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Granite Gear Crown2 38 Backpack Review

Granite Gear Crown2 38L Backpack Review

Granite Gear Crown2 38L Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Excellent Ultralight Backpack

The Granite Gear Crown2 38L is ideal for thru-hiking, weekend backpacking trips, and technical day hikes. Ultralight and highly configurable, it has an adjustable length hip belt so you get a perfect fit.

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The Granite Gear Crown2 38L backpack is a lower volume version of its popular big brother, the Crown2 60L backpack.  It’s a highly configurable ultralight backpack that has an adjustable-size hip belt so you can get a perfect, customized fit, with an optional top lid and framesheet that can be removed to reduce its weight. Fully configured the 38L weighs 38.6 oz, but strips down to 29.5 oz with just the hip-belt. This is the configuration I prefer to use the pack in, but it’s nice to have the added functionality of a top lid pocket and the framesheet available for heavier loads.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight:
    • Pack (including all optional components): 38.5 oz
    • Optional frame sheet: 6.1
    • Optional top lid: 2.9 oz
    • Optional hip-belt: 6.2 oz
  • Volume: 38L
  • Gender: Men’s
  • Torso Size: 18″ – 21″ / 46 cm – 54 cm
  • Hip Belt Size : 28″-40″ (adjustable-length)
  • Max Recommended load:
    • With framesheet: 30-35 lbs
    • Without framesheet: 20-25 lbs
  • Material: ROBIC high-tenacity nylon (100/210-denier)
  • Bear Canister: Can fit a Garcia, vertically.
  • Best used: On-trail

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Crown2 38L is laid out like an ultralight backpack with side water bottle pockets and a front mesh pocket. The main pack back is cavernous and closes with a roll top, while the hip belt has two large solid zippered pockets. The top lid is floating and connected to the pack with removable straps, while the hip belt has two large hard-faced and zippered pockets.

True backpack volume

Before we dive into the details, it’s important to understand how Granite Gear measures their backpack volumes and how they compare to the volumes reported by other brands. Granite Gear doesn’t include any open pockets in their capacity specs and they don’t include the volume of the extension collar of the main pack bag, which is the extra fabric “tube” that extends past the top of the shoulder straps. The extension collar on the 38L provides an additional 5L of volume, not counting the open front mesh and side water bottle pockets, bringing the pack’s effective storage closer to 45L. The extra extension collar capacity is quite noticeable and useful if you need to carry more gear and food and I find this size to be perfect for the 2-3 day backpacking/fly fishing trips I like to take in New Hampshire and Maine.

Most cottage pack makers include all of their open pockets and extension collars in their storage calculations, which tends to inflate their actual volumes a bit and make it hard to compare them to “mainstream packs”. Granite Gear follows an outdoor industry standard for computing pack volumes; you can read about it more on their website FAQ. I don’t really have an axe to grind on volume computation, other than the fact that I wish it was consistent across backpack makers.

The front mesh pocket is great for storing layers and wet gear
The front mesh pocket is great for storing layers and wet gear.

Open pockets

The Crown2 38L features the standard, full-length front mesh pocket that Granite Gear packs are known for. This is great for storing frequently accessed or wet items (rain fly, tarp, water filter, etc) that you don’t want to come in contact with your dry gear stored inside the main pack bag. The mesh on the outside of this pocket is quite durable, but I’d still advise against bushwhacking with it.

The side water bottle pockets on the Crown2 38L have compression straps that can be run through the pockets or over them. They’re covered with a solid, but stretchy fabric that is more durable than open mesh, but not something I’d recommend for off-trail hiking because it’s liable to catch and get torn. There are slits at the base of each side pocket to drain rain, but the bottom of the pockets could be better armored for increased durability.

It’s easy to pull out and replace bottles with a small diameters like a 1L or 700ml Smartwater bottle from the side pockets, while still wearing the pack, but you will a harder time putting wider diameter bottles away because the side fabric isn’t loose enough. This is also problem on the 60L version of the Crown2 and it’s too bad it wasn’t fixed in the 38L version of the pack. Still, it’s not an issue if you use the narrower Smartwater bottles, popular with backpackers, or a hydration reservoir.

