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Dana Design Terraplane Overkill

rated 4.5 of 5 stars

Dana Design is no longer in business, and the Terraplane Overkill has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best expedition packs for 2023.

I purchased a Terraplane Overkill about five or six years ago, used it for about two or three years, and then replaced it with a McHale Inex Alpineer Bayonet. I purchased a Terraplane with the hope that it would be my final expedition pack. My previous packs were either insufficient to support 50-or-more pound loads, handle the volume of gear I carried, or both. The Terraplane did not fare much better.

I was eager to try my pack when I first received it, and I remember using it several times during my first few weeks of ownership with loads ranging from about 40 pounds to 55 pounds (combined weight of pack and contents). I was not impressed with the pack's ability to distribute load. At the time, I also had access to a TNF Snow Leopard that I felt handled my loads slightly better. However, the Snow Leopard suffered from poor pack bag construction (there was loose thread everywhere) that caused me to view the pack in its entirety with disfavor. Other manufacturers' packs that I tried at the time such as Mountainsmith, Arc'Teryx, MEC, and EMS were ridiculously soft and/or short framed. Gregory was not much better at the time although it appears from the available literature that Gregory's Pro line of packs improved over the last few years by incorporating higher strength aluminum alloy in their frames, but I have not actually tried Gregory's latest packs and cannot comment further.

My Dana pack handled up to a 50 pound load only a little better than my previous Lowe pack. A 55 pound load was more than the Dana pack and I could handle. I was disappointed - - especially since I thought I just had purchased the best pack available. I almost relegated myself to believing that I would have to live with shoulder pain, waist strangulation, and a pack that insisted (with loads greater than 50 pounds) on sliding down the belt. That is, the belt is connected to the pack - - in part - - with a large, vertically adjustable Velcro flap. With heavy loads, the pack actually slid down the belt (or the belt moved up the pack depending on your viewpoint). I found this quite annoying. One option for me was to limit my loads to 50 pounds. So much for Dana's claim that the pack would control any load I could lift.

On the positive side, the bag of my Terraplane was well stitched, all seams were taped, and the details of the fabric were very good - - with one not so minor exception I will elaborate below. However, the advertising for the Overkill at the time stated that the pack entirely was constructed of 1000 denier Cordura Plus nylon. In fact, the side walls of the sleeping bag compartment were constructed of two-layer 500 denier Cordura Plus nylon. The harness side and lid also contained sections not comprised of 1000 denier Cordura Plus nylon.

I complained about the (in my opinion) false advertising to several people at Dana Design and was informed that the wording would be changed in future catalogs. Indeed, with the very next catalog (I believe that was either the 1995 or 1996 issue) the wording was changed to more accurately reflect the bag's fabric composition. I would have preferred a Terraplane that actually was 100% 1000 denier Cordura Plus nylon with the advertising unchanged.

With a stated volume of 5,800 cubic inches for my size bag, I also was a little disappointed with how little space I actually had in the main compartment for large items.

However, the retractable sleeping bag compartment compensated for this a little. Even so at 5'8" and 140 pounds, I primarily consider the Terraplane a three-season backpack. Load-control inability aside, it is not large enough for serious winter use.

The pack's frame simply does not control heavy loads. My feeling is that the (carbon fiber) frame stays were too weak and too short to control the loads I carried. Despite

Dana's ample advertising, the frame is ridiculously insufficient for controlling loads for which it supposedly is designed. Furthermore, it was necessary for me to cinch the belt really tightly to even attempt controlling the load. That action led to discomfort from squeezing the frame against my coccyx; that never was a pleasant sensation.

There was nothing special about the harness. The stabilizer straps were sewn into the dorsal sides of the shoulder pads so that in pulling hard on the stabilizer straps the shoulder pads were lifted off my shoulders. This seems to be standard fare in the industry insofar as shoulder harnesses are concerned. That is, shoulder pad adjustment and pack stabilization are in conflict with each other, and, unfortunately, most companies make harnesses in this fashion.

