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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > McHale Super Sarc Plug and Go > Owner Review by Brett Cook

June 02, 2007


NAME: Brett Cook
AGE: 47
LOCATION: Tucson, Arizona
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 180 lb (81.60 kg)

I often bushwhack with climbing/caving gear and buy equipment that won't fail in the field. I've gone a little towards the light side, but I need gear that won't let me down. I go hiking several times a month, generally 6-10 miles (10-16 km) with elevation changes of 1500' to 4000' (457 - 1219 m). Terrain varies from scrub-thorn to mountainous. My pack weight varies between 10 and 30 lbs (4 - 14 kg) with occasional loads of 50 lbs (23 kg) or more.


Manufacturer: McHale Alpine Packs
Year of Manufacture: 2004
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: US $554 as ordered
Listed Weight: 48-80 oz (1361-2268 g)
Measured Weight: 72 oz (2041 g) fully configured,
Other details: Can be configured to 48 oz (1361 g) without top or side pockets and minus back pad. Bayonets can be removed to drop weight even lower.
Volume: 4500-5000 cu in (74-82 l) [has extension skirt].

McHale packs are full custom and made to fit each individual. I chose the features and colors I wanted.
All McHale packs are made to last. Seams are taped and triple-stitched. For added strength in major seams, one row of stitching is made with Dyneema thread.

Seam stitching

McHale offers a choice of materials, so I went with the lightest, strongest I could afford; Dyneema Ripstop. Full Dyneema is also available. I chose a Super SARC. SARC is an acronym for Super Alpine RoCk.
The pack is made to each individual's measurements, so it's very comfortable. It can carry more weight than I prefer, but is still lightweight. I like the idea of an ultralight pack, but I also like having a full suspension system for maximum comfort. Carrying a pack should not be a chore.
Since I already owned a McHale (an Inex Alpineer), I was familiar with the build quality, fit and yes, price.
I ordered my new pack with an internal water bladder pocket, Dyneema Ripstop body with a full Dyneema bottom, plug & go bayonets, horizontal and vertical daisy chains and full hip belt.
The bypass straps and hip belt make for one of the most easily adjusted packs on the market. I don't want to sound like I'm shamelessly plugging the product, but there's a reason I bought another one. They work simply and beautifully. I can actually stand straight up with a fully loaded pack because I can put carry 100% of the load on my hips. The shoulder straps just keep the pack close to my body.
The upper suspension straps don't attach to the top of the shoulder strap the way it is done on most packs. The webbing actually follows the shoulder strap all the way down and attaches at the bottom of the pack. This is why they're called bypass straps; it makes the shoulder strap and suspension strap adjustments completely independent of each other. Tightening the suspension strap doesn't lift the shoulder strap off the shoulder or cause it to pinch.

Bypass strap 1
Top portion of Bypass Strap

The bypass strap passes through a tube on the shoulder pad, then down through the adjusting buckle for the shoulder pad, and finally attaches at the lower anchor point of the shoulder pad.

Bypass strap 2
Bottom portion of Bypass Strap

The bayonets are the upper sections of the internal frame, which can be removed to shorten the pack for technical work. A simple Velcro patch lifts up to expose the end of the bayonet, which can then be pulled out. I've never had the Velcro come loose on its own.

Removing Bayonet

The outer back pad is very comfortable and does a decent job of ventilating the back. It can be removed to use as a sit pad, or just to reduce weight. It's not that much extra weight, so I leave it on.

Back pad

There is also a foam pad inside the pack to cushion the back from the internal frame and hard objects inside. This pad can also be removed.

Internal pad

I like the internal bladder pocket; the water stays cool longer than if it were on the outside of the pack. Plus, I wanted to place the weight close to my body.
The hip belt deserves a little mention also. It has two buckles, rather than just one centered on the belt. This lets me adjust the tension of the top and bottom of the belt individually for a better contour over my hips and is one of the reasons the hip belt doesn't slide down.


When I ordered the McHale pack, Dan sent me a demo pack to try out. This let me verify the fit and make sure it was what I wanted.
I took it out a few times and noticed that the shoulder straps were attached a bit too high to weight my shoulders properly. So, I called Dan and explained the situation. He asked some questions to establish that I had adjusted it properly.
Verbal descriptions can be difficult, so he asked me to take some pictures of the pack with a couple showing the shoulder and strap and e-mail them to him so he could see what to change. He then sent a second pack so I could check it out.
I took the second pack out a few times and it felt perfect! I called him with the good news; he asked for more pictures. After this, he put me in the queue. Dan has quite a backlog, so it can take several weeks to receive the pack.
Trying the demo packs paid off; when my new pack arrived, it fit like an old friend.


I have carried a variety of gear in this pack over the past couple of years, but I can't remember the details, so I packed up a camping load and went for a hike in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.