If you prefer using a hydration reservoir, there is a single central hook to hang one inside the pack bag, but not an additional pocket to hold it in place. Dual hydration ports are positioned in between and above the shoulder straps.

The Crown2 38L has an optional top lid pocket
The Crown2 38L has an optional top lid pocket

Closed storage

The main pack bag on the 38L is cavernous and the interior fabric is coated to provide additional moisture protection. The seams are not sealed however, so you’ll want to line the pack with a pack liner if backpacking in wet weather.

The pack bag has a roll top closure with male and female clips that connect together under the top lid. A long compression strap runs over the top of the roll top to provide additional compression or lash items to the top of the pack. If the top lid is removed, you can clip the male and female ends of the roll top into the rear clips that the top lid vacates, so they’re not loose.

The top lid pocket has a single external zippered pocket. It’s technically a floating lid so you can sandwich gear underneath it and hold it against the top of the pack. The webbing straps for the top lid are NOT long enough to fit a bear canister underneath however, unlike the Crown2 60L, which has this capability (see review for photos).

The Crown2 38L has two large hip belt pockets, that come standard on the ReFIT adjustable hip belt. They’re both quite large and solid faced with durable fabric since this is a high wear point on backpacks.

Its easy to attach a foam sit pad or sleeping pad to the front of the pack
It’s easy to attach a foam sit pad or sleeping pad to the front of the pack

External Attachment Points and Compression System

Most of Granite Gear’s overnight backpacks have a lot of exterior straps. And while they do provide excellent compression, I primarily use them to secure long skinny or pointy items to the outside of my backpack that won’t fit inside the main pack bag.

The Crown2 38L has two tiers of side compression straps that clip closed with a buckle. This makes them particularly good for securing snowshoes to the side of the pack, something that’s quite difficult to do if the compression strap doesn’t close with a clip-style buckle.

The deep side water-bottle pockets also make it easy to carry long skinny items like a Tenkara fishing rod and lash it to the side of the pack using the upper compression strap for security.

There are an additional two tiers of compression straps over the front mesh pocket that are good for securing a foam sit pad or sleeping pad to the outside of the pack. The top compression that runs over the top of the roll top closure can also be use to secure gear, like a rope coil or tent, to the top of the pack bag.

The frame of the Crown 2 has two components
The frame of the Crown 2 has two components: a foam sheet that’s sewn into the pack and a removable plastic framesheet.

The Crown2 38L also has daisy chains sewn to the front of the shoulder straps which are convenient to hang gear from like camera pockets, a GPS or PLB case, or a loud whistle, since there’s no whistle on the sternum strap.

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The frame of the Crown2 38L has two components – an internal (optional ) plastic framesheet and a foam pad with air channels, sewn to the exterior of the pack and behind the shoulder straps. The adjustable hip belt slots behind the lumbar area of the foam pad and secures to the pack using velcro.

If you pull out the framesheet to reduce the weight of the pack, the foam pad still gives the pack considerable structure and provides load transfer to the hip belt. The nice thing about having a sewn-in foam pad is that you can use it to insulate your feet, in conjunction with a torso-length sleeping pad to save a few more ounces of gear weight.

Granite Gear Crown 2 Backpack Framesheet
Framesheet

While the pack’s carry with the foam pad alone is not quite as stiff as when the framesheet is inserted, it’s still perfectly adequate for a 20-25 pound load. I actually prefer the slightly softer feel of the 38L without the framesheet. Still, it’s barely noticeable when inserted, unless you’re carrying pointy objects in the pack or a heavier load. As it stands, I can carry 20-25 pounds with the foam pad alone, and 30-35 pounds with the additional plastic sheet inserted, without feeling the hip belt collapse. That’s not at all surprising, since the 38L uses the same hip belt as the 60L of the Crown2.

The Granite Gear Crown 2 backpack has an adjustable length hip belt that can be easily resized so you get a perfect fit.
The Granite Gear Crown 2 backpack has an adjustable length hip belt that can be easily resized so you get a perfect fit.