After several weeks of ownership, I discovered what I believed was a quality-control problem with my Terraplane. There was a horizontal tear about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in length on the pack's harness side just above one of the shoulder pad's attachment points and hidden from direct view by the shoulder pad. Unfortunately for me, I did not notice this tear for several weeks - - after the 30-day return policy offered by the dealer (Swallow's Nest) expired. The dealer passed me off to Dana Design. Dana Design initially offered to repair the tear at charge because they believed the tear could have been caused only by a knife or other sharp object in opening the packing box.

Sorry, I used no knife. Even if I had, to create a tear in that particular location I would have had to cut through the entire thickness of the shoulder pad! I was livid with anger and made my displeasure known to more than one person at the company. Eventually, Dana Design capitulated to repairing the pack at no charge by replacing the entire harness side. Furthermore, this was the second such problem I had with a Dana Design pack (at the time I purchased my Terraplane, I already had owned 3 other Dana packs).

I cannot recommend the Dana Design Terraplane as an expedition pack. For the price and the company's claims, I cannot recommend the pack at all. The McHale Alpineer I replaced my Dana Terraplane with cost me about $125 more at the time, but the McHale is several times the pack my Terraplane was, and it is the expedition pack I was searching for years. I regret not purchasing a McHale pack several years earlier and saving myself the aggravation and disappointment of owning a Terraplane.

Design: internal frame
Size: 5,800 cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 2 external pockets (and lid)
Max. Load Carried: 55 lb.
Height of Owner: 5'8"
Price Paid: approx. $450 US

I've owned a Terraplane Overkill for almost five years now. In that time we've spent somewhere in the neighborhood of eight months side by side. After all the hairy adventures we've been through together, I affectionately refer to the big, black Terraplane as my pet gorilla.

Without a doubt, the Terraplane is a magnificent piece of gear. It is incredibly comfortable, very well made and for extended trips where you really do need to carry too, too, much stuff, it's a fantastic backpack.

Some of its high points:

Comfort: I'm always amazed how I can walk day after day and this pack doesn't wear me down. Sometimes I even take it for granted.

While hiking this past summer, a buddy, wearing an old North Face rucksack, would start pulling on his shoulder straps and hunching over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame after an half hour of walking. Hiking together for over a month, I made the mistake of letting him wear my Terraplane one afternoon to see if he noticed a difference in how my Terraplane felt. He did.

By the evening, I began to think I would never get my Terraplane back. Even though he was carrying 10 pounds less than I, his old pack felt like some kind of orthopedic torture device. i was happy to have my gorilla back, ten extra pounds and all.

Bombproof: The pack is very well made, almost to a fault. I initially decided to buy the Overkill because of the pack's side zippers - unlike the normal Terraplane, the Overkill has side zips which allow entry into the main compartment. Ironically, in five years I've used them less than a dozen times. I normally line the pack with a trash bag to keep it waterproof so all the extra cash for the zippers was wasted. Unfortunately the extra zippers also included the added weight of heavier nylon fabric.

At the time, the heavy duty construction seemed like an added bonus. Unfortunately, heavy fabric comes at a price. more weight. It's not as if a standard Terraplane is chintzy in the endurance department - they're bulletproof. This Overkill's heavy fabric is really almost too heavy. What is this stuff, 1,000,000 denier "missleproof" nylon? The folks at Dana are taking the concept of ballistic nylon to a new extreme.

My single biggest complaint with the Terraplane is the darn pack weighs over 7 pounds bone-dry and empty. That's a lot of dead weight.

For some reason, we all seem to think we need heavy duty gear that will withstand a thousand foot fall from the top of a K2. (I've got an over-engineered, very heavy Gore-Tex jacket like this that really bugs me, too.)

In the store heavy duty seems like a smart idea. But when it's time to carry that heavy duty pack full of heavy duty gear up the side of a heavy duty mountain, we suddenly have a heavy duty problem.

