Review: Hill People Gear Qui-Ya – Expedition Pack
Piotr Ma breaks down this niche badass pack, designed and made by real professionals, that can take you to hell and back.
Never heard about Hill People Gear packs before? Maybe… it’s not a commodity product that you can find in your local store. HPG is a niche company, founded years ago by brothers Scot and Evan Hill – avid outdoorsmen, hunters, backpackers, mountaineering and survival experts from Western Colorado. They don’t cut corners to make it more affordable every next season. It’s not mass-produced Ford or Opel. It’s like a limited fully off-road version of Land Rover, you pay quite a lot… but it can take you to hell and back.
What they do is no-compromise stuff, made to last and designed to make your adventure in the outdoor a real joy. It’s manufactured by First Spear in Fenton (Missouri) to the highest standards available in tactical tailoring today. The materials are premium too: genuine Cordura fabric, hypalon inserts, premium webbings and buckles… including an AustriAlpin designed Cobra buckle (!) on the waist belt!
In a nutshell: HPG is a niche badass gear, designed and made by real professionals out of the best components.
I’ve been mountaineering and enjoying all kind of outdoor activities for most of my life and can’t imagine Summer or Winter vacations without a backpack on my shoulders. I bought my first HPG about 4 years ago and the Qui-Ya is my third after the Tarahumara and Umlindi packs.
I’ve been hauling Qui-Ya for the last couple of months for you, including an almost two-week trip into the mountains in the beginning of February. So I believe I’ve tested it well enough to give it a review here… enjoy!
Qui-Ya in full glory…
In today’s trend of ultralight outdoor equipment some companies tend to forget about the most important aspects of a quality pack: comfort and longevity. Thank the Lord that there are still companies that don’t forget about the principals, and Hill People Gear is surely one of them.
I’ve had a chance to use the HPG Umlindi pack for quite some time so when I was in the market for a new big multi-day backpack, I already knew who I would check out first… and couple of weeks later the Qui-Ya arrived on my doorstep.
Now don’t expect to find a ready-to-use pack in the box from Hill People Gear! Instead you’ll find a couple of separated items: the sack itself, aluminium stays, shoulder harness and a waist belt. It’s a good approach because it encourages new owners to REALLY adjust it to their body during the (easy) assembly process.
So first you need to shape the stays to your back (if needed), put it inside the appropriate channels in the sack and attach the waist belt. The second step is attaching the harness system, only then can you start making adjustments and fine-tuning it all. It’s not a complicated job and it only needs to be done once.
A simple piece of advice: the more attention you pay to this step, the better final carry comfort you will get. So take your time and check the HPG movie found here as a ‘zero step’ before actual pack assembly.
Hill People Gear Qui-Ya in it’s natural environment.
The Qui-Ya is a big pack, no question about that. The specification on their website shows 60 litres of ‘dimensional volume’ but practically it’s more like an 80 litre pack. At 6 lbs it’s not ultralight but it is absolutely lightweight enough for what it is – a solid outdoor carry system for multi-day hiking or a hunting expedition in rough terrain, in any season!
Obvious truth: on a hauling pack of such a size the most important aspect is the harness system, which translates directly to carry comfort – so let’s start from there. And… surprise (for some at least) – you won’t find two separate straps on a HPG pack! There is a super-wide one-piece Cordura harness instead, which goes around the neck and shoulders to distribute the weight on a huge area.
I know getting rid of straps may sound a bit weird at first. Bold move? Yes! But in the end it makes HPG packs some of the most comfortable haulers available today.
Unique requires getting used to, and separates HPG packs from any other backpacks on the market. Heck, I know some users of other high end packs who modified theirs by substituting regular straps with the HPG harness. It’s not my first HPG pack so you can take my word for it: a HPG harness is the number one hauling system available today.
