Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35 & 50 old vs new

Mountain Hardwear’s Alpine Light packs became our go-to packs last season after pretty much one outing, largely due to their incredible carrying comfort but also clever design and useful features. But by the time I felt like I had put enough time in with the packs and wrote the review, the packs’ design has been updated. Thankfully, Mountain Hardwear agreed to send me review samples of the redesigned packs — so how do they compare to the ‘old’ ones?

The ‘new’ packs are all-white, in stark contrast to the previous generation.

The most easily noticeable difference between the ‘new’ and ‘old’ packs is the colour scheme. Whereas the previous generation packs had some colourful accents, the FW2021 versions are all-white and appear very similar to other Dyneema packs. I am honestly not sure how I feel about this: I like the uniformity of colour on the new ones from a design perspective, but I also miss the colourful accents on the old ones as they are much more functional. The colour-coded straps of the old packs are much easier to differentiate and make out in low-visibility conditions. And I love that the main red strap goes with the red loop tab, the black side straps co-ordinate with the black buckles, the blue straps clip together for tool retention. By contrast — or, rather, lack thereof — all the straps on the new packs are white, save for the cords used for tool handle retention. So from the ‘it looks cool, all-white, super-minimalist’ perspective I prefer the new pack but from a functionality standpoint, the old packs win out.

Both tool attachments work, but I greatly prefer the style on the new packs.

One of the other notable and easily noticeable changes is the bottom tool retention system, and I am happy to say that here the changes are definitely for the better. The old packs used individual head/pick tabs with a single retention strap to keep tools in place — it works, but there are better systems out there. Thankfully for the redesigned packs, MH have adopted the aluminum-tab through head-hole approach, and relocated the pick retention tab for even more security. Combined with the Dyneema-like cord loops for the handle, this is quite possibly the best tool attachment currently on the market: it works with straight-shafted mountaineering axes just as well as it does with aggressively-curved modern tools. Picks are held securely against the pack body, the aluminum tabs never fall out of the head holes, and the stretch-free cord locks down the handles.

And in a wonderful demonstration of truly understanding the possible wear points of this type of system, the cord for both aluminum tabs is easily accessible, and user-replaceable, via a pouch on the inside of the pack.

The next obvious difference are the new hipbelts. Both packs see changes but the 35’s are a lot more significant: it gains a fully-padded and completely removable hipbelt. This means both packs now have small zippered pockets on the hipbelt, which is a nice change from the 50’s oversized gear loop (which I never use) and single pocket combo. But I do miss the 35’s minimalist webbing hipbelt which aligns much better with the ‘Alpine Light’ ethos. The new hipbelt feels like a ‘satisfy the generalist hiker-slash-mountaineer who wants such features and will now buy this pack’ redesign. That said, the hipbelts are comfortable, and the pockets useful as a place to stash snacks and car keys. But I’d still prefer the ‘new’ 35 with the ‘old’ 35’s webbing hipbelt — if padding and pockets are so crucial to sales, why not a removable pod-style design as we’ve seen on many other packs?

On a positive note, the ‘circumference’ of the hipbelt straps has been improved — that is to say, shortened. One of my big gripes with the ‘old’ 50 was the amount of webbing in the hipbelt and I’m glad to see that has now gone. At maximum capacity, the ‘old’ 50 could accommodate a 65-inch waist (that’s 165cm), whereas the ‘new’ 50 has a max of 51-inches (or 130cm) — much more reasonable. The ‘old’ 35 maxes at 45-inches (114cm) compared to the new one’s 51-inches (it appears that the hipbelts on the new packs are identical). This is still at odds with Mountain Hardwear’s stated measurements, which list a waist size of 33-39 inches for the M/L pack (84-99cm). In reality, the new packs’ hipbelt will cinch down to 30 inches (76cm).

Yes, a helmet easily fits into the top lid of the 50’s.

The direction of pull for the webbing has been changed as well, going from away from centre to inwards from the hip (pulling across your body instead of away). I really don’t care which way I pull my hipbelt straps (the ‘new’ method is arguably more ‘modern’ and ‘fashionable’ in pack design) but I have noticed that the webbing on the ‘new’ 35 slips a bit, which is very annoying as I have to keep tightening it up on approaches.

Other changes are mostly cosmetic. The A-frame ski carry loops are still body-coloured but now the bottom panel is white instead of grey to match the rest of the pack. The side compression/lash straps are now white instead of black, but unfortunately in the colour swap the bottom straps lost their quick-release buckles somewhere (though the top straps are still quick-releasable).

On a positive functional note, the main strap has gone from being fixed at the base of the front of the pack to a moveable attachment via a girth hitch: so if you really need maximum expansion and rope-strapping capability, the Alpine Lights now have you covered. Like the side compression straps, however, it has lost any colour differentiation and is now — you guessed it — white. On an even more unfortunate note, the buckle has also changed. The previous-gen buckle has a pronounced lip and tooth that keep it secured within the web loop tab: the new buckle feels lighter, but it doesn’t stay within the loop quite as well. but it does seem easier to feed into the loop in the first place. Tradeoffs, I guess.

Additionally, there are now body-coloured (that is to say, white) daisy chains along the front of the pack, which I honestly didn’t even notice until I started writing this article and really examining the packs in detail. The new generation also gains two small loops near the backpanel, roughly in the middle between the side compression straps — I have yet to figure out what these loops are for.