Why not buy lighter, well constructed gear and take care of it? (Keep your light weight pack away from the top of K2 and maybe you won't have a problem. Sound reasonable?) Go light, go light - makes for much more pleasant walking.

Now I'll admit if you are climbing K2 or are doing some far out moutaineering for an extended period it might make sense to buy some of this heavy duty stuff. It's amazing though, to see porters in Nepal carrying 90 pound tump-line baskets over their heads wearing only flip flops and a pair of second khakis.

Pack lid converts to fanny pack. Travelling off the trail while on extended hikes, I often convert the pack lid/top into a fanny pack/satchel which I can carry through towns to the market, on the airplane ride etc. Though Dana recommends you pull off the hipbelt and slip it through the bottom of the pack lid, I've found it to be a real pain to do, especially when your packed sleeping bag pushes against the velcro which holds the hip belt tightly in place. Instead, I bought a 2-foot piece of 2.5" nylon webbing and a spare Delrin buckle (just like the hip belt) which I wrap under the lid when attached to the pack. This works much better.

There's an added benefit: according to the folks at Dana, every zipper, opening and strap on the Terraplane has a backup system in case of failure. For example, if the zipper on the bottom compartment blows out, the Terraplane has two straps on the outside of the pack which will secure the compartment. A real plus. Every system is redundant except one; the buckle on the hip belt.

This summer, while on a four month hike in Europe, the one thing that I thought couldn't happen did; my hip belt buckle broke. The one system which didn't have a backup system, of course was the one that caught me unprepared - who said Murphy wasn't a hiker. Unfortunately, I had outfitted my lid/strap combination with a metric buckle which was a half inch narrower than the hipstrap webbing. Though it doesn't sound like a big deal, losing the ability to adjust your hip belt length day after day really is a big deal. Trust me. Trying to find a 2.5" Delrin buckle in small French villages ain't trivial either. "Two and one half inch Delrin hip strap buckle" isn't in many English-French dictionaries, much less the local boulangerie.

The moral: buy an extra buckle, two feet of 2 1/2" webbing, a couple of sliders and strap them under the hip lid just in case you, too, meet Mr. Murphy on the trail. And sooner or later you will.

Color- Black looks neat, but it heats up in the sun. That block of cheese can get pretty rank pretty quickly under a hot summer sun.

Wet Rib - Dana offers a small map / compass / camera / ditty pouch and canteen holder combination called a Wet Rib whicht attaches to the shoulder strap. A Wet Rib is a must.

So often, people don't want to take the trouble to stop, take off their pack get their water bottle out and drink. If you've every walked day after day, it's amazing how your energy sags if you aren't constantly fueling your furnace with food and water. With the Wet Rib, your soda / nalgene/ water bottle is always handy. With a bottle handy, we drink much more. We hike more miles and we enjoy ourselves. If you can afford a Terraplane, you won't even notice the extra cash for a Wet Rib.

I have the small Wet Rib and I do wish that Dana offered a larger, medium sized wet rib with a pocket large enough for maps/ trailguides. etc. A friend told me that he bought a large Rib and it got in the way.

Travel Pockets - An accessory which really impressed me when I first bought the "beast" back in '93 was the Dana Travel Pocket. Taking an extended trip flying and hiking all over the place, I wanted something to keep my pack in for times on as well as off the trail.

The travel pocket is a form fitting duffle bag which converts to a rain cover and can be folded into itself and strapped onto the pack like an accessory pocket when not in use. When doing the flying /hosteling/ trekking thing this works really well. The duffle keeps your pack clean and it protects the contents from nosey flight handlers famous for examing/ borrowing backpack contents. It also saves those many Dana straps from airport conveyors which are famous for eating them. On extended trips, you can leave the duffle back at a refuge, hotel or hostel and secure extra travel guides, street clothes and all those other heavy things until returning from the trail. It actually makes a decent rain cover, but it is heavy. For strictly trail use, why not use a nice trash bag in the pack instead.

