The Strongest Frame in the World of Internals

The 'Critical Mass' Hip Belt

A Revolutionary Shoulder Pad System

Critical Mass Pelvic/Lumbar Pad

The Finest Women's Pack

The 'Critical Mass' Hip Belt
Backpackers and mountaineers alike find our Critical Mass (CM) packs to be great load carriers.  Many people say it is the hip belt that makes the pack so effective.  They're right.  The hip belt and hip belt connection was the first area of backpacks Dan McHale studied back in 1971 at a backpack shop called Mountain Life, near San Jose, California.

One of Dan's jobs was fitting the external frames that were sold.  What they all had in common were the full wrap belts that were to disappear in the oncoming internal-frame revolution.  Dan did not know at the time that his future would include manufacturing his own line of internal-frame packs that would have external-frame type hip belts and frames that would have the supportive strength of externals.

When the hip belt comes first -- instead of last -- in the design process, an interesting thing happens: the belt is free to wrap all the the way around the pelvis without interference from a yet nonexistent pack and lumbar pad.  Our special attachment points are at the bottom tail edge of the belt so that the load can sheer load off the base of the belt.  This makes it possible for the load to spread upward throughout the entire belt.  The lumbar/sacrum pad is behind the belt and is part of the pack where it cannot interfere with the 360 degree tension band of the belt. It is an effective system.  We know.

Carried by people that are fit and have done their training, the CM system can carry over 100 lb. loads comfortably.  Conventional systems will strangle you with this kind of weight.  When people try packs on at our Seattle store, it is common for them to estimate they are carrying only 1/2 to 2/3 of what is actually in the pack.  A McHale pack with 70 lb. can feel better than other high-tech brands carrying only 50 lb.  No other brand has the frame structure or the belt performance to do the job as effectively.  We guarantee your satisfaction even when comparing to any external-frame system.  What does this mean for our backpacking customers?  Normal/traditional 45-65 lb. loads are an amazing pleasure to carry.

The shape of the belt is also important.  Our belt design is the result of studying how active rectangular panels wrap around the side of the pelvis.  Laid flat on the flare of the hip, a panel will wrap downward to the front and rear.  The panel from one side of the pelvis will intersect the panel from the other side in a wide angle V at the front and rear of the pelvis.  The angle at the rear of the belt is fixed, an effective average of many we have tried.  Dan actually experimented with adjustable angle belts during the late 1970's to conclude that people did not vary enough in this respect to warrant the complications involved.

A More Effective Hipbelt
The 'Critical Mass' hip belt will run circles around the performance levels of any other hip belt currently on the market.  This includes those belts that other companies build special angles into. There is no place for hype in belt design. Most belts are over-engineered in padding and under-engineered in load distribution.

To achieve the angle at the front of the belt, we incorporate two Swedish Fix-Lock cam buckles or 2 side-release buckles for lighter loads.  The Swedish Fixloc cam buckle is at the top of our list for being unbreakable for extremely heavy loads and it does not slip.  It is also easy to adjust and can be released with an injured hand. The downside of the cam buckle is that it must always be adjusted with both hands. The foam in the belt, imported from England, is called Evazote and is wrapped with a combination of bias cut 500 and 1000 denier Cordura that will gradually mold itself to the iliac areas of the pelvis.

You will not find plastic stiffeners in our hip belts either.  The belts wrap so effectively that they create their own firm structure.  Belt stiffeners are the current hallmark of high-tech packs.  It is really too bad real people are not as insensitive as mannequins because we think the new crop of belts on the market are a step backward in comfort.  Are the people designing this stuff really using it?  We can safely predict that our belts will not go down that dead end trail.  Not only does McHale Packs have the best belt, but we even build them in five different heights and custom fit them to the nearest 1/2 inch of length. 

The Park 'N' Ride handles have proven to be an important addition to the belt for backpackers.  The most obvious purpose of the handles is to provide a place to rest and park the arms.  They give your hands and arms a place to hang out while you walk down the trail.  For extremely (over 75 lbs.) heavy loads this translates into being able to control the tilt of the pelvis with very little effort.  Since almost all of the pelvis is forward of the sacral connection to the spine, there is a built forward lever arm that simply needs a handle to counterbalance the heavy load on the rear.  By controlling pelvic tilt, the belt can be worn higher with heavy loads because the belt no longer tilts back into the belly above the iliac spine (front hip bones).  This improves leg circulation and mobility. The double buckles also keep the belt from flipping or rotating into the stomach. The tension band created by single buckles that runs laterally through the center of normal belts sets up a fulcrum point for the belt to roll inward to the stomach provided the belt even reaches as far as the front hip bobes.

Since our belt works so much better and loads your hips as much as you dare, clothing worn under the belt should be deliberately chosen.  Levi type pants, as an example, are out of the running because of the heavy belt loops, rivets, and massive 4-way seam that sits right in the center of the sacrum.  Although Levis are an extreme example, as much attention should be paid to how your clothing works with the hip belt as you would pay to anything else.  People have gotten so used to having to carry the load on the shoulders, even with the newer packs, that they almost completely overlook this area when they get one of our packs. Ski bibs are much better than ski pants, for instance, because they do not end under the belt.