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What Dan McHale has to say about UL backpacks
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Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Re: Re: Quote on 01/12/2014 18:32:54 MST Print View


Edited by rmjapan on 06/21/2015 06:12:29 MDT.

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Frameless? on 01/12/2014 20:00:00 MST Print View

Another element is that the line between framed and frameless is getting blurred. My Arc Blast has excellent structural rigidity and support. It's sorta like a frame with the carbon fiber struts but not completely. Extremely comfortable carrying lightweight loads let alone ultralight.

To each their own. If you are comfortable carrying heavier loads and a heavier framed pack to support that, no worries.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Frameless? on 01/12/2014 20:23:29 MST Print View

"Another element is that the line between framed and frameless is getting blurred."

Also, you could legitimately call the arc blast an external frame pack. LOL So yes, very blurry.

I think there is much merit in a lot of the things he says - I been reading them here and in other places for a while now. Also I'd love to own one of his packs, one I'm absolutely sure what pack I would need for %80 of my trips for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, while I totally buy the definition of the right amount of pack as "the one the FEELS the least heavy on you back for what you are carrying, not the one that is actually the lightest weight", he has some rather conservative rules on the material he is willing to use. He call it the minimum material weight to be "safe". I suppose that there is an issue of long-term durability, but while I'm sure it has occasionally happened, I have never read a post, or heard of a situation arising, where an UL pack so self-destructed on the trail as to present more than a nuisance, let alone a "safety" issues. So that seems like a hyperbolic statement to me, though I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. In my repair kit, for instance, I have everything I need to make major repairs, if necessary, to my pack though I have never had to do much more than slap a patch on a hole or rip while on the trail. If like Dan you are selling packs for 2-4 times what we might call the commercial equivalents, then yeah, anyone spending that much is probably going to place a higher emphasis on being able to pass it down in his/her will.

Though I hear analogous arguments on here all the time, I reject the economy of spending 10 times as much for something that last 3 times as long - e.g. "dryducks ($20) are more fragile so I buy a rain jacket that costs 10 times that because they last longer. They can be repaired in-field with duct tape. So short of cosmetic issues, or you really don't like the feel of them, the argument about them being too fragile is bogus. Likewise when Dan makes packs that are a lot cheaper, I think I would buy the arguments about durability a bit more.

But it is true that if I ever wanted to carry 30+ lbs the backpack I would currently use for that weight about 3 lbs. But I think he is comparing apples and oranges when he uses the 25-35 lb range. A lot of people on here would realize its not going to be a joy to use a very light pack to carry that much weight, but I think people who consider themselves LW, let alone UL, would only be carrying that kind of weigh for short periods of time.

So methinks he doth protest too much.

Edited by millonas on 01/12/2014 20:56:57 MST.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Pack comfort is too personal for us all to agree on it on 01/12/2014 20:26:42 MST Print View

I think the real issue here is that there are so many variables involved in a given person finding a pack comfortable that it will be impossible for all of us to even come close to agreeing on any universals.

Personally, I would rather "float" a 15 lb load with a 3 lb pack than attempt to carry a 13 lb load with a 1 lb frameless pack, but that's just me. In my opinion, that extra 2 lbs is doing more for my backpacking enjoyment than probably any other 2 lbs in my load, so it's worth it.

Obviously many of you have a much higher weight cutoff than I do where you start to want the support of a real frame. My cutoff is around 13-15 lbs, but it sounds like many other people's cutoff is more like 25 or even 30 lbs.

Different folks, different strokes. Packs are like shoes where fit and comfort is clearly very personal. No big deal that we all don't agree on what works best.

