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Which Granite Gear Backpack is Right for You?

Granite Gear backpacks are popular packs for long distance backpacking in the United States and are a common sight on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trails. I really like Granite Gear’s packs because I think they strike an excellent balance between weight and function, many have adjustable frames, and because they’re quite affordable, which is a rare quality these days if you’re looking for a durable and lightweight backpack. Granite Gear is also one of the few backpack makers that make comfortable lighter weight backpacks designed for thru-hikers that you can try on in stores like REI, EMS, or other regional outfitters.

Granite Gear A.C Blaze 60 Backpack
Granite Gear A.C Blaze 60 Backpack

However if you’ve not familiar with the Granite Gear product line, it can be challenging to figure out which Granite Gear backpack is right for you. Here is the advice I give friends who are trying to decide between these packs, so you can choose the right Granite Gear backpack for your needs.

A.C. Blaze Backpack (60L) – Men’s and Women’s (Ki)

The A.C. Blaze Backpack is a 60 liter pack that’s available in men’s and women’s models. Weighing 46 ounces, this is the backpack that I recommend for hikers who are just starting to lighten their gear and want a pack that weighs less than 3 pounds, but not at the expense of comfort, convenience, and durability. The Blaze also has an adjustable frame so you can resize the torso length to fit your body size, which is the most important variable in getting a well-fitting and comfortable pack.

With 60 liters of carrying capacity, the Blaze AC can carry up to 40 pounds of gear, food, and water. The storage system is 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. Multiple tiers of compression on the sides, back of the pack, and the top (which are signature features unique to Granite Gear packs), make it possible to lash more gear to the outside of the pack or shrink its size when you need less capacity.

The A.C. in the Blaze’s name stands for “Air Current”, which is a grooved foam pad that covers the framesheet to help ventilate perspiration and keep you cool and dry. It cover an adjustable plastic framesheet that can be resized without requiring any elbow grease or special tools to adjust. The hip belt and the contoured shoulder pads are moderately padded without going overboard, and load lifters, hips belt stabilizers, and an adjustable sternum strap are also included.

  • Weight: 46 ounces
  • Volume: 60 liters
  • Frame: Adjustable torso length
  • Max Recommended Load: 40 pounds
  • Price: $239.95


  • Men’s and women’s versions available
  • Adjustable frame/torso length so you can get a perfect fit
  • 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)


  • Brown color is not very attractive
  • No hip belt pockets

See Also: SectionHiker Review of the Granite Gear A.C. Blaze 60L Backpack

Granite Gear V.C. Crown 60 Backpack
Granite Gear V.C. Crown 60 Backpack

V.C. Crown Backpack (60L) – Men’s and Women’s (Ki)

The V.C. Crown Backpack is a 60 liter pack that’s also available in men’s and women’s models. It’s a lightweight backpack weighing 34 ounces in a size regular and qualifies in my book as one of the top 5 ultralight backpacks for long distance backpacking. Designed by Granite Gear co-founder Dan Cruikshank (with feeback and design suggestions from Justin Lichter, a record-setting thru hiker who hiked the triple crown (10,000 miles) in one calendar year and completed the first ever thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in winter), this pack can carry up to 30 pounds of gear, food, and water.

While it’s similar in appearance to the A.C. Blaze 60 Backpack, the V.C Crown has two tiers of compression straps instead of three, the torso length cannot be adjusted, and it has a less rigid frame sheet, which can removed to bring the pack weight down to 29 ounces for those who don’t need to carry as much weight.

The V.C. in the Crown’s name stands for “Vapor Current” which is a foam back panel with air channels carved into it to keep your shirt dry (sort of). In addition, the Crown has load lifters an adjustable stern strap, anatomically pre-curved shoulder straps, and a lightly padded hip belt.

  • Weight: 34 ounces
  • Volume: 60 liters
  • Frame: Fixed torso lengths
  • Max Recommended Load: 30 pounds
  • Price: $199.95


  • Men’s and women’s versions available
  • External mesh pockets let you stow food and gear for easy access
  • Removable framesheet lets reduce pack weight when carrying lighter loads
  • Cordura fabrics provides excellent balance between durability and weight


  • No hip belt pockets

See Also: Section Hiker Review of the V.C. Crown 60L Backpack

Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack
Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack

Virga 2 Backpack (54L) – unisex

The Granite Gear Virga 2 is a frameless 54L backpack and the lightest weight overnight backpack that Granite Gear makes, weighing just 19 ounces in a size regular. Despite having a high-capacity, the Virga 2 can only carry 20 pounds of gear, water, and food comfortably because it has a minimalist hip belt and very thin shoulder straps. The volume is large because ultralight backpackers create a virtual frame for it by rolling a solid foam sleeping pad like a Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest and inserting it into the pack to create a gear silo that gives the pack more structure. These foams pads are bulky which is why the Virga 2 has so much space inside.

