McHale Inex Alpineer Bayonet
Reviewers Paid: $575.00
I received my Inex Alpineer Bayonet in July 1997. I waited several years to order a McHale pack (McHale manufactures only internal frame packs) because I was unfamiliar with McHale's products and business practices, which I later realized is much more consumer friendly than the way most other pack manufacturers handle their businesses. The other reason I hesitated to purchase one of his packs is their cost, which typically is about $100.00 to $200.00 more than comparably voluminous packs that are available from most other so-called high-end manufacturers. Now that I have owned two McHale packs for approximately 2.5 years (see my review of the Critical Mass SARC elsewhere), I actually consider the cost inexpensive because I wasted many more hundreds of dollars and many years convincing myself that other manufacturers offered equivalent products; 2.5 years after my purchases, most other internal-frame pack manufacturers still do not come close.
At a cost (at the time) of $575, I feel my money was well spent even though I use my Alpineer infrequently. It's important for me to have the right pack available when I need to haul a large and heavy load. I can use the pack almost without consideration for the quantity of gear I will pack or its weight because the pack allows me to comfortably carry any load I can lift. The only thing I need to be wary of is packing more weight than my body realistically can handle.
The most weight I carried is 71.5 pounds (that is the combined weight of the pack with its contents). I weigh about 140 pounds and am 5 feet 8 inches tall. That load is roughly equivalent to 50% of my body weight. On a percentage of body weight basis, that is not a load I would recommend for extended trips, but I was ecstatic to discover I could carry that much weight and have the load feel as comfortable as a 50 to 55 pound load in my Dana Design Terraplane. Additionally, the greater load in my Inex was more stable than the lesser load in my Terraplane. Until I actually felt it for myself, I was unwilling to believe the McHale pack would make that much difference.
Everything Dan McHale (owner and founder) states about his packs is true. The Inex is superior to any other internal frame pack I ever used, and over the years I owned or tried most of the high-end packs (such as Lowe, Gregory, The North Face, Dana Design, Osprey, Arc'Teryx, etc.) and a number of lesser quality packs.
The bag of my Inex is comprised of a combination of 840 denier untexturized (junior ballistics) nylon in the bottom, lower third, and harness side with 1000 denier Cordura Plus nylon for the rest of the main bag, exterior pocket, and lid. (I understand that 840 denier nylon is no longer offered.) All patches and the single, exterior pocket are stitched onto the pack as overlays. The patches are constructed of 500 denier Cordura Plus nylon. You can select a different combination of fabrics so long as McHale has them available.
The interior of the bag has a shelf about two fifths of the way up that is held in place with ladder-lock buckles for easy replacement or removal. The interior also has two compression straps for the sleeping bag in the bottom compartment and about a seven-inch extension sleeve at the top. (The extension sleeve appears to be made of 420 denier untexturized nylon that is coated for water repellency.) The bottom third of the pack appears to be lined with 210 denier untexturized nylon. The exterior of the pack has a bottom protector that also appears to be a sheet of 210 denier untexturized nylon attached with ladder-lock buckles. Finally, the entire pack interior is well coated with a water-resistant substance.
The overall bag construction is exemplary. The seams are well stitched, and there is no loose fabric anywhere. By the obvious attention to details, it is clear to me that the personnel at McHale and Company take pride in their work and appear to be perfectionists.
McHale's literature states the Inex's maximum volume is over 7,000 cubic inches. I suspect that figure does not take into account the lid's volume, which I estimate is about 750 to 900 cubic inches. This would place the maximum volume of the total pack at about 7,800 to 8,000 cubic inches. The Inex is McHale's second largest pack.
I read other reviews of McHale's packs that criticize the lid design. The criticisms center around the lack of flaps to more aesthetically integrate the lid with the rest of the pack. I notice that with the current lid design I easily can shift the lid's position on top so that it rests back away from my head when wearing the pack. This positioning not only provides more head room with a full pack but also aids in controlling a large load. I don't think this design feature is an accident, and this lid positioning would not be as easy to execute with lid flaps. I, for one, do not wish the current lid design to change.
The pack's frame really shines and is the primary distinguishing feature of this internal-frame pack relative to the internal-frame packs of all other manufacturers. Two vertical stays are bolted at their base to a curved, horizontal stay that extends along the pack at hip level. To add height to the pack, there are two more stays (the bayonet portion of the pack) that partially overlap the lower stays via thick, nylon sleeves. These upper stays can be inserted into or removed from the sleeves at the user's discretion. All stays are composed of 7075-T6 aluminum.
This frame is the most substantial I have seen in an internal-frame pack. As I noted above, the frame actually controls the load, which is the reverse of my experience with every other expedition-size internal-frame pack I used (in which the load controlled the pack). The stays are outwardly migrated at the base of the pack, which not only is largely responsible for the pack's stability but also avoids placing the frame directly behind the base of the spine. The discomfort I sometimes experienced with other manufacturers' packs brought about by the frame impacting my coccyx simply does not occur with the Alpineer.
The full-wrap belt of the Alpineer is attached at its base to the horizontal frame stay with two bolts. There is no other connection between the belt and the pack. This concept of designing a belt for internal-frame packs that places more belt in contact with the user's body (instead of passing a portion of the belt around part of the pack frame) to more evenly and effectively distribute load and pressure is so basic that I cannot comprehend why other manufacturers don't follow McHale's lead. This essentially is the manner in which belts are designed for external-frame packs.
The fourth pack component--the harnes--also is unique. The stabilizer straps and shoulder-pad straps are separate subcomponents in the Bypass harness system and are adjusted independently of one another. Although both straps are anchored at the same base point, the stabilizer straps travel through nylon tubes along the dorsal side of each shoulder pad and are anchored at the tops of the vertical frame stays, which is the better part of a foot above the point at which the shoulder pads are anchored when the bayonet stays are inserted. This might not seem much different from standard shoulder harnesses, but the Bypass system permits you to adjust the stabilizers without affecting the positioning of the shoulder pads and vice versa. As with the rest of the pack, the Bypass harness system functions precisely as advertised.