Lots of straps. Adjusting the pack properly really is an involved process. Dana even recommends a certain order for pulling and tugging on all the straps to properly adjust things. Once you've done it a few times it's no big deal but you really need to read the manual to do it properly.

Along these lines, find a reputable dealer to fit you. No, I don't work for a retailer, but a shop I deal with allowed me to sit in on a Dana clinic for their sales reps. Dana teaches its retailers on how to size you and adjust each pack to the individual. Trying to save a few bucks (and it'll only be a few - no one seems to discount these puppies) isn't worth it. Be sure, though, to ask the rep if they've been through the Dana clinic. If the sales rep knows what they're doing, they will size you properly, bend the internal aluminum stays to fit your spine and adjust the pack to you like a tailor fitting a suit. Improperly adjusted, a Terraplane feels as uncomfortable as most other packs do on a good day. Adjusted properly, the comfort of this pack will blow your mind.

Cash: Terraplane Overkills are EXPENSIVE. For weeks, I kept asking myself if I had really spent almost $500 on a backpack. I was beginning to question my own sanity. For that much money, shouldn't the pack come with a Sherpa to carry it? Yes, it was expensive, no, it's not perfect. And yes, I'd spend $500 again. Sorry!

Bottomline: Cut out all that extraneous gear, pack light and you'll be much happier with a smaller pack that weighs 25 pounds fully loaded . If you absolutely, positively can't get by without a gorilla on your back, get a Terraplane. It's the best.

Design: Internal
Size: 5800
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: too much
Height of Owner: 5'10"
Price Paid: Way too much

Version reviewed: 1994

I love this big bad black pack, even though it’s basically a top-loader. Actually that’s why I bought the Overkill model instead of the regular Terraplane. The regular pack is totally top-loading, but the Overkill model adds two heavy-duty full-length zippers that run the full length of the main compartment. These double slider zippers permit relatively easy access to the sides and bottom of the pack, without having to dump everything out the top first. The zippers on my pack are 21 inches long and allow you to really get in there and pull out or put in really large items.

Dana claims that this pack (and all their ArcFlex framed packs) can comfortably carry as much as you can. My experience has been that this pack quite easily holds and carries MORE than my legs can! In early 1995 I did a solo winter backpack in Los Padres NF and carried 67 pounds in this pack, up 2,400 vertical feet, for 14 miles. My legs were totally dead, but my shoulders, back, and hips were fine.

I’m a photographer and often carry 20-30 pounds of photographic equipment. This is a great photographer’s pack because I can hang a heavy camera and zoom lens from the shoulder straps, and the pack’s two carbon fiber frame stays take all it’s weight. Even with 6 lbs. of camera and lens, I can adjust the shoulder straps so they don’t even touch the tops of my shoulders. Like I’ve done on my smaller Dana packs, I’ve threaded two "D" rings onto the front of the shoulder straps to hang the camera from. I made up two camera hangers using plastic snap-hooks sewn to quick-release connectors. These connectors snap onto the camera’s Op/Tech hangers. When I take the pack off, I just unsnap the camera (leaving the hooks on the pack) and snap on the Op/Tech neck strap. Very slick.

Another important advantage of Dana packs (including this one) is the wonderful "HeadSpace" feature. There’s an internal quick-release cinch strap inside the top of the pack that pulls the back of the pack forward (flattening and pulling the pack closer to your back) at the same time it makes a hollow space for your head. This makes it so I can tilt my head way back (even with a hat on) to look up and photograph high things. Dana packs are the only ones I’ve tried that permit this kind of movement. I used to always bang my head on the top of the pack, knock my hat off, and usually I’d have to take the pack off. Not with this one.

