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Granite Gear Backpacks: How to Choose

Granite Gear Backpacks - How to Choose

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 Trail. I really like Granite Gear’s packs because I think they strike an excellent balance between weight and function, many have adjustable length frames and hip belts, 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.

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.

Granite Gear Crown2 Backpack
Granite Gear Crown2 Backpack

Crown 2 Backpack (60L) Men’s and Women’s Models

The Granite Gear Crown 2 Backpack is a roll-top, multi-day backpack with an optional top lid pocket. An upgrade to the first generation V.C. Crown 60 backpack (see below), this new model includes large zippered hip belt pockets, an optional top lid, and adjustable-length hip belt. These are all improvements on the previous V.C. Crown 60 and make the Crown 2 nearly perfect for overnight and multi-day backpacking in a wide range of locales and conditions. The V.C. Crown 60 is still a great pack, but I expect it will go on clearance soon to make way for the Crown 2 upgrade.

Available in both a men’s and women’s version, the Crown 2 is laid out like other ultralight backpacks with a long rear mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, and a roll top closure. The two side water bottle pockets are long enough to store tall water bottles or for carrying long thin objects like tent poles. The rear stretch mesh pocket is long enough to swallow a rolled up tent and ideal for drying wet gear or stuffing jackets so you do’t have to stop and open up your backpack every time you take off or put on a layer. The Crown 2 also has large sewn-on hip belt pockets, a huge improvement over previous generations of Granite Gear packs which required the purchase of clunky add-on pockets. Both pockets have hard-face fabric fronts and are large enough to store a chunky camera or your smartphone, plus an external battery.

While the Crown 2 is a roll-top backpack, it comes with an optional top lid, that has a top zippered pocket that you can use if necessary. A bear canister can be secured under the top lid, a nice convenience if you need as much internal pack volume as possible for other gear. Two tiers of wrap-around compression straps on the sides and over the back mesh pocket also provide a multitude of attachment points.

The Crown 2 has a two-component frame. There’s a pliable plastic framesheet (optionally removable) and a ventilated foam panel that give the pack stiffness and help transfer load to your hips. The adjustable hip belt is a breeze to shorten or length to fit your measurements and does not slip when the pack is loaded up.

  • Weight: 37 ounces /1150 g – pack (total), 2.6 ounces / 74 g – removable/optional top lid
  • Volume: 60 Liters
  • Frame: adjustable hip belt length
  • Fit: Mens and Women’s (note: Granite Gear dropped the “Ki” suffix on this backpack’s name)
  • Max recommended load: 30-35 pounds
  • Price: $199

Likes:

  • Adjustable hip belt length
  • Zippered pockets on hip belt
  • Optional top lid with roll-top main compartment
  • Fit a large bear canister under optional top lid pocket

Dislikes:

  • Plethora of external straps
  • Water bottles can be difficult to put into side pockets when the main compartment is packed very full.

See Also: SectionHiker Review of the Crown 2 60L Backpack

Granite Gear Lutsen 55 Backpack
Granite Gear Lutsen 55 Backpack

Lutsen 55L Backpack – unisex

The Granite Gear Lutsen 55 backpack features an adjustable hip belt, hip belt pockets, and an adjustable frame, so you can dial in a custom fit that matches your hip size and torso length, the two most important variables in getting yourself a well-fitting and comfortable backpack. While backpacks with adjustable torso lengths have been around for a long time, adjustable hip belts are a rarity. Most backpack manufacturers sew fixed length hip belts on the packs they manufacture or force you to buy replacement belts if you need one that is shorter or longer than the one that comes with the pack.

The Lutsen 55L is an alpine style backpack with a top floating lid than can be used to sandwich gear between the lid and the top of the main compartment. The top lid is optional, however, and can be completely removed since the main compartment closes with a roll top closure, like many of Granite Gear’s existing packs. Numerous mesh pockets made it easy to keep gear you need handy or stuff it away. The compression and external attachment system is excellent, a characteristic of Granite Gear packs, but the Lutsen 55 is somewhat cluttered with a lot of straps.

The frame and hip belt are easy to adjust without tools or elbow grease. The frame is also ventilated although the extra padding and bottom lumbar pad can feel a bit firm.

  • Weight: 50 ounces
  • Volume: 55 Liters
  • Frame: adjustable torso length and adjustable hip belt length
  • Fit: Unisex
  • Max recommended load: 40 pounds
  • Price: $220

Likes:

  • Built-in hip belt pockets
  • Adjustable hip belt is marked in inches corresponding to US pants waist sizes and very easy to fit
  • Easy to adjust torso length  that does not require special tools or elbow grease
  • Wide rear mesh pocket is easy to get gear in and out of

Dislikes:

  • Lumbar pad on the Lutsen 55 frame is uncomfortably hard
  • Large air gap in frame padding shifts pack’s center of gravity backwards
  • Pack is cluttered with external webbing straps
  • Difficult to keep top pocket over load when pack is less than full

Don’t need 55 Liters of volume? The Lutsen is also available in a 45L size good for overnight trips and 35L size for minimalist backpacks and day hiking.

