Like many people with a penchant for backcountry exploration, I am always eager to test the features and abilities of new packs to determine their virtues. The Hanchor packs featured in this review arrived for testing shortly before a four-day, three-night trek in the Linville Gorge Wilderness of North Carolina. While no Cobble pack is made in my size, I nevertheless set aside my familiar pack and eagerly loaded these packs with 18 pounds of base weight gear and another 8.8 pounds of food (including an indulgent amount of snacks in anticipation of formidable terrain) and took off for 23 miles in the gorge.
The Hanchor Cobble (backpack, above) and Ripple (used as pack lid, above) are two packs from a Taiwanese company founded in Taipei in 2012. The company name Hanchor is derived from a compound of hand + anchor, “both of which keep us on the wall when we climb,” their site notes. The mission of this company is “to design innovative, simple, and high-quality bags to hold your stuff for all your adventures.”
The Cobble is billed as Hanchor’s “largest light weight pack yet,” claiming a 53L/3234 cu. in. capacity. It is described as a full-sized pack for multi-day backpacking trips, and by itself it weighs 750g/26.5 oz. with a “#”-shaped frame comprised of aluminum stays and hook-and-loop attachment sleeves (174g/6.14 oz.) and an M-shaped folding pad that doubles as sleep aid and pack padding (131g/4.62 oz.). All told, the pack with all framing options–stays and pad–weighs in at 1055g/37.21 oz, or 2.33 pounds. Hanchor suggests that the pack can comfortably carry 23kg/50.7 lbs. Features include side and top compression straps, whistle buckle on the removable sternum strap, extendable drawstring-closed pack collar, a generous and sturdy front mesh pocket (which includes a clip for keys in the interior), two side mesh pockets, padded shoulder straps (with load-lifters) and waist belt, two gear loops on the bottom of the bag, a daisy chain of webbing and two additional bands of webbing that function as daisy chains on two flaps of material joined by a buckled strap that serve to stabilize the contents of the front mesh pocket. It is priced at $6490 TWD, about $216 US dollars.
The Ripple is billed as a “multi-functional backpack accessory” that can be used as a pack lid, as a chest pack mounted to the shoulder straps of the Cobble, or as a standalone belt or shoulder pack. Measuring 11 in. x 9 in. x 3 in., it features a YKK waterproof zipper and an interior, zippered mesh pocket for small items. The Ripple also comes with all needed straps and buckles to connect it as a pack lid to the Cobble, as a front pack on the Cobble’s shoulder straps, or as a belt or shoulder bag. It is listed at $1680 TWD, about $56 US dollars.
I was immediately impressed by both the relatively light weight of the Cobble and by the quality of construction of both the Cobble and the Ripple. Constructed mainly of 420D Cordura fabric, the packs are finished beautifully. Note, for instance, the precise stitching of the gray strap in the image below . . .
. . . or the neatly finished YKK waterproof zipper (below). The hook-and-loop strap retention band is a typical Hanchor touch on these packs, allowing one to secure neatly straps that might otherwise hang loose.
This attention to detail exists in all parts of the pack, even in the finishing of interior pack seams (as in the image of the Cobble’s interior seams, below). In short, these packs felt rock solid and durable.
A built-in whistle on the removable sternum strap is another nice touch.
This attention to detail carries over to a number of other thoughtfully designed features of this duo. The Ripple, for instance, connects readily and adjustably to the top of the Cobble with two quick-release buckles and a center hook connector that allow easy on-and-off action–it is no chore to add or remove the Ripple, which encourages one to use it in multiple ways.
My overall initial impressions, then, were highly favorable.
Fit and Comfort
My torso is about 23 inches, and the Cobble comes in two sizes–Small (16”-19”) and Regular (18”-21”). This means that the test pack I received was a little too small for my torso. This is obviously not optimal for testing, but–in this instance–not a deal breaker, either. The pack’s rich array of adjustment systems was forgiving enough to allow me to carry the pack on this trip. In general, the waist belt fit fine, the load-lifter straps pulled some weight from my shoulders, and the sternum strap kept the Cobble feeling comfortably secure. I fiddled for a day or so with the aluminum stays that comprise the “#”-shaped frame, achieving a fit that suited my back over time (I was a little achy until I got them just right). I did appreciate the comfort of the M-pad’s padding inside the back of the pack (it slips into a sleeve there between the aluminum stays and the back of the pack), although the absence of any sort of ventilation in the pack’s design made the Cobble warm on my back during this humid trek.
Unfortunately, my being slightly outsized for the pack had some adverse consequences, too: I found that a little too much weight seemed to ride on my shoulders, and the design used to connect the shoulder straps to the pack’s back also seemed to open the door to the pack’s center of gravity moving away from my body (see image, below). You’ll note that the straps are attached to a triangular flap of material, which is in turn attached to the pack, a design that allows some of the weight to move away from one’s body. In my case, the load-lifters were not able to fully offset this tendency, perhaps due to the length of my torso. The loaded pack, though, also had a tendency to fall over on its front when removed from my back, so this also made me curious about the pack’s center of gravity.
I found that the mesh used to cover the padding in the shoulder straps and belts was a bit coarse compared to the mesh used in other packs I own (see image, below). The result of all of these factors was that I developed a bit of a rash on my shoulders after a few days (I was wearing just an Ex Officio Airstrip Lite shirt–well, aside from the rest of my clothes, of course!).
