The Motherload has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best expedition packs for 2020.
Reviewers Paid: $175.00-$325.00
They call this the "Motherload" for a reason: Un-extended, it is a pretty beefy cavern somewhere in the vicinity of 6500 ci. Pull out the almost unbelieviably huge extension tube, and it becomes big enough for an acoustic guitar, military cold-weather sleeping bag, clothes, 6-person tent, a few gallons of water, some text books...you get the point.
Amazingly, though I have literally carried this exact assortment of stuff in it, the complex and ingenious fitting straps will make 75 lbs. feel like a tight-fitting 5000 ci backpack. Yes, it will take you a long time to find the right fit, but when you get there, it's a dream.
One thing the prospective buyer should know is that unless they actually plan on carrying enough stuff to pretty-well fill up the un-extended pack, the top pocket (which doubles as a fanny-pack) won't fit well over the rest of the pack. This is because although this pack is technically listed "internal frame," it is actually has more like three separate frames including the normal vertical aluminum stays, plus a rigid plastic sheet along the back and a curved aluminum pole that keeps the pack stiff as a board, literally. Trust me, this is a good thing when you don't want to feel 70 lbs. pulling on your back like a lead weight.
Some more Pros: My pack is 8 years old, has been used and definitely abused on occasion, but literally has NO tears, holes or straps missing. BOMB-PROOF is the best way to describe it. It can also come with cool add-ons like the external water-bottle holder. Has only two main compartments (with removable sleeping bag divider) and the top pocket, but this has always been a plus IMHO.
Overall, an amazing pack--The only cons I have experienced are the relative lack of compression straps (two on the main compartment), but if you really pack well, it shouldn't matter. Also, for all the design features to work together, you really do have to pack alot. But most of all, you might have trouble standing up when you're laughing hysterically at how you look with the Motherload fully extended!
Note--for reference, I am 6'2" with a 19.5" torso, and have a size Medium pack.
Design: Basic internal-frame design
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 75-80
Height of Owner: 6'2"
Price Paid: $175
Back in 1995 narrowed down my search to three companies...Dana Designs, Osprey and Gregory. Quite honestly, mostly chose the Osprey for the price, but can't see how anyone can vastly improve on carrying comfort. The suspension system is incredible once you tweak everything and I can maintain fairly normal posture with heavy loads. Only caveat is the squeak the delrin rods make under load. I've heard people put baby powder to eliminate the noise, but haven't tried this. Bombproof construction...made in the USA, and quality is evident throughout. I don't expect to have to buy another pack ever again. (and I went through plenty to get to this one...2 Lowe Alpine packs, North Face,)
Things I love about this pack: Top pocket turns to fanny pack quickly. (some lines in Osprey have to disconnect belt and then attach to top pocket..to much work.) Molded plastic behind head so you can look up. Quality and most importantly, comfort.
Things I don't particular like, or change. Wand pockets are an attachment and can only hold poles, or chair kit...too small to use for other uses. When fully stuffed, sleeping bag access is tough to get into. (personally, i love the A shaped access found on Lowe Alping Contour 4..it's only good feature). Need more pockets!
Other than that, I'm done looking for other packs. I've found what i've been looking for. BTW the motherload was replace by the Xenith and now is the Crescent 110 in terms of comparable size.
Design: top loading with sleeping bag access
Number of Pockets: 1 top pocket
Max. Load Carried: 65 lbs
Height of Owner: 5'10'"
Price Paid: $180
The name of this pack says it all--MOTHERLOAD! I'm serious, I can dump my pack, crawl inside, and extend the extension to my chest. Plenty of room for everything you need and then some. Even so, the well placed compression straps and four point adjustable lid makes for a very managable pack even when fully loaded.
As for fit, I had to play with it a bit, including bending the back stays, but it now feels great; Very stable and comfortable. Despite the capacity of this thing, it is one of the lightest expedition packs on the market. I've pulled and packed, tugged and strained, and have yet to see a stressed seam.
Design: internal frame
Number of Pockets: one top lid pocket
Max. Load Carried: 65 lbs
Height of Owner: 5 11"
Price Paid: $325 +-