McHale Super Inex
Reviewers Paid: $1.00-$725.00
My Super Inex is custom made for my torso, weight and waist size. Dan McHale took my order over the phone and I sent him several photographs and measurements of myself. 4 weeks later I received the pack which included 2 500 cu pockets, a snow shovel carrier and an Airline carrier/rain cover. The materials are super heavy duty and the workmanship is bombproof.
It took me two overnight trips to learn the perfect setup for maximum comfort. I can, at any time put the entire load on my hips thanks to best waist belt I have ever used. The shoulder straps are infinantly adjustable and feature a one of a kind load varying strap that works while you are hiking. 75 lbs is still heavy but managable and tolerable for a fit person using the Inex. Even a Dana Astralplane or Bora 95 can't match it and I have tried both. I am not rich but the extra price for a custom made pack that outdoes all others on the market is worth it. I have only used the extra pockets twice (in the Alaska range) as the pack is simply huge without them. The top part makes a large comfy fanny pack and the bayonet system breaks down (takes one minute with practice) to make a great summit pack that carries as much as many full backpacks.
I was skeptical of buying this pack at first but I'm very glad I made the investment. You can get a video from Dan McHale and ask him questions before you order. Don't expect a space age looking designer pack when you get it. If looks are your priority try the Madison Ave. bunch. If comfort and utilty are important get a McHale. By the way I am very nit picky and very hard on my equipment. I complain loudly about gear that irritates me in the back country and I rejoice when good equipment like Inex comes along.
Design: Internal frame
Number of Pockets: 4
Max. Load Carried: 75 lbs
Height of Owner: 6'4"
Price Paid: $725 U.S.
I am a long-time Dana user (Astralplane), and really like that pack, however, I found it somewhat lacking for carrying REALLY heavy loads (upwards of 75 pounds). I bought a McHale Super INEX (McHale's biggest) in spectra fabric. After several months of use, here are my thoughts as to McHale Super INEX vs. Dana Astralplane:
McHale's waistbelt is definitely more comfortable. Even with a big, heavy load, the waistbelt is so wide that the weight gets distributed very evenly across your hips. The waistbelt on the McHale can be left relatively loose and still support the load and not ride down on your butt. The McHale waistbelt also hinges as you walk, and the pack doesn't sway or bounce up and down when you walk, because it isn't locked into your hip movement, in contrast to the Dana, which tends to bounce and sway a bit when walking fast or taking big steps or going downhill. The Dana waistbelt tends to focus much of the weight on your front hip bones, and the belt has to be pulled very tight under big loads, resulting in more discomfort than the McHale, which is simply snugged down.
The Dana waistbelt allows for several inches of adjustment up and down on the frame, to compensate for varying back lengths. The waistbelt is held in place by a big piece of velcro. I found that under really big loads (75 lbs. or more), the velcro which holds the Dana waistbelt to the pack frame slips little by little, moving the waistbelt higher and higher up the pack's frame. This causes the pack to ride lower and lower, placing progressively more weight on my shoulders and causing the pack to bounce on my butt. This problem is what finally convinced me to buy a McHale. The McHale pack doesn't have this problem, as it is custom fit and the waistbelt is anchored in place with massive metal fasteners and will not slide up or down under any size load a human can lift.
The Dana shoulder straps are a bit more comfortable than the McHale shoulder straps. McHale doesn't believe in contoured shoulder straps (he mocks them in his catalog and says that they don't work.) Having tried both, I think that Dana's contoured straps work fine and provide slightly more clearance for my arm swing. McHale's straps are comfortable as long as I have the sternum strap buckled, but when it is unbuckled, they tend to interfere with my arm swing.
The McHale pack has separated the stabilizer straps from the shoulder strap tightening straps, so you can adjust the tension of the shoulder straps independently of the tension on the stabilizer straps which pull the pack into your back. It takes a while to get used to this feature, but it is a big improvement and is not only more convenient, but also allows you to maintain a snug wrap of your shoulder straps over your shoulders, while really cranking on the stabilizer straps, improving lateral stability. With the Dana, cranking on the stabilizer straps lifts the shoulder straps off your shoulders, decreasing pack stability. You can compensate for this somewhat by re-adjusting your shoulder straps, but the Dana system doesn't seem to provide quite the same fit as the McHale system, even after much fiddling with fit adjustments and years of experience.
The McHale Super INEX is a HUGE pack. It holds as much without the extension sleeve as the Dana with the extension sleeve. With the extension sleeve extended, the McHale could hold more than I could lift. With the extension sleeve extended, the McHale would also be incredibly tall. Even without the extension sleeve, the McHale is substantially taller than the Dana when packed with the same amount of gear. McHale's philosophy is to keep the load as close to your back as possible, and he accomplishes this by making his packs wider at the base, thinner front to back, and very tall. The balance on the McHale is slightly better than the Dana, although you would never guess this by looking at the McHale, which is reminiscent of the Empire State Building. The result of the McHale's shape is that you hunch over less because the weight is pulling you back less, and overall balance is improved for things such as skiing and boulder hopping. The McHale really is more comfortable and was easier on my back, although the height was a real anoyance while bush-whacking.
Stability of the 2 packs seem comparable, with the slight edge going to the McHale. Because of its height, I expected the McHale to have more side to side motion than the Dana, but this proved not to be the case. Even without the stability straps cranked down, the McHale was pretty solid against my back, and with the stability straps cranked, the pack was glued to me, although my headroom suffered a bit with the pack pulled up close.
McHale recommends bending the stays back a little if you need more headroom, and I think that I will do this. Overall, the Dana has better headroom as a result of the Dana pack being substantially shorter and also Dana's slick "head-space" feature which pulls a chunk of the pack away from your head by means of an internal load control strap. This is a feature I wish the McHale had. Neither the Dana nor the McHale fully loaded would be stable enough for real climbing, but who is going to climb anything hard with that much weight on your back anyway? Both are adequate for easy climbing, off trail hiking, boulder hopping, and moderate x-country skiing. With the Bayonet feature engaged, the McHale converts to a much smaller, shorter pack which has substantially better stability and balance, although it will not replace a real climbing pack for hard climbing (too stiff and heavy).
For easy to moderate climbing routes requiring a big pack for the approach, the bayonet feature would be quite useful.
I missed the 2 back pockets on the Dana. They are very convenient, and are big enough to carry nalgene bottles and other largish items, unlike the single back pocket on the McHale which is sized to hold smaller items like mittens and maps. I suppose I could attach pockets to the McHale, but the pack is so huge, it seems like a waste to add more capacity. The main compartment of the McHale is easier to access than the Dana because of the GIANT sleeping bag compartment, which is big enough to hold a 4 season synthetic sleeping bag AND my 3 man Kelty Windfoil tent AND a pile jacket A. Access to this compartment is via a big wrap around zipper which is easy to get into. Although the McHale lacks the organizational benefits of Dana's 2 external pockets, the ease of access to the zippered lower compartment mostly made up for this, as it made my spare clothing easy to get to. The easily removeable back-pad on the McHale is a nice touch. It makes a great sit-pad.
Weight: The McHale weighs a few ounces more than my Dana, but it has substantially larger capacity, so that is not surprising. I had expected the spectra fabric to cut more weight off the McHale and make it lighter than the Astralplane, but I guess that the really heavy parts of the McHale pack (the waistbelt and the frame) are not lightened by use of spectra fabric.
Design: Internal Frame
Size: 8000+ cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 2 pockets (top pocket, back pocket)
Max. Load Carried: 90 lbs.
Height of Owner: 5'10"
Price Paid: $1,000 (not a misprint)