships internationally for a flat fee of about $20 USD; import taxes and fees may apply.

Key specs

  • NT$7990 ($260 USD), not including shipping ($20 flat international) or import fees
  • 2 lbs 5 oz (1053g) for Regular torso and Small hipbelt
  • Fabrics: X-Pack VX21 for main body and side pockets, VX42 for bottom panel
  • Five external pockets: rear, two side, two hipbelt
  • Roll-top closure
  • Available in 16 sizes: four torso lengths and four hipbelts

The main compartment of the Marl fits a BV450 nicely, with a little bit of room to spare. I was able to slide a folded-up tarp next to it.

Durability

With the exception of its rear pocket, the Marl is bomber. It’s masterfully constructed, with impeccable stitching, binded seams, and reinforced joints and wear-prone areas.

The main body and side pockets are made of X-Pack VX21; the bottom, heavier-duty VX42. Dave, whose opinions on backpack fabrics I trust most, would be happy with these choices. In my short-term use, these fabrics seemed unphased by regular scrapes with sharp-edged Yosemite granite. This pack does not need to be babied.

When Hanchor sent me the Marl, its side pockets and rear pocket were both made of large-pored mesh. Now, only the rear pocket is. I wish it were not — several inconsequential holes developed where it was snagged by brush or rock.

With the exception of the rear pocket, the Marl is made of premium durable fabrics. The rear pocket should be, too: it did not withstand run-ins with sharp Yosemite granite.

Load carrying

The Marl has twin vertical stays that anchor directly into the hipbelt for efficient load transfer. They are removable (not easily) and made of aluminum. A third horizontal stay near the top prevents barrelling.

The hipbelt and shoulder straps are sturdy, modestly cushioned, and covered in mesh. They look similar to those from ULA. The back panel has two strips of padded mesh that cushion the body against the stays and that provide some ventilation (i.e. better than HMG, worse than Osprey).

The stays stop at the crest of the shoulder straps, which is probably appropriate on the Marl. This height gives function to the load-lifter straps, and supports weight that is placed slightly above the shoulder strap anchor points (which are a few inches below the crest). Taller stays would more effectively carry heavier loads, but probably be overkill for a 50-liter pack.

The Marl has twin aluminum stays (that are removable, but not easily) and one lateral stay near the top to prevent barreling.

Feature set

The features that I would describe as critical are all included on the Marl: two hipbelt pockets, two side pockets, a rear pocket (which is “critical” with roll-top designs), compression straps, and some additional utility infrastructure (notably, two linear daisy chains that could be used to secure an axe or snowshoes).

The Marl has some thoughtful features, too. For example, the loose end of the top lid strap is connected to the pack, so it does not flutter in the wind. And the bottom seam is bound externally with webbing, which gives it a flatter bottom and makes it more easy to stand up (like a PlatyBottle).

The Marl has several nice touches that don’t add significant weight, indicating to me a real attention to detail. By attaching the top strap to itself, it does not flutter in the wind or swing sloppily.

Room for improvement

Overall, I really liked the Marl, and would most definitely use it again on this trip and others like it. It could be even better with a few modifications, however:

Reverse the orientation of the hipbelt zippers, so that the bottom stop is on the vertical portion of the opening. In the current configuration, small objects (e.g. pen, lip balm dispenser) can slip out of the pocket if it’s not fully closed.

The hipbelt pockets are perfectly sized (they store what they need to while remaining low-profile), but the zipper orientation should be reversed so that small things don’t fall out if the pocket is not completely closed.

Substitute the rear pocket fabric for VX21, which will be dramatically more durable. I’d happily pay another $10-20 at retail for this.

The side compression straps should have side-release buckles, not ladder-locks, so that objects can be more easily attached to the side of the pack, instead of needing to be slid down between the webbing and pack. This would also create better infrastructure for a horizontal compression strap across the entire pack, if one was needed (e.g. for snowshoes).

When Hanchor changed the side pocket fabric from large-pored mesh to VX21, it also appears to have redesigned the pocket, too, and I’m hoping that my issues were addressed. My side pockets need cupped bottoms, so that bottles sit flush. They also need greater tension/elasticity along the upper seam, to keep items in place and to prevent them from slipping out.

Finally, I’m a size Regular torso, and at the upper end of the 17- to 19-inch range. However. I have a small upper body, with a 39-inch chest and little muscle mass. Even so, I found the shoulder straps to be just long enough, and actually wished that they extended another inch lower. A user who is more barrel chested may find the shoulder straps too short.

Questions about the Hanchor Marl, or have an experience with it? Leave a comment.


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16 Responses to Review: Hanchor Marl backpack || Novel brand, clean look, core features

  1. Thomas Smith August 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

    It looks like you have the Bear Vault at the bottom of your pack, is that where you typically store it? I’m heading out for 4 days in Yosemite next week, thanks for the help!

    • Andrew Skurka August 31, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

      Not quite. My sleeping quilt and pad are below it, out of view. The canister is probably the densest item in your pack, and you want it to sit in the small of your back. If it’s high, you’ll be wobbly side-to-side. And if it’s low, it affects your center of gravity in a way that’s tough to offset — leaning forward doesn’t do it.