I will second the comments made above that the McHale website is antiquated to the point of being hard to use. Dan McHale's aforementioned commentary is also hard to get through, in large part because it's several thousand words of writing that could frankly be condensed to a few small paragraphs without losing much of the message. I think his point still stands though, even if it was clunkily delivered.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Packing evenly on 01/12/2014 20:27:05 MST Print View

I find that if I have not done a good job of packing my pack evenly, it has a big impact on shoulder comfort, even though I try to transfer weight to my hips. Currently, I have a 33 oz. (Zimmerbuilt) winter volume pack that carries for a weekend o/n trip, what I used to carry just a few years ago for a week long summer bp trip. For my summer trips, the ZPacks Arc Blast does fine, but, once again, all depends on weight distribution. So much better than the Golite Gust I had a few years ago before getting a SMD Starlight pack. I'm currently wanting to get a small frameless pack under 10 oz. for summer, weekend trips.
In the late 70's and into the 80's when I just weighted 135 lbs. I killed myself with 50 lb. loads for week long trips and a Camptrails pack, designed for weekend trips after I researched pack volumes before I got my Golite Gust.

Edited by hikerduane on 01/13/2014 03:29:45 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Packs on 01/12/2014 21:13:01 MST Print View

For the past 3+ years I have used three packs almost exclusively:

- zPacks Zero
- McHale Bump
- McHale LBP

The pack choice for each trip depends mostly on duration, total weight of everything, and volume needed.

Except for winter snow trips, my base weight is almost always less than 10 lbs, even when using the LBP. So I guess they are all UL packs, right?

But base weight means diddly - my water, fuel, and food almost always weigh more than the rest of my stuff.

In deserts my total weight doesn't decrease each day, I often need to replenish my water with enough to last a day or two. The LBP has carried up to 14 days of food, which for me, is better than putting together a route that makes me walk to a re-supply point and civilization in the middle of a trip.

I have owned some other brands of UL frameless packs and some UL internal frame packs, none of which were satisfactory overall.

My McHales will last longer than I have years left remaining to hike. I doubt I will every need to buy another pack. The Zero will probably die sometime this year -- they don't last forever. It doesn't matter that the zero is ending its lifespan, nowadays I usually strip down the Bump for trips I used to use frameless packs on, and it weighs under 2 lbs without the frame and belt, although it is rare for me to do this; the pack normally weighs under 3 lbs on most trips, unless I take the top lid, both hip belt pockets, and the shoulder strap pocket -- I rarely configure it with all the accessories.

I am done buying packs, and that is a good feeling. The money can sit in the bank for a rainy day.

We have to remember that most of the UL frameless and framed packs are not very durable. Durability is important to me. I don't want to plan trips and circumvent a great cross country route, canyon, or boulder field because my pack is too fragile.

If you are happy with your current frameless pack, keep using it. You don't need the approval of the community. If you are happy with your framed pack, keep using it, you don't need positive reinforcement from anyone here. If you are buying a new pack (or multiple packs) every year or two, you may want to check your premises regarding packs.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Packs on 01/12/2014 21:24:52 MST Print View

"Personally, I would rather "float" a 15 lb load with a 3 lb pack than attempt to carry a 13 lb load with a 1 lb frameless pack....that extra 2 lbs is doing more for my backpacking enjoyment than probably any other 2 lbs in my load, so it's worth it."

How best to spent 2 lbs in the context of carrying a 13 lbs load?

Option A:
32oz: Upgrade frameless pack to 3 lbs dream pack.

Option B:
9oz: Swap frameless pack for very comfortable ULA Ohm 2.0 (25oz)
4oz: Add a delicious block of Dubliner cheese
4oz: Add Small flask of Lagavullin Scotch
4oz: Add Tenkara Hane fishing rod & kit
3oz: Upgrade sleeping pad to a long & wide model
And still be 1/2 pound lighter

Edited by dandydan on 01/12/2014 21:26:12 MST.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Packs on 01/12/2014 21:27:00 MST Print View


I'm only saying that strictly in terms of economic and safety criteria the argument is bogus if you are balancing one of Dan's packs against "similar" UL packs. I too would love to have just have few packs and never buy any for the rest of my life, but its not an economic issue, unless you mean economy of numbers of packs. More like a "quality aesthetic" one. I bought two packs last year, but before that I used one pack for everything for more than a decade, and it was a patched up ULA (I'm firmly in the framed camp), not one that costs twice as much. But if I really knew exactly what I wanted/needed I would probably want Dan M. to make it for me, and be done.

Also, I get the part about being UL, but still needing to carry lots of water in the desert.