With one minor exception, this pack was perfect when I received it. Although the pack has a removable back pad, the pad did not extend far enough (downward) to protect the lower thoracic region of my back -- between the bottom edge of the back pad and the top edge of the hip belt -- from being poked with sharp objects in the bag. Furthermore, the bottom edge of the pad was stiff enough to cause minor irritation when wearing only a shirt. This was an annoyance more than anything else, but I thought the problem easily could be eliminated by extending (increasing) the back pad downward just enough to reach the bend in the lower frame stays but not far enough to overlap the hip belt.
After carefully measuring the additional length required, I telephoned McHale and Company with the request to construct another pad to my specification, and they readily agreed to the substitution at no cost. The longer pad was perfect and functioned as I expected by eliminating any gap in back protection, and since the bottom edge of the pad ended very nearly where the top edge of the hip belt began (that is, the back pad and hip belt edges almost were flush with one another), there was no longer any irritation from the edge of the back pad itself when wearing little clothing. (I experienced the same problem with my Critical Mass SARC and employed the same remedy.)
After that minor alteration, I had the perfect expedition pack. After only a few weeks, I was so spoiled by the Alpineer that I ordered a Critical Mass SARC and, except for one (2500 to 3000 cubic inch) day pack, eventually sold my other (non McHale) packs. I had great difficulty bringing myself to wear anything else. Comparing any other company's packs to McHale's left me only one clear choice, and it wasn't "theirs."
I have come to the conclusion that it really is unfair to compare McHale's packs to other manufacturers'. There is no common basis for comparison. McHale's packs are in a class by themselves and superior to everyone else's packs.
Update: March 21, 2000
These notes are submitted in elaboration of and correction to my recent reviews of the McHale & Company Inex Alpineer Bayonet and Critical Mass SARC. For too many years I rarely questioned the persistent discomfort in my shoulders and along my collar bones (as well as waist strangulation) because I learned to accept that discomfort as normal. Over time, I blocked most of the pain from my immediate awareness because the discomfort was expected. It was not until I began wearing McHale packs that I experienced a truly pain-free, load-carrying (internal-frame) backpack. It also was at that time that the discrepancy between wearing a McHale and wearing anything else made me cognizant of just how much pain I had been blocking all those years. When I now look at other manufacturers' packs, I cannot help viewing them with ridicule.
Unless you have worn a McHale pack, you might think I am being unreasonably critical of other manufacturers' backpacks. If I had read these reviews 5 or 6 years ago, I also might have arrived at that conclusion. However, it took owning only one McHale pack to change my viewpoint to what you read here. More information on McHale backpacks can be obtained at http://www.mchalepacks.com. All McHale packs are tailored to your needs and specifications and manufactured in the United States.
In my previous reviews I neglected to state that the Inex Alpineer Bayonet and Critical Mass SARC come standard with a summit flap that either is integrated into the lid (SARC) or comes as a separate, attachable piece (Alpineer). The lid can be removed and summit flap employed to reduce the overall pack weight while still completely covering the top aperture.
Both packs are designed such that the area below the shelf and above the sleeping bag is large enough to store a good deal of clothing. This makes access to that clothing via the horizontally arced zipper easy.
All McHale's Critical Mass SARCs and Alpineers utilize a full-wrap hip belt that generally comes with twin, cam-lever-action buckles. Although side-release buckles are available upon request, I did not request them since they are not as sturdy for heavy-load carrying or as easy to open or adjust as cam buckles. The full-wrap belts also generally come with handles and gear-attachment straps located on the exterior side of the belt above the handles. The method of bolting the belt to the frame (through the pack bag) permits relatively easy belt substitution.
Additionally, all McHale's Critical Mass SARCs and Alpineers come with an adjustable and detachable lumbar pad, the pad is not required if you carry a sleeping bag in the sleeping bag compartment. The sleeping bag itself functions as the lumbar pad. The vertical frame stays do not impact your pelvic structure since they diverge from one another at the base of the pack to straddle your pelvis. This is one reason McHale packs are so comfortable with heavy loads.
In my review of the Alpineer, I wrote about requesting and receiving a longer back pad that fully protected my back from the pack's contents. I incorrectly stated that "the bottom edge of the pad ended very nearly where the top edge of the hip belt began (that is, the back pad and hip belt edges almost were flush with one another)." I should have stated that the back pad's bottom edge is nearly flush with the top edge of the lumbar pad. If the lumbar pad is replaced with a sleeping bag, then the sleeping bag fills the gap. With the longer back pad the entire harness side of the pack provides something soft - - either foam padding or sleeping bag - - to shield my body from the pack's remaining contents. The longer back pad is long enough to just extend to the bend in the vertical frame stays but no farther. If the back pad extends down past the bend in the frame stays, then the frame stays could thrust the lower part of the pad into the lower back, which could result in discomfort.
I especially recommend a McHale pack to people who currently look upon the world of internal-frame packs with disfavor. If you cannot afford to purchase multiple packs for your needs, investigate either the smaller Alpineers or the Alpine II - - both the Critical Mass and non-Critical Mass versions. These selections possess the Bayonet stays that permit detachment of the upper portion of the vertical frame essentially providing an owner with two, differently sized packs for the price of one.
Design: internal frame/internal frame
Size: Approx. 7,800 - 8,000/5,000 cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 1/0
Max. Load Carried: 71.5 lb./61.5 lb.
Height of Owner: 5'8"
Price Paid: $575 US/$419 US