When I consider buying an expensive pack, I always feel better about the purchase if I know it will get used a lot and not just sit in my closet. It either has to replace a pack in a daily carry role (like my work bag) or ideally have the capacity and features that allow it to be kitted out for different kinds of carry. The Hill People Gear Aston House definitely falls into that second group. In my preview article, I tried to show how the Aston can be setup in different ways. In this multi-part review, I’ll demonstrate how those different setups can be used.
Given its made by Hill People Gear, even though the Aston House is EDC oriented, it’s DNA is still that of an outdoor pack.
So, one of the first things I did was to take it on a series of day hikes. Why? I wanted to see how the lightly padded yoke harness would hold up over a decent distance with a heavier load. I also wanted to get a better idea of the pack’s capacity by loading up the Aston with bulkier gear.
Capacity-wise, I was pleasantly surprised. The Aston is a fairly low profile pack so I had my doubts whether it could fit something like my GSI cookware/stove set-up.
Well, the organizer compartment expanded nicely and took the GSI as well as other items including my camera, first aid kit, fuel, food, and a shell with room to spare.
On another hike, I included my Klymit Static V Luxe sleeping pad. No issue there either except that the organizer compartment started stealing space from the neighboring Removable Load Compartment.
For me, that wasn’t as much of an issue because I was using the Hypalon load hangers in the compartment to suspend a Source Reservoir. I also left in the Aston Insert to give the pack a little more structure and prevent the bladder from pressing into the back panel.
Neither takes up that much space. Optionally, if you prefer bottles, the Aston is designed to pair with the Prairie belt…
… or Recon Belt.
Both have PALS webbing that can accommodate HPG’s 1 quart or 16 ounce bottle holsters. Doing so would free up more capacity by allowing the load compartment to be used for something other than a hydration pocket. Note: While the pack carries fine without a load bearing hip belt, at some point I’ll probably add the Recon belt for extended day hikes.
Why no sense of urgency on the hip belt? It has everything to do with HPG’s excellent yoke harness.
Due to the fact that it’s somewhat free-floating, the yoke does a great job of distributing the weight of the pack evenly without having to resort to heavy padding that would have added weight to the overall package. The adjustable load lifters keep everything riding high and stable while also pulling some of the weight off the shoulders.
You may notice in the above picture that there are buckles and straps blocking access to the zippered compartments. Unlike say… the Triple Aught Design V1 Litespeed… it’s the straps/buckles of the Aston Pocket and NOT the load lifters that are the culprit. And while the Aston Pocket is completely removable (including even the buckles), I found the pocket to be one of the more useful transporter tail/stash pocket setups on any pack I’ve used and therefore well worth the trade-off.
It can be used in the conventional way by securing items to the outside of the pack for quick access… like this camera tripod. I’m also looking forward to using it to carry my Snow Shoes in the winter.
The panel also unzips to reveal a series of nylon and mesh pockets that provide more organization.
For Everyday Carry, HPG would have knocked it out of the park if they had included some zippers rather than leaving the pockets open and an admin panel for knives, lights, multi-tools, etc. would have been great too. With that said, for these outdoor excursions, I used the various pockets to carry my fire kit, compass, gloves, and other smaller items and that worked out just fine.
The side straps of the compression panel, paired with the First Speer 6/12 slot pockets, made for an excellent place to secure trekking poles, fishing rods, and other longer items.
The bottom panel has compression straps and a zipper that (when opened) will accommodate and secure items in the load compartment that are longer than the pack.
That won’t happen as often as you’d think because the Aston is 21 inches long. I welcomed the added length for my long torso, but it might be an issue for the “vertically challenged” crowd.
Overall, I found the Hill People Gear Aston House to be a perfectly viable hiking backpack. At 3.8 lbs empty, it’s not a good choice for the ultralight crowd but if you want your EDC pack to also log some trail time then I highly recommend the Aston House because the HPG yoke is one of the best harnesses I’ve encountered to-date. Add-on one of HPG’s padded load bearing hip belts and you’d be able to comfortably carry as much weight as the Aston’s capacity would allow.
Ability to add a Load Bearing Hip Belt
Transporter Tail/Stash Pocket with added Organization
Bulky items in one compartment steals space from another
Pack length might be an issue for those with shorter torsos
Part 2 of this review will focus on Everyday Carry. Stay tuned!