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Gregory Denali 100 Review

This pack is optimized for alpine expeditions such as Denali’s West Buttress, as the name suggests, with high marks for comfort
Gregory Denali 100
Photo: Gregory
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $400 List | $399.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Durable, comfortable, good features for cold expeditions
Cons:  Cumbersome ice axe attachment, heavy for volume
Manufacturer:   Gregory Packs
By Lyra Pierotti ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2021
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51
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 10
  • Versatility - 30% 3
  • Weight to Volume Ratio - 20% 5
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Durability - 15% 7
  • Features - 15% 6

Our Verdict

The Gregory Denali 100 is an excellent pack for, you guessed it, Denali! This is an expedition-sized and polar-optimized pack with features that facilitate the funny things you might do on an expedition into the Alaska Range, like drag a sled full of gear for three weeks. With a slight taper toward the bottom, the shape of the pack helps ensure it carries more securely in technical and exposed terrain, helping you feel more balanced, even under extreme loads. Other niceties include the head-shaped cutout so it's not difficult to tilt your head back to look up (which is generally something we like to do in the mountains). Overall, this is an excellent expedition-specific mountaineering backpack.

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Gregory Denali 100
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Gregory Denali 100
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $399.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$170 List
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Check Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$99.95 at Amazon$200.00 at Amazon
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Pros Durable, comfortable, good features for cold expeditionsComfortable, affordable, durable, fully featuredVersatile, simple, durable, well-pricedLightweight, simple, excellent pack for steep, technical terrainDurable, versatile, fully featured for all mountain pursuits
Cons Cumbersome ice axe attachment, heavy for volumeNot as lightweight as some packsLess features, some wonky strap designsLess durable, less versatile, no side strapsClosure system limits ability to overstuff, larger size less ideal for more technical routes
Bottom Line This pack is optimized for alpine expeditions such as Denali’s West Buttress, as the name suggests, with high marks for comfortThis is an excellent pack for most mountaineering uses, excelling in comfort and versatility in all alpine terrainThis is a pack-of-all-trades well suited to a variety of mountaineering pursuitsThis is an excellent on-route climbing pack for challenging steep terrain in the mountainsThe Mutant series has been a favorite, and the 52 liter version fills an excellent niche for colder and longer climbs
Rating Categories Gregory Denali 100 Osprey Mutant 38 Black Diamond Speed 40 Black Diamond Blitz... Osprey Mutant 52L
Versatility (30%)
3.0
9.0
7.0
5.0
6.0
Weight To Volume Ratio (20%)
5.0
4.0
6.0
10.0
3.0
Comfort (20%)
6.0
9.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
Durability (15%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
Features (15%)
6.0
9.0
5.0
5.0
7.0
Specs Gregory Denali 100 Osprey Mutant 38 Black Diamond Speed 40 Black Diamond Blitz... Osprey Mutant 52L
Measured Volume (liters) 90 37 45 29 47
Measured Weight (pounds) 6.3 2.84 (without lid), 3.25 (with lid) 2.93 1.09 4.19
Measured Weight (grams) 2860.2 1288.2 1330 496.1 1899.4
Weight to Volume Ratio (grams per liter) 31.78 34.82 29.56 17.11 40.41
Frame Type Integrated framesheet, removable aluminum stays Inner framesheet with aluminum stays Removable foam and plastic framesheet with 3 stays Foam pad Removable framesheet and dual stays
Fabric 210D nylon 210D nylon with 420HD nylon packcloth on bottom 210d ripstop main, 420d abrasion Dynex ripstop 210D High Tenacity Nylon
Pockets 3 zippered lid, 1 zippered side, 1-2 zippered front (modular), 1 zippered hip belt, 2 side pockets; 1 side access zipper 1 zippered lid 1 main, 2 zippered lid, 1 internal hydration 1 main compartment, 1 waterproof top lid, 1 internal zippered 2 zippered lid
Hip Belt? Yes - removable, with gear loop and pocket Yes - reverse wrap hybrid EVA foam w/ gear loops and ice clipper holsters Yes - padding removable, not belt Yes - removable webbing belt Yes- removable
Removable Suspension Padding? Yes - removable framesheet and stays; also has a removable foam pad which unfolds to double in length Removable framesheet and/or dual stays Yes Yes Yes
Lid? Yes - removable Yes - removable with stowable FlapJacket for lidless use Yes - removable Yes - removable Yes
Hydration System Compatible? Yes - internal pouch with buckled hanging loop Yes - internal pouch with buckled hanging loop Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Denali 100 is a great expedition backpack, specially tailored to the needs of climbers on Denali's popular West Buttress route.