I just feel that way Dan M. sometimes expresses it is a bit hyperbolic. Or maybe it would all be clear if his presentation style was more clear and less all over the place. At any rate I take anything he says on the subject *very* seriously.

I just think that, contrary to his assertions, (a) UL pack makers are NOT usually either claiming, or trying to be the equivalent of what Dan is calling the necessary minimum pack, so they are not "lying", (b) I don't think they do their designs out of pure ignorance, and (c) most UL enthusiasts are not at all confused about the tradeoffs involved. I say this even through my personal sweet-spot has evolved to something pretty identical to what Dan M. and you have described.

Edited by millonas on 01/12/2014 22:02:42 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Packs on 01/12/2014 21:39:52 MST Print View

I don't feel other packs are similar to Dan's in how they carry. But I have lots of miles on mine so I can say that, especially after using a couple of the very popular UL internal frame packs.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Packs on 01/12/2014 21:47:31 MST Print View

Dan, great post!

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: Re: Packs on 01/12/2014 21:49:37 MST Print View

@Nick, No, I get it. I just think Dan M.'s critique is a bit like complaining that sheet of paper was used to write the script for a sitcom, and not used instead for a shakespere play. Unless you believe that the guy writing the sitcom honestly had intended to write a shakespere play, there is no cause to criticize the sitcom for not being King Lear.

Edited by millonas on 01/12/2014 21:50:35 MST.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Not buying whats being sold here on 01/12/2014 21:54:47 MST Print View

As someone who often has to carry a lot of water (4-4.5L), I often carry mid 20's pound packs when first starting starting out for trips of 6 days or less. But as others have mentioned, you aren't carrying that weight all the time as the food weight is being eaten and the water weight is varying all over the place during the course of the day since you are constantly drinking it and later refilling it. So the average weight over the course of a day is less.

I've found that if a pack doesn't fell comfortable, try repacking it differently before giving up on it. When I first tried a frameless pack, yes my shoulders would hurt by sometime in the afternoon. However, after exerimenting with how I pack it, I haven't had any problems in recent years. So I reject the idea that a frameless pack has to be uncomfortable or can't carry the weight. A good framed pack has it place which is why I still have one, but I rarely find a need for it.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: What Dan McHale has to say about UL backpacks on 01/13/2014 00:37:32 MST Print View

I think Mr. McHale has a some decent points, which are unfortunately rather hard to find due to formatting.

Many "UL" frameless packs which have curried favor in the last decade have had some flawed design elements. Many framed UL packs still do. In many cases they're getting sorted out, and packs are getting better every year. The page cited has been up for quite some time, so perhaps it is no longer especially relevant. If Mr. McHale gave up on a few of his more cherished ways of doing things, he could probably make a nice 2 pound, 45 liter rucksack with decent features and good load transfer up to 45 pounds.

Unfortunately, his packs would likely still be quite ugly.

Max, more pullups and less time changing your avatar will sort out that Boreas problem for ya.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Packs on 01/13/2014 00:38:43 MST Print View

@Dan Durston,
I like your style!

I've been searching for a pack that's really comfortable for me and lighter than my ~3 pound stripped down Osprey Volt 60, but alas, I have yet to find it.

I've tried on all the ULA packs and can't seem to make them work for me. I'd like to try the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, but I have my doubts that it would transfer the load to my hips nearly as well as my current pack, and there is no way for me to try it out before buying it.

At this point, I sort of doubt it's worth the time and expense it would cost me to find another pack that I think is really comfortable carrying up to 35 pounds. At a certain point, I figure you just have to call it a day and go hiking with the gear you already have. That's where I am at at this point. Not saying I'm not open to a change, just that I really like the fit, carry, and features of my current pack and replacing it will be a real uphill battle.

With that said, I think I'll go with

Option C:
32oz: Upgrade frameless pack to 3 lb dream pack.
4oz: Add a delicious block of Dubliner cheese
8oz: Add fresh fruit of choice
2oz: Add snickers bar
3oz: Add delicious pastry of choice...

Ok, clearly I've got a problem :)

Edited by dmusashe on 01/13/2014 00:43:05 MST.

