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Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 Backpack Review

Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 at at the summit of Middle Tripyramid Mountain (4140')
Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 at the summit of Middle Tripyramid Mountain (4140′)

This is an in-depth review of Granite Gear’s Leopard AC 58 backpack for winter use. Here’s a quick summary of my conclusions. Read on if you want the details.


The Leopard AC 58 is billed by Granite Gear as an alpine-ready backpack, suitable for winter use. While the Leopard can carry 30-40 pound loads easily and has external attachments for carrying technical gear, it’s best for use in the colder months when a full winter load is unnecessary. While the Leopard AC 58 is a step up from the Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 with the addition of a floating lid and shovel pocket, the resulting backpack has too many straps and is difficult to pack and repack when frequent layer breaks or gear changes are required.

An Alpine Ready Backpack

Granite Gear’s Leopard AC 58 backpack is an “alpine-ready” backpack, which means that it’s a cross between a three-season backpack and a winter pack, including a few extra features like a top lid pocket, a shovel pocket, crampon holder, and hip belt gear loops. I’ve been testing it for the past two months in New Hampshire’s White Mountains where the winter conditions are so severe that we regularly carry the same gear for day hikes that we do on overnight trips, including shelters, stoves, multiple layers, and a myriad of traction devices (snowshoes, crampons, and microspikes).

In this review, I evaluate the Leopard Ac 58’s suitability as a winter backpack for use in mountainous terrain. Like all backpacks, the Leopard AC 58 has a number of strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important that think carefully about the winter gear you need to carry and whether you need the same degree of alpine readiness that I do.

Shoulder Harness and Hip Belt on Granite Gear Leopard AC 58
Shoulder Harness and Hip Belt on Granite Gear Leopard AC 58

Suspension System

If you’re familiar with Granite Gear backpacks, the Leopard AC 58 is built using the Granite Gear Air Current suspension system. This is a framesheet-based system that lets you custom-fit the pack’s torso length by raising or lowering where the shoulder straps attach. The framesheet runs all the way down to the bottom of the lumbar region of the hip belt, providing excellent load transfer to the hips, making it possible to carry 30-40+ pounds comfortably. The Leopard AC 58 really shines on carrying comfort with heavy loads, with very little slippage in the hip belt, excellent lateral control, load lifters, and hip belt stabilizers. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the Air Current suspension system, which is also used on Granite Gear’s Blaze AC 60 backpack.

In addition to adjustable torso length, it is possible to replace the shoulder pads with thinner or thicker ones (3 sizes) depending on your preferences and/or chest size. There are also four different men’s and women’s hip belt sizes available, which slide in and out of the lumbar area if you want to replace them.

In my experience, it’s best to buy the different-sized shoulder straps and hip belts directly from Granite Gear because online retailers either don’t carry them or inadvertently mix up the hip belts from different, incompatible Granite Gear packs, making ordering a very frustrating and drawn-out process. 

The Leopard AC 58 has a top lid, front mesh pocket, main compartment, and open side mesh pockets
The Leopard AC 58 has a top lid, front pocket, main compartment, and open side  pockets

Storage Capacity

The Leopard AC 58 has three closed storage pockets and two open side mesh pockets. The closed storage is distributed between a main compartment with a roll-top closure, a top lid pocket, and a front pocket made out of a softshell-like fabric that closes with a zipper. To Granite Gear’s credit, the company measures the volume of their backpacks by adding up the closed storage capacity on their packs, but not including the volume of open mesh pockets or the added volume in their packs’ extension collars. In other words, at 58 liters of capacity, you can probably fit more gear than you might expect into the Leopard 58.

Main Compartment

The Leopard AC 58 has a cavernous main compartment with the standard Granite Gear roll-top  system, even though the pack has a top lid floating pocket. Being a winter pack there is no hydration pocket inside although there is a toggle that you could hang a hydration reservoir from and a central hydration port behind your neck to run a hydration hose through.

Two extra compression straps run over the roll top closure and under the floating lid.
Two extra compression straps run over the roll-top closure and under the floating lid.

For winter use, I’ve found the roll-top closure on the Leopard AC 58 to be unnecessarily complicated to use because it requires so many extra straps to lash it down. There are two straps at each end of the roll-top that connect it to the back of the frame about 1/3 down from the top and then another two compression straps that run over the roll-top closure to provide more vertical compression.

