Founded in 2010, Hill People Gear has become a household name when it comes to back country gear. Founders (and brothers) Evan and Scot Hill bring decades of experience in everything from forestry and fire fighting to wilderness training and, of course, sewing. They’re supported by a team of specialists like Kevin McDowell, operations manager, who brings his own unique set of military and forestry experiences to HPG. The team at HPG builds the gear they use, and they use it hard.
This is all backed up by HPG’s design principles, focused specifically on load carriage, flexibility, and longevity. These three pillars are apparent in every piece of gear that comes out of their doors. The Tarahumara is an excellent example, from it’s unique harness and unsuspecting modularity to the high quality materials and build.
|Capacity||1000 cu. in||16L|
|Primary Materials||500D Cordura, 400D x 300D Diamond Ripstop, YKK #10|
Quality and Comfort
The quality is top notch here, as is expected from anything that comes out of HPG, or their manufacturing partner, First Spear. The bag is a mix of 500D Cordura and 400 x 300D diamond ripstop – the ripstop existing only on special runs of this pack which usually comes entirely in 500D. If you look hard enough, you can even find waxed canvas versions of the Tara.
The only zipper on this bag is a center-aligned YKK #10 which acts as the access point to the main compartment. Across the center are an upper and lower compression strap, secured with ITW buckles, that also serve to keep side-mounted items, like trekking poles, in check. The compression straps also do a good job of making sure you don’t accidentally open the zipper all of the way, though the center-orientation keeps your stuff pretty secure.
The HPG harness is somewhat infamous, being one of the most unique on the market. The straps are wide – very wide. This keeps your shoulders and pressure points happy over long, heavy treks. It also attaches a little bit differently than normal dual-strap systems. The HPG harness is more of a continuous U-shape, as you can see below. This causes the pack to naturally rest a little bit lower on your back, which with a small pack is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good.
I’m sure I’ll be burned at the stake for this, but I have a serious love-hate relationship with this harness. Sometimes it’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn on my back, and other times I yearn for a more traditional two-strap setup. During normal hiking and walking around, especially when under load, it’s just wonderful. If that’s your speed, you’ll love it and I can’t recommend it enough.
Other times, when I’m trying to transition into a light jog or quicker hike with my dogs, the lower position just doesn’t work. More aerobic activities typically demand a high-on-the-back setup, which the HPG harness just doesn’t allow for, since running it high (and improperly) will cause the harness to cut into the back of your neck. HPG uses this harness on all of their packs, from the 16L Tara to the 100L Qui-Ya, and it’s really quite amazing that it works so well across that entire range.
The Tara doesn’t come with a frame sheet, but it doesn’t necessarily need it. The back panel already has some light padding and a few layers of fabric between you and the bag’s contents. However, HPG offers one that slips into the back sleeve of the Tara. In my opinion, it’s a worthwhile upgrade as it makes the Tara even more versatile than it already is, even adding some extra organization as you’ll see below. The only thing to note here is that I think the sheet is a bit too tall. It sticks out just enough to be slightly annoying, but not enough where I wouldn’t use it. You can see an example in the photo above.
For a bag that, on first inspection, might just seem like a large pocket with straps, there’s a surprising amount of organization brought to the table here. I’ve never found myself wondering, “Where do I store this? Where do I put that?”.
If we first take a look at the front bottom panel of the pack, there’s some static cord looped through nylon eyelets that I’ve used to store everything from a jacket, to a dog lead, to my camera’s tripod. If you don’t like it, it’s completely removable, or you could replace it with something like shock cord for more active, but maybe less secure retention.
On either side of the Tara, there’s a slim water bottle pocket. These are static and only have a bit of their own volume. The rest of the volume is made up by invading into the volume of the main compartment. My 27oz Klean Kanteen fits fine. A 32oz Nalgene is pushing it. Either of those things get tough to store if you’re packing the Tara full internally. Because of this I’m often more keen on storing smaller items here, like my dogs’ hiking bowl, or an extra trekking pole.
On the bright side, these things are going to be more durable than anything with stretch built into them, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a V2 Tara with reinforced 4-way stretch or some other middle-ground between that and what’s here now while still following HPG’s guiding principles.
The signature HPG harness comes with a few shock cord attachments, which I’ve found incredibly useful for keeping items at the ready. I almost always use these to stash a pair of gloves or an extra hat in cooler weather. Situated correctly, you can also lash a water bottle here.
The optional frame sheet, which we mentioned above, has a loop and PALs covered side that you can use to store all manner of slimmer items. The sleeve is slim, so I wouldn’t recommend storing bulkier items here, but you do have the option of using this as more of a dedicated organization panel on the inside of the main compartment, rather than a frame sheet. I like the frame sheet, so I recommend the former.
HPG has also demonstrated storing a small rifle in here for hitting the backcountry, but in my use I imagine it would cut into your back just a little too much, with or without the frame sheet.
The main compartment, as we’ve alluded to, is an empty compartment accessed via a full-length center zip. The zipper location keeps items from pouring out when open, but allows for easier access than something like a top-loader. The main compartment also has an anchor at the top that I’ve often used for a hydration bladder, but I’ve also just hung an extra pouch here to keep things like a first aid kit more readily accessible. Like mentioned above, you can also mount the frame sheet as a dedicated organization panel here. Personally I like keeping an extra pouch hooked at the top as things tend to fall to the bottom.
- Perfect size for day hikes.
- Great choice of materials and an impeccable build quality.
- The harness is unique, and super comfortable when set up and used right.
- Plenty of places to lash and store items at the ready.
- Center zip is great for both access and security.
- The harness is not for everybody or for every activity, even when set up right.
- The optional frame sheet is just a bit too tall to completely fit within the back sleeve, but this doesn’t hurt functionality. It’s also not a necessary upgrade.
- Side pockets could use some of their own volume or some elasticity.
- I would have preferred that the harness incorporate some of the grey ripstop face fabric, like what was done on the teal and grey version.
The Tara has been my go to hiking and general outdoor gear bag since I picked it up last year, and it’s one of the only bags that has stayed in my regular rotation this long. I’m always finding new ways to use it, or new ways to expand its functionality, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
As outlined in their design principles, the team at HPG strives for “one pack to handle 80% of what you need to accomplish” rather than the holy grail of “one pack to rule them all”. The Tarahumara hits the sweet spot here, and I would say that 80% goal is accurate. I’m not going to trail run with the Tara, and I’m probably not going to hit multi-night trails with it, but it hits everything in between.
I can’t really recommend this bag enough, as long as you know what you’re going to be using it for (see above). It’s a well designed, well executed, and well built bag that’ll last you a lifetime. To top it all off, the HPG team hangs out in The Perfect Pack community and are always around to answer questions and provide insight into anything HPG or otherwise.
The HPG Tarahumara retails for $125 for the standard materials and $140 for any special material runs, like this one. It’s available directly from Hill People Gear as well as a number of other small suppliers.
Editor’s Note: the HPG Tarahumara was purchased privately and used subsequently for this review. The content of the review was not shared with Hill People Gear prior to publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never edited to keep brands happy.