Performance Comparison


Nearing the 17,000ft camp on Denali's West Buttress route.
Nearing the 17,000ft camp on Denali's West Buttress route.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Versatility


Almost as a rule, an expedition pack is a terrible all-rounder. Browse the rest of our review for a smaller pack, something in the 30-50 liter range, if you're looking for a more versatile model (though that size range won't be useful on most expeditions).


We took this pack out on smaller test trips to round out our testing, but it is not a backpack to take for a day of cragging at your favorite rock climbing area. It is not a pack that would go off the ground with us for multi-pitch climbs, and it's also not a pack we would take backcountry skiing, ice climbing, or on mountaineering trips of less than one week. The Denali is an expedition pack. It is HUGE. As such, it carries best when it is full, or mostly full, and it is floppy, heavy, and awkward when it is empty.

We like the large side sleeves on the Denali 100. This makes a few...
We like the large side sleeves on the Denali 100. This makes a few key layers and snacks easier to access while fighting blustery weather on the move to high camp.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Weight to Volume Ratio


The Denali is a hefty 6.3 pounds, though it's still not as heavy as our early 2000s Arc'teryx Bora 80 liter pack. Mountaineering and backpacking backpacks have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, with lighter materials and simpler suspension.


However, durability is wildly important when you're on a weeks-long expedition, so we didn't penalize this pack too much for being so much heavier. Plus, as you add volume and carry more stuff, you need more robust materials and beefier suspension.

The Denali swallows a whole lot of gear, as an expedition pack should.
The Denali swallows a whole lot of gear, as an expedition pack should.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Comfort


The Denali carried comfortably in a broad range of situations, which is relevant to a climb of, say, Denali (one of the 'Seven Summits'), where you will be hauling loads to a high camp, then carrying a relatively light and empty pack back down to your current camp. The frame above the shoulder straps curves gently away from the head, and there is a semi-circular cutout where your head typically rests. We enjoyed the drastically improved range of motion and comfort for our head and neck while carrying this pack.


We hauled expedition sleds with this pack as well, and we were impressed by the balance and relative comfort. This is likely because Gregory designed specific pull loops which are perfectly oriented to haul a sled efficiently. We've been rigging sleds onto backpacks without them for years, but those haul loops do make it ride just a little bit better, and they don't add any notable weight, bulk, or hassle. They also make attaching a sled to the pack significantly easier, especially while wearing gloves.

Hauling a sled during a round of testing with the Denali 100.
Hauling a sled during a round of testing with the Denali 100.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

The Denali has thicker padding, which is still a mainstay feature of heavy packs (in lighter models, we much prefer thin, stiff padding), but it is relatively rigid and durable. We liked the stiffness more than the softer padding you find in some 70-liter (large) backpacking backpacks. The padding is more important than one might initially think; when you put on a big, well-padded model in the store, this soft padding feels comfy, like a cloud on your back.