Top Pocket and Floating Lid

I’m a huge fan of top pockets on winter packs that serve double duty as floating lids because they can be used to lash a lot of extra equipment to the top of a pack, like rope, sleeping pads, or tents. The Leopard has a top pocket/floating lid which is attached to the pack over the roll-top using another five straps. although you only need to undo two of them to access the roll top.

Still, the use of the top lid means that you need to undo six compression straps in order to open the main compartment, which is completely unnecessary and redundant. People who hike in winter are putting on and taking off clothing all day long, and pulling food, water, and gear out of their packs. Having to undo and redo six straps each time you need to take something out of the main compartment or put it away is time-consuming.

A much better design would have been to use a draw string to open and close the main compartment instead of a roll-top closure, since you really only need the cinch down the top pocket/floating lid for vertical compression.

The top pocket and floating lid can be used to secure additional gear to the top o fthe main compartment.
The top pocket and floating lid can be used to secure additional gear to the top of the main compartment.

Front Pocket

The Front pocket on the Leopard is a nice luxury. It is a zippered pocket on the front of the pack that is large enough to store extra hats and gloves and winter snacks. The exterior is a softshell like fabric with a good DWR coating that repels water. I’ve been out in heavy mist and freezing rain with it and the gear inside has not gotten wet. Unfortunately, I think it’s placement compromises the usefulness of the shovel pocket.

Front pocket has a durable DWR that repels freezing rain and water
Front pocket has a durable DWR that repels freezing rain and water

Shovel Pocket

The Leopard has a front shovel pocket which can be used to secure an avalanche shovel to the front of the pack. It has limited utility however because the depth of the pocket is surprisingly narrow, making it difficult to stuff much into it except fairly thin items like a shovel blade or a pair of crampons oriented on the side.

The shovel pocket is held closed by six straps: four side straps that tie into the side compression system of the pack’s main compartment and two top straps that attach to the top lid. There are more issues with this design. First, if you need to unstrap the shovel pocket webbing to get stuff out of the pocket all of the gear lashed under the side compression straps on side of your pack falls out and has to be re-secured.

Front Shovel Pocket
Front Shovel Pocket

Second, the straps that connect the top of the shovel pocket to the top lid don’t run flush with the back of the pack, so that items secured under the floating lid have a tendency to slide down the top of the main compartment and down the front of the pack. The only way to prevent this from happening is to secure the items under the compression straps that run over the rolltop, which is redundant with the floating lid’s function (two pictures down).

Large space gap between top straps on shovel pocket and front of pack.
Large space gap between top straps on shovel pocket and front of pack.

A much better shovel pocket design would have been to been to secure the sides of the shovel pocket to the back of the pack with the same stretch softshell fabric used in the side pockets, so that the pocket can expand and contract without being tied into the side compression straps. I’d also recommend running the shovel pocket higher up the front of the pack and securing the top with a center strap running over the top of the main compartment, terminating in the middle of the frame, where it could also be used to secure rope under the top lid. This is standard design pattern for shovel pockets on alpine style packs. This would also shorten the distance between the top of the shovel pocket and the top lid so that items carried under it don’t fall down the front of the pack.

The only way to prevent items from falling down the front of the pack is to lash them on using the straps that compress the roll-top, not the top lid.
The only way to prevent items from falling down the front of the pack is to lash them on using the straps that compress the roll-top, not the top lid.

Side Pockets

In addition to closed storage, the side pockets are large enough to store 1 liter water bottles wrapped in insulation so they don’t freeze. The bottom tier of compression straps can run through the pockets through side cuts or over the pocket, a classic design found on most Granite Gear packs that makes it possible to keep compression on the main compartment even if the mesh pocket is full. You don’t get that with compression straps that run outside pockets. The side pockets can also be used to hold snow wands. In terms of durability, the side pockets are made using the same softshell fabric used on the front pocket and are more durable than a coarser mesh fabric.

External Attachment Points

Winter backpacks have to have a lot of external, uncovered attachment points to carry technical gear such as snowshoes, crampons, microspikes, rope, ice axe(s), and avalanche shovels. I usually carry all of the traction aids listed here on day hikes and almost all of these items on overnight winter backpacking trips. You wouldn’t want to store any of this technical gear inside the backpack because it’s likely snow-covered and will saturate the personal insulation you need to keep dry.

