Field Tested Review: Gregory Denali 100 pack

Around a decade ago I spent a few summer months wandering around Europe, living out of my backpack. That pack, a Gregory Palisade 80, went with me everywhere, often times fully loaded with tent, cooking gear, clothes, all the other usual life stuff, and with more kit strapped to the outside. It handled all the weight I could cram into it, and survived everything from mountain hikes to urban wanderings to dragging through the occasional cave without complaint. I loved it but always knew there was something better out there — the Denali Pro 105, the flagship of Gregory’s line.

Come 2015 and there’s a new Denali, and it’s superb. The new model is offered in two capacities, 75 and 100 litres. Naturally, I got the 100 to test. Unfortunately, current circumstances don’t allocate time for a multi-month live-out-of-my-pack trip, so I used it wherever I could: approaches, hikes and climbs with huge amounts of gear crammed into the cavernous interior. (Even though it’s a 100L, I think you could overstuff it to 120L if you really wanted to…)

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_01The Denali 100 is huge, especially when compared to other packs, here the Arc’Teryx NoZone 55 and Gregory’s own Verte 25. 

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_02The same three packs as seen from the side…

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_32Curious, I thought I’d see if the NoZone and Verte could fit inside the Denali 100. Yes, they can.

The key to the Denali 100’s ability to carry massive loads is an incredibly robust suspension: I’ve carried a hundred pounds without any issues (I figure 100 for 100, right?). It’s not too comfortable with that much weight — but then what is? — but the pack didn’t let out a single squeak under that load, and that says a lot about its construction. It didn’t sustain any damage to the seams or stitching, and none of the straps or buckles so much as slipped. This is a monster of a pack.

But back to the suspension. The backbone of the pack is made up of two very solid sewn-in framesheets connected by two aluminum stays, with an additional horizontal stay to prevent the back from barrelling (i.e. this keeps the backpanel flat, even when the pack is massively overstuffed). Shoulder straps use Gregory’s AutoCant attachment system, which pivots to automatically adjust to your shoulders, and the hipbelt is similarly attached to a robust plastic frame that is riveted to the lower framesheet. Based on my experience with a similar system in my old Palisade, this stuff isn’t breaking anytime soon.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_16The AutoCant shoulder straps pivot independently, automatically conforming to your shoulders.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_26The backbone of the Denali’s suspension are two sewn-in framesheets, backed by two aluminum stays. Notice the two pivot points of the shoulder harness, and the rivets down low that keep the hipbelt affixed.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_25A better view of the anti-barreling cross-stay.

The shoulder straps and hipbelt are generously padded, and nicely contoured. The back panel is thick and supportive, and there’s a sticky patch at the bottom to keep the pack from sliding down. Carrying anything less than the equivalent of a mid-size human, the pack is very, very comfortable. Gregory rates the pack to 80 lbs (36kg), and with that much weight in it, it practically floats along on your shoulders and hips.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_14A clearer view of the backpanel.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_27The hipbelt is attached to this plastic ‘wing’…

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_28…which in turn is riveted to the internal framesheet.

All of this robustness and comfort doesn’t even weigh that much: my size Medium weighs in at 3.015 kg (6 lbs 10 oz). That’s for a 100-litre pack, capable of carrying 100-lb (45kg) loads. Pretty incredible, if you ask me.

Designed to be an expedition pack, the Denali has sewn-in haul points on the hipbelt for pulling a sled, can take skis in an A-frame carry, and the two large side pockets easily hold pickets or wands. There are dual ice-tool attachment options, one the traditional loop for your mountaineering axe, the other an aluminum tab for modern ice tools; you can strap four tools onto the pack simultaneously. The hipbelt has a small, zippered pocket on the left side, big enough for a small camera, and a gear loop and ice-clipper slot on the right side.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_04Two sets of tools attach easily, and there’s even a pick pocket to keep them from snagging on stuff.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_05I added velcro tabs to the daisy chain to secure my technical tools.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_06The traditional loop is great for mountaineering axes equipped with an adze.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_07The tool shaft attachment is built into the upper compression straps.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_08Either method can be tucked away: the tech-tool tab hides into a small pocket while the loop can be shortened to minimize snagging.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_13The left-side zippered pocket.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_29The right side has an ice-clipper slot and a gear loop.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_30The sled-hauling points are down low, and angled towards the back. It’s great to see this attention to detail!

On the right side of the pack is a side access zip, and at around 3/4 of the main compartment’s length, it lets you get to most of your gear without having to go through the top of the pack. Pack it right, and you can get to your most-needed kit with a simple pull on the zipper. On the left is a fairly large zippered pocket, sized for a map or guidebook. This pocket is — just — accessible with your right hand, arm crossed over your chest, while wearing the pack. It’s a long reach, though.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_12There’s a map / guidebook / headlamp pocket on the right side of the pack. It’s within reach, just.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_21I have come to really appreciate side zippers on my packs, and the Denali’s is big enough to allow access to most of the main compartment.