In the long term, softer padding will wear out faster, and during a several-day (or weeks long) trip (or expedition), this can result in a less precise and more wobbly fit. The softer padding is mildly less secure and stable than firmer padding. This is one reason we love stiffer padding on lightweight, technical climbing packs; it allows for a more precise fit for the times when you're busting some fancy climbing moves. And when you're jugging lines on steep, blue ice, or fighting gusts of wind on Denali's West Buttress, you'll be psyched that the stiffer foam padding on the pack is there to help ensure your every move to counter the wind. It will also keep your balance transferred directly to that monster pack on your back.

Durability


There is no doubt that durability is an important feature on any expedition pack. The Denali is a very durable pack, and we noted no significant durability issue on expeditions with it. This pack is up to par for all we could throw at it in the Alaska Range and on some shorter test trips in the Pacific Northwest.


The Denali features 210 denier nylon which is lighter weight than the 420 or higher denier used in some other packs. The higher denier rating should be slightly more durable than a lower number, but it does not tell the whole story, as design, seams, and manufacturing can all make a big difference.

In our field tests, we could not detect any notable issues in this pack's quality or overall design. In general, we have found that it is getting more and more challenging to judge packs based on the denier numbers alone due to other manufacturing processes. The summary of features and design, including where the stress points are, tends to give the best sense of durability.

We had no fear attaching sharp items to the Denali. It's a rugged...
We had no fear attaching sharp items to the Denali. It's a rugged pack.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Features


Expedition packs are much more feature-heavy than the average climbing pack. We usually want our climbing and mountaineering packs to be simple, but extra features are often desirable on a week(s)-long expedition.


Often you will be hauling a lot of food and gear to a high camp, so you don't need to access the contents of the pack, but you do want it to feel secure and stay well-packed during transit. This makes intelligent features, such as pockets, sleeves, and straps, a key component to a good expedition pack.

In general, the features on the Denali felt a bit fiddly and less intuitive. It took a little practice to get used to how best to use this pack. One feature that felt awkward was the ice axe attachment system. The angle didn't work for our slightly curved, alpine ice tools (which one might carry on an expedition), and the Velcro loop that secures the shaft of the ice axe serves two purposes — they secure the ice axe but also clip across the side of the pack and bind any items you've lashed to the outside.

The ice axe is secured at the top with a standard loop of velcro;...
The ice axe is secured at the top with a standard loop of velcro; however, that velcro loop is also combined with the side strap buckle, which we didn't like. If we wanted to get to our ice axe, we risked destabilizing the pickets and poles.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

We didn't like this feature because it meant you had to keep track of two items if you needed to grab the ice axe. For example, if you remove the ice axe in high winds and you have something strapped to the side, you have two things to keep track of when you unclip the side strap to undo the Velcro and release the axe. This is picky, but when conditions get brutal in cold environments, these kinds of details add up. We prefer a more straightforward approach to features like this.

The removable foam pad in the frame of the Denali means one less...
The removable foam pad in the frame of the Denali means one less thing to carry on summit day, since we tend to carry a foam pad for safety on big alpine summit pushes.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

The other part of the ice axe attachment is a small metal bar threaded through the hole in the head of the axe. This is similar to other packs, however, Gregory did not attach this metal bar to the pack with an elastic cord, so it is quite challenging to wrangle the metal bar through the hole, especially with gloves on. This feature needs to be able to stretch to weave the bar through the head of the axe. Notably, the Denali does have a sleeve to slide the picks of the ice axes into, which is a feature we prefer to have.

On the flat trek to basecamp, it was nice to have our water bottle...
On the flat trek to basecamp, it was nice to have our water bottle easily accessible.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Value


This pack is pricey but on par with a pack of its size and quality.

Conclusion


The Gregory Denali is a great pack for a snowy expedition. It is optimized for hauling big loads on steep snow and ice and dragging sleds for days on end. The features are a little wonky at times, and Gregory could shave some weight by streamlining them, but overall it is a solid pack that will keep you climbing happily in high places.

Probing out a safe camp in the middle of the Kahiltna Glacier...
Probing out a safe camp in the middle of the Kahiltna Glacier, Alaska Range.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Lyra Pierotti