Mitchell Ebbott
(mebbott) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Packs on 01/13/2014 10:37:33 MST Print View

A lot of this is going to depend on the individual. Personally, I much prefer carrying any weight over 15 lbs on my hips than my shoulders. My back isn't the greatest, and my shoulders tend to get knotted and sore, so having solid weight transfer makes a big difference in my comfort level. From the comments here, it seems that's not the case for everyone.

However, it's fairly easy to determine what camp you're in. Take your 3 lb internal frame pack, pack it as carefully and lightly as you would any frameless, and go for a hike. Try it both with and without the hip belt fastened. If you find yourself more often undoing the belt and carrying the weight on your shoulders, you'll probably be fine with a lighter pack. If you're like me, you'll only undo the belt for short spells to let your hips breathe. If a 22 lb load carries more comfortably on your hips than your shoulders, the same would be true for the 20 lb load that results from your pack reduction.

William Chilton
(WilliamC3) - MLife

Locale: Antakya
Re: Re: Re: Packs on 01/13/2014 10:44:52 MST Print View

Mitchell, I'm afraid I can't agree. Although I can tolerate some weight on my shoulders (and I do think people vary very much on this point), I much prefer to have it on my hips. However, I don't need a 3 lb internal frame pack to get a 20 lb weight onto my hips; I can do that with a much lighter pack. 30 lbs might be different, but then my legs would be complaining so much my shoulders wouldn't get a look in.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: Re: Re: Packs on 01/13/2014 11:22:56 MST Print View

You can transfer the weight in a frameless pack to your hips by:

-using a sleeping pad either rolled or folded.

-choosing the correct torso length of the pack. Many seem to wear packs that are too short. Get one where the shoulder straps attach to the main body of the pack as the same level as the top of your shoulders or even a bit taller. This minimizes torso collapse and puts more of the weigh on your hips.

-pack the load tightly with heavier items about mid back heigh and against the back.

-Pack light, which is consistent with

I suspect that some haven't tried this and have written off frameless packs because they are packing them like traditional framed packs.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Packs on 01/13/2014 11:59:02 MST Print View

Also, a framed pack doesn't Have to weigh a lot ...


Adding a 3.5 ounce frame to a well fit pack (with a hipbelt) can make for a very comfortable carry at well under 2 pounds.

This is a significantly modified Ohm. I got the 12" wide frame from Six Moon Design. Gossamer Gear has frames that are 6.25" wide.

(The load lifter straps are tucked away for an uncluttered view.)

Edited by greg23 on 02/15/2014 16:30:27 MST.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Shoulders on 01/13/2014 13:33:48 MST Print View

I can't carry 5 lbs on my shoulders comfortably for an hour. In that time frame the muscles that connect your shoulders to your neck are killing me. I carry 90%+ of the weight on my hips.

Ryan "Rudy" Oury

Locale: East Bay - CA
GG newsletter on G4 used for CDT hike on 01/17/2014 09:03:33 MST Print View

For those of you who don't get this, here's the URL to a blog about a husband/wife team that hiked the CDT each carrying Gossamer Gear G4s. A bit of shameless promotion for GG, but a quick easy read. ( )

Stated max weight was almost 30 lb when carrying lots of water and food, but typical was more like 20 I believe. The main thing I wanted to call attention to is towards the end where they're talking about that max weight.

"We really tested the weight limits on the packs, at one point carrying 7 liters and 5 days of food in New Mexico, and while the packs were more uncomfortable (is that much weight ever comfortable?) we got away with it without compromising the integrity of the packs." - copied from article

I suspect DAN would point to this (as do I) with an "Ah ha!" sort of gesture because they tipped their hand, per se... CAN 30 lbs ever be comfortable? OF COURSE IT CAN... but only w/ a good pack. When you entertain the question of framed vs frameless packs coming from the mindset that anything over 25-30 lb CAN'T be comfortable, why bother w/ a slightly heavier framed pack?

Clearly the G4 did last the entire way and I doubt these two are suffering scoliosis or impacted spinal column or whatever else carrying too much weight on your shoulders could give you, so props to them. Just kinda funny to hear that assertion.