The 100 also has a large zippered compartment on the front, which the 75 lacks. Using the internal zipper, this compartment can be split into two smaller pockets, each with their own zipper. Each of these smaller pockets is big enough to fit a pair of crampons, plus a hardshell, and then some more stuff. They’re quite big. However, like many other modern packs, the zipper isn’t quite strong enough for the heavy-handed handling it will no doubt be subjected to. I would much prefer to carry a few more grams, and pay a few more dollars, for a much beefier zipper.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_09The front panel compartment.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_10It easily fits a pair of crampons (in pouch), a hardshell and pair of gloves.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_11The internal divider can be unzipped from either side.

The floating top lid is huge. There’s a large security pocket on the underside, with a key clip. There’s also a zippered mesh pocket inside the main compartment, big enough to hold a few maps, a notebook or other essentials. Unlike other large packs, the top lid does not have straps to use it as a waistpack — which is great to see as I always cut those off, and you’re probably packing a summit pack anyway.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_17The top lid fits a helmet, easily.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_18There’s an internal mesh pocket in the top lid.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_19The security pocket underneath the top lid is big enough to fit a 3-litre water bladder. For those wondering, it does have a key clip.

There is an internal hydration bladder compartment and hanger, which is beyond confusing to me. The last thing I want crammed inside a 100-litre pack is a water bladder. I would much prefer a compartment on the outside, ideally underneath the top lid, as it’d be easier to access when the pack is fully loaded. And though the security pocket underneath the top lid will fit a 3-litre water bladder, it isn’t ideally suited to the job.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_24You could hang the water bladder inside the pack, on the provided hang-tag. 

Somewhat bizarrely there’s a bivy pad, and bivy pad sleeve, which doubles as the water bladder compartment. The bivy pad is unnecessary in this pack, as it doesn’t add any cushioning or stiffening to the back panel. It’s nice to have, I guess. Conveniently, the bivy pad sleeve is an excellent place to stash the framesheet/pad from Gregory’s own Verte 25. With it’s framesheet/pad removed, the Verte 25 stuffs into it’s own top lid; a great summit/day pack to bring along inside this behemoth.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_23The bivy pad, and bivy pad pocket. Honestly, doesn’t make much sense to me in a pack of this size.

And should you ever forget a summit pack, the Denali 100 can be stripped down a bit, and surprisingly climbs rather well — I took it up the first pitch of Louise Falls (65m WI3) loaded down with around 40lbs of camera gear and it didn’t hinder me too much, though it is a tall pack and you can’t really look up. The hipbelt detaches quickly and easily, and the stays can be pulled out, but that’s about it for removable components.

Among other features, the compression straps can be crossed-over the front of the pack to really cinch it down, and the interior is a bright gray, making it easer to find your stuff. The pack also comes with accessory straps, which can be linked in as a minimal hipbelt (when the pack is stripped, obviously) or to attach crampons, or whatever other gear, to the daisy chain on the front.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_31You can compress the pack substantially by crossing the compression straps across the front.

Gripes? A few. Other than what I’ve already mentioned, I wish the straps, buckles and zippers were different colours. The all-black construction, with white highlights looks good but isn’t very functional in the dark. I’d love if each compression strap, and its corresponding buckles, were of a different colour. Same for the side zipper and map pocket: a touch of colour, as opposed to the the existing white highlights, would make it easier to find. The daisy chain could also use a couple of velcro tabs to attach technical ice tools with, as the built-in strap is too high and too offset for modern, curved tools.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_20The top compression strap has a lot of length — you could overstuff this pack, if you really wanted to.

TheAlpineStart_Gregory_Denali_100_Review_22The interior is a bright grey, making it easy to find stuff in the cavernous interior.

This is an outstanding pack. It’ll carry more weight than you want to, and do it without a creak. There are a few small niggles, but all the major components and features are solidly overbuilt and well thought out. I can’t think of a better pack for hauling massive loads, and am actually looking forward to the next time I’m humping a week’s worth of gear, food and cameras into the mountains.

Pros: massive weight and volume capacity; comfortable and overbuilt suspension; relatively light weight for its size
Cons: small zippers for front pockets; map pocket hard to access with pack on; all-black construction makes it hard to find zippers and straps, especially in the dark
Overall: An overbuilt load-hauler designed to take a massive amount of gear anywhere you can walk to.

Thanks to John Price Photography for the intro image, and to Gregory Packs for a sample of the pack.

3 thoughts on “Field Tested Review: Gregory Denali 100 pack

  1. David Bopp says:

    Great review! Thank you so much for all the info!

    So what are the main differences between this and the Denali Pro? I see a lot of people offering used Denali Pros for upwards for 400 dollars and these are less than that brand new.

    • Raf says:

      I honestly have no idea what the differences would be as I’ve never used a Denali Pro. I’ll see if I can find out!

  2. Nick says:

    The Denali Pro is almost twice the weight, has at least 5 more litres of storage, has a sleeping bag compartment and is much less streamlined. It’s a beast though, and worth all that weight if you need something that is durable as shit. I unfortunately dropped mine out of the trailer at 60 miles an hour fully loaded, and the right frame stay popped out a bit, making my hip belt off center. Gregory said they’d replace it with the new update, but I had to finish a season of trail work, climb Whitney and Rainier, hitchhike from Minneapolis to L.A before I could send it in. I never had an issue with comfort on that pack, even after it broke- with 65+ pounds in it, and is testament to how forgiving these packs are. I haven’t gotten my new Denali yet, but it seems to trade durability for weight. It depends on your preferences for a pack, I suppose.

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