Most of my backpacking lately has been solo. So I don’t have companions to help me get water bottles, maps, fresh film, different lenses, etc. out of the back of my pack for me. And I hate stopping, taking the pack off, and getting what I need. So, I’ve got this pack (and all my Dana packs) equipped so I don’t have to stop to get at the things I’m constantly needing. I’ve got a Dana Wet-Rib threaded onto the shoulder straps which provides ready access to a 1 qt. Nalgene bottle, and a tummy pocket holding film, snacks, compass, GPS, note pad, map, lenses, etc. With this rig and the pack’s wonderful comfort and flexibility, I often go 5-7 hours straight without once taking the pack off. Besides walking, I photograph, kneel, sit, squat, and climb all with the fully-loaded pack on my back. When I do hike with others, I notice that every time they stop to rest, they take their packs off to rest sore spots and loosen up. I don’t have to with this pack. I usually keep it on and just rest my legs.

I also find this pack great for strapping things onto the outside. It has ski (or tent-pole) pockets at the bottom of each side of the pack. I usually strap my tent poles on one side (inside the 3 compression straps and resting in the pockets so they don’t slip through), and dirty ground cloth and sometimes tripod on the other side. Then I strap my sleeping pad straight along the centerline of the back between the two pockets, where there’s a handy daisy chain of tie on loops. This keeps the pack relatively low, which is important because I seem to always be ducking and crouching under low brush and this keeps me from getting hung up. But there have also been times when I needed the pack as narrow as possible. Then I’ve been able to move the stuff that was on the sides to the back, the stuff that was on the back up to the top. This pack is very flexible and you can very easily and quickly re-configure things for the terrain.

The Terraplane’s main compartment is plenty large enough for big ugly things. It easily fits my large BRFC (Bear Resistant Food Container), and on a backpack last year with a large group, I ended up with the huge cook set because my Terraplane was the only pack large enough to hold the big 8 qt. cook pot. Lucky me.

When I bought this pack Dana Design didn’t offer a panel loader for the ArcFlex frame. Now they offer the very nice Stillwater pack which is a clever top-loader and/or panel opener at the same time. The Stillwater also has Dana’s terrific and very useful BeaverTail Shovit pocket on the back. As much as I like the Stillwater’s features, I’d still probably buy the Terraplane Overkill today because I find the two large pockets so useful for backpacking. I use the Shovit pockets on my other Dana packs all the time, and I bought an accessory BeaverTail Shovit for my Overkill, but I’ve never actually put it on and used it in the field yet.

I understand Dana has come up with new shoulder straps for 1996 that are made of a totally breathable foam material instead of closed cell foam like mine. I haven’t seen these new ones yet, but I really don’t have any problems with mine. I think they’re great.

My first Dana pack was their BOMB PACK, which I foolishly fitted to myself. It took me hours and I ended up with bloody knuckles on both hands from repeatedly jamming them down into the nasty Velcro in the back. I didn’t write out the check for this one until the salesman had it perfectly adjusted, bent, and fitted to me.

The only thing I really don’t like about this pack is the color. The pack cloth is totally black, and that’s the only way it comes. I’d much prefer a color. I also don’t really need all that super heavy-duty 1000D Cordura Plus material, but that’s the way it comes. At least I don’t think I’ll ever wear it out. I’ll wear out before it does.

Design: Internal w/ 1 bendable alum. stay, 2 carbon fiber stays
Size: Size L = 5,800
Number of Pockets: 2 back, 1 top lid
Max. Load Carried: 67 lbs. (ugh!)
Height of Owner: 5' 10" (170 lbs.)
Price Paid: $425 in 1994

This is a great pack. I used to own an old external frame. However, I wanted to get an internal. Well, try finding an internal that fits a 6'8" 300lbs person. Especially when your torso is actually long. I'm not all legs. I tryed nine other manufacturers of packs, none of them fit. Then I had a friend recommend a Dana. As I had not bought a pack in many years, I had not even heard of them. The nearest dealer was three hours away, but I went. It was the best thing I ever did. The XL fits great. I max it out, but it fits.

