McHale Packs — Observations & Comments

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    Javan Dempsey


    Locale: The-Stateless-Society


    Thanks for clearing that up, and I'd say that settles it.

    Polymerization wasn't necessary as an explanation if people had just been willing to believe the term "dye" had been used loosely. Although now we know that it is "possible" that some spectra/dyneema can be dyed under those circumstances, although it's isn't likely we'll be seeing any of that floating around.

    David Ure



    Ike Mouser


    maybe i missed it Nick, but how much does the pack weigh? I also prefer slightly heavier, better carrying packs. I also prefer not to buy new packs every 3-5 years. I want something that will last, which is a reason i am going form driducks to Event at some point in the future as well. I use an Aarn featherlite freedom(3.5lbs). Tried McHales as well, im sold on the front pack balancing design i guess. Theres nothing i dislike more on the trail than nagging trapezius discomfort, which is why i can't use SUL packs. Great experience and review, and thanks.

    Drowned Lemming
    BPL Member


    A couple of weights:

    Merkebeiner (with summit flap): 1650g/3lbs 10oz
    Unltd +1 (also with summit flap): 2240g/4lb 15 oz in 'Guide' mode, 2330g/5lb 2 oz with bayonet and bypass straps.

    Michael Schwartz
    BPL Member


    Locale: PA & Ireland

    Nick, I think you will love your Mchale Pack as much as I do mine. Used my LBP38 for a 44-day trek this summer and found it very comfortable; also, I like knowing that it's not going to fail on the trail. Just have to mend or replace the mesh on the padding for the back after this long trip. Keep us posted. Mike

    Joe Kuster
    BPL Member


    Locale: Flatirons

    Regarding Dyneema / Spectra dying process:

    Companies such as Amsteel dye their 100% dyneema ropes. It's a finicky process and a lot of the dye rubs off or washes off after a certain amount of use / water exposure. I have worked with these ropes for several years and generally the customers love the product's strength and weight, but dye retention has always been a problem.

    The painting option works as well, as Dan's packs illustrate. I'd be very curious to learn if there is any rub off or stains on clothing when hiking in the rain. If not, color me impressed.

    Drowned Lemming
    BPL Member


    I have extensive experience to prove that the paint (if that's what it is) doesn't leave any stains in rain!
    It has faded/worn slightly in places though.

    John Myers
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Texas

    I got a McHale pack for some of the very reasons you are looking into them. I have a number of packs, all except the McHale would be considered lightweight (even a Zpack Blast cuben fiber pack).

    When I took my young son on a Colorado Trail hike I carried some of his gear and all the food so I was quite a bit over my normal lightweight load. The McHale was WAY better for this than any other pack I have ever had.

    It is expensive.
    It is worth it.

    my 2 cents worth…


    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California


    I did not weight the demo pack, because it is not made of the same material I will be getting. I think it will weigh under 3lbs in lightweight mode (several options removed), but will still retain the core suspension and functionality.

    Ken Larson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Michigan

    For you folks that are interested in a McHale Pack Weight(s) I have broken down my pack into its various components with their weight:

    McHale Pack Weights

    Dan @ Durston Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    "I had read that Dan was a very “opinionated” person. But what I experienced was a very knowledgeable man, not opinionated."

    Perhaps he is both? There is nothing wrong with having opinions, but Dan does seem pretty closed to the opinions of others. Here's a few quotes from his website about frameless packs:

    "I have to laugh when I read in chatrooms that such and such a pack is comfortable with 20 lbs but can't handle 25 lbs. If you see a review like that, run the other way laughing! What they really mean is that it is less miserable with only 20 lbs.!!!"

    "I would like to see the idea of carrying 20 lb. loads in sub 16 oz frameless packs and the advocacy of it considered as simply bad advice"

    "It makes little sense to carry 20 lbs in a 1 lb. pack and be sh*t-faced miserable all day long"

    IMO, 20 lbs is easily within the capabilities of a frameless pack. I've carried up to 35 lbs in a frameless pack which is a bit much, but it's also far from 'misery'. I think the general consensus on this site would be that 20 lbs in a frameless pack is reasonable.

    I don't mind that he has his opinions. What I don't like is that he seems to be using scare tactics to get customers to buy one of his framed packs by asserting the lighter pack will 'feel like hell'.

    As an example:

    "Be very aware of companies that say their 12 oz pack can carry 20 lbs. You decide: do you want a wimpy 20 lbs load to feel like hell or to feel like it's not there?"