Plus you can use a smaller HPG pack (like the Connor or Tarahumara) as a big pocket attached to Qui-Ya and share the harness to convert a ‘pocket’ into a fast & light attack pack on a summit day. A cool trick, which saves space and weight, when using Qui-Ya as a base-camp bag.
HPG ingenious harness system.
You must have noticed that huge waist belt on my Qui-Ya… it easily takes most of the pack’s weight from the shoulders and transfers it to the hip and lumbar area. That is a so-called Prairie Belt, which also works with other packs, and is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever used. It just fits so nicely around waist and, just like the harness, distributes weight over a huge area – at least twice as big as on other packs that I’ve tried before. Plus closing by a Cobra buckle is just so cool!
On the outside you’ll find multiple MOLLE attachments for a bottle holder, knife, gun holster, camera attachment, lens tube, radio pouch, and many many more… the possibilities are almost endless. By the way, notice the hypalon reinforcements and the diagonal straps? These tighten the pack to the lumbar area, which is a nice touch.
Waist belt details.
As I said before optimum fit is the single most important aspect on a big pack. It can make a huge difference when hauling 60+ lbs of gear on a multi-day trip in the mountains. The Qui-Ya can be tailor fitted to virtually anyone’s torso – it’s just a matter of taking time and doing your homework when the pack arrives.
In most cases this pack sits relatively high but as you can see I carry it quite neutral but I’m almost 6’2″ with a long torso.
Quick fitting guide: put it on, tighten your waist-belt, adjust the shoulder harness height to find a point where Qui-Ya follows your back-line and adjust the shoulder straps to a correct length. Of course during the whole process the pack must be pre-loaded (to simulate real conditions) and all the straps like load lifters, sternum strap, lumbar loaders etc., should be tighten for a fine fit.
Details of the Qui-Ya fit.
After all the adjustments the fit of Qui-Ya is simply great. The majority of the pack’s mass indeed rests on the hips and lumbar area with the remaining weight distributed on the shoulders. That creates a nice venting space between the pack and your back. As a result it allows you to carry a heavy load surprisingly well.
For sure it’s much more comfortable than my previous classic alpine-style 80+10 litres pack. Of course, it’s still YOU who needs to haul what you packed into the Qui-Ya, but carry comfort is way beyond just ‘good’.
The ventilation is fine, especially for a bag of such size… however, keep in mind that you will sweat when carrying 50-80 lbs of gear and no pack will prevent this. Yeah, I’m always talking about a big pack and heavy load here, so you need to be in good shape to put such a weight on your back and walk for half a day. But be prepared for some sweat, it’s part of the real backpacking game.
The balance is good, this pack bonds to you with no movement. I tried it on many snowy slopes in the mountains and never felt any discomfort or lack of proper balance caused by my Qui-Ya. It carries well!
Balancing on a slope…
With a real capacity of about 80 litres this pack can easily swallow anything you might need on a backpacking trip. Tent, sleeping bag, slipping pad, clothes, food, stove, camera stuff, etc. and there will still be some space. What I’ve always admired in HPG packs has been the ability to extend the pack’s potential with the compression straps system. Yes, it’s not just couple of straps, it’s the whole system which allows you to store multiple items around the pack.
Starting from the top, you have two straps to attach a pouch or compression sack (up to about 7-8 litres capacity). It’s also great place to store crampons, just like I did. The top straps can be removed completely if needed.
Qui-Ya fully packed for a week in the mountains.
The side straps are a true marvel from a design point of view. There are three on each side, connected together in the middle. The cool thing is you can secure side items, adjust strap tension locally and the side sections stay adjusted even with the central buckles opened. That way you can keep multiple items with the same straps. In my case walking poles on one side, ice axe on the other and snow shoes centrally.
Even with all 3 buckles opened to remove the snow shoes from my pack, the side items are still secured and kept snug to the pack with G-clips on the side of my pack. Just take a look at my pics and it should be clear immediately. You ask, why such a system? Well… you can unbuckle the G-clips on side sections and use the full straps to secure huge items with 3 long straps going fully around end-to-end.
