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For the past five years longtime professional skier Cody Townsend has been on a quest to ski North America's 50 classic ski descents. The journey, which he documents in serialized YouTube videos, has brought Townsend and friends to peaks familiar and remote, from just outside Aspen to just inside the Arctic Circle. Needless to say, such high-octane pursuits call for gear that's equal to the challenges involved, putting Townsend in a unique position of knowing what works and what doesn't, down to stitches and buckles. For this very reason Maine-based Hyperlite Mountain Gear brought Townsend on to help in the design process of its latest ultralight backcountry backpack, the HMG Crux 40, available as of today, 26 September 2023.
Like all Hyperlite packs, the ski mountaineering-focused Crux uses ultralight, ultra-strong Dyneema fabrics as its foundational material—it also includes a suite of clever features requested by Townsend for alpine adventures like his. Features like special strapping for carrying skis or a snowboard along with ice axes, internal sleeves for avalanche gear, a removable lid and hip belt, and an all-important rear-access zippered panel—a first for any Hyperlite Mountain Gear design.
It's clear in conversation with Townsend that a pack is more than a list of features, though.
"A backpack is your ticket to ride, your authorization of admittance in the backcountry," Townsend tells Field Mag. "In a place governed by Mother Nature, the gear you bring along is the gear that you need for comfort, execution, and survival."
Getting from philosophy to finished product is no simple feat. So we decided to dive in deeper. In the below interview, Townsend provides a look under the lid, so to speak, at how he and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team made it happen in the Crux 40.
You were involved in the development of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Headwall 55 too—what spurred you to want to create a new bag?
The Headwall and Crux packs are sculpted and designed for very different things. Although both are backcountry skiing packs—and you could easily use both packs for any given day in the backcountry—the Headwall is more of a super versatile ski touring backpack and the Crux is a hyper-specific ski mountaineering pack. What I wanted out of the Crux was a bag that was designed to transition from climbing to skiing on the steeps with security, a pack that carries axes and technical equipment with more of a focus on accessibility of that gear, a pack that carried a rope securely and comfortably; essentially I wanted a pack that was focused on the unique aspects of technical ski mountaineering. It’s a pack designed for the most challenging lines we all aspire to ride one day.
What makes 40 liters the ideal pack size for what you do? (As opposed to the Headwall's 55 liters)
The reason the Headwall is 55 liters is because in reality, it’s a 25L-55L pack. It goes from day tours to overnights. It’s a bang-for-your-buck bag that can be used in many situations. Forty liters for a ski mountaineering pack was the ideal size because on days you're going for the steepest and most technical line you can, you’re leaving everything but the most essential items back at camp or back in the car.
You want the pack big enough to fit extra layers, technical equipment, and ropes, but not too big to the point where you overload it and make a climb or descent harder. The shape of those 40 liters was also essential, drawing on thinner lines to squeeze through tight sections and a more vertical distribution to spread the weight up your spine and off your lower lumbar, which allows for easier movement in technical terrain.
What were some of the must-have features at the top of your list from the design process get-go?
The most important design feature of the Crux was also the hardest to engineer; the back panel entry. When you're transitioning, or getting essential equipment out of your pack while on the steeps, it is of critical importance that your bag is anchored in while also allowing for entry. A top entry pack in that situation is tricky to dig through, tricky to anchor properly, and can increase your chances of an accidental loss of gear. The back panel is what saves your gear, makes an easier transition in tricky terrain and allows for smoother and safer movement through the mountains.
Was there anything that changed significantly in the final pack compared to the early iterations?
The biggest changes were in the lid. We wanted it to be removable for the days you don’t need a lid, but also to be secure enough to hold a rope across the top of your bag properly. We changed the lid shape, attachment features, and overall structure at least five different times.
Where have you taken the Crux so far, and where to this winter?
I took it to the steepest and most technical lines I’ve ever climbed and skied in Baffin Island to the deepest pow day I’ve ever had in Tahoe. I brought it as an attack bag strapped onto my Porter 5500 for overnight trips and brought it to ski tour in Europe. It’s such an amazing pack, one that I skied nearly 100% of my backcountry days with last season.