Hill People Gear is a name synonymous with quality, comfort and good old-fashioned family business. They’ve been doing their thing since 2010 and shortly after launching they partnered up with US manufacturer First Spear to deliver the physical side of their design process. The brand was founded and is still operated, by Evan and Scot Hill out of Colorado USA which provides the perfect staging ground for constant adventures from all the Hill People Gear staff.
Hill People Gear has focused on designing functional and high-quality goods for the backcountry adventurer – and they’re highly regarded in this world. I’m taking a slightly different approach with an Aston House Backcountry pack, using it almost exclusively for every day carry and commuting, this is almost madness but sometimes you’ve got to try something different to get great results (spoilers?).
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Quality and Comfort
When you trust First Spear with your construction and initial quality control, you’re in good hands, the same hands that keep plenty of Law Enforcement and Defence personnel up and running. The Aston House Backcountry arrived without any defects, and it was apparent from the unboxing that the AHBC means business. The only thing I’ve been able to fault during use were the knots on the paracord pulls, they became loose semi-frequently but were easily fixed with some labour. If you’re extra lazy, you can burn the heck out of the ends until they melt together nicely.
Comfort wise, Hill People Gear have nailed their harnesses and frames long before the Aston House Backcountry was released, so there’s really nothing to stand-out for this pack if you’re comparing it to other Hill People Gear bags. If you’re comparing this to 90% of other backpacks, the Aston House is far ahead of the competition It’s just really comfortable, and will make whatever you’re carrying feel half as heavy. Two removable 7000 series aluminium stays and a HDPE frame sheet makes this a rigid pack, but removing the stays provides a lot more ‘give’ in the pack if you’re looking for a more contoured fit.
I’ve carried the Aston House Backcountry with and without the stays, and my personal preference is to keep the stays in. This just helps with keeping yourself a bit more upright when walking and it actually feels medicinal being forced to keep my back more straight.
The only complaint on the comfort side is the heat, the back panel is made up of 1000D nylon with a small loop backed Hypalon section for waist belt attachments, frame sheet and aluminium stay removal. The climate in Australia is quite unforgiving, constantly humid and warm, and even more so during the wet months that I have been using the Aston House Backcountry. Simply put, it’s hot, no hotter than a GORUCK pack or any other pack that uses straight nylon back panels.
If you’re in the market for a clean slate style of organisation, the Aston House Backcountry will have you salivating. There’s no traditional organisation provided with this pack, and in fact, the Aston House only has 2 pockets, one external zippered pocket tucked in behind the Aston Panel ( the externally mounted tail ), and one large main compartment with a mesh pocket that has no closure. This is a bring-your-own-organisation pack, no doubt. As a primarily backcountry designed pack, you’re not going to find pen slots and a dedicated iPad pocket.
The rear wall of the main compartment is completely lined with laser cut PALS velcro loop material, meaning you can attach your pouches via hook and loop or PALS / MOLLE. Drop in pouches will also work quite well here, given the incredible compression this pack offers, your pouches won’t flop freely around on the floor of your bag. This compartment also has 3 webbing loops at the top of the rear wall, for use with the Hill People Gear Kit Bags, or other pouches capable of hanging – I’ve used a BOgear Cellblock M in this position with a couple Grimlocs to do the job. Hill People Gear currently only offer a small range of pouches to help organise their packs, but this could be expanding in the future into a larger range.
If you’re throwing down Aston House money, you may as well check out the Tool Roll, one of the few pouches mentioned above. The Tool Roll is specifically designed for the width of the Aston House packs and offers a compact organisation option leaving you with plenty of room for your other gear. As the same suggests, it’s a tool roll, it rolls, rolls up your gear nicely and is easily unrolled via hook and loop for quick access to your stuff. This is a great option for a small first aid kit, snacks or a power bank and cables.
For your hydration needs, the pack offers external bottle pockets with drainage grommets capable of holding large Nalgenes and insulated bottles, as well as a top zippered access point for bladder tubes. Hydration bladders can be kept upright in the main compartment using one of the webbing loops mentioned earlier. The external bottle pockets are easily flattened by the compression straps when not in use, so they don’t stick out.
The potential for organisation on the Aston House Backcountry goes a bit further, with the Aston Panel offering a delicious Hypalon / velcro loop laminate cut with PALS webbing. The Aston House definitely boasts quite a unique tail, which functions as both a mounting platform for pouches and the main source of the packs fantastic compression. This entire tail can be replaced with the Aston Pocket, offering a bit more built-in organisation while retaining the compression of the standard tail.
What the Aston House Backcountry does exceedingly well is provide a platform that’s comfortable, open to accept any organisation you want to bring, and look pretty damn fine doing it. The harness covers your EDC needs, but also your day hikes and overnighters. The Aston Panel provides a means to expand your daily carry in a pinch, for a winter/rain layer or other bulky items. The bag provides ample attachment points and lashing areas for extra gear, and the optional Recon Belt helps step the bag up a level in terms of load hauling.
The compression that comes out of the box with the Aston House Backcountry is just impressive. This pack will go from a 48L wilderness machine to a 10L EDC pack for your minimalist carry.
The Aston House Backcountry is not an EDC pack, really. It’s not trying to be. It’s not sold as one and in the photos all over Hill People Gear’s Instagram, there are no laptops or power banks in the Aston House pics. This review, however, was written from using the Aston House Backcountry as an EDC pack. My improvement points are consequently nitpicking, at a bag that hasn’t even tried to solve any of the below.
A hot and sweaty back is a solid possibility with this bag, and I only see this as an issue in warmer climates. The mesh back panel on the Mystery Ranch ASAP would be right at home on the Aston House Backcountry, and It’d be a welcome change for me.
I found the stock standard zipper pulls to be quite a nuisance with the knotwork coming undone regularly, the recommendation here is to ensure the paracord ends are thoroughly melted together so they simply can’t come undone without some serious effort. All you need is a lighter to fix this yourself, so it’s the furthest from a deal breaker.
I’d also love to see the internal mesh pocket have some sort of closure, this could be a simple velcro strip or a zipper, both of these would offer a bit of falling-out protection to your items in this pocket.
This is a seriously well built, load capable and extremely pouch friendly pack. Whether you’re hauling your overnight gear up a mountain or carrying your carefully organised daily loadout to the office, the Aston House Backcountry does the job well. I can speak soundly for the office side of things, and the dozens of owners at The Perfect Pack and Hill People Gear Owners Group can confirm the mountain side of things. The price point of $280 USD is great value for a USA Made pack with the capabilities and versatility that you get with the Aston House Backcountry.