After buying it, on sale (thank heavens), I put it to use that weekend. I am a Scout master and I took my scouts on a weekend trip. At first I was leary about putting the 58 lbs in it I did. I thought I might want to try it with less weight. However, when we started the trip I added another 10lbs or so of Scout gear. The pack performed flawlessly. It was so much more comfortable than my external frame. I have had it out on several occasions since and it has been great every time.

After owning the pack, I would pay full retail for it. I am glad I found it on sale first, because I don't know if I would have paid for it then. That would have been a mistake. Great pack.

Design: Internal
Size: 6600
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 65lbs
Height of Owner: 6'8"
Price Paid: $360

I love this pack, and I do mean LOVE. It is extremely comfortable to hike with and that is bottom line for any pack, but that is not all I love about it. Having a pack fit to my formidable body was no easy task but Dana did it with easy and much success.

Its easy access side zippers to get at stuff on the bottom are very handy. The detachable hiplid that turns into a very sturdy fanny pack is great. On my last outing to Escalante NM (Utah). I was climbing up an extremely steep riverbank when my footing went out from under me. I went backwards into 4 feet of water completely submersing myself, pack and all. Incredibly when we made camp and I opened the pack to assess the damage, nothing was wet! Not one drop of water had got into the pack. Even my unprotected camera in my Ribpocket was spared. I’ve had this pack for just over a year now and recommend it highly.

Design: Internal
Size: 6300
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 65
Height of Owner: 6'4"
Price Paid: $450

Since there are not many reviews from small framed women carrying big packs, I thought I would share my experience with my Dana Terraplane. I've used it for snow camping where the gear is extra bulky. At one time carrying over 50 lbs, which is way too much for my 115 lbs of body weight. Thanks to Dana's suspension system I've been able to carry a heavy pack and smile afterward. The shoulder straps are small and contoured to fit comfortable around a feminine frame. Dana's angled hip belt for woman also adds to comfortable support.

On the down side, it's nearly 7 lbs on its own. Not a pack to cinch down for day hikes/skis or short summer trips. If you're small and need to carry a lot of gear, the Terraplane is ideal. If you travel light you may want a lighter weight pack.

Design: internal
Size: 5,200 + - (size small)
Number of Pockets: 2 large compartments on the back
Max. Load Carried: 50 lbs +
Height of Owner: 5'4"
Price Paid: around $500

I have owned this pack for about 13 years now. It looks and feels the same way it did the day I purchased it. I can't think of any other company out there that can compete with Dana. It is a shame they are no longer in business for themselves. When I am not carrying heavy loads, I am carrying the Bomb pack and when ice climbing, it's the M80. I wouldn't carry anything else.

Design: Top and side loading
Size: ~6,000
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 70 pounds (A.T.)
Height of Owner: 5'8"

Absolutely incredible pack. It's everything it's cracked up to be... carried 50-60 lbs over 35-40 miles in Montana, it felt like less than 20 lbs. If my pack got lighter during the week, I didn't notice because I didn't notice the weight in the first place. Pack is really adjustable, a medium fit me just fine. Completely bombproof. If you can afford this pack, buy it.

Design: Internal
Size: 5800
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 50-60?
Height of Owner: 6' 1"
Price Paid: $450

When packed correctly this is the most stable, most comfortable pack on the market. I spent two years researching and trying on different packs until I finally found this pack. It is the perfect example of research and good craftsmanship.

Design: internal
Size: M
Number of Pockets: 6
Max. Load Carried: 100 lbs
Height of Owner: 6 ft 1in
Price Paid: can't remember

Best large pack out there. You'll never wear this one out. Very comfortable with large heavy loads, in fact it's so comfortable, it makes the loads feel much lighter.

Design: top and side zipper loading
Size: 6100 cubes
Number of Pockets: 3 plus main
Max. Load Carried: 65 lbs
Height of Owner: 6 foot
Price Paid: $245

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