McHale Packs — Observations & Comments

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    Paul McLaughlin
    BPL Member


    Mike W wrote, "A frameless pack can be shaped to hug the body in a way that is not possible with a rigid frame". I would like to point out the word "rigid" here. The internal frame in a lightweight internal frame pack should not be, and usually is not, rigid. It can have enough vertical load transfer capacity to transfer weight to the hipbelt efficiently and still retain a good deal of flexibility, enough that it can conform very comfortably to the wearer's back – especially if it has been properly fitted.
    In fact, it doesn't take much in the way of frame to do the trick. I use stays in my homemade packs that are 1/8" x 5/16" aluminum, and they handle weights up to 30 lbs with ease – at that weight I am reaching the limits of my thinly padded belt, not the weight transfer cababilities of the stays. They are so light that I can have a pack with stays and a padded belt that weighs 16 ounces. I make my own because I don't see any manufacturer making anything that light with stays in it. I think one of the reasons there is such a spirited discussion here between the frame folks and the non-frame folks is that there are so few good really lightweight internal frame packs, so that the jump is pretty big between frameless and internal framed packs. For myself, with the pack I have, I can't see any point in going frameless. In fact, I take that pack on most dayhikes I do, as it is more comfortable than any daypack I've ever had, and weighs less than most of them. But if my choices were limited to what I could buy, I might feel differently.

    James holden
    BPL Member


    one little trick i use to stiffen up a frameless pack (learned it from some old climbing dirtbag this year) …

    simply put a piece of light wooden siding or balsa wood in between that therma rest you to stiffen the pack … for bonus points use a folded space blanket or light first aid kit as lumbar support

    as the weight decreases you can start using said wood as kindling … and end up with no frame by the end of yr trip

    disposable frame … i can usually carry 30 lbs in such a modified back easily

    it's fairly flexible and works quite well

    Don Selesky


    I've been using a cut-up Z-rest pad for additional rigidity. I cut the pad every second section, then use one or two of these pieces inside where the normal foam backpad is. Helps with load transfer without making the pack too rigid.

    JR Redding


    "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 McHale

    On the contrary I see people sporting packs with too long of a torso size versus too short. And in some cases for women, I have seen them carrying lighter packs like an REI Flash 50 with hip placement of the belt similar to the position Osprey asks you to fit their packs to.

    Wonder if he could make something for my daughter who has an extremely short torso at 13.5 inches ;)

    Luis Ramos


    Locale: Maryland

    Yup, some folks just never see the light … viva McHale

    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    Hi Luis,
    I noticed that your selling a LBP36, and was wondering why your selling the pack? Noticed that you have not used the pack either? Is this your first McHale pack?

    Luis Ramos


    Locale: Maryland

    For a very limited time I think I'd like some cash rather than the pack, but that feeling is fading fast. If it doesn't sell soon I'll probably keep it. I have several that I have not used yet. Got the gear, just need the time to get out there.

    Mark Hudson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Eastern Sierras

    I just read this entire thread, and think I learned more in this one thread than in most of what I have read here in months.

    Dan, I love reading your comments. Oddly enough I got my OHM today. I had previously ordered a cdt from chris and didnt like it. he sent me an OHM and I packed it today with all my solo gear plus 3 liters of water and 4 days of food for a total weight of 20 lbs. It carried perfectly.

    I am not sure I can get enough food (or a bear canister to do my jmt hike next year) in it, but am going to give it a shot.

    The Mchales, intrigue me a great deal however, but when I start weighing the cost vs benefit, I seem to keep drifting back to the lower priced packs. Oddly enough I am not this way in most purchases, believing that if I go ahead and spend more, I will be more satisfied over time. In this case I think packs are evolving at a rate that perhaps I dont want my pack to last more than 3-4 years, as perhaps there will be a better solution out there at that time.

    And I really cant see myself every carrying more than 30 lbs and most likely not more than 25.

    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    I just like to see and play with the many different pack's that are available today. Its cost me big $$$$ over the years, and a lot of people have benefited from my buy,try,and sell forays. I don't drink much or gamble, so I guess this is my addiction. I have learned that for me personally, a slightly larger, framed pack works best for me. I like that I always have extra room for all my gear, without needing to pack extra carefully. Also not having all my exterior pockets stuffed full, and gear dangling off the pack is nice as well. For my last 6 day(cool weather) trip, I used my McHale Chasm, with a Garcia Bear canister, which fit inside the pack horizontally, with room to spare, for even more gear.