The external attachment points on the Leopard AC 58 are very standard for a winter backpack:

  • Dual ice axe loops with shaft holders
  • Shovel pocket
  • Floating lid
  • Three tiers of side compression straps
  • Side water bottle or snow want pockets
  • Horizontal webbing on the front of the shovel pocket
  • Webbing loops on top and underneath the top pocket/floating lid
  • Optional add-on gear loops for racking climbing gear or attaching insulated water bottles
  • Optional add-in crampon holder that protects the backpack from being punctured

Here are some pictures of them in use:

Hip belt gear loop and water bottle, ice axe, crampon holder with crampons, snowshoes, and an avalanche shovel
Hip belt gear loop and water bottle, ice axe, crampon holder with crampons, snowshoes, and an avalanche shovel

Attaching Snowshoes

If you need to carry snowshoes on the Leopard AC 58, you must strap them to the side of the backpack under the compression straps. It’s impossible to stick the bottoms in the shovel pocket because there aren’t any attachment points above the front pocket to lash down the tops of the snowshoes and prevent them from plopping out backwards.

Many backpacks with shovel pockets let you reverse the top-tier of compression straps so that they connect over the front of the pack and secure items in the shovel pocket, and this would be a nice enhancement for future versions of the Leopard. I personally prefer to carrying my snowshoes along the side of the pack as shown because it puts their weight (4 pounds) onto my hips, but if you wanted to strap accordion style Z-lite foam pads to the sides of your pack, which is very common in winter backpacking, there would not be any other place to attach your snowshoes to the pack.

Optional add-on gear loop with insulated water bottle
Optional add-on gear loop with insulated water bottle

 Attaching Water Bottles or Climbing Gear

Granite Gear sells an optional gear loop attachment ($18.95) that lets you attach water bottles, food bottles, climbing gear, or other items to the hip belt. Unlike the crampon holder (see below), the gear loop attachment is secured to the hip belt using velcro tabs, providing a very secure attachment system that is easy to put on, take off, and switch between different Granite Gear backpacks.

Optional Add-on Crampon Holder
Optional Add-on Crampon Holder

Attaching Crampons

Granite Gear sells an optional crampon holster ($29.95) that attaches to the webbing on the shovel pocket using Voile straps. I don’t like this system because I think the attachment point is too low on the backpack, exposing the crampons to harm if your drop your pack on rock/the ground.  The crampon holder also doesn’t contain the long \ straps that come with semi-automatic or strap-on crampons, which can become a real nuisance if they’re left to hang free.

Full winter backpacking load including snowshoes, crampons, microspikes, ice axe, and avalanche shovel
Full winter backpacking load including snowshoes, crampons, microspikes, ice axe, and avalanche shovel

Ice Axe Shaft Holder

The Leopard AC 58 has dual ice axe loops at the bottom of the pack and shaft holders located at the top of the shovel pocket. Unfortunately, the shaft holders are located way too low, so that a walking axe slants backward from the front of the pack. This is a nuisance because it’s easy to catch the axe on obstructions that pull it off the pack. The only workaround is to secure the ice axe under a side compression strap to hold it in place, as shown below.

ice Axe shaft must be held in place by side compression strap
ice Axe shaft must be held in place by side compression strap


When Granite Gear sent me this pack to review, I really had high hopes for it because is a pound lighter than my winter backpack. But as a winter hiker, I need fast transition times when layering and delayering to prevent from getting cold and I need to be able to take technical gear off the outside of my pack without all of the other gear I’m carrying falling off. Unfortunately, that’s where the Leopard AC 58 is the weakest. Many of the compression straps on the shovel pocket, the side of the pack, and the top lid serve multiple or redundant purposes. making the pack a lot more complex to use than necessary. If you are backpacking in more temperate weather, where layer or traction/tool changes are less frequent, than the Leopard AC 58 might be more suitable for your winter needs.


  • Great carry for heavy loads
  • Top lid pocket is convenient for organizing gear
  • Optional hip belt loops are good for racking winter gear


  • Too many straps on the backpack
  • Roll top closure takes too long to open and close.
  • Top compression straps do not reverse and connect in front of the pack making it difficult to carry snowshoes in the shovel pocket
  • Top ice axe holders are too low and a walking axe must be secured to a side compression strap

Manufacturer Specifications

Torso Sizes: short | regular
Weight: 1.5kg | 3lbs 5oz (3 pounds as tested on the SectionHiker scale)
Capacity: 58 liters | 3540 cubic inches
Suspension: Air Current (A.C.) Internal Frame
Load Capacity: 35lbs | 16kg