    Anyways, he makes super nice packs. I'd love a simple full dyneema Subpop. He does need to rework his website though. I've been there many times and I'm only starting to understand it. Customers shouldn't need a $5 DVD to understand the website.

    Paul McLaughlin
    BPL Member


    As a long-time homemade pack maker, and a sometime mountain shop salesperson, my opinion is that Dan McHale knows what he is doing pretty darn well. The first time I looked at his website I could tell that he knows the difference between what really works and what sells in the shop. He will choose what works every time over what is the latest rage, and is willing to make the effort to prove that it works. I wouldn't say I agree with Dan on everything that he says on the site, and I can see how it could be hard for anyone not already very conversant with pack design to understand the site. He's a better engineer than he is a writer.
    If I didn't make my own packs, I'd probably have one of his – or maybe a couple.

    David Ure



    dan mchale
    BPL Member


    Locale: Cascadia

    Dan, sorry if what I say on the site offends you at all. Maybe I can mellow it out a bit soon. It's not meant to scare people as much as offer aid and support (no pun intended – but they never are ) to people that are just not getting the experience they were promised with soft frameless packs. I don't want these people to think it is them and not their packs. It is not for me to keep people from experimenting with frameless packs or whatever it may be. I am just letting people know I personally have been there and done that. I could easily offer frameless packs but don't feel the need since there are plenty on the market and my head is not there anyway. I would not make them even if it meant I had to go out of business.

    On the subject of dying dyneema: Dying is a loose term. Look at what happens to Levi Jeans. I don't want to talk about my method but the main goal is just to get rid of the white – few people want a white pack that ends up looking like dirty underwear. The coloring holds up well considering the alternative. The packs that fade the most are those that get extreme and continuous handling as happens during world traveling and even those remain attractive.

    On the subject of people still carrying giant packs in the Sierra: I've been coming down here in the Fall for quite a few years and don't see people carrying giant packs any longer. Although I have not been seeing people carrying extreme UL loads, I don't see biggys either. This may be because people that go to the Sierra in the Fall know what's up and have the experience to make the right choices. I mostly see 3000-4000 cubic inch packs that are well organized and not overloaded, even with climbers going to various overnight destinations like Bear Creek Spire. In general, I would say sites like BPL, and the industry in general, are doing a good job of getting people to go lighter, but in general I think it's a bit of a myth that before the UL movement everyone was carrying 60 lb packs. I did not do that even in the 60s. That myth is a bit self serving ( kind of like my scare tactics :>).

    The problem I do out on the trails is people are being fitted with packs that are too short. I'll take a wild guess and say that the load lifter style harnesses I see are fitted properly 15-20% of the time and the rest are too short to function properly.

    Dan @ Durston Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    "Dan, don't you now exclusively use the ULA OHM?"

    Yes, but only because I wanted a framed pack for my recent 9 day trip where I carried all the food for 2 people and I couldn't buy one unless I sold my frameless pack. If someone can only have one pack, then a light framed pack is a good call because it's much more versatile than a frameless one which is only good for shorter trips. Last week I went out for a ~11 lbs total pack weight one nighter and the Ohm felt like total overkill. Another frameless pack is on my want list….maybe a Zpacks Zero 2000ci.

    "Dan, sorry if what I say on the site offends you at all. Maybe I can mellow it out a bit soon. It's not meant to scare people as much as offer aid and support"

    I wouldn't say I'm offended, I just think the wording comes across as more of a rant, than as a carefully thought through argument for a framed pack. I think it would be more effective to mellow it out as you mention and perhaps go into a bit more detail on why you feel a frameless pack will work better, instead of just asserting that it won't work.