    Dan @ Durston Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    Nice to see this thread still lives on. I wonder how Nick's McHale purchasing process is going? Maybe we can get an update?

    My earlier post:
    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.

    In the past few months I've expanded my pack quiver from just the ULA Ohm by adding a frameless pack. I added a $130 / 4.9oz medium cuben Zpacks Zero (with side & back pockets and webbing hipbelt) for those sub 20lbs total pack weight trips. Perhaps this purchase was poorly timed with winter in full swing here, but it will be super handy come spring when I can head out with a 7 lbs baseweight. My inner geek thinks it's pretty awesome to chop over a pound off my baseweight.

    This winter I've got a few ski touring/mountaineering trips planned that are going to be pushing the limits of my Ohm. If I end up staying in the mountains for next winter, then I'll likely buy a McHale pack in time for next season.

    Winter is such a different situation for backcountry travel for me. I really need a lighter ski touring setup because right now with skis, bindings, skins and boots I'm carrying 14.1 lbs on EACH foot. Lifting up your legs when it's so heavy really puts some weird strains on it. This setup sure does rock on the downhills though.

    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    McHale's smaller/lighter pack's, feature smaller width stays as well, probably comparable to a ULA Catalyst, which has .5" wide stays. I believe McHale uses a higher grade aluminum for their stays though, so it's stiffer than what many pack makers use, and it will hold its shape better.

    Another feature of McHale packs that has not been mentioned is they lack hip-belt load-lifter straps and the uniqueness of the bypass straps on his P & G packs.
    The bypass straps and frame extensions are not needed, until you begin to exceed 36lbs or so.
    So with lighter loads you have zero adjustment straps to deal with other than the dual hip-belt straps/buckles.=(Nice)

    Pretty certain that for a Thru-Hike, I'd choose a non P&G McHale LBP36, with dual wand pockets,dual crest hip-belt pockets, and dual shoulder straps pockets=Sweeeeet!