Recommendation

The Granite Gear Crown2 38L is an ultralight backpack that can be configured in a wide variety of ways depending on the amount of gear you need to carry. While it weighs 38.5 ounces fully loaded with its optional components (top lid, framesheet), it’s easy to remove them and bring the pack’s weight down to a more reasonable 29.5 oz, without a significant loss in comfort or load carrying capacity. But the most unique and important feature on the Crown2 38L is having an adjustable length hip belt that you can personalize to fit your waist. It is hard to believe how many backpack companies still fail to provide hip belts that fit people. It’s a simple thing, but it really makes the Granite Gear Crown2 38L shine.

Disclosure: Granite Gear provided the author with a sample backpack for this review.

Written 2018.

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37 comments

  1. Looks like a really good pack, how does it compare to the Lutsen 35/45 for big day hikes, bushwhacking, and/or overnights? From your reviews this seems more spacious and suited for backpacking, Lutsen seems more durable but less comfortable.

    • The Lutsen 55 had such an uncomfortable and hard lumbar pad that I never bothered to try out its smaller version. I’m not a masochist. There’s no effective difference in terms of durability though. The Crown2 series of packs is I believe the first generation that was launched after they brought on a new pack designer. He’s made a few changes to the newer packs that really make them nice. The softer foam in the Crown2 series frames, for instance, which makes them super comfortable.

      • I gotcha. I wasn’t sure if you’ve used any other Lutsen size, but makes sense you wouldn’t want to bother.

      • I have used about 8 different GG packs over time and really liked the Air Current Suspension of the blaze and leopard packs.

        With that being said I was excited to get the Lutsen 35 for a day pack thinking it would be the same great suspension. When I got it, I also noticed the same hard lumbar pad Phillip is talking about in the 55 in the 35L version. Which I thought was odd as GG has typically had some of the most comfortable “cushiest” suspensions compared to other manufacturers.

        Under further inspection the frame sheet that is on the Lutsen “Air Current” suspension is different from Blaze and leopard version from the way the shoulder straps attach to the frame sheet, as well as the type of plastic used on the framesheet. It appears to me more rigid and stiff and has a slightly different shape right in the lumbar region. Needless to say I returned that pack.

        I also own a Crown2 60 and I would say the pack material and pack bag construction itself seems right on par with the Lutsen series. GG has said that the new 38L is essentially the same bag as the 60, just scaled down dimension wise.

        Drawing from those conclusions, I would say that neither bag, Crown2 38 vs the Lutsen 35, is more durable than than the other. The hipbelt is the same on the 2 packs, which just leaves the suspension, and then the roll top closure + Lid bag of the Crown2 vs the zippered access and internal top pocket of the Lutsen 35.

        Sorry if that was long winded, hopefully this helps some!

  2. I ordered mine yesterday after trying on the 60 liter to get a sense of the suspension and hipbelt. Loved the belt and my normal 5 day load out is about 20-22 pounds so the 38l stripped looks like what I’ve been looking for, some support from a soft suspension and still light enough. I tend to clip water bottles on the shoulder straps and the straps have clip on points that make that possible. Looking forward to taking this out!

    • I like this smaller volume better than the 60. My gear volume has shrunk enough that I’m swimming in the bigger pack. This is slightly larger than a 40L that I’ve been using the past few years and the added volume (which is really about 45L) is really convenient for slightly longer trips. Not to big, not to small. The 38L gets a spot in my gear closet.

      • Updafs: I used the 38l to hike 300 miles to Bennington vt on the AT. I used the brain as extra rain protection and to keep FAK and such handy. Plastic panel was removed. I used shock cord to put bottles on the shoulder straps. Nothing else outside of pockets or main bag. The pack carried perfectly. I discovered use dry sack to compression the load, but it carried the 23 pound pack weight/5 days of food easily. The young hikers were surprised to see an old guy carrying a small package without all kinds of stuff hanging on it. 5 stars from me!

