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Granite Gear Backpacks: How to Choose

Granite Gear Backpack Guide

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.

If you’re not familiar with the Granite Gear product line, here is the advice I give friends who are trying to decide between their packs.

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

Granite Gear Crown2 Backpack

The Granite Gear Crown 2 Backpack is a roll-top, multi-day backpack with an optional top lid pocket. It comes with large zippered hip belt pockets, an optional top lid, and an adjustable-length hip belt which makes it nearly perfect for overnight and multi-day backpacking in a wide range of locales and conditions.

  • Weight: 36.7 ounces /1140 g – pack (total), 2.6 ounces / 74 g – removable/optional top lid
  • Volume: 60 Liters
  • Frame: adjustable hip belt length
  • Gender: Mens and Women’s
  • Max recommended load: 30-35 pounds
  • Price: $199

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 don’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 gives the pack stiffness and helps 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.

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

Blaze 60 Backpack (60L) – Men’s and Women’s

Granite Gear Blaze 60 Backpack

The Granite Gear Blaze Backpack is a 60-liter pack that’s available in men’s and women’s models. Weighing 48 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.

  • Weight: 48 ounces (total), 2.8 oz optional top lid
  • Volume: 60 liters
  • Frame: Adjustable torso length
  • Hipbelt: Adjustable hip belt length
  • Gender: Men’s and Women’s
  • Max Recommended Load: 50 pounds
  • Price: $270

With 60 liters of carrying capacity, the Blaze 60 can over 50 pounds of gear, food, and water. The storage system is a 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 Blaze’s “Air Current” back pad is a grooved foam pad that covers the framesheet to help ventilate perspiration and keep you cool and dry. It covers 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.

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

Virga 2 Backpack (54L) – unisex

Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack

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.

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

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.

See Also: SectionHiker Review of the Granite Gear Virga 2 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 measurement, 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 chance 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.

Replaceable Shoulder Straps

Several of the Granite Packs listed above come with the option to replace the 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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One comment

  1. I used a Granite Gear Crown 2 on my 2018 AT thru hike. I was in Pennsylvania and I noticed a hole in the fabric near a shoulder strap. Not sure whether I somehow poked it or it wore out. Concerned the strap could tear out leaving me in a difficult carrying situation, I called Granite Gear customer support. They responded, ‘where will you be in 3 days?’. They expressed shipped me a new pack Gratis! Love their customer service. I also love the pack which I have continued to use for many hikes in the White Mountains. I think the sweet spot is 25 pounds. For me around 30 pounds or beyond would cause some shoulder pain. I got it up to 35 pounds on a few occasions and was not happy.

    This year my PCT thru hike attempt was unfortunately cut short due to the Covid epidemic. During my PCT planning, I knew there were long carries that would necessitate extra food and water; I wanted a pack rated for higher weights. With my great Granite Gear experience, I picked the Blaze. During my time on the PCT this year it was always comfortable regardless of my pack weight. The adjustable frame created a perfect fit for me. I love both packs. I do prefer the roll top of the Crown 2 vs. the draw string closure of the Blaze. The Blaze also has the side zip to be able to dig deep into your pack without unpacking, but that’s pointless for me as I use a waterproof bag liner. Both packs are a great choice depending on your carry weight.

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