    Sean Walashek


    Locale: bay area

    Want to chime in with some of my lpb 34
    I went for a trip up to Seattle to hike the Olympic Peninsula last year with the secret ambition that it would be the perfect time to get fitted for a McHale from the master himself. I had been lusting after one of his packs after hearing and reading of Ryan's Subpop in the writeup on load transfer a few years back. They are a huge investment, especially for someone like me who can't justify owning a car! I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived at McHale Packs. It was a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. When he answered the door I was a little "starstruck" for lack of a better word, here was the world's preeminent pack-maker and he was soon to be working on a pack for my back. Inside the door was a full scale one man pack making extravaganza. I got the sense that Dan had been around long enough to see "the next best thing" come and go enough times. He was adding shoulderpads to an older pack a woman who guided in glen? the grand? one of the canyons sent back after some serious abuse, it looked like the pack had repelled down the walls of a canyon countless times, but was still functionally sound (dyneema is for all intents and purposes indestructible) I guess a fire could ruin it, or a very determined and sharp knife, but any small holes or scuffs caused by abrasion aren't going to spread. By the time I met Dan I already had an idea of what I wanted and the pack designed in my head. After looking at and feeling/weighing a lot of the accessories and add-on's I changed that idea. Everything he makes is made to be as durable as possible. It doesn't work for us in the UL crowd if you aren't fascist when it comes to cutting weight in the design, but with focus, attention, and crystal clear communication, you can get a pack that still comes in lighter then the great majority of all the internal packs and also much much more durable. For potential buyers I would recommend seeing a writeup of all the materials going into the pack ( I didn't do this) but if Dan would oblige, you could go over it with him and ask for, find, or get the lightest components that Dan is willing to use. It can make you feel silly to be emphatic when it comes to the weight when you are talking to a guy who admittedly places weight lower on the list of considerations (within reason) and has been making packs that see the highest places in the world. I also had some ideas for the p+g bayo and a detachable back summit pack (not sure of the proper nomenclature) but much to his credit Dan shied me away from them and reminded me of what I came to get, he went on to say that I could pick them up later if I decided I really wanted them.
    I then zen'ed out and came to realize I wanted the clean aesthetic of that subpop I had seen years before. It was a battle to decide over the small things like the removable compression straps because I realized they would detract from that spartan look but told myself to calm down and let form follow function. For the added 1/4? oz when not being used they greatly enhance the abilities of the pack. Dan is a super communicative guy, he uses his own words for his products so it can be a little hard to understand what exactly is happening and his attitude can SEEM a little brash. I don't think he is difficult to deal with at all but do recommend patience and clear communication in any dealing where something is being made to your wishes. Next, after seeing and demoing the hipbelt top pouch on a 4 day hike in the Hoh I realized it was just TOO big for me. I mean its HUGE, I could put the majority of my gear in just the toplid, so I opted out of that for the summit flap, which for probably 1/4 the weight still swallows up more than I have for it to hold. Besides my favorite way to wear the pack is just in rolltop, as pictured. I was using a bladder at the time but felt that Dan's solution was overkill for me, its like a hydration pocket that hangs off the inside stays. I would wager they add more weight then the bladder itself so I didn't get it. Instead I got 2 water bottle pockets and 2 hipbelt pockets because I wanted the flexibility, I have since moved back to water bottles and haven't looked back. For how small they appear the hipbelt pockets also swallow a huge amount of gear. In just one I can keep my pack cover, camera, steripen, a folding knife and a snack. The way I most use mine is with one water bottle and one hipbelt pocket on opposing sides. I didn't want a kangaroo pocket because I thought it gave the pack a kinda sloppy back (like it was sagging) so I kept the daisy chains and can just run some cord between them if i really want to store a jacket outside. The pack has worked out great on all counts. With the setup I usually use my pack still comes in at around 2lb 10oz, so I'm not complaining.
    Speaking to the dying process, some dye has rubbed off on the inside of one of the hipbelt pockets where the pocket touches the belt, leaving a brown mark on the belt. The shoulder straps also bled on my shirt at the top where they were rubbing. It doesn't rub off as much as bleed, its "oily" to the touch but only moves when there is constant contact and rubbing. I was warned that this would happen, don't have a problem with it, but thought mentioning it could give an idea of how the dye reacts. Before my trip to Kenya I worked as a guide for a season, having the pack is an amazing resource for any wfr/sar folk because it can be cannibalized so easily, fortunately I have never had to do so, but if i did its great what you can come up with. Which actually saves a great deal of weight over having to carry these items separately plus the added benefit of not being able to forget them. The stay's make excellent splints, the straps are all removable without cutting so can fasten/lash/ provide compression anywhere without damage to the pack. The backpad comes off to provide an excellent sitpad, splint cushioning, or insulation for someone you don't want to move. I'm confident that if I had to I could destroy the pack and fashion a chair for someone that had to be evac'd but couldn't walk and the suspension would help me carry them out in that terrible situation. Its a pack that works and works beautifully, it will never weigh as little as a cuben frameless pack, but it weighs only slightly more than the lightest of the internal framed packs. Using the compression straps and removing the pockets I can lash it to me so that it pretty much becomes part of my back. The hipbelt interferes with range of motion so I will unfasten the bottom buckle if I am running. As for load transfer Dan is quite the innovator, you can drop everything on your hips so that the shoulder straps only work to "pin" you to the pack, if the load gets heavy to where it starts to deform the pack you can remove the stays and flip the Q bayos to add an inch to the frame to restore that stability and transfer, keeping the weight off your shoulders.
    I don't think I have particularly sensitive shoulders and in fact know I have a strong back, even so I have tried backpacking with a frameless (mh scrambler) which albiet wasn't made to the same standards as one of the cottage frameless packs. After a day I am aching. I have a low base weight <10lbs but that doesn't do anything about food! For a trip of any length I will have enough food and water to hop over 20+lbs and for those times the frameless was torture for me. With this pack its all on my hips and legs so I can go pretty much non-stop before being confronted with discomfort.
    I advocate a light frame, it needn't come in a McHale package but 1/2lb of suspension can mean a whole lot of comfort. For me I was at a point where I wanted to have a pack that crossed "pack?" off my list for the rest of my life. After 100+ days of use it still seems in near new condition. I honestly believe, with some degree of confidence and ability to support my beliefe, that I have one of THE greatest backpacks ever made. I am open to answer any questions about the process and provide more insight on how to best get what you are looking for if you are considering a McHale, I also know Thom is a great resource there as well.

    Sean Walashek


    Locale: bay area

    I didn't realize the size, I lifted it from dan's site without a resize, its like a monolith.

