Designing my pack

9:32 p.m. on May 23, 2012 (EDT)
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*First off couldn't decide whether to put this here or off-topic, moderators feel free to move it where you feel appropriate.*

So I am getting married, wedding June 2nd, and my amazing and supportive wife to be has allowed me to decide what I would like as a wedding gift! I've decided on getting a custom Mchale pack made.

I think I'm fairly in tune with what I'd like and what works for me, but I'd love to hear suggestions. Size, pockets, fabrics, stays. The whole thing is a blank canvas.....

I purposely didn't include my preferences, locations, typical trip and pack weight as I would love to hear what works for you guys. I think from those suggestions I can build what works for me, and didn't want to sway anyone in one direction or another. So please, no asking me about what my usage would be, basically I'm asking.....

If you could design your perfect pack, what would it look like.......?



9:58 p.m. on May 23, 2012 (EDT)
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that's a great gift!

i already have a very large backpack for winter that i'm completely happy with, so i would be thinking about something in the 2-5 day range where my smaller backpack is fine but not ideal   i would love something like a popcan.   though i use a camelbak, i would still get bottle pockets on both sides b/c i like them for storage - better than hipbelt pockets or pouches, which i find to be unwieldy.  i would want a top pocket rather than a roll-top.   

though it adds quite a bit to the price, i would spring for the lighter, tougher dyneema fabric.  nylon/dyneema grid is OK but isn't as light or as durable.  if i were spending that much, i would want to go all in. 

have fun with it and let us know what  you get.    

10:35 p.m. on May 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I don’t think I would get a custom pack unless I had a specific reason to justify the indulgence.  I found off the shelf products close enough to my specs that I couldn't justify a full-on custom pack.  For example my external frame pack is circa 1970s Kelty Sonora, a "small" expedition hauler.  I customized it by adding some lashing straps to permit attaching more gear along the top and outside of the pack, but otherwise it fits me well, and serves my needs.  Likewise a large Wilderness Experience internal frame from the same era suits me of off trail/snow travel needs.  It has more pockets than most internal frame packs, and straps where you want them.  The only thing I did to this pack was replace the flimsy plastic lashing points with tougher leather ones.


3:03 a.m. on May 24, 2012 (EDT)
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whomeworry said:

I don’t think I would get a custom pack unless I had a specific reason to justify the indulgence.  I found off the shelf products close enough to my specs that I couldn't justify a full-on custom pack.

 I have to agree.  Would I like one?  Probably.  I could buy any number of models of used packs for $100-200 and be perfectly satisfied (and I am a pretty darn picky person).  And then I could spend the other $800-1000 on something else that would more likely demand that kind of expenditure and that doesn't have a used comparable equivalent on the market at such a huge fraction.  I realize this is a special gift and not about money, but knowing what I know about packs and my needs vs desires, it would be frivolous to have a McHale custom made other than for feeding that "I want one!" deal.  It would be like buying some handmade, vintage British roadster for my 7-11 runner car when I already enjoy hopping on my bicycle and pedaling for a Big Gulp.  But hey, who am I?  I wouldn't hesitate to buy a $5K set of mono-block amplifiers for my stereo set up if I had the option.

But to answer your question, I would first look at a Critical Mass Alpine II with bayonet stays and go from there.  5000-5500c with bayonets (6000c extended) and 2500-4000 with bayonets removed.  Highly versatile.  I'd probably ask to have a couple of short, stout vertical pockets attached to the back or made as accessory pouches that could be attached through the side compressions straps (DD Terraplane influenced because I really like the utility of that configuration).  Maybe skip the lid and have a roll top designed instead.  Swap the lid volume into the vertical pockets' volume.  I like lids and use mine as a day fanny pack on the regular, but those packs can't be reduced by 50% in the field, either.  I like the compression strap version that is shown full-sized and then without bayonets (the gray one on the right; below the all-white "ultralight" version with the shock cords).

1:48 p.m. on May 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Okay here's my 2-cents worth. 


I want a Chapstick/Sunscreen pocket to put junk in so I don't have to take off my pack. One on each side preferably.


