$1,100 | www.mchalepacks.com | ★★★★★
McHale packs aren’t off-the-shelf clones. Each one is custom made in nearly unlimited options including your choice of fabrics, colors, top or panel loading, frame type and pockets. Folks with extra-short or long torsos can get a perfect fit. Such personal care and craftsmanship isn’t cheap, but McHales’s packs do start at an affordable $359. All are guaranteed and McHale says he gets zero returns.
The model I tested was made of bulletproof Dyneema and listed at 5,000 cubic inches (but holds 6,000 compared to other packs), and weighs 3 pounds 3 ounces without pockets and the back vent panel (the same pack sells for $595 in non-Dyneema). The top six inches of an internal bayonet frame are removable, converting the pack from expedition mode to a shorter, more technical type. Remove the entire frame, hip belt and top lid and you have a superlight summit pack. Two 7075-T6 aluminum stays keep the weight distributed and come in seven different thicknesses depending on whether you want an ultra-lightweight pack or a burly expedition model. To keep the pack snug to your back, McHale uses a patented “Bypass” shoulder-strap system that allows the padding to float on the strap, with independent adjustments at the top and bottom. The system lets you slack off the shoulder straps without having the pack tip backwards from the top.
The SARC hip belt is softer and thinner than most, and has two buckles. The belt supports your load, moves with you and doesn’t slip. If you’ve ever suffered bruised and sore hips from a rigid belt or had a heavy pack slide down your hips, weighting your shoulders, you’ll appreciate the comfort and support. The downside is that the double-buckle is more difficult to operate when you are wearing gloves.
Compared to other packs, the SARC wasn’t just more comfortable, but made a 55-pound load feel more like 35. Bottom line, this is the strongest, lightest, most comfortable and versatile pack I’ve tested or owned. It is large and strong enough for expeditions and light enough for alpine-style ascents. If you want one pack to cover all of your mountaineering needs, the SARC is a superb choice.
SEE ALL CLIMBING PACK REVIEWS
- Custom pack.
- Great weight-to-capacity ratio.
- Unique soft hip belt.
- Suspension makes load feel lighter than in other packs.
- Strip-away components lets one pack do it all.