An additional complication was the tendency of some of the adjustment buckles to slip. I think this was due to both the brutal terrain (lots of boulders, scrambles, fallen trees and the like which resulted in bouncy maneuvers) and due to the slipperiness of the plastic used in some of connection hardware. The hardware was definitely good quality, but I had hook connectors come loose and buckles loosen a bit; the plastic-to-strap grippiness could have been better.
While acknowledging the size issue as well as other complicating factors, I confess I found myself liking the Cobble and Ripple on the trail. Their utility is quite compelling.
In fact, the Cobble and Ripple really shine in terms of utility. I loved the Cobble’s large exterior pocket, into which I was able to cram a lot of gear. It also featured two design elements I liked a lot: a central 420D Cordura panel allows a daisy chain to run down the front of the pack on the outside of the mesh pocket without compromising the stretchiness of the mesh. This adds utility–a place to clip or tie on lightweight accessories, a pair of water or camp shoes, or the like–but the strap also functions as a vertical compression strap. And, if that weren’t enough, it also serves as the front connection point for the Ripple pack when it is used as a pack lid (see close-up, below: black strap is from Ripple).
The second feature I appreciated was a pair a 420D flaps on the side of the main mesh pocket with two compression straps connecting them (these are analogous to Osprey’s StraightJacket load compression feature on some of their packs). These flaps also include mini daisy chains on their perimeter, extending the functionality of the pack’s exterior, while also securely the contents of the center mesh pocket to keep things from bouncing around. I’ve mentioned the rough terrain: I never worried about anything slipping or bouncing out of my mesh pocket because of these features. They add weight, but I like the added utility, so I’m okay with that. The two mesh side packets are also reasonably capacious (shown below holding a hammock and a tarp).
The main compartment of the Cobble is a simple bag; a pocket with hook-and-loop closure secures the aluminum stays and M-pad in the back of this main compartment. I slipped a trash compactor bag in as a waterproof liner and then had no problem stowing that gear which I did not store on the exterior. The Cobble includes an expandable collar to allow one to extend the main compartment of the pack.
This was not a feature I needed given my pack load, but it did make me wonder how the Cobble would do with the suggested comfortable carrying capacity of 23kg (50+ lbs.). I think such a load might fall outside the comfortable limits of the pack, but I did not wish to test that with a pack that was a little too small for me.
The “#”-shaped frame worked well to stabilize the pack and its load, and at low pack weights, the M-pad would likely suffice as a frame for the pack. The M-pad, incidentally, was all I took for a bottom layer of hammock insulation on this trip, and–despite being compact and thin–it did well to prevent to dreaded Cold Butt Syndrome on cool mountain mornings. However, I did find the system used to secure the aluminum stays to be overly complicated: twin channels of gray webbing house the vertical stays (horizontal stays are secured in hook-and-loop sleeves), but the flap that secures the pocket containing the M-pad also includes webbing channels, meaning that each time the pad is returned to the pack, one has to somewhat laboriously thread the ends of the vertical stays into the webbing channels in the top flap (folded over in image, below).
The design is functional, but I found it a bit irritating to use–a bit of fussiness in a pack that is otherwise easy to use. One limitation of the main compartment: there is no hydration port. On my trip I used AquaClips to hang 20 oz. plastic bottles from my sternum strap, a system that worked fine, although once I inadvertently caused the sternum strap to detach from one side of my shoulder strap.
I missed having belt pockets, but Hanchor does offer a detachable belt pouch for the Cobble, a product known as the Granule ($790 TWD/ $26+ US dollars). I did not receive a Granule for testing.
The Ripple works well with the Cobble. I found it reasonably capacious, a nice bag to tote smaller gear in.
As I noted earlier, it attaches easily, and Hanchor has paid attention to details here, too: straps of sufficient length are included to accommodate a fully expanded Cobble. For all its ease of use, I did find that the center hook connector on the Ripple occasionally came loose. There was no way to lose the pack itself, but this did destabilize it a bit. The front strap that secures the front of the Ripple to the Cobble works fine, but presence of a single center connector and the absence of having two such connectors on the sides meant that the Ripple was prone to slipping left or right from time to time. The Ripple works perfectly and conveniently as a front pack, should that option be preferable.
Hanchor has created thoughtful designs for the Cobble and Ripple, and it is evident that much care was taken to develop these packs. The execution from design to product is also impressive, featuring the same sort of attention to detail in constructing and finishing the packs that went into their design. I found myself discovering little details that I appreciated as I continued to use the pack. The Linville Gorge Wilderness offered me a place to test this gear hard, up to nine hours a day on trails the USFS labels “Most Difficult.” Branches and rocks scraped the packs, briars clawed at them, and they were jolted almost continuously for much of the trip as I negotiated steep trails with countless obstacles in them. The packs held up well, with few signs of wear (there was some fraying on the gear loops, which were generally in contact with the ground or rock when I took the pack off). I did find myself wishing the Cobble were a perfect fit for my torso, but aside from the issues I mentioned above, I really enjoyed using it. I found the Cobble/Ripple combo intriguing, a promising entry in this lightweight, multi-day pack category. Hanchor is a company that I will keep my eye on as they continue to develop and release products.
Contributor Bio | Robin French
Robin is a teacher living in High Point, NC. A love of nature is the common thread of his experiences: if he has free time, he is in nature, alone or with friends and family. He enjoys DIY/MYOG projects and fiddling with his gear. He writes about his experiences and projects on his blog and YouTube channel and shares his reviews as a member of the volunteer Review Corps at Trailspace.com. He has followed Brian’s Backpacking Blog for quite some time, and we are thrilled to finally have him onboard as a regular contributor.