I have this version of Alps Mountaineering Cascade 5200 and 4200.  I really like the 2 side pockets. They are big enough to hold my JetBoil and let me access stuff with out digging around.  The problem with side pockets is that you don't have any side compression straps. I think with a little creative thought you could have both. The webbing ladder is not that useful in this design, the newer ones have a different style front pocket which provides better support to the ladder.  The other feature I really like is the 2 adjustable length straps on the lower part.  It makes it very easy to strap on my sleeping pad. 

I also like the hydration sleeve and port. It would be nice to have one that was you could adjust between 1 and 2 bladders (use 3 snaps. Snap the outer 2 and you have a center pocket. Snap the center and you have 2 pockets)  in case you had to tote a lot of water. 

 I don't care for mesh pockets.  The have a tendency to snag.

10:51 a.m. on May 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Its funny the two base designs I've been looking at the most are the popcan and the criticial mass 2. Completly different packs, both suberb but would serve a different function.

Ed- This absolutly fits into the WANT category rather than the NEED. I've got an osprey aether 60 that I'm relatively happy with as well as a larger MEC expedition size hauler. But this is one of few times in my life where I'm gonne indulge myself with some frivilous spending. I'm not a fancy watch kinda guy, not huge into golf, why not spend it on something I'd actually enjoy. Lord knows after next week and this wedding its all downhill from here! Hahaha, j/k

11:07 a.m. on May 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Jake, just wanted to chime in and say congrats on your marriage man. I wish you and your significant other nothing less than a lifetime of happiness. 

On the wants and needs thing... Never a bad thing to indulge a bit when ya can.

Pack design wise I am as about as happy as I can be with my Argon 85 if that helps at all in regards to a design perspective. I had an Aether 70.

The load bearing, comfort, and function in regards to these 2 different packs is night and day as far as I am concerned.

I guess that's what ya get when ya drop another $100+ on the "next level up model."

7:05 p.m. on May 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I have a critical mass suspension Inex and a SARC suspension Sarc-chasm.  The critical mass suspension and load hauling capability of the Inex were great when I was sherpa to my two kids, and for use as a scout leader. 

But outside of these it was too much pack.  The Sarc-chasm can still handle 60 lbs when I need to carry 3-4 days worth of water on hikes in the AZ desert, but collapses down to nearly nothing for my lighter weight solo hikes.

Key design features for you to consider:

* ability to carry a bear cannister on its side.  this keeps it against the frame stays and off from your back

* lenomesh water bottle pockets and kangaroo pocket.  the kangaroo pocket especially.  i don't have this and water from a wet tarp or poncho does not drain well through the brass grommet.

* hipbelt pockets.  great for snacks and camera.

* not...the bayonets.  i really liked this feature on the Inex and thought for two week unsupported hikes I'd want the supported extra volume above my shoulders.  but i have lightened my load so much that even with 2 bear cannisters i don't need it. 

7:26 p.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Rick- thanks man. The day is drawing nearer so the planning and focus on the little stuff is increasing as I'm sure you know.

The one thing I don't like about the aether is the carying comfort. For me it tops out at about 35- 40 lbs. Its interesting you say the argon is so much better. I kinda dismissed it based on the aether's carrying load capacity.


Steve- All great points. I was talking to Dan today and he said the SARC maxes out around 55 lbs. I think for the versatility some of these packs provide its gonna be money well spent. Hopefully be able to hand it down when I eventually I am to old and grey to hike anymore!

12:30 p.m. on June 3, 2012 (EDT)
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I worked with Dan on two packs.

The Spectra is fantastic - fairly light yet really, really strong.  I would get that on the bottom (standard) and on the kangaroo pocket.  I would probably go for a modular front pocket next time so the volume does not impede into the main bag.  Dyneema shoulder straps (I think these will be spectra now) were excellent and very comfortable.  I would go for 'standard' thickness on the shoulder straps, belt and back panel - I found these most comfortable.

7:35 p.m. on June 3, 2012 (EDT)
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Jake, Congratulations!

