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.
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.
- 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
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.
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 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).
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.
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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