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Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack Review

Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack
Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack

The Granite Gear Virga 2 is a 54 liter ultralight backpack that is lightweight even by today’s standards. Weighing just 1 pound and 3 ounces (19 ounces) it is truly frameless, without even a foam back pad behind the shoulder straps. Despite its low weight, the Virga 2 is a fully featured Granite Gear backpack with all of the standard amenities that come on their other overnight packs, including large external mesh pockets, an excellent compression system, and a roll top closure, making the Virga 2 a good choice for minimalist backpacking, short trips, or more technical day hiking.

The Granite Gear Virga 2 has a large main comparment surrounds by external mesh pockets that make it easy to store and access items you need during the day,
The Granite Gear Virga 2 has a large main compartment surrounded by external mesh pockets that make it easy to store and access items you need during the day without having to open the main compartment.

Organization and Storage

The layout and setup of the Granite Gear Virga 2 is similar to the other overnight backpacks in the Granite Gear product line with a large main compartment and three external mesh pockets on the sides and front of the backpack. Rated at 54 liters of internal capacity (not counting the external pocket volumes), the Virga 2 is surprisingly high-capacity for a frameless pack with a maximum recommended load limit of 20 pounds. There’s even a long extension collar which will let you add even more gear, beyond 54 liters, if required.

Ultralight backpackers create a virtual frame by rolling up a foam sleeping pad and dropping their gear in the middle.
Ultralight backpackers create a virtual frame by rolling up a foam sleeping pad and dropping their gear in the middle.

Why this much space? Many hikers who carry frameless backpacks create a virtual frame by inserting a rolled up foam pad into the backpack to give it some rigidity and make it easier to carry. These foam pads eat up a lot of interior space, which explains why the volume of the Virga 2 is so oversized for its maximum weight recommendation.

Still, rolling up a foam pad like this is pretty old school since so many backpackers have switched away from foam pads to inflatable ones which require significantly less interior volume to carry. Normally, I just insert a single panel of foam into a frameless pack behind the fabric panel that the shoulder harness is attached to, especially since I use a Therm-a-Rest Xlite sleeping pad and don’t want to carry the extra bulk of a foam sleeping pad.

Large external pockets make it easy to access gear without opening the dry main compartment, which is particularly useful if it's raining.
Virga 2: Large external pockets make it easy to access gear without opening the dry main compartment, which is particularly useful if it’s raining.

In addition to the main compartment, the Virga 2 also has three external mesh pockets that provide storage on the exterior of the pack. The purpose of these pockets is to store everything you need during the day so you don’t have to stop and dig around inside your backpack to get it, especially when it’s raining. It also helps you hike faster and farther because you need to take fewer long stops to unpack and re-pack your gear.

I typically store two one liter bottles in the side pockets when I hike and my wet Sawyer mini water filter, a platypus hydration reservoir, rain jacket, snacks/lunch, my tarp, and a small ditty bag of other essentials in the big pocket. This lets me walk all day, pretty much non-stop,  and even set up camp at night without ever opening the main compartment of my backpack.

Backpack Frame and Suspension

If you plan on hiking with more than 20 pounds of gear, water, and consumables then the Virga 2 is not for you. This pack has no frame at all, which means that most of the load is going to ride on your shoulders and not on the hip belt, since the purpose of a frame is to transfer the weight of a heavier pack to your hips so it can be carried by your stronger muscles.

The Virga 2 has a very thin, and relatively unpadded hip belt and is only designed to carry loads of 20 pounds or less.
The Virga 2 has a very thin, and relatively unpadded hip belt which is only designed to carry loads of 20 pounds or less. The dimpled padding showing through the back panel is not included with the pack and is something I inserted for increased comfort.

In the absence of a frame, the Virga 2 is quite small and unpadded compared to packs with higher load ratings, although the shoulder straps are fairly well padded to let you carry more of the weight on your shoulders. Load lifters are also provided, which is a nice touch on such a lightweight backpack, and one that’s useful for pulling the load closer to your torso.

There is one issue with the Virga 2 torso length sizing that I discovered during testing related to the harness and suspension system. I found that the Virga 2 runs a bit small in a regular size, which is recommended for people with torso lengths from 19-21 inches in length. I have a torso size of 18.5″ and I found the torso length on the regular Virga 2 to be a bit short for me which was a little unexpected. It’s not completely surprising however, since frameless backpacks often suffer from something called torso collapse (because they don’t have a frame) which has the effect of shortening the pack’s effective torso length.

Granite Gear packs have a unique side compression system where the lower side strap can run under a water bottle, inside the pocket.
Granite Gear packs have a unique side compression system where the lower side strap can run under a water bottle, inside the pocket.

Compression System

The Virga 2 has an excellent compression system including two tiers of side compression straps, two front compression straps over the long front mesh pocket, and a roll top closure which provides vertical compression to help scrunch down your load. These compression options are handy if you find yourself carrying heavy but low volume gear because they helpbring the load as close to your core as possible, making it easier to carry. Load lifters augment this capability on the Virga 2, particularly if you need to pull a high volme, “puffy” load closer toyour back.

All of Granite Gears packs, including the Virga 2, let you thread the lower side compression strap under a water bottle in the side pocket, making it possible to have compression around the base of the pack even if you have something in the pocket like a water bottle. This is also an excellent design element and really useful for compressing the base of the pack where you probably store your sleeping bag or quilt.

