Image of the July 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
July 2020 Issue
Home / Gear reviews / Packs

The North Face Hydra 38

Photo: Matthew Cattin



Our Rating:

At a glance
Lightweight, full suspension system
Minuses: Comfort issues, impractical pockets

1020g / 38-litres

Features: This pack uses a water-resistant 70D nylon fabric and T6 aluminium frame to keep weight low. Two large mesh pockets will fit drink bottles or gear, and a large front stash pocket can stow gear outside the pack. Two zipped hip pockets hold snacks and two tool keepers keep axes and poles in place. The Dyno Lift System allows quick on-the-go shoulder strap adjustment, and the suspension system provides ventilation. It also includes a water reservoir compartment, gear loops and a chest buckle emergency whistle.

Fit: The trampoline suspension and shoulder straps fit well, and the Dyno Lift System allows users to adjust the fit of both shoulder straps with one hand, relieving some of the weight from your hips. But the harness feels narrow across the small of the back and the hip belt doesn’t sit flush with the suspension webbing, which made me feel too wide for the pack.

Comfort: From the waist up, the Hydra 38 is a comfortable pack. The trampoline suspension allows excellent ventilation and rests softly against the back. The only downside to the pack’s comfort is where the hip belt joins the back panel. Though it didn’t rub or cause pain, it felt too tight.

In use: The pack is light for its capacity and its narrow profile keeps the weight flush against your back which improves balance and posture. The aluminium frame provides rigidity and makes packing and unpacking easier. The mesh side pockets are roomy, but would be better suited to carrying loose gear, rather than a full drink bottle which may be too tall for the pocket. My one-litre bottle slumped forwards into my elbow every few minutes which drove me crazy, and had I leaned forward to duck under a branch, I’m not confident the bottle would have remained in the pocket.

Overall, the pack seems durable, despite its weight, and the decision to use a nylon stash pocket – rather than mesh – will improve longevity.

Value: It’s a reasonable price for a lightweight overnighter.

Verdict: A comfortable and lightweight overnight pack let down by a few design flaws.

Support Wilderness

Since 1991, Wilderness has had one simple goal: to help Kiwis ‘See more, do more, live more’ of New Zealand.

If you value our mission, please consider subscribing. As a loyal supporter, you’ll receive these benefits:

  • New Zealand’s best outdoor journalism We’ve won multiple awards for our journalism and magazine production.
  • NZ’s best trips. Browse more than 610 trips with downloadable maps and route notes.
  • Trustworthy gear reviews. Each month we review gear we’ve been bashing and thrashing for months so you can determine if its worth your money.
  • Member benefits. Our WildCard provides discounts at more than 20 partners throughout New Zealand.
  • Your support goes a long way. Your subscription will help us fund NZ’s best outdoor journalists and writers and ensure Wilderness will be there to inspire the next generation of outdoor Kiwis.

A subscription costs as little as $7.00/month for instant access to all articles, trips, gear reviews and gear guides.

View all our subscription options and join the club.

Already a subscriber? Login Now.