I had a Dana Astral as my monster pack, before that…
Design: Internal Frame
Size: 7000+, / out side pockets
Number of Pockets: 2 on main pack, 2 add on
Max. Load Carried: 85 lbs
Height of Owner: 6' 1"
Price Paid: $599
I had a Dana Astral as my monster pack, before that I had a Gregory Denali. Neither of these packs can touch this pack. I could go on about the hip belt, the harness, or the bombproof construction, all of which are unmatched, but you can get that from the other reviews of his packs or the web site (www.mchalepacks.com). What you really need to do is to call Dan and get him to send you a demo. Try it out on real backpack trips, not in a store with bubble wrap and sand bags, for maybe an hour if you don't mind the dirty looks. Be forewarned, once you try this pack, you will be hooked. Because of my wife's physical problems, I have to carry almost all the load when we backpack, and I'm not getting any younger. Now I know I can do it, in comfort. No longer will my winter climbing be limited to approaches where I can drag a sled. You don't know what a difference McHale's custom packs can make until you try one. Would you buy your boots in small, medium or large? Why should your back be any less important? Think you can't afford it? I've spent at least a thousand dollars on cheaper packs, and never achieved this level of comfort. I should have bought a McHale twenty years ago, I really would have gotten my money's worth.
After 2.5 years of use I believe I can objectively…
Number of Pockets: 2
Max. Load Carried: 75 lbs
Height of Owner: 6' 2"
Price Paid: $650
After 2.5 years of use I believe I can objectively say this is the best gear investment I've ever made. My primary use for this pack is family sherpa which generally means big and heavy loads. Comparisons were Dana Terraplane, very comfortable but too small for sherpa duties, and Astralplane, which just didn't fit right with the big load.
Fit-wise, the pack is custom built to your size. Everything fits just right -- everything!
Suspension-wise, the hipbelt wraps fully around, has two straps/buckles for fine tuning adjustment, and it actually rests on my hipbones and sacrum -- no slippage. The pack stays where you put it. Even with the big loads and extended (2 week) trips I've suffered no chafing. The shoulder strap innovation of having the lifters operate independently from the shoulder straps themselves is ingenious. I am able to shoulder some of the load and easily adjust between hips and shoulders to find the right balance.
Loadability. If anything the pack is too big, I could have managed with a smaller model. Still don't know where the size comparison with my previous pack went awry -- In any event I've never filled it to capacity. The pack is designed with two compartments (the divider is removable) the lower easily handles my largest winter bag, plus 4 season tent. Everything else drops easily into the top compartment. I got the side pockets as well to organize the little stuff (1st aid, repair kit, hydration bladder, etc.)
Durability. No compromises anywhere. The pack fabric is heavy duty pack cloth (feels about 2x the old Kelty) and is reinforced at every wear and tear point. In two years of use there are a few scuff marks, but no loose threads. Zippers -- bombproof. Makes for a heavy pack ~9 lbs empty, but should last a lifetime.
If you have the money and you use your pack a lot, this in my opinion is the way to go.
I spent a lot of time looking for the right backpack.
Number of Pockets: 1
Max. Load Carried: 75lbs
Height of Owner: 5'10"
Price Paid: $500
I spent a lot of time looking for the right backpack. I used to use ALICE packs in the Army and always wished I could find a pack that fit right and didn't try to pull me over backwards when loaded. I tried the Dana and almost gave up on internal frames because of it. Then, I found out about McHale and decided to try one. I loaded it up with all my camping/caving gear and couldn't believe how well it felt. It felt better with 75lbs than the Dana did with 45lbs. The hip belt really allows you to put the entire load on your hips without slipping. You can also adjust the suspension straps without pulling the shoulder straps up where they pinch.
This pack is spendy, but it's custom-made to fit your body and is the only pack I know of that still let's you stand up straight with a full load. I don't recommend loading this pack to its capacity though, it's designed to carry 100lbs.