  2. Jim August 31, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

    What’s the type of aluminium they use? I’m guessing 7075? Also, is the horizontal stay aluminium or a more pliable material? How did the hipbelt feel? In the pic it looks very flat and just wondering about cant of the design. Finally how thick/dense are those back padded columns? The lumbar area will compress in time and that would be my most significant concern. Looks great though, might pick one up

    • Andrew Skurka September 1, 2018 at 7:16 am #

      Uncertain about the aluminum type. The horizontal stay is the same — it’s pretty stiff.

      Hipbelt is nice. It’s patterned to wrap, i.e. slightly longer outside material than inside, so it naturally curves. And the entire hipbelt is on contact with the body, no gaps. I had some tenderness on the second morning, but not again after that. But that’s true of any pack I’ve loaded with 30 pounds and worn for 8 hours out of the gate — it’s like being saddle sore after riding your bike for the first time in a month.

      The back panel columns are slightly padded, but I wouldn’t worry about flattening of the padding. Even if it does flatten (which will take a long time), there is enough material between you and the stays to maintain adequate cushion. The mesh material has some thickness to it, and then there is the padding.

  3. Roland September 1, 2018 at 9:31 am #

    is that the Bearvaultt 450 or the 500? If it’s the 450, will the 500 also pack horizontal?
    Thanks

  4. Roland September 1, 2018 at 6:48 pm #

    Ooops it says it was a 450 bear vault.
    Sorry for that. But still, would a 500 fit?

  5. Alex Wallace September 5, 2018 at 1:33 pm #

    Great review. I too have a MARL and generally agree with everything said. I actually sold a version 1 for version 2 mostly for a bit more length in the stays (for my size large, they added 2″ above the shoulders). The new pockets are great too and address your concerns. The rear mesh pocket makes sense for drying gear, but I do worry about it’s durability.

    • Brad R September 17, 2018 at 7:40 pm #

      On the version 2, do the stays go 2″ above the shoulder strap attachments to the top of the load lifters?

      • Alex Wallace September 18, 2018 at 12:47 pm #

        Hi Brad, For a size large torso, Hanchor ADDED 2″ to the frame height on version 2. Thus, it’s now about 4″ from the shoulder strap attachments to the top of the load lifters.

        From Dan Durston on BPL, “The load lifters are now a consistent height above the shoulder straps on all sizes of the packs. Previously the medium and large packs had the same frame and load lifters, but just with the shoulder straps sewn on 2″ higher on the large. Now the load lifters move higher as well, and the frame is a little taller for the large, so the load lifters should be more effective in this size.”

  6. Mike September 11, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

    Thanks for bringing this pack to wider public attention. It looks like a well-thought-out pack and your review is insightful and informative. I am now seriously cosidering buying one. Can you compare to GG Gorilla in terms of the carry? Also, I really like how you reference DC on fabrics. I wonder what he would think about the connection between the stays and the hipbelt. Dave, by any chance are you reading this?

    Thanks for the review and keep up the good work!

    • Andrew Skurka September 12, 2018 at 11:28 am #

      I have not used GG Gorrilla, so I can’t compare.

      Connection between hipbelt and stays is really good. Direct transfer of weight.

  7. Mike September 11, 2018 at 2:35 pm #

    The Marble looks good too.

  8. Ben September 11, 2018 at 2:50 pm #

    How do the shoulder straps compare to similar competitors (HMG, ULA, Osprey). I’ve been considering a HMG pack for a while now, and my only hesitation is that their shoulder straps have such minimal padding and this pack seems to have better straps but its hard to tell from the images.

    • Andrew Skurka September 12, 2018 at 11:27 am #

      A little bit wider than HMG, though similar firmness and thickness.

      About the same width as ULA, but a little bit thinner and firmer.

      Construction of Osprey Exos straps is quite a bit different. They are thicker and much more cushioned/spongy, but effective width is about the same.

  9. Jason September 16, 2018 at 11:30 pm #

    Andrew, I love hearing about new/lesser know products. Thanks for always looking for the latest and greatest.

    So, I am currently in the market for a new pack but I’m torn between the 2 different styles of packs; lightweight (like the osprey exos) vs ultralight (like the My Trail co backpack light 50 or Granite Gear Crown2 38). In your opinion is it worth the slightly extra weight for a full-framed pack (lightweight)? The 2 areas I’m considering most when trying to make this decision are 1, how the pack transfers/distributes a slightly heavier load and 2, back ventilation. I just finished the Rae Lakes Loop and carried 25lbs total in my frameless home-made pack. I was fine with the weight but my back was DRENCHED in sweat after the more strenuous sections of hiking.

    How was the Marl on back ventilation? What’s you opinion on packs like ULA or Gossamer Gear that have either fabric/3D mesh for a back panel vs a trampoline style mesh like the Osprey Exos; do you think it makes much of a difference on back sweat?

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka September 17, 2018 at 1:07 pm #

      If you ever need to carry a bear can, more than 5 or 7 days of food, and/or a day’s worth of water, I think investing an extra pound in a framed pack is a no-brainer. Frameless packs work okay if you never carry a canister, never carry more than a few days of food, and always have water around.

      I’m not a prolific sweater, and didn’t notice any significant difference between the Exos, Flex Capacitor, or Marl. They all perform quite a bit better than packs with pure fabric back panels.

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