Keep the Osprey Aether. Great pack! Just get some aftermarket side pockets and use 'em for items you'll need rather quickly, like 1st aid kit, potty kit, stove & fuel, toilet kit, etc.

You can add up to 800 cu. in. with a pair of side pockets. Check the usual cottage industry packmakers. I know at least one of them has the pockets in two sizes but forget which one.

(Then ask your bride for your "Dream Tent", like a Cuben fabric SMD Skyscape X.)

Just remember, we give backpacking advice here. For marital advice  (other than concealing new gear purchaces ;O) you'll have to go to a far different forum.

5:24 a.m. on June 4, 2012 (EDT)
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300winmag said:

..For marital advice..'ll have to go to a far different forum.

Not true! 
Check my bio, I am a "semi pro" marriage counselor!  But being only semi pro I do not have as many solutions to offer; mostly I suggest if your relationship is bad, go camping; and if it is good, celebrate your fortune and go camping.


9:53 p.m. on July 18, 2012 (EDT)
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So to update:

Dealing with Dan has been everything I hoped it would be. I usually hear back from him within the hour, if not within a couple. Tons of advice, and unbiased advice. He really does seem to understand what the customer wants, rather than imposing his vast knowledge and making what he deems the 'perfect pack'. We have emailed back and forth numerous times on my intended uses, weights, distances, pack size, etc. He will give advice when asked and is helping to steer me in the right direction. As of right now a S-Sarc Chasm is in the mail coming to me to demo. I'm checking the mail constantly! He asked for photos of me wearing my current pack (osprey aether) and asked what I liked/disliked and assessed it for fit. I'm to wear it and watch the fitting video and repeat the photo process again. He leaves no stone unturned in getting the proper fit. I will keep updating with photos when the pack arrives....


Ed- I personally would inlist my wife and I with your counseling services should we need them! Solid life advice right there- when in doubt....go camping.

Winmag- I'm not too happy with the load bearing on the osprey. I find it sags at around 40 lbs. It fits properly (according to Dan and the pack fitter at the store) so I'm thinking it has to do with the light stays.

FG- I sent you a PM to pick your brain a litle more if you don't mind.

12:02 a.m. on July 19, 2012 (EDT)
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Got your PM and replied.

Fun stuff this pack making!

1:19 p.m. on July 20, 2012 (EDT)
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Pack arrived today, I'll get some photos up this weekend. Can you tell I'm a little excited?

4:39 p.m. on July 20, 2012 (EDT)
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A compartment for a 4L+ hydration bladder

10:45 a.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I am confused.  You want to design a pack, but are relying on others to come up with the ideas for it?  Isn't that a lot like buying a commercially available pack?  I like the idea of using a bare external frame pack of quality and lashing dry bags or equivalent to the frame.  It can be changed to custom fit every trip.

12:11 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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to the contrary, I suspect the goal with this one is to design a pack that works best for the user.  everyone has somewhat different experience, and I for one think it's helpful to hear others' perspective on what features they like.  there are a lot of different ways to approach a challenge - such as, a thunderstorm rolls in, you put on your rain shell, you get drenched, and the storm passes.  what do you do with the wet shell? if you're a 3 season hiker using a hydration reservoir & hose, do you skip the bottle pockets, or do you find they are good for carrying things other than bottles? this is particularly true for a custom pack like this, where you can also evaluate whether it's worth having shoulder straps that move independent of the straps (a McHale innovation you really don't see anywhere else....that i think would be pretty nice). 

using a bare external frame and lashing stuff on would be a headache for me because i like going off-trail, and all that external stuff (including the external frame) has a nasty habit of snagging on tree limbs and brush.   that's the beauty of forums like this - a great way to consult and gather intelligent information. 

11:08 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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Exactly leadbelly. ppine- I am not relying solely on the advice here, and agree with you that that is kind of counter productive. I do however trust a large number of the members here and their opinions/ knowledge/ advice is often quite helpful. So while ultimately it is my pack, and my decision, I am not the "be all, end all" when it comes to pack design. Different members might have a different way of looking at some of the components that may be better than how I would design it. My other thought was that many members here have been through this process and could help me with what works/worked for them and what didn't.

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