Granite Gear backpacks have been longtime favorites with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers because of their light weight, carrying capacity and durability. Last year, Granite Gear retired one of their most popular packs, the Vapor Trail, and introduced a new pack called the Blaze AC 60 which has a similar design but incorporates many improvements, including a better compression system and a large front mesh pocket.
I’ve been testing the Blaze AC for the past few weeks and I think it’s one of the best backpacks you can buy on the market today for long distance backpacking. It’s lightweight (2 pounds 14 ounces), adjustable, made out of durable fabrics, and comes with all of the features I look for on the ultralight backpack style pack designs that I prefer. Priced at $219, I’d seriously consider taking this pack on a multi-month hike because of its flexibility and bomber construction.
With 60 liters (3,660 cubic inches) of carrying capacity, the Blaze AC can carry a lot of gear and food. The storage system consists of of one large main compartment with a roll top closure, a mammoth mesh front pocket that runs the full height of the pack, and two mesh side pockets that are large enough to carry 1 liter water bottles and softer items.
While spartan in its simplicity, this type of design is very functional because it means you can store all of the gear and you need during the day in external pockets, without having to open up the main compartment. This is useful on rain days when you want to keep your clothing and sleeping gear dry and protected, and it improves your time efficiency in general because you don’t have to dig around in your pack looking for stuff every time you stop for a break.
For example, I usually keep my lunch, snacks, rain jacket, rain pants, tarp and stakes, a 2 ounce screw-on water filter, and a 3 L platypus reservoir in the long front pocket of my pack and rarely open it up between the time I break camp and the time I start to cook dinner at night.
If you prefer to carry your water in a hydration reservoir, the Blaze AC comes with a zippered hydration pocket inside the main compartment located behind the internal rigid framesheet. A gear loop is included for hanging the reservoir and two hydration ports are provided for the hose.
Granite Gear also sells an optional floating pocket extension for the Blaze AC, which I did not get to test, but which would be helpful because their are no external hip belt pockets included with the pack. I can’t live without external pockets and normally attach ones from Mountain Laurel Designs on all my other backpacks for storing bug dope, water purification tablets, my headlamp, compass, sun screen, purell and the other little things I like at hand.
The Compression System on the Blaze is really impressive. Line Loc tensioners are used instead of bulkier compression straps to save weight and there are three tiers of compression along the sides instead of the two you find on most other backpacks. The Blaze also includes a third set of compression straps over the front mesh pocket, which is a nice touch you don’t find on a lot of other packs.
In addition to bringing your load closer to your core where you can carry it more efficiently, all of these compression straps can be used to lash additional gear to the outside of the pack. This is useful if you carry a bulky sleeping pad or tent.
The Blaze also has two sets of compression straps that run over the top of the main compartment from the front to back and side-to-side. I really like how the sides of the pack extend up and help compress the additional storage space provided in the extension sleeve. It’s a very functional and efficient design that really helps battle the bulge if you need to carry extra food or gear for a long section between resupply stops.
The Blaze suspension system provides much more flexibility for getting a good fit than any other backpack I’ve seen on the market today. It includes a plastic framesheet with separate grooved foam panel that helps keep your back cool and dry perspiration more quickly. You can just see the outline of the air channels (A.C.) in the sweaty back panel above. They actually work.
But what I really like about the suspension system is the framesheet. It’s located in a pocket behind the shoulder straps on the exterior of the pack, making it very easy to remove and adjust. The metal buckles, shown in the picture below, are located at the end of the shoulder straps. To adjust them, you simply slip them out of their holes and move them up or down to the desired torso height. Once the buckles are pulled through the plastic sheet they don’t move and won’t pop out.
Be forewarned though, you may need to pick a size that’s a little different from your actual torso height: I ended up needing a 20 inch setting on the Blaze although my torso length is 18.5 inches. Still, it was great being able to dial in a great fit so easily.
If you have an 17 or 18 inch torso, you might want to try the short and the regular length packs to make sure that you get an optimal torso adjustment. Granite Gear also makes a women’s version of the Blaze called the Blaze AC Ki. There is also a tendency for the foam panel to buckle under the shoulder straps when the regular sized frame is set to less than 20 inches causing a ridge of foam to dig into the top of your back. If you have a short torso try using the shorter pack with a “high” torso length setting to mitigate this issue.
In addition to adjustable torso sizing, the Blaze AC comes with an interchangeable sizes so that chubby middle-aged people like me can wear packs with shorter torso lengths. I have a 38 inch waist, so I got a large-sized hip belt which fits me very well. (See the specifications below for hip belt sizing.) I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that Granite Gear provides different sized hip belts with the Blaze AC and I wish more backpack manufacturers followed their example.
The hip belt and the contoured shoulder pads are moderately padded without going overboard. It’s just not that important for a pack that’s only rated for up to 40 pounds of load. Load lifters, hips belt stabilizers, and an adjustable sternum strap are also included.
I really like the Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 and think it’s an excellent backpack, particularly for hikers who currently carry a backpack that weighs over 4 pounds and want a lighter pack weighing 2 pounds and 14 ounces that does not compromise on capacity or durability. While the external mesh pockets seal the deal for me, the suspension and compression systems are also top flight. This is an excellent example of a lightweight pack from a major backpack manufacturer and I think it will be a hit with multi-day backpackers as well as thru-hikers who need a bomb proof pack that they can count on for the long haul.
- Mammoth external front mesh pocket lets you store wet gear, snacks, and clothing
- Swappable hip belt lets you get the right size regardless of torso length
- Excellent side and top compression system brings the load closer to your core muscles
- Optional top pocket (sold separately)
- Terrible color scheme (brown is a hideous color!)
Features & Specifications:
- Lineloc compression system with 3 tiers of straps on the sides and front of the pack
- Dual top compression straps on the top of the main compartment
- Roll top closure on main compartment
- Large extension collar for additional storage
- Hydration reservoir pocket with hang loop and dual hydration ports
- Heavy duty front and side mesh pockets
- Adjustable torso length
- Swappable hip belt lengths
- Hip stabilizer and load lifter straps
- Internal plastic framesheet and grooved foam pad to enhanced ventilation (Air Current)
- Dual ice axe loops
- Optional top pocket (sold separately)
- Fabrics: 100 denier ripstop nylon and 210 Cordura
- Sizes available
- Regular: Torso 18-21 inches, Capacity 3660 ci/60L, Weight 2 pounds 14 ounces
- Short: Torso 14-18 inches, Capacity 3350 ci/55L, Weight 2 pounds 11 ounces
- Hip belt sizing: Small 26-30 inches, Medium 30-34 inches, Large 34-38 inches, Extra-large 38-42 inches
- Suggested maximum load: 35 pounds
Disclosure: Granite Gear loaned SectionHiker.com a Blaze AC 60 backpack for this review.
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