See Also: SectionHiker Review of the Lutsen 55 Backpack

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

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

Likes:

  • 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)

Dislikes:

  • 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

Likes:

  • 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

Dislikes:

  • 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

Likes:

  • 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

Dislikes:

  • 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

Likes:

  • 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

Dislikes:

  • 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

Likes:

  • 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

Dislikes:

  • 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

Many of the older model 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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14 comments

  1. Philip thanks for this, it is very timely once again. I was all set on an original Crown after reading your reviews, but was put off by the lack of hip-belt pockets, and shortly thereafter the Crown2 was announced, so I decided to wait on it instead. In the interim I purchased a SMD Fusion on closeout, which is functional but overall I am not happy with it.

    Just a quick nitpick: The HipBelt Pockets section above says “The Granite Gear backpacks listed here don’t have factory-supplied hip belt pockets..”, but in fact the Crown2 does, doesn’t it? Since you list that as a Like about the pack.

    Your site has provided me with excellent information and I consider it a must-read for folks new to backpacking or old-timers easing back into things like myself. I’m happy to support your work and recommend you to anyone. Thanks for all that you do!

    Brian

  2. Philip how is the material the crown 2 is made of I read that’s how they managed to keep the weight down to compare with the crown 60? I’m looking at it just for trail use.

  3. Philip I agree, I have the 60 and love it but the 2 has everything that I was missing.

  4. Thanks for the great overview of the Granite Gear pack lineup. The majority of my trips in the Sierras require a bear canister. If you have to carry a bear canister (BV 500), which pack would you recommend? You mentioned it can be strapped on above the new Crown 2. Any other packs that could be considered bear canister compatible? Thanks!

    • You can almost always stick a bear canister inside a 50-60 liter backpack, but at the loss of a lot of capacity. I don’t have a BV500, but as you can see my Garcia fits nicely under the Crown 2 top lid and it’s pretty large. Chances are all the other GG packs with a top lid do the same, but if you call GG support they can tell you for sure. Phone: 218-834-6157 x 2

  5. I have used three GG packs, and currently own two. I owned a Virga a number of years ago and it was an excellent pack for 20# and lower loads. I currently have the original VC Crown with the optional inflatable frame sheet which I use in place the heavier plastic frame sheet. I’ve successfully used the VC Crown with 30-35 pound loads but find it more comfortable under 25 pounds. I also own the Nimbus Trace which I think is an outstanding pack for carrying heavier loads. I agree that it would be nice if it had sewn on waist belt pockets but it works fine with the optional pockets and that way you can customize it however you like. The maple frame works well, and once everything is adjusted as per the instructions (which I found were complete and reasonably easy), the whole pack carries exceptionally well up to 40 pounds. It is certainly capable of carrying heavier loads but the waist belt is not as comfortable as some competitors. However, the Nimbus is lighter than it’s competitors, so there is a definite trade-off.

    All in all, I have been very satisfied with Granite Gear packs. I think the updated VC Crown definitely addresses some of the issues with the original version.

    • Thanks for breaking down the G.G. lineup, Philip. I own the Leopard V.C. 46, purchased for a wintertime trip to the Whites. It does have a lot of straps that can be confusing on the first few uses, but it provides a bunch of lashing and configuration options too. I do wish that it had the ability to carry water bottles “holster style” for easier access on the move, but then I feel that way about most packs. I would definitely consider buying another Granite Gear pack in the future. Plus, their kinda funky color options make them stand out from usual schemes offered by most manufacturers.

  6. I must be the only person who misses the Vapor Trail hipbelt. The rigidity and padding were just right, and the accessory setup meant I could do a zippered pouch on one side and a Mountainsmith Cubik on the other for my camera.

    The VC60 made the hipbelt less rigid, and now the Crown2 has switched to sewn-on pockets.

  7. Thanks for this comparison and your recent review of the VC Crown2. After hundreds of miles on the JMT and AT, my Blaze is showing some wear, and I think the Crown2 may be my next pack. Unfortunately, there are no outfitters who stock this pack within hundreds of miles so I’ll be ordering online. What’s the difference between the Women’s and Unisex versions of this pack? Is it simply the size of the adjustable hip belt or are the shoulder straps different as well? The Granite Gear website pictures of the back sides of both versions are identical.

    If a Bearikade Weekender will fit under the lid, the short (55L) pack might be a better choice. All my gear and the bear canister fits inside the Blaze (60L), but it’s a full pack.

    • I’m pretty sure the difference are the torso lengths and the women’s specific hip belt. I have to warn you though, Granite Gear has already sold out of the women’s version until Sept 2017 if you try to buy it from them directly. I suggest you grab one from a retailer like REI as soon as you can before they sell out.

      • Missed your reply until just now. Granite Gear said “The women’s Crown 2 shoulder straps are more of an S shape and the women’s belt has a slight curve on the ends to accommodate the hips better. The bear canister we recommend be put under the lid on top of the pack.” And I did order a pack from REI as soon as the 20% discount was available on March 24. Can’t wait to try the Crown 2 out when it arrives this week.

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