100D Ripstop
210D Nylon Cordura
Stretch Mesh Fabric


  • Air Current Suspension (Same as Blaze)
  • 40 lb Load Rating
  • Adjustable Torso Length
  • 3 Sizes of Shoulder Straps (S,M,L) available
  • 4 Sizes in Men’s Hip Belt Available
  • 4 Sizes in Women’s Hip Belt Available
  • Hip Belt Compatible With Tool Loops and Belt Pocket
  • Flap is Compatible With The Crampon Holster
  • Roll-Top Closure
  • Removable Floating Lid
  • 2 lbs, 12 oz With Lid Removed
  • Mesh Pocket Inside Lid
  • tool loops
  • hydration port & internal sleeve
  • Flap with Axe Cinches and 2 Zippered Pockets
  • Stretch Woven Zippered Pocket on Front
  • Stretch Woven Wand Pockets
  • Dual Density Hip Belt and Shoulder Straps
  • Cordura High Tenacity Nylon (100D and 210D)

Disclaimer: Philip Werner ( received a sample Leopard AC 58 backpack from Granite Gear for this review. 

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  1. In todays age, there is little to no need for a pack greater than one pound to carry less than 40 pounds and last for 5 years of normal usage. Three pounds plus is a terrible weight.

    • I don’t really agree with that. I think winter and expedition backpacks are a slightly different animal. When you have significant weight, you need to beef up the frame rigidity, which is going to cost extra weight. I think somewhere between 2 and 3 pounds is more realistic. For longer trips and more complex hiking needs (like winter), I’m also a lot more interested in pack functionality than weight, as long as everything is 3 pounds or less.

      • 1lb for 40. That is a stretch. However hearing the word expedition makes me chuckle. How many expeditions has the Granite Gear been on? I don’t think running off into the Whites on wintery weekend jaunts hardly qualifies as an expedition. I would think it would be hard to know if a pack or other “winter” gear performs as expedition worthy with a little more than three nights out and then back to the tele and warm fireplace. But wait a certain person might remind me the true definition of what an expedition is. Thats what you get when you have little work product. People start getting all up in your stuff about word meanings.

        • In defense of Jim, he gets up to some pretty serious trips in the Adirondacks and I really respect his opinions about gear even if his views about weight are more extreme than mine. As for the word “expedition”, it’s a marketing “term” that means a heavy backpack. There are many reasons why carrying a heavy backpack is necessary, but few of them have anything to do with disappearing into the wilderness for a few weeks. In this age of comfort, people cache food, arrange for resupplies, have sherpas carry in their stuff, or set up air bases on foreign soil, but the expeditions you read about as a kid don’t exist anymore.

      • I still have and use a 40 year old pack that weighs 2#4. It carries 40-50 pounds around on my daily walks. This is the pack I first bought to replace the old military (from the Korean War) pack my uncle gave me (around 8 pounds, don’t really remember.) This is an internal magnesium framed pack. Back when I was using it, there were times I could not lift it onto my shoulders. I had to heft it too my knees first. I would guess about 80-90 pounds of loaded pack. The family carried their cloths/sleeping bags. This was 35 YEARS ago! It was durable as hell, I still use it! I would say there has been little to no progress in pack design since. This roughly translates to 35-40pounds per each pound of pack weight. 80or 90/2#4=35-40. This article really shows this. A 3 pound pack that doesn’t really fit the bill, despite a lot of attachment straps, fancy pockets, suspensions with fancy names, and other items that simply cost weight and perform no real purose, other than make up for defincies in design. All the kludges get in each others way… they all simply cost weight.

        A single pack will almost never work well for all conditions. To big and it isn’t very efficient in summer. To small and it isn’t very efficient in winter. Too many pockets, and you cannot fill them all. Too few and you cannot organize your gear. Too heavy and you need a hip belt. Too light and the hip belt is excess weight. … I would suggest that this pack is still looking for a niche, winter hiking is not it.

  2. My CCW Chaos pack arrives today on the Big Brown Tuck! Can’t wait to get home and check it out!

  3. In your opinion, Philip, which pack comes closest to fulfilling your winter pack needs?

  4. I really appreciate the sober and thorough review; especially that you actually got out and stuffed it full of real camping gear and attached winter equipment to the pack to see how it all works. I’ve looked at video reviews on other sites and they seem to be walking around with pillows in the pack and talking about the abilities of this or that pocket or strap, without actually attaching anything to it.

    I’m looking to replace an extremely solid, comfortable and reliable Gregory pack that just weighs too much (7.5lbs). This review certainly was helpful.

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