Gregory Denali 100 Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Durable, comfortable, good features for cold expeditions
Cons: Cumbersome ice axe attachment, heavy for volume
Manufacturer: Gregory Packs
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Gregory Denali 100 is a great expedition backpack, specially tailored to the needs of climbers on Denali's popular West Buttress route.
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, given the importance of durability in expedition packs—because you rely upon it for potentially weeks at a time—we didn't penalize this pack as heavily for being so much heavier. Plus, as you add volume, and carry more stuff, you need more robust materials and beefier suspension.
The Gregory Denali carried comfortably in a broad range of situations, which is relevant to a climb of, say, Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley in Alaska, and a Seven Summit), 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 your 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 the Denali.
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.
The Denali has thick padding, 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 quicker, 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.
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 and seams and manufacturing can all make a big difference.
In our field tests, we could not detect any notable issue in the quality of the use of fabrics or the 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.
Almost as a rule, an expedition pack is a terrible all-rounder. Browse the rest of this 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).
To round out our testing, we took this pack out on smaller test trips, but it was not a backpack to take for a day of cragging at our favorite rock climbing areas. It was not a pack that would go off the ground with us for multi-pitch climbs, and it was 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.
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-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 fiddle-y 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 on the Denali. 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.
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 ice 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 other part of the ice axe attachment is a small metal bar threaded through the hole in the head of the ice axe. This is similar to other packs, however, Gregory did not attach this metal bar to the pack with elastic cord, so it is quite challenging to wrangle the metal bar through the hole in the ice axe, especially with gloves on. This feature needs to be able to stretch to weave the bar through the head of the axe.
The Denali does have a sleeve to slide the picks of the ice axes into; a feature the Xenith did not have, which we preferred.
This is an expedition specific pack — even more, it is optimized for the climbing styles used on a route like the West Buttress of Denali, the packs' namesake peak. It drags sleds at just the right angle and has a tapered bottom which is much more comfortable and maneuverable when you're feeling the lack of oxygen on the fixed lines and the West Buttress itself. This pack also allows you to enjoy the view and move your head and neck with ease with the angled back frame above the shoulder straps and the head cutout.
This pack comes in just under $400 and is on par with a pack of its size and quality.
The Gregory Denali is a great pack for a snowy expedition. It is optimized for hauling big loads on steep snow and ice, and for dragging sleds for days on end. The features are a little wonky at times, and Gregory could shave some weight by streamlining these features, but overall it is a solid pack that will keep you climbing happily in high places.
— Lyra Pierotti