And, bizarrely, the two outside pockets retain their strange uneven dimensions: the right pocket easily fits and zips closed with a 1L Nalgene, while in the left pocket the same bottle sticks out at least a few centimetres. For reference, the right pocket goes from 25-30cm deep as it slopes up towards the backpanel, while the left one transitions from 20-24cm. I still cannot figure out or understand why someone would purposefully design these pockets to be of different sizes — and by such a small margin. It would make more sense if at least one was half the size of the other, but shallower by literally 5cm?? At least the pockets on the different pack sizes are the same depth, even though the 50’s are slightly wide across the lip due to that pack’s bigger panel size.

I don’t get it. Two side pockets, two 1L Nalgene bottles. One pocket will fit the whole bottle, the other won’t. All four packs share this design.

The bigger change is to the removable pocket, which loses the simple central attachment point and instead gains two small tabs on either end. It’s a nice change in that it feels more secure and robust, but I quite liked the ‘floating’ attachment design of the old ones. The new pocket appears a bit bigger, and both packs’ pockets are the same size with the only differentiator being the colour-coded pull-cord (the 35 is a light pink, whereas the 50 is a dark mauve — this also applies to all the other cords/pull-tabs on the packs). I don’t know if I prefer one or the other, really. For me, these packs’ cool feature are those two oddly-sized outside pockets, anyway.

Inside, the packs gain a hydration bladder sleeve, which I guess is a nice addition for the slight extra weight that one layer of fabric adds. Going along with the hydration sleeve, there is now also a hose port leading out of the pack.

All of these changes and tweaks inevitably add up to more weight.

The ‘old’ 35 totalled 794 grams in a M/L, while the ‘new’ 35 adds up to 952 grams in the same size. That’s an increase of 158 grams, or 19.9% — and that’s significant. It takes the Alpine Light 35 from a fairly lightweight 35-litre pack to a mid-weight one. Not so Alpine Light anymore. A large chunk of that weight is the redesigned hipbelt: it goes from 56 to 144 grams, an increase of 88 grams or 55.7% of the overall weight increase. The other notable change is the weight of the pack body itself, which goes from 554 to 634 (with the main strap in place; 616g if you somehow manage to close the pack without it). But unlike the hipbelt, at least the pack body changes are for the better in the form of the improved tool attachment and the movable main strap.

(All weights in grams)Colourful ‘Old’ 35Bland ‘New’ 35
Total Weight794952
Pack body only554616
Foam framesheet7062
Aluminum stay7066
Inside pocket3436
Front straps (both)1010
Main strap18

Though the changes to the 50 are similar, they don’t impact the overall weight of the pack quite as much: the ‘new’ 50 only gains 47 grams, or 4.45%, overall. Again, most of the difference (38 grams) comes from the pack body. Changes to the hipbelt — mainly the addition of the second pocket — add a mere 6 grams. I suspect the other differences are production variations and my scale not being 1g accurate: weights of the framesheet and aluminum stays are within a couple grams of each other.

(All weights in grams) Colourful ‘Old’ 50 Bland ‘New’ 50
Pack body only620640
Top lid114112
Foam framesheet6670
Aluminum stay7170
Inside pocket3436
Front straps (both)1010
Main strap18

So overall are the changes to the Alpine Light packs for the better, or worse?

In regards to the 50, it is overall an improvement on its predecessor. The tool attachment is better, the swap of the hipbelt gear loop for a second pocket is worthwhile, and the movable main strap is a step forward. The hydration sleeve is useful, as is the front daisy chain, and I even (mostly) like the changes to the inside pocket. But I am not a fan of the all-white colour scheme, I don’t like the new design of the main buckle, and I’m not a fan of losing quick-release buckles for no apparent reason (i.e. lower compression strap). I prefer the new pack overall, though I will be swapping the main strap buckle between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ packs.

The 35, however, is a different proposition. On the plus side the ‘new’ one has a better tool attachment system. But on the downside it has a more obtrusive hipbelt, and it is 20% heavier for the same pack in the same size — which is quite a lot. Add in the other negatives (all-white, inferior main buckle, fewer quick-release straps) and the ‘new’ 35 doesn’t add up to a better pack at all. I want my 35-litre packs to carry decently well on the approach, but I also want them to be functional on-route — and the low-profile webbing hipbelt of the ‘old’ one doesn’t get in the way when climbing. And that, combined with the new pack’s weight gain, is why I’d recommend the ‘old’ 35 instead of the ‘new’ one.

2 thoughts on “Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35 & 50 old vs new

  1. Brad Maddock says:

    Hi RAF, Thanks for the review! Looking forward to getting this pack once it comes back in stock in M/L. As for the “two small loops near the back panel, roughly in the middle between the side compression straps” I think these are for pulling a pulk! Or at least that is what I will use them for. I wish more packs had these as the loads a pulk puts on the side compression straps often rips them open causing you to readjust your pulk often, but I suppose not too many people are pulling pulks either.

    • Raf says:

      I had considered this as an option, but it seems to me the loops are sewn in the wrong direction of pull. Prove me wrong, I’d love to hear how the pack fares in such use.

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