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…)
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.