    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    Sweet pack, people don't understand or believe it, until they've actually experienced a McHale Pack.
    I recently purchased a used Gregory Palisade pack off ebay, as it is an older model with the stellar? Flo-Form harness. Well,I loaded up both this pack and my McHale Chasm with 30lbs. The McHale felt as if it had half the weight in it. Amazing, really. I had the bay-o-nets and bypass straps installed, but I did not even need to tighten down on these, as the pack felt much better,the momment I put it on, compared to the Gregory. The Chasm is probably a full pound lighter than the Gregory too.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern Oregon


    Ethan A.
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area & New England

    Thom and Sean, very nice packs. What are the full specs on them as seen in the photo – volume, volume with extension collar, weight with stays, weight without stays, etc.?

    I used to own a top of the line Dana Design Alpine pack many years ago as my main pack – about 5000 cu. in., super durable and comfortable for the weight – but way too heavy to justify keeping. Nice thing is they hold value so well I didn't lose a dime when I sold the pack overseas after years of use.

    Michael Tallon
    BPL Member


    Locale: Upstate New York

    I own 3 NcHale packs. They have been purchased over the past 15 years. The more recent the pack, the smaller volume, lighter and the better suited to my purposes which have trended to lighter loads as I have gained more experience and as my body has aged leading to a confluence where I believe am a wiser person — or, if not that, than a better trekker and thru hiker.

    McHale packs are superb. The materials, the workmenship, the overall and custom design and fit are unequaled and superior to anything else I have used or seen used.
    In my opinion, next to the specific and vital priority of taking care of your puppies —- your feet — starting with boots, inserts and socks, back packs are the next most important equipment item.

    The service — the path or process — to acquiring one of these gems is thru McHale himself who is a treat, the real deal in a world populated with too many phonies or pompous puffers. McHale will work with you and bring his experience, good judgment and opinions into the mix. You don't get leaned on, you just get the man and his experience. Make your own judgment. I'd surmise McHale has seen and heard a lot of claims, fads and trends come and go and the guy's shop is still standing and still producing superb backpacks that meet the range of uses that his clientele brings to him. And he is in the field doing what he loves to do and tuning up his products. So, my bottom line from my experience: trust the guy and trust his packs.

    Mike Tallon
    Rochester, New York

    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    Anxiously, awaiting my 2nd McHale Pack, a 35" Merkebeiner, in 140d Gray Dyneema Grid fabric. This will be my weekender pack.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Came in over the holidays while I was away (pretty much been on vacation since a week before Thanksgiving). But first a little bit about the process.

    After you send Dan all your measurements, and after a rather length phone discussion, he sends you a demo pack that is similar to what you want. Also included is an instructional DVD. So now you go hiking with the demo pack. Then you take pictures (Dan provides instructions on what to take pictures of). From there Dan contacts you by phone or email, usually with instructions on adjustments or asks questions. You then adjust and go hiking and do the process over. He may ask you to add more weight, adjust the stays, or other configuration options. If the pack is not the right fit at all, you get another demo. This did not happen to me. The first one worked out, after Dan taught me the art of adjusting a pack, especially the stays. I probably sent Dan 5 sets of pictures. Then when Dan is sure your pack fits perfect, you have another lengthy phone call and the final specifications are set.

    The pack is a LBP 36 is full Dyneema including a kangaroo pocket, the shoulder straps, and accessories. I chose very subdued colors, so the pack would not stand out. I also got summit flap with a bear canister holder, two hip belt pockets and one should pocket. I will not be using all of these at the same time. One thing about a McHale Pack are all the different configurations of the pack to meet varying trips. I will post pictures of the different set-ups as I use the pack. Unfortunately it will be at least a couple weeks before I get out. Seems that while we have been gone, a water pipe has been leaking inside the wall of our kitchen, so I have some major repairs to do. Oh well, we were going to remodel the kitchen this year anyway.

    Here are some pictures. I just stuffed some gear in the pack to take pictures. It is set up in full extended mode.

    McHale Back

    McHale Front

    McHale Side



    Beautiful pack Nick. Congrats and good luck with it. I bet you're chomping at the bit to get it out on at least an overnight.

    I have a Zero SARC I got some years ago. Mine has a heavy material (maybe cordura) and will last three lifetimes. There's nothing comparable to a McHale. Period.

    I see you got belt pockets on both sides. What did the finished pack weigh in at?

    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern Oregon

    Your pack is beautiful, as with all McHale packs it is a work of art. I like your choice's in relation to how you had Dan build out the pack, very much like my own.