Side strap details.
Sometimes the side ‘bottle’ pockets can also be used to nest slim and long items (like a fishing rods or lever-action rifle) that can then be fixed with straps along the pack. That is exactly what I did with my hiking poles, but it’s also how I’d carry a hunting rifle or a full-size axe. And good news for bowhunters – you can easily attach a bow & quiver via the straps – I did that many times on my HPG Umlindi, which is equipped with two straps in exactly the same configuration, so on the Qui-Ya it’d only be easier.
The bottom straps (removable) are a traditional place to store a sleeping pad or rolled tarp. Nothing fancy there, just two straps with metal G-hooks, but they work as intended. There is also an adjustable paracord loop for easy storage of an ice axe or other mountaineering tools. All in all – the total packability is way above the industry standard for a pack of such a size. It’s a full carry platform and you can easily pack for a long-lasting outdoor stay with the Qui-Ya, including a tent, snow-shoes, hatchet, pack rifle, fishing rod etc.
Bottom of the Qui-Ya.
If you’re not obsessed with organization the HPG packs are for you. In the main compartment you’ll find… yeah, just a main compartment. Of course that makes the packing process easy and efficient but you should also build your own organizational habits (colored compression sacks can help). I’m with Hill’s regarding organization inside a pack – none works just fine for a ‘cargo pack’.
Small hanger-loops inside can be used to leash a hydration bladder or an admin pocket (if you really need it) inside a pack. Of course the Qui-Ya is fully hydration compliant so you’ve got a hydration port and the harness is equipped with elastic hydration loops. These shock-cord loops can be also used for other purposes: sunglasses, energy bars, small bottle, rolled hat or knife.
If hydration systems are not your cup of tea, you can always use side pockets to keep your bottles at the ready, they’re big enough for 1 litre Nalgene or army canteen. By the way, take a good look at my pictures, the attention to details in materials and stitching is second to none on HPG packs! No surprise, First Spear (who tailors them) is an expert tactical tailor company.
Velcro under the lid, hypalon inserts and hydration details.
The top lid is in fact one big zipper pocket. It’s spacious and simple, and you can store a lot of stuff in there. Steiner hunter’s binos, knife, headlamp, energy food, rescue blanket, keys, etc. But the big surprise is hidden under the lid… velcro-loop panel on the whole surface! That means no problem to stick-on your favourite pocket(s) and get them hidden inside the pack. I went for a small LBX pocket to store my documents and wallet. They’re well protected from the elements and out of (easy) reach of other people. Clever idea HPG!
Top lid and what’s inside.
Time for a quick summary. I’ve had many packs in my outdoor life including a 90 litres basecamp-style pack from one of the leading ‘alpine’ pack companies. The Qui-Ya is not a climbing pack, it’s not a daypack, it’s not EDC… but when really heavy hauling is considered – seriously, nothing I tried so far comes close. At $450 it’s not cheap but perfection never comes at a low cost.
I really like it’s stability on my back and the weight distribution. Out-of-the-box thinking, combined with the great outdoor experience of Scot and Evan Hill and the manufacturing skills of First Spear together created an awesome (and unique) wilderness expedition pack.
It’s for people who not only hike but also build their own shelter, depend on bushcraft skills, gather their own food (with a fishing rod, an arrow or with a bullet) and who know how to use open fire to prepare a dinner in the wild. It’s a behemoth of a pack, which won’t fail under even the heaviest load – you’d fail first, guaranteed!
Expedition behemoth… yeah!
Piotr Ma Contributor & Edge Specialist
Adventurer, outdoorsman, mountaineer, sailor and gear enthusiast from Poland. It all started for Piotr when he was 10 and went to the high mountains with his father. Now he’s transferring his experiences and knowledge to the younger generation, together with his wife. His perfect vacation is not an all-inclusive hotel but a nothing-inclusive mountain shelter. More…