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. Load lifters are also included but these have limited effectiveness on a frameless pack.

While the Virga 2 is very lightweight, it also can be trickier to fit than Granite Gear’s other packs because it has a fixed torso length and a non-replaceable, minimal hip belt. It’s also going to be a bit less durable than Granite Gear’s other packs so you’re going to have to treat it gently. Still at 19 ounces, the Virga 2 is a highly functional and affordable ultralight pack that carries beautifully if you can get a good fit.

  • Weight: 19 ounces
  • Volume: 54 liters
  • Frame: Frameless
  • Max Recommended Load: 25 pounds
  • Price: $139.95


  • Inexpensive when compared to other ultralight backpacks with comparable capacity
  • Very lightweight
  • Three available torso sizes: 15-18 inches | 18-21 inches | 21-24 inches
  • Three external mesh pockets with a roll top closure
  • Standard 360 degree compression system found on Granite Gear packs


  • No place to hang external camera pocket off shoulder straps
  • No hip belt pockets
  • Not as durable as Granite Gear’s heavier duty packs

See Also: SectionHiker Review of the Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack

GG Nimbus Trace Access Backpack
GG Nimbus Trace Access Backpack

Nimbus Trace Access Backpack (60L, 70L, or 85L) Men’s and Women’s (Ki)

The Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access Backpack is a high-capacity pack that can be used for long trips and expedition style travel. Available in men’s and women’s versions, the Nimbus Trace Access Backpack comes in three different volumes 60L, 70L, and 85L, ranging from 4 pounds 3 ounces to 4 pounds 6 ounces in weight. While none of these are lightweight packs, they’re still on the lightweight end of the spectrum when compared to other expedition sized backpacks with a similar amount of capacity.

Size-wise the 60L Nimbus Trace Access is a good size for weekend backpacking trips, while the 70L and 85L sizes are intended for longer trips or ones where you need to carry extra more food, technical gear and warm clothing. An 85 liter backpack is a very large pack, so don’t go overboard unless you really need the extra space.

Designed for carrying heavy loads, the Nimbus Trace Access packs have an innovative maple wood frame that’s lightweight but very stiff, which is important for transferring heavier loads to your hips to make the pack easier to carry. It’s adjustable for different torso lengths, which is a must-have for expedition-class sized backpacks to ensure optimal comfort and carrying efficiency.

The Nimbus Trace Access Packs also have panel access so you can get at gear deeply buried in your pack without having to empty it and pack it again. This is good for travel as well as expedition trips. But all of these convenience features and volume add up in terms of weight, making the Nimbus Trace Access packs the heaviest ones in the Granite Gear product line.

  • Weight: 67 ounces – 70 ounces
  • Volume: Available in 60L | 70L | 85L sizes
  • Frame: Adjustable torso length
  • Max Recommended Load: 50 pounds
  • Price: $349.95


  • Floating lid and huge extension collar provide higher capacity than stated pack volume
  • Maple frame is aesthetically pleasing
  • Adjustable frame lets you change torso length and chest width (very high-end)
  • Backpanel ribbing provides excellent back ventilation
  • Standard 360 degree compression system found on Granite Gear packs


  • Awful lot of straps on this pack which can be awkward
  • No hip belt pockets
  • Adjustable frame is awkward to adjust

See Also: SectionHiker Review of the Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access Backpack

Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58L Backpack
Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58L Backpack

Leopard A.C. Backpack (58L) Men’s and Women’s (Ki)

The Leopard A.C. Backpack is Granite Gear’s winter and mountaineering backpack and includes a few extra features like a shovel pocket, crampon holder, and hip belt gear loops for hauling winter gear. While winter backpacking and mountaineering are close cousins to three season backpacking, the gear you need to carry has sharp points and can really rip up a regular backpack if it’s not designed to carry it.

Built using the Air Current frame, the Leopard A.C. 58L has the same adjustable frame as the A.C. Blaze 60 backpack described above, including the standard compression and external attachment system found on other Granite Gear packs. The Leopard has some additional closed storage including a top lid which is very handy in winter for storing gloves, hats, and navigation aids and a rear softshell pocket for items that you want to keep covered and dry.

