I’ll be honest: until recently if you asked me about Hill People Gear, I would have said they were basically a company making weird hiking packs with zippers in the middle instead of the outside. It’s not that I had anything against them, it’s more that we “ran in different circles”. I had never really seen an HPG pack in person, and most of my go-to gear either leans towards urban-specific commuter stuff, or technical backpacking and biking gear. I always assumed that the people who would want an HPG pack are the ones who go out into the wilderness with a metal tea kettle, full-sized hatchet, and wood burning stove to keep them warm while they hunt elk. Since that’s not really me, I was surprised when I was given the chance to test their new Junction daypack which, in their words is “…everything you should have on a backcountry day hike”.

Hill People Gear Junction Review wearing on back teal

Tech Specs

ImperialMetric
Height17 in.43 cm
Length10 in.25.4 cm
Depth5 in.12.7 cm
Weight1.5 lbs.0.68 kg
Capacity1350 cu. in.22 L
Primary Materials500D Cordura, YKK zippers
Hill People Gear Junction Review logo teal cordura

Quality and Comfort

If you happen to fall into the internet rabbit hole of the Hill People Gear website, one of the common things you’ll find is their stated and restated committment to their “design principles” of Load Carriage, Flexibility, and Longevity. That last one is something I’ve always found hard to quantify with a pack that I might get to test for a month or so before passing judgement and so I usually use material, sewing quality, and attention to detail as a stand-in and predictor of hardiness.

Here’s the thing: most serious backcountry packs that aren’t ultralight (this one definitely isn’t) use some combination of Cordura, YKK zippers, ITW buckles, mil-spec webbing, etc. What matters in the junction is how meticulously these parts were put together. As an example, the main compartment has a double zipper that forms a horseshoe at the top of the lid opening. This means that when the pack is fully open, there is one zipper pull on each side of the lid. If you turn the pack inside out, you’ll notice that the zipper teeth have been cut to line up perfectly with the end of the edge-binding which also squares off against the backpanel of the bag. This has been done identically on both sides, and makes for a nice hinged opening.

Hill People Gear Junction Review ykk zipper opening

It’s the little things like this that add up to make a big difference and really show off both the design, build quality, and attention to detail. I’m not sure whether it’s more of a reflection of HPG design or the skill of the sewers at First Spear (the US-based manufacturers who actually assemble the bag), but either way it gives me a whole hell of a lot of confidence that this bag is going to last.

Hill People Gear Junction Review ykk zipper opening

Comfort is a funny thing because it depends on so many aspects – your body type, the load you carry, the time you spend to actually fit the bag, and sometimes it even feels like it depends on your astrology sign (I’m Aries, for anyone paying attention). On my first big outing with the Junction, I was massively disappointed with the harness and strap system. I just couldn’t seem to get it to evenly lay across my shoulders and the webbing kept rubbing against my neck. It wasn’t until a few days later when I took a colder and longer hike that I realized that this bag really excels under load.

On the first trip, the bag was basically empty and so the suspension system was virtually unweighted and unengaged. With a few kay-gees (or el-bees for you Americans) on my back, the straps settled incredibly well and even when I experimentally over-loaded the bag with rocks, I didn’t feel any major compression points, sore spots, or major asymmetry in the load – it was comfortable with rocks in it.

I still prefer wearing the bag over a jacket since it tends to rub against my neck a bit otherwise, but I’d probably be wearing at least a light layer in any situation where I grab the Junction anyway. For those that want to properly dial in their fit, there’s a great video from Hill People Gear available here, as it’s quite different than adjusting any other harness out there. If you already own a HPG pack, you’re probably familiar with all of this already.

Hill People Gear Junction Review wearing on back in snow teal

Organization

The main compartment is accessed by a double horse-shoe zipper from the top. Once you’re in, it’s basically a big-ol’ black hole to stuff whatever you can imagine. One thing I noticed was that the construction of the front panels doesn’t allow for much flexibility in the overall compartment shape. This can be great in terms of keeping your load balanced and allowing you to stuff things together to keep them compact, but if you have rigid or bulk items, I noticed it sometimes caused them to shift to poke into my back or deformed the body of the bag so that the weight of the load was unevenly distributed.

If this sounds like something that worries you, I’d recommend picking up the HPG Pocket Frame Sheet to go along with it. Other TPP contributors have had a lot of success adding them to similarly sized HPG packs, like the Tarahumara.

Hill People Gear Junction Review side view of bag with water bladder

For your smaller items, HPG finally relented and added a zipper pocket to the lid. It’s small, but it can definitely fit keys and a wallet or a small pouch if that’s your thing. It might just be the way I tend to carry, but I often found myself wanting just ONE other small zippered pocket somewhere on the bag so that I could have items like keys segregated from things I might want more often like my GPS or dog treats.

Hill People Gear Junction Review top stash pocket

As far as stashing items on the go, the Junction has what they call “slanted wand pockets” which are really just magically enchanted openings that seem to hold literally anything (but they say will hold up to a 2 liter water bladder) without taking up valuable internal real estate. I seriously love these pockets because although they have no external closure, I found them very secure and was able to access them to grab my canteen or shove in a rain layer without even taking the pack off my back, although your results may vary depending on your shoulder flexibility.

Hill People Gear Junction Review wearing on back in snow lashing cords

The back panel pocket is the only real part of this bag that doesn’t quite do it for me. They claim it can fit a hydration pack or small laptop/tablet, but I was unable to find a way to comfortably use it for my 3 liter osprey bladder and the lack of internal hose routing meant that the zipper had to be partially open to use it. While I don’t doubt that it can hold an ipad or the like, it’s not something I routinely carry with me in the backcountry. I would probably recommend using this pocket for the separate frame sheet first and seeing how that goes, especially since the Junction has external bottle pockets already.

Hill People Gear Junction Review water bladder

What’s Perfect

  • High-quality construction. Excellent attention to detail. Well designed.
  • The teal colorway is a nice low-key change from your typical black or tan or grey.
  • External stash pockets seem to fit literally anything and everything without taking up internal room.
  • Super comfortable suspension, especially with heavier loads.
  • Almost every part is modular and replaceable which means more ability for you to repair and customize on your own.
Hill People Gear Junction Review on rocks teal

What’s Not

  • Back panel pocket doesn’t really do it for me, at least not for a bladder and I don’t see the need for a laptop pocket on a hiking pack. Probably best to just use it for the frame sheet.
  • Straps tend to rub if you’re not wearing a jacket or don’t have it dialed in just right for your outing.
  • Top entry zipper can make it hard to access and evenly distribute your load on the go.
Hill People Gear Junction Review skiing teal

Wrap Up

This is a purpose-built pack for backcountry day trips. It’s not for EDC, it’s not for the office, and it’s not for everybody, but it is great at exactly what it’s designed for. If you’re looking for a backpack that’s versatile in the “home to office to gym” kind of way, maybe skip this one and look at something like the Evergoods CPL. That’s not what this is. If you want a sturdy, dependable outdoor bag that will probably last longer than those creaky knees you have and look pretty damn good while doing it, the Junction is worth a look.

At $165 it might seem a bit pricier than some of the mainstream designers like Osprey would charge for a day pack, if that’s what you’re used to, but HPG bags are made in the USA in small, carefully built batches. And honestly, it’s a great price for what you’re getting – HPG sells direct, cutting out any middlemen. You’ll get many more seasons of proper performance out of them if you’re willing to compromise with a few extra ounces and a couple of dollars.

Bottom line? This is a good pack, made by good people, that’s really good at exactly what it’s designed for.

Hill People Gear Junction Review skiing teal