Tent: Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 (-fly)
Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket canister
Sleeping bag: Wiggy's overbag
Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest std
Water Bladder: Camelback
Pot: Mountain Safety Research 1 l/qt Stainless Steel
Keg: 6.4 l (6.7 qt) CurTek
Clothing: 1 pr long pants, 1 long sleeve shirt, 1 mid wt. fleece, 1 stuff-sack jacket
Food for one day (sandwich, granola bars, cliff bars, jerky, trail-mix)
Total weight: 32 lbs (14.5 kg)
Total distance: 7 mi (11.3 km)
Elevation gain/loss: 1500' (457 m)

I adjusted the pack according to McHale's instructions: hip belt taking most of the load, shoulder straps adjusted so that loosening the hip belt dropped the weight onto my shoulders. Next, I grabbed the upper suspension straps and squatted down, while bending over, to shape the pack to my back. Standing back up straight, I then snugged up the suspension straps.
When hiking flat or downhill, all I have to do is shrug my shoulders to lift the pack and tighten the hip belt to hold it in place. This puts the weight on my hips.

Weight on hips
Weight on hips

When going uphill, I just loosen the hip belt to shift the load to my shoulders. This allows maximum blood flow to the legs and doesn't interfere with climbing.
For this trip, I wasn't camping, I just wanted to load it with the gear for an example.
The photo below shows the camping gear I carried, minus the water bladder.

Basic Camping Gear
Camping gear

Everything except the sleeping pad and tent poles went inside the pack. The extension skirt could be used to increase the volume enough so that everything would have fit inside. But, the pack would have stuck up higher than I like.
This is a top-loading pack, so everything must be pulled out to get to something on the bottom. Versions with a zipper are available, I just didn't want to add unnecessary weight.
I put some food and sunscreen in the lid (which doubles as a fanny pack) and anything else that should be easily accessible, like the first-aid kit. The majority of the food went into the waterproof keg. The keg is a plastic jug with a screw-on lid that seals watertight. These are common in the caver and canyoneer communities or anywhere a tough, watertight container is needed.
Had there been a threat of rain, I would have put my stuff-sack jacket in one of the water bottle pockets on the outside, where it would be easy to reach. But, I live in Tucson, and May & June tend to be very dry.

I've found the daisy chains useful for attaching a variety of items to the outside of the pack. Climbing gear, rope, helmet, etc. can just be clipped on with carabiners or straps. One of my favorite attachments is a snow shovel pocket that straps on using the daisy chains. It's useful for carrying a variety of items for quick access, such as sandals for river crossings, or wet gear that I want to let drip outside the pack.
32 lbs (14.5 kg) is a bit on the light side to me because I usually have some technical gear to haul when I go camping. I get very little shoulder soreness from this pack even when carrying heavier loads. I think this is due to the design of the hip belt, shoulder pads and the bypass system, which lets the shoulder pads wrap smoothly over the shoulders without pinching.
I have used the pack for bushwhacking here in the south west and it has held up well. It's a little tall for heavy brush, but able to swallow lots of gear. This makes it handy when I have to haul a wetsuit, camping gear and vertical gear.
I have carried camping gear and climbing gear in this pack and never felt uncomfortable. My legs get tired, not my back. Of course, it may be too easy to carry lots of weight.
I like the fact that the pack retains its shape and keeps everything close to my back.

Field Conditions

I've used this pack for ridge-walking in several mountain ranges (Santa Catalinas, Santa Ritas, Huachucas, Whetstones) in Arizona in heavy brush and full sun with temperatures up to 105 F (41 C). I've climbed steep terrain > 2000' per mile (381 m/km) and covered distances over 15 miles (24 km) with this pack and never had rub spots.
The Super SARC is large enough to haul my caving gear (coveralls, boots, helmet, cave pack, lights, survey gear), camping gear and food, water and extra clothing.
The pack keeps the load close to my back so I'm confident when doing a maneuver like swinging around a rock to reach a hand or foot hold.


I think that the quality of materials, construction and well-thought-out design are worth the price. I wanted something that would be very light, but still able to withstand a wide range of activities and loads.
The pack comes with a variety of options that allow different configurations.
The way I usually carry it is with the top pack and bayonets installed.

top pack
Top pack attached

The extension skirt can be used to increase the volume by about 15%. The lid straps are loosened to match the new height.

Using extension skirt

A summit flap is also provided, which can be used in place of the top lid if it's not needed.

Summit flap
Summit Flap attached

Smaller loads can be accommodated by removing the bayonets. Either the top lid or summit flap can be used, or the top can simply be rolled down and fastened with a single strap to the front.

Roll down
Bayonets removed, with top rolled down

The grey color is slowly wearing off the Dyneema bottom, but I was warned to expect this. Dyneema doesn't accept dies well.

Dyneema showing some blotchiness


I like the construction, adjustability, fit and versatility. The pack is dependable and I've never noticed any stitching coming loose or seams pulling apart. This pack meets my requirement of being well-built without being overly heavy.
I've never once regretted the purchase.


There really isn't anything I don't like. It is pricey and I wouldn't buy one of these unless I was sure I liked back-packing and knew what I wanted in a pack.


Brett Cook

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.

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