The Rare Finds Gift Guide: McHale Alpine Packs

McHale Alpine Packs
The Rare Finds Gift Guide: McHale Alpine Packs

When it comes to holiday gifting, there are times where you just feel the need to swing for the fences.

Perhaps you’ve got a big client that you’re very much “looking forward to continuing business with in the coming year.” Perhaps you’ve got a significant other who has resigned you to a doghouse you’d like to emerge from sooner rather than later. Perhaps you’ve just had a helluva year (or several) and money just ain’t no object.

Any way you slice it, you’re in need of a true showstopper of a gift. Not only something of truly superlative quality, but something with a story — something the recipient can crow about whenever someone invariably inquires “damn, where did you get that??

And thus we bring you the Rare Finds Gift Guide, a handy compendium of holiday swag for just about any type of person on your list (or, perhaps, if you’re just in the market for yourself — no judgement).

This installment concerns McHale Alpine Packs, a bespoke mountaineering company with a cult-like following that owes the entirety of its operations to one man: veteran climber Dan McHale.

What Makes It So Darn Special?

Dan McHale started thru-hiking in 1969, when he was just a teenager. He liked to hike alone — and still does, to this day. Solo hiking comes with its own set of problems, and chief among them is the risk of losing or damaging your equipment. Unsatisfied with the packs on offer at the time, he began making his own.

Fast-forward forty years and some change, and he’s still at it, crafting 100% custom mountaineering packs from the ground up out of a workshop in Seattle. His process is thorough, deliberate and meticulously planned out, not unlike the way a Savile Row tailor makes a suit.

He begins by chatting with all his customers on the phone at length to ascertain their needs and use cases. From there, he asks the customer to submit a detailed set of measurements, and in return sends them a demo pack to try on for size. If it doesn’t fit properly (which Dan will tell you, after looking over photos of you in the demo pack), he sends another.

Once the size and features are decided on, he sets about the actual construction process, which can take months (unsurprisingly, procuring a McHale Alpine Pack involves a waiting list).

mchale alpine packs
A McHale Alpine pack made from Dyneema, in both its fully loaded and “stripped” configuration

I had read that Dan was a very “opinionated” person. But what I experienced was a very knowledgeable man, not opinionated … He will not build a pack to a lesser specification than his standards require. I like this attitude. His name is one the pack, and he is not willing to make something he feels is sub-standard.

Nick Gatel, Proud owner of McHale Alpine Pack

McHale has stated that his goal when he builds a pack is to “make it float.” What does that mean? That he wants the wearer to forget they’re even wearing it.

To achieve this, he works exclusively with high-end materials like 1000-denier cordura nylon, hammer-proof Fastex plastic hardware and Dyneema, the strongest, lightest fiber in the world. He’s also devised a number of engineering techniques that you simply won’t find anywhere else; his Plug-and-Go Bayonet System, which seamlessly extends packs to bear heavier loads, is patented.

Who’s It For?

People who plan on going on multi-day hikes often enough that they’ll eventually need to buy a new pack — something McHale customers simply don’t do. McHale goes so far as to scoff at the notion of a “lifetime guarantee,” which he regards as a cheap marketing tactic: “Printing words on paper is easy. To pull off the much more complex task of getting each and every customer an absolutely reliable product is something [my competitors] can’t do.”

Anything Else Worth Mentioning?

McHale also makes his own custom bear canisters (bear-proof food-storage containers). He is also one of the only people on earth able to dye Dyneema different colors — something even the manufacturer of the material itself can’t do.

Ok So What’s the Damage?

Base prices, according to the website, range from the $695 Ultralight Bump 32 to the $1,325 Super Inex Critical Mass Alpine II Bayonet. Of course, custom add-ons — which McHale will rightfully encourage — can bump that number up by a few hundred dollars.

See the Rest of the Rare Finds:

Crown Royal XR

Crown Royal XR Extra Rare, the second edition to the storied Canadian brand’s Extra Rare series, is crafted from one of the final barrels of whisky saved from the now ghost LaSalle distillery.

TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02

To mark the model’s 55th anniversary, TAG Heuer’s flagship Carrera line is being driven by the brand’s premium, Swiss-made in-house column wheel chronograph movement, the Heuer 02, for the first time.

Max Poglia Knives

Using reclaimed agricultural tools, rare woods and ethically-sourced animal horn/bone from his native Brazil, Brooklyn knifesmith Max Poglia is crafting handsome, one-of-a-kind knives that are equal parts art and function.

SAVED Cashmere

With a journey that begins on the steppes of Mongolia and ends in an NYC design studio, SAVED proffers ultra-soft cashmere throws, pillows, blankets, hats, and scarves — all featuring the sort of punchy, voguish designs one might expect to catch in the background of a Wes Anderson film.

AdrianMartinus Design

Helmed by two Canadian brothers in the heart of Alberta, AdrianMartinus focuses on gorgeous furniture and home goods painstakingly crafted from a very interesting type of reclaimed wood: old skateboards.

Franco Snowshapes Custom Snowboards

In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, legendary shaper Mikey Franco and his team are building snowboards in a way no one else in America does: by hand, specifically tailored to each and every client from the ground up.

Crowd Cow Olive Wagyu

Hailing from the tiny island of Kagoshima in Japan’s smallest prefecture, Olive Wagyu is the rarest beef on planet earth. Only a handful of Japanese cattle farmers produce it, and in extremely limited quantities — only 2,000 of these mythic cows exist in the world at any given time.

Gateway Bronco Restorations

The first generation Ford Bronco is one of the most beloved SUVs of all time, unchanged from 1966 to 1977. Illinois outfit Gateway Bronco reigns supreme in the restomod game, hunting down these classics and meticulously restoring/refurbishing them to new levels of glory.

Atelier Savas Leather Goods

Plying her trade from a by-appointment-only studio in the heart of Nashville, Savannah Yarborough is one of the most sought after designers of bespoke leather jackets in the country — her clients include Jack White, Jason Isbell, and, with a bit of luck, you.

Product imagery courtesy of McHale Alpine Packs