    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    After having gone through many a lightweight frame-less pack, I've came to the same conclusion as Nick, that a full framed pack is a better way to go, for "me personally"
    Excluding short duration trips and the lighter loads that go with them, where I could still choose or use one of my smaller lightweight packs.
    But in reality, I will probably still use my McHale's (2) for short trips, even if its only an overnight trip too. I've got a LBP36 which will be my weekend trip pack, which is a good 1-1/2 to 2lbs lighter than my Chasm. I still have (2) ULA's, a Circuit and a Catalyst, which although weigh less than my McHale's, my body actually does not feel any better at the end of a long day carrying these lighter packs, over the McHale's. A 42lb load in my Chasm, feels like a 25lb load in my Catalyst. Not knocking ULA at all they're a great product, just using the Catalyst as a comparison, because I actually own one, and have carried 40lbs with it.
    I will probably sell off almost all of my packs, and keep my two McHales, as I don't see the need to have anything else. Another nice feature of a larger pack is I can place everything inside the pack. This was one thing that bothered my with smaller lightweight packs, is always having the external mesh pockets full of stuff for longer trips, especially on cool or cold weather trips, where I needed to carry more, warmer clothing.
    For a recent 6 day trip, I carried a Garcia Bear canister, which fit horizontally into my Chasm, and I still had a lot of room to spare in the pack, hard to do with a small frame-less pack. I guess, I'm saying that I've kinda gone back to the idea of using one pack for all of my trips, like I did in the old days, and not worry about carrying a few extra pounds of pack weight.Pack weight is probably the last place one should really cut weight from, especially when needing to carry heavier loads.

    Dan @ Durston Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    "A 42lb load in my Chasm, feels like a 25lb load in my Catalyst."

    It may feel that way to your back, but your legs still need to lift that extra 17 lbs with every step. I personally am not so concerned with how a pack feels on my back, as long as it's reasonably comfortable. If it doesn't bother my back/hips/shoulders then I'm happy. I place more focus on having a light pack as part of a light total pack weight so that my legs and cardio system can go faster and further before they're worn out.

    Ideally I'd carry:
    <20lbs total pack weight: Frameless pack
    20-30lbs: Pack with light stays (ie. my ULA Ohm)
    +30lbs: Light fully framed pack like a McHale.

    Others disagree with this of course. Whatever works for you is great. It really depends on the types of hikes you are doing. If I was hiking on relatively level, high quality trails then my legs wouldn't get nearly as worn out and it might be worth a bit of weight to carry a pack with exceptional comfort.

    Lately my hikes have had large elevation gains/losses (+7000ft, -2000ft one day last week) where my legs are what ends up fried at the end of the day, so my focus is on minimizing that leg fatigue. Last winter I was on a 1 night ski touring trip were gained 4000' feet the first day. I had 30 lbs in a frameless pack. Yeah my shoulders were kinda sore, but my legs were absolutely pooched from ski touring up hill all day. If I was doing it again I wouldn't add more weight to my pack to alleviate a bit of shoulder soreness at the cost of even more leg fatigue.

    Anyways…I'm being the off topic poster in this thread so I'll shut up now. McHale packs are sweet and I'd love one for 30-40lbs loads but I'm rarely in that category.

    Dan McHale: Should we be worried about you retiring?

    Javan Dempsey


    Locale: The-Stateless-Society

    I gotta tell you guys, I feel like one of the main issues detracting from frameless or frame-stayed varieties is the lack of an option to "try them" before hand.

    They're all so different in how they interface with your back, and everybody's physique is different.

    If the SMD Starlite had been my first LW pack, I'd have probably given up trying to find a frameless or lightly framed pack, because the SMD just didn't work for my back.. My friend that now has the Starlite I had, loves it and claims he doesn't feel it even with 30+ lbs.

    The weight never bothered me with my GG Gorilla, but the straps I could never quite make work for me. The pack fit me, but the straps didn't.

    Is there anything wrong with either design? Hell no. They'll work for the right person.

    I used a Gregory Forester for a long time back in the heavy days. One of the most loved beefy frame packs ever to exist. The size was appropriate to my torso length, it has more padding than a couch. My back has never hurt as bad with any frameless pack at any weight as it had with normal wt's using the Forester.

    Unfortunately, we buy frameless packs based on subjective reviews, hype, style, features, wt, whatever, and those are all the wrong reasons. Plus, we're all skeptical of them even though we want them to work so badly.

    I'm using a MYOG pack now, completely frameless, with straps that I love, but I've also got a beast of a special new external frame OTW, which will definitely see some use, so long as it turns out to be comfortable for *my* back.

    "YMMV" has never been so relevant to any category of gear in my opinion.

    David Ure



    Joe Clement
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southwest

    McHale pack threads are always so humorous……..doesn't matter which forum.

