The NOLS Special Expedition has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best expedition packs for 2020.
Reviewers Paid: $300.00
This is the largest pack I have ever seen. Empty, its extension sleeve comes up above my belly button (making a good bivy extension). It is made entirely of 1000D Cordura, and the only zippers are on the two lid pockets. The main compartment is just one big bag, which is fine with me. I just put the tent and sleeping bag down low, as I'm not going to need them until camp anyway. Even though it is such a big pack, made of a tough fabric, it only weighs 6.5 pounds, due to the lack of zippers and extra straps and buckles.
There are three compression straps down each side, and a reinforced panel with two daisy chains on the back. There are two ice axe loops with cinches for the shafts, and sleeping pad straps on the top lid sleeve (which I use for crampons).
My pack is a prototype made for NOLS by Lowe, and so is a bit bigger than the production model now out. In addition, it has hauls loops on the front and back made of spectra webbing! (a useless gesture, as they are only sewn in with one bartack. These are gone from the production model.)
I rented this pack from NOLS for my mountaineering course in the North Cascades. Our pack weights got up to around 80 pounds after the final re-ration, but I was always held back by a lack of leg strength, not the pack. While descending into a circque, we lowered the packs about 60 feet over less than vertical granite. At the bottom, the Lowe Special Ex'es were fine, but one of the student's Dana Astralplane had a nice-sized hole worn through it. Four students and one instructor all used this pack on the course, with few complaints. The beauty of this pack lies in its simplicity. On a long trip such as NOLS, or to remote areas of the world, there's no way I would trust a tricked-out pack like the Gregory or Mountainsmith to survive. Those are fine for backpacking; for remote mountaineering I'll take the simpler, tougher pack every time.
Design: internal frame
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 80+ lbs.
Height of Owner: 6'1"
Price Paid: about $300