The Grante Gear Virga 2 is made using high tenacity Cordura fabric for better durability.
The Grante Gear Virga 2 is made using high tenacity Cordura fabric for better durability.

Recommendation

The Granite Gear Virga 2 is a excellent frameless backpack for ultralight minimalist backpackers who need to carry 20 pounds of gear and supplies or less. Weighing just 1 pounds and 3 ounces (19 ounces) the Virga 2 has a suprisingly high volume (54 liters) and still comes with many features that you’d only expect on heavier backpacks such as a fully functional compression system, large extension collar, and load lifters. While you can certainly find lighter weight ultralight backpacks than the Virga 2, there are very few as durable and inexpensive in this price range ($139, retail), making it an excellent value for the money.

Likes

  • Ultralight
  • Excellent side compression lightweight
  • Three external mesh pockets
  • Cushy shoulder straps

Dislikes

  • Torso length runs small
  • No place to hang external camera pocket off shoulder straps
  • Mesh pockets are susceptible to tearing off-trail

Manufacturer Specs/Features

  • Fixed padded hip belt
  • 10 mm webbing straps to save weight
  • Ice axe and tool loops
  • Hydration port
  • Internal hydration reservoir hanger
  • External stretch mesh pockets
  • Rolltop closure
  • Extension collar
  • Frameless suspension
  • Fabrics: Cordura, Nylon 100D and 210D
  • Internal covered volume: 54 liters
  • Gender: unisex
  • Weight: 1 pound 3 ounces (19 ounces)
  • Sizing:
    • Short: Fits torsos 15-18 inches
    • Regular: Fits torsos 18-21 inches
    • Long: Fist torsos 21-24 inches

Disclaimer: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a sample Virga 2 backpack from Granite Gear for this review.

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11 comments

  1. I’m a longtime user of the original Virga and am pleased to see the new version reviewed here! I concur with Phillip’s conclusions save one.

    About the compression system … I’d like better. Completely frameless packs carry best when packed full and tight. I find my Virga carries better early in a trip when consumables (mainly food) fill all available space than it does on the last day when the food is gone but weight in the pack is less.

    If I could have my druthers I’d have three or four sets of compression straps so that it’d maintain a tight tube shape that stands better on its own.

    And while I’m indulging in druthers I wouldn’t mind seeing a Virga.75 … with a 40 liter main compartment for folks who’ve migrated to lower volume kits.

    • Granite Gear has a Virga 26L in the pipeline, but that’s more of a daypack size.

    • Jim have you tried leaving your sleeping bag unstuffed in the pack? I find it expands to take up the extra space and works great when you eat your pack empty.

      • >Jim have you tried leaving your sleeping bag unstuffed in the pack?

        Well … no, but yes.

        I pack my quilt in an oversized stuff sack … smaller than a storage sack but about 3x the volume of a reasonable stuff sack. That helps some but the quilt is too compressible to support a frameless pack as much as I’d like.

      • True but as you eat your pack lighter there’s less need for support!

  2. How would you compare this to the Mountainsmith Haze 50?

    • I prefer it over the Haze 50 because it has external mesh pockets, but it depends on the conditions you hike in and what you want in a pack. For example, I wouldn’t take the Virga 2 off trail because the mesh pockets will rip like butter.

  3. There’s something about this pack that makes me want it (I guess I am a sucker for stretch mesh), but I am having a hard time making a case for it. Even with light gear, it seems like 54 liters is too much for that belt. If I really needed that much space I think I would pay the pound penalty and just use my VC 60. Maybe with superlight gear you can fill that with a bunch of food and still be under 20 pounds?

    • I think you’re exactly right. The VC 60 has a beefier belt and can carry heavier loads. Otherwise, it’s nearly an identifcal pack. The only real difference is that the VC has a repleaceable belt size-wize which would be useful if you have a very large waist.

  4. This is becoming my go-to pack. The minimal approach somehow pleases me, and since the rest of my gear is only about 13 pounds (including two days’ food, fuel, and a liter of water) I can also use it for longer trips and colder weather without going over the twenty pound limit. By the way, I find that limit very accurate – at twenty-one pounds, I find it noticeably uncomfortable.

    One thing I like is storing it. I use a one-person tent (MSR Carbon Reflex tent, which I truly love), so space is at a premium – storing a framed pack is problematic, but the empty Virga just rolls up and stows in a corner of the tent (or gets used as a pillow.)

    My approach to a frame is masterful rationalization (after compound interest, rationalization is mankind’s greatest invention.) I also use an X-Lite NeoAir, but I use it as part of my frame. The other part is a Thermarest Compack chair kit. I insert the deflated pad into the chair (valve at the head end), fold the excess into the body of the chair, then fold the chair in half. Next, I roll each side stay in toward the center, to make the folded kit roughly the width of the back panel of the pack. I slip this “frame” along the back panel of the pad (conveniently made from red material), then stuff my sleeping pad (no stuff sack) into the bottom of the pack, locking my “frame” into place. (Be sure to put the stays toward the inside of the pack, so they don’t jab into your back.) I pack up the rest of my gear, tighten the compression webbing, and then the magic happens: I blow a few breaths into the pad, just enough to stiffen the pad and lock the load firmly into place. Voila! you now have a frame with stays – which justifies carrying a chair kit for lounging guilt-free in comfort in camp.

  5. I love this pack. I even carry a bear can and am still under 20lbs. Haven’t found anything better!

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