  3. Looks great! Can you tell me, what is the height of the backpack with/without the brain at the top? Just curious if its carry-on size or not. Too bad its only offered in the states at the moment…hopefully they will extend to Canada at some point.

  4. I read your posts before breakfast.
    Very satisfying andvenjoyable reading.
    It’s the stimulus motivation I need to plan my next adventure escape from the human habitat at the zoo.
    Thank you

  5. Looks like a great pack. The cottage habit of reporting all pockets always struck me as kind of fishy. My ULA Catalyst would be reported as a 42 liter pack if it were made by a mainstream company, but they report it as a 75.

    Anyway, How does this do with a bear canister?

  6. How would you rate it for use as a winter day pack?

  7. Thanks for the review Philip, have been waiting for you to get your hands on this pack and the info out. Seems to fit the same niche as the ULA Ohm, but with the capability to carry an additional 10lbs. if necessary.

  8. G’day Philip,
    how would you say this compares with the Talon 44 you reviewed a little while ago?
    Size, carry, “ventilation” as such. Thanks

    • I think it really boils down to this:
      The Crown2 is has a hip belt that will fit anyone perfectly and is a backpack that can be configured a million different ways. The Talon is a nice pack if you can get the hip belt to fit, but it’s very traditional in an “Osprey” kind of way. Not very flexible.

  9. Interesting pack, might fill my needs for a new pack (good price too). One question I have, How well do the air channels work in keeping the back cool?
    I’d like to avoid the price of a Z-Pack but I really like the idea of only mesh touching my back on those hot summer days. Excellent review as usual. Thanks.

  10. Philip, I’d appreciate your thoughts comparing two packs that aren’t really comparable. I’ve currently got a GG Nimbus Trace 62 which I used on the Tour du Mont Blanc. Great pack but overkill for a hut to hut hike. I’m planning to do a 300 mile hut to hut hike and thinking of upgrading my default go-to hiking pack to something lighter. My wife is setting the limit at one new pack. You’ve rated both the Kalais XT and GG Crown2 38 very highly. I know they are different load ratings, weights, sizes and prices (the Kalais XT is effectively double). I’m trying to understand if, when going long distances for weeks with low weight, does a ‘better’ adjustable harness translate into better comfort that makes up for the weight penalty? Or put more simply, what’s your default pack for thru-hiking? Thanks.

    • There’s no such thing as a default thru hiking backpack. You need to figure out what gear you need to carry for the local conditions, how much food you need to carry given the frequency of resupplies, and how much water. Then you need to decide whether you prefer comfort over weight. I have no idea what those are in your situation, but that’s how you’ll get to an answer.

  11. Hey Phil,
    Hope this finds you well. Wanted to ask as it wasnt long ago you reviewed the gossamer gear gorilla. How do you find they stack up in terms of carry, roll top vs cinch, and durability? Thanks for the site I’ve used it quite a bit always impressed at the reviews you turn out.
    Thanks,
    Wayne

  12. Can I hang ski’s in the pack? Would anyone recommend it for ski touring at all? Cheers!

    • Yes, in between the side compression straps. This would make a nice ski pack. Perfect size.

    • Langleybackcountry

      I was thinking about this, too. I have a Crown2 60. I sometimes carry my skis to get to the snow, crossing Rivers or Rocky areas, etc. Myoncern with skis is the edges on the pocket material and the durability on the lighter pack materials. Also. The skinny straps’ connection to the pack has a lot less stitching area and the tiny buckles concern me for carrying skis as they get a lot of leverage on them.

  13. Philip, how do you think this would work as a winter daypack and single or maybe two night) pack for summer? I’m starting to switch over to lighter gear (and smaller gear) and my 50L 3 lb 8oz is both a little big and a little heavy.

  14. Phil,

    Did you find that not having an adjustable torso length or that it comes only in one size was a problem? I’m 5’9 and usually wear a medium pack. Seems like that could be a real issue?

  15. I cant decide between crown 2 38l, GG kumo and GG Gorilla. I need pack for a weekend, or few days trip.

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