    David Ure



    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    Sweet pack, my Merkebeiner pack,"might" be arriving sometime this month. I went with the 140d Gray Grid-stock fabric.
    One nicety, is you can order options for your pack, should you need more room in the future.
    I also have a Chasm, and I originally went with the Summit lid, but ordered a fanny pack lid later on. I like the fanny pack lid, as it works well for day-tripping and summit bids. The bladder holder will attach to either the summit or fanny pack lids too.

    I also really like the optional day-pack front pocket.,%20Pam%207×9.jpg

    I like the way this utility day-pack pocket threads (bungee cord)over the front of the pack, which leaves the top open, so one can use it as a shove-it type pocket too. Also a good place to put a narrow type snow shovel as well.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Unfortunately my wife made me stay home this weekend to fix the roof after our recent storms. I need to put a new roof on very soon. So today I am "I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering where will it go…"

    Fortunately she went to the store and left me unsupervised, so I thought I would add some pictures and stuff that I had planned on doing for a couple of months. Do not be surprised if Dan needs to add or correct information.

    – The pack is a LBP36, which is a Little Big Pack with a circumference of 36"

    – The pack bag is generally cylindrical

    – The frame (aluminum stays) is 23.5" but after bending them to the contour of my back it is smaller

    – It has the P&G Bayonet frame extension system

    – Full Dyneema construction

    – Kangaroo Pocket with flap

    – 2 water bottle holsters

    – 2 large hip belt pockets

    – 1 Presto shoulder strap pocket with flap

    – Summit Lid with bear canister straps


    – Basic pack back w/o roll top extended = 39L
    – Everything including roll top extended = 79L

    For comparison, my GG Mariposa Plus has a total volume of 59L


    Everything = 4lbs 9.5 oz

    Without P&G extensions, by-pass harness straps and canister straps = 4lbs 3.9 oz

    Without all the accessories ("day pack mode") = 3lbs 6.0 oz

    If I remove all the external straps and extra webbing it will probably go under 3lbs.

    For 3 season multi-day use, my base weight will be well under 10lbs using the McHale. Plus I will be able to carry as much food and water as I need. For snow trips, it can carry everthing in comfort, including a Scarp 1 tent for really nasty trips.

    McHale and Mariposa Plus Comparison

    McHale next to Mariposa Plus, both at full capacity.

    Top Lid Bottom

    The bottom of the lid has straps for attaching a bear canister. You could also place a hydration bladder here, use the straps for a fanny pack of sorts. The straps can be removed, and still allow you to keep the lid attached to the pack.

    Attaching Garcia to Top Lid

    Attaching Garcia to bottom of Top Lid.

    Garcia Under Lid

    Garcia under Top Lid.

    Top Lid Storage

    The top lid has about 300 cu in of storage that is accessed with a zipper.

    Top Lid Removed

    Top of bag with lid removed.

    Water Pocket Holder

    The water holster can easily hold a 640z Gatorade bottle.

    Water Pocket 2

    … or a stove and fuel.

    Kanaga Pocket 1

    The Kangaroo Pocket holds about 400 cu of stuff (maybe more?)

    Kanga Pocket 2

    View of Kangaroo Pocket closed.

    Hip Belt Pocket

    Large hip belt pocket.

    Hip Belt Pocket 2

    The hip belt pocket easily stores a camera, bandanna, glove liners, and a merino wool cap.

    Presto Pocket 1

    Presto Should Strap Pocket.

    Presto Pocket 2

    Presto Pocket using sunglasses as a size comparison.

    By-Pass Top

    You use the P&G Extensions to carry larger heavier loads. The extension add several inches to the top of the frame, and then places the By-pass straps at the top to help stabilize loads.

    By-Pass Middle

    The By-pass strap runs through a sleeve in the should strap.

    By-Pass bottom

    The bottom of the By-pass strap is connect at the same point as the bottom of the should strap.

    Bayonet 1

    Extension. Note that the black line is where the top of the stay is.

    Bayonet 2

    Preparing to remove the extension.

    By-pass gear removed

    Extensions and canister straps removed.

    WIthout the extension and by-pass system

    Extension and by-pass removed. Size compared to the fully loaded Mariposa Plus.

    Aluminum stays 1

    For smaller and lighter loads, you can reduce the length of the stays (and the bag) by about 1 inch. Shown is access to the stays.

    Aluminum Stays 2

    Shortening the stays.

    without by-pass 2

    Here is the "day pack" mode next to the Mariposa without the roll top extended.

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    Thanks a bunch Nick for that informative post. The comparison photos help quite a bit too. Now I want one.

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