    James holden
    BPL Member


    id never buy a pack i couldnt try on with 20+ lbs and walk/climb/jump around for at least an hour … the ONLY exception might be a totally custom one like a Mchale and only because he sends you a test pack

    it amazes me that people buy packs without knowing how theyll fit … sure you can have a great return policy, but unless they send you shipping labels you still lose out

    as to the frame vs. frameless debate … i just use my climbing packs for everything except for short daytrips … as most good climbing packs have removable frames and top pockets, the point is moot … i can get a frameless summit pack anytime …. they are usually pretty bomber and you can get them fairly lightweight

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Dan Durston wrote:

    … If it doesn't bother my back/hips/shoulders then I'm happy. I place more focus on having a light pack as part of a light total pack weight…

    I am in much the same camp as Dan though simpler. A couple of years ago I realized that all my trips had a total pack weight of between 14-25lbs. I ended up simplifying to a single pack.

    No to frameless option: I know that some people are happy to use a frameless pack up to 20-30lbs, but I found my break point was around 16lbs. I have yet to find a frameless pack (other than the SMD StarLite) which seemed to get the weight on to my hips. For a while I used a GG Whisper for my lightest trips where the load was light enough that it didn't bother my shoulders. I decided it wasn't worth saving the 1lb or so. For simplicity, I decided I didn't want to do something special for the lightest trips and have to be ultra careful how I packed the bag.

    Yes, light stays (or framesheet). With a <25lb load, a light framesheet (like the vapor trail I gave away last spring) or a light stay (using gossamer gear gorilla) feels as good as anything else I have tried at these low weights. Might as well keep the weight down and use a pack that supports my needs. For MY use, the GG Gorilla is just about perfect, and at least 1/2 a lb lighter that any other pack I though was adequately comfortable. The only thing I wish is that my back would be ventilated. If the Osprey Exos 46 was comfortable I would have happily carried an extra 1/2lb to keep my back cool… but it wasn't in the cards.

    No for "lightly framed": Per above, I don't go over 25lbs anymore. I stopped climbing, I don't take 3 season trips with more than 7 days between resupply, my snow trips aren't over 3 days anymore, and don't do desert hiking when it's hot (e.g. don't need to carry more than a few liters of water). If I was carrying more weight I would want something with a better suspension, but at the weights I am carrying it isn't as important… so I am happy to save a bit of weight, maybe some money, and not have to figure out which pack to take each time I go on a trip.

    Unlike Dan, I didn't like the way the ULA Ohm carried. the stays didn't curve enough for my taste, and I found the hip belt inadequate. Obviously though, there are plenty of people who seem to adore the Ohm, so I think this is a body geometry thing and/or a pain/comfort tolerance thing.


    Dan @ Durston Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    David Ure wrote:

    "20lbs in a frameless pack v.s. 20 pounds in a framed pack has a much different effect on the body. The frameless pack is unable to provide the same load transfer or stability. The movement of that load over say, 20 miles with ups and downs, has an effect on the body that mimics a much higher weight."

    Okay I'll jump in with one more off topic post. I don't count on frameless packs providing any load transfer. I plan on carrying all the weight on my shoulders. I use the waist belt and sternum strap only to keep the pack stable. I'm not buying the idea that a frameless pack is less 'stable' and that it bounces up and down more than a framed pack and that equates to a 'much higher weight'. I feel a lot less overall fatigue at the end of the day having carried 20lbs in a frameless pack vs. 30lbs in a framed pack. I don't expect you to agree…

    David Ure



    Jang-Tian Shieh(Syoten)
    BPL Member


    Locale: Taiwan

    I have quite the same opinion with your point. I also tend to focus on getting the total pack weight down but still with reasonable comfortableness. I found myself walks much faster with light frameless pack even though it doen't make me feel as comfortable on shoulders, back and hip as carrying a fully framed pack.

    I used to carry
    <30lbs total pack weight: framless pack but with inner pad sleeves.
    30~40lbs internalframe backpack like SMD Comet
    >40lbs internalframe backpack with both aluminum stay and hard plastic sheet as well as thicker shoulder and hip padding.

    So far I used to carry packs with load lifters and hip belt. That's why I asked MLD to add load lifters onto my 2009 revelation. However, recently I just want go even lighter, so I'm now trying to figure out how heavy can I go with zpacks zero comfortably.

    Actually if you don't mind packing your pack tightly. I found that making good use of specific stuffs in your pack can make a framless pack just as rigid as a internalframe backpack.

    See my former post:
    How do you pack a frameless pack?
    I usually like my pack to be small and clean without anything hanging outside because it not only doesn't looks odd, but also make it eaier to walk through the bush and some more difficult terrain such as cliff and waterfall.

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