  • Weight: 49 ounces
  • Volume: 58L
  • Frame: Adjustable torso length
  • Max Recommended Load: 40 pounds
  • Price: $249.95


  • Good external attachment system for strapping technical gear on the outside of the pack
  • Shovel pocket, crampon holder, and hip belt gear loops for carrying winter specific gear
  • Rigid, adjustable frame provides good support for heavier loads


  • Awful lot of straps on this pack which can be awkward
  • Ice axe keeper straps are a bit low
  • Rear compression straps don’t reverse for carrying snowshoes

Need less capacity? Try the Leopard V.C 46 backpack which uses the non-adjustable Vapor Current frame but is essentially the same pack.

See Also: SectionHiker Review of the Granite Gear Leopard A.C. Backpack

Front Shovel Pocket
Front Shovel Pocket on the Leopard A.C. 58L Backpack

More Information for First Time Buyers

Backpack Volume

When measuring backpack volume, companies like Granite Gear, Gregory, and Osprey only measure the volume of the closed storage on a pack and don’t include the volume of external mesh pockets, pockets without lids, or the added volume of an extension collar in their volume specifications. (This is the industry standard approach to volume meansurement, although it’s not used by most cottage backpack manufacturers.) This is important to know when sizing a Granite Gear Backpack because there’s an excellent change that it will hold a lot more gear than you expect, inside, or strapped to the outside using external compression straps.

Granite Gear backpacks are also laid out in an ultralight style with lots of external mesh pockets. The assumption is that you will be storing most of your day time gear, water, and food in the open, external pockets so you don’t have to stop and dig around in your pack to find them. This packing technique lets you hike farther and faster each day, which is why these packs are favored by long distance thru-hikers.

Hip Belt Pockets

The Granite Gear backpacks listed here don’t have factory-supplied hip belt pockets, although the outside of their hip belts is covered with webbing making them easy to attach. While Granite Gear sells accessory hip belt pockets, shoulder strap pockets, climbing gear loops and crampon holders, you can also attach third party accessories to their packs just as easily.

Replaceable Hip Belts and Shoulder Straps

Several of the Granite Packs listed above come with the option to replace the hip belt or shoulder straps for different sized individuals. When ordering these accessories, I’d advise you to purchase them from Granite Gear directly since they’re often not stocked by retailers or because retailers often mix up the models and will send you the wrong product.

Disclosure: Philip Werner has been reviewing Granite Gear backpacks for several years and has received free sample gear from the company in the past (in addition to purchasing Granite Gear products out of his own pocket). He was under no obligation to write this article and the views it contains are entirely his own. 

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  1. I have a GG Nimbus Trace I purchased in early fall 2014. Wish I hadn’t.
    First its a Heavy pack. Secondly the volume measurement Tha came with mine _included_ the external pockets (the opposite of your text). Finally I never felt like I had and could keep the waist belt fitted. It slipped. I tried the Large waistbelt, too small, and switched to the XL, too large. Lots of confusing strapping? Oh yes!
    I’m aiming to replace it with a Z Packs in the Spring.

    • I think they should color code the straps. The ones I mix up are the top lid straps and the rear compression ones.

      Where did you come by your volume Intel? I know the pack designer and that’s not the info I was given.

  2. I have the VC bag (which is one of the best bags I have owned). The only thing I would add is that the optional lid is not really worth the money- unless you hike with a very full bag. It tends to flop around and is hard to get it tight without a full load. That said, there is really no reason for the lid as the bag has plenty of room for most 3-5 day hikes (at least for me using a fairly capable ultralight kit).

  3. I have the Blaze AC60 and I love it. I like the green and brown color, and the hipbelts have gear loops that I use to attach pockets and water bottle holders. It’s perfect for me!

  4. I have owned the VC Crown 60 for several years. After using it the first year, I purchased the optional Vapor Current Airbeam frame which works better for me than the standard framesheet although it does reduce the internal volume of the pack a little. GG says with the airbeam frame the pack can handle 40 pounds; not on my back. Properly packed, it is more comfortable in the 25-30 pound range. I have added pockets though I prefer factory installed pockets. For lightweight backpacking, I agree that the GG packs are a good value.

    • I also got an AirBeam, and don’t have enough experience with it to offer an opinion. However, one thing I’m going to experiment with is using the pack with the AirBeam under my lower legs with a 48″ Prolite pad from my knee to shoulders. That solves a real problem in a tight solo tent: where do you store the pack? With a full-length pad, it has to go in the vestibule; with a short pad, it stores conveniently under your legs.

      I’m a little dubious about the ability of the AirBean to stay bicycle-tire rigid over the course of a multi-day trip – it seems logical that, like sleeping pads, it will lose a bit of pressure over time. But, like I said, I really haven’t given it a fair test yet. Do you have any experience with that? If it does lose a tiny bit of stiffness, does that affect the carry? (I suppose the solution is to carry the little inflator bulb along, and add air as needed – that just seems a bit on the PITA side. But I may be a bit too picky…)

  5. As to the volume. I measured mine.
    The only way it made sence was to calculate the volume of the main bag, alowing for the taper both L/R and Top/Bottom and then add volume of the external pockets.
    And when I loaded the main bag, as the external pockets are not “limpets” they are inset, the bulging contents of the main bag made the contents of the externals more difficult to get to

  6. Great overall view of all of Granite Gear’s backpacks! I own a Blaze A.C.60 (short, so 55 liters) and love it. The only changes I have made has been to replace the LineLoc compression cords on the front with 5/8″ nylon tape straps, and to add two Equinox UL hipbelt pockets to the hipbelt. The pockets required a change in the orientation of the straps, very simple though by just opening up one seam and reversing the Velcro®. It carries 30+ weight very comfortable, in fact it is the most comfortable backpack I have owned in over 50 years of backpacking.

  7. I go way back with GG packs, having used the original Vapor Trail when it first came out; I also tried the original Virga, and liked it except for the lack of a padded hipbelt. I also used a Nimbus Ozone before realizing that I didn’t want to carry that much weight.

    I then was seduced for a couple of seasons by a series of Osprey and Deuter packs – good packs, but no happy dance. Mostly, I tried them because my local outfitter no longer stocked GG.

    This spring, I discovered he could special order GG packs (D-OH!), and took another look at GG. I ended up getting a Virga 2 and a Crown VC, and am alternating them on trips to try to figure out which will be my go-to pack. Right now, the Virga is winning by a scant margin – I think because its pure minimalism pleases me. I fold a chair kit and Neoair pad into a framesheet, rather than using the roll-up configuration Phil mentions. After packing my other gear, I lightly inflate the Neoair, which really locks everything into a solid load. Best of all, I have a guilt-free chair in camp: “I had to bring it, since it’s part of the pack’s suspension.” Storing the pack is no problem in my Carbon Reflex tent (minimal room): when it’s empty, just roll it up and tuck it in a corner at my feet.

    The Crown VC, however, is an equally nice pack. Leaving the chair kit behind (sob) means I’ve got a load that’s within a pound of the fully-loaded Virga, and I’ve got additional capacity if I need to load up on water to make a dry camp, or if I’m carrying additional food for a longer trip, or clothes for winter.

    It’s the load that makes these two packs work. For a weekend, in the Virga, I carry about 13 pounds of gear, food, and a liter of water, for a total weight of 14 pounds. That leaves me 6 pounds of additional capacity for more food, clothing, or water. However, two quarts of water (my extra overnight ration for a dry camp) eats up 4 of those pounds, so the decision between the two may be the extra 5-pound capacity of the Crown. We’ll see.

    Thanks, Phil, for an excellent review.

    • Just discovered something about the Crown: there’s enough room in the zippered pocket to put the chair kit/NeoAir into it, to replace the framesheet that comes with it (or leave the framesheet in for a bit of extra stiffening.) After that, same deal: inflate lightly, good suspension, guilt-free chair. By the way, the chair kit only weighs an ounce more than the freamesheet, which means no weight penalty to bring the chair.

  8. Use and love the VC Crown after generally good experience with the original Vapor Trail (and GG when a seam failed.) I keep my pack weight low and usually leave the hip belt at home. This not only cuts something from the pack’s ounce count, it makes walking more enjoyable–for me at least. Yeah, I probably do groan more often after a resupply but that’s true hip belt or not. I bring a light fanny pack for wallet, camera, emergency supplies and don’t miss a detachable lid. Thank you for the excellent rundown.

  9. I own and love the Crown 60. What makes it the best pack I’ve owned is the compression system. It easily allows me to lash additional gear to the outside of the pack. Love it.

  10. Hi Phil –

    Can’t say any site is more helpful than yours. Which of these GG packs is best suited for winter backpacking in the Adirondacks? I know spring is here but I want to make a decision on a pack while snow is still on my mind. I’ll need to tether on snowshoes and maybe a shovel. I like having big mesh front and side pockets and am leaning toward either the Crown or Lutsen 55.

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