While backpacks with adjustable torso lengths have been around for a long time, adjustable hip belts are a rarity, making these new Lutsen backpacks all the more valuable. 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 new Re-Fit hip belt system that Granite Gear includes with the Lutsen series packs has the ability to end the frustration of “hip belt roulette” and will be a real boon to backpack buyers when these new packs become available in February 2016.
But since backpacks are more than just the sum of their parts, let’s take a deeper look at the Granite Gear Lutsen 55 and what makes it tick. It’s a serious multi-day backpack than can be configured and used a number of different ways, from weekend trips to long distance thru-hiking.
Internal Storage and Organization
The Granite Gear 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.
The top lid has two exterior pockets, a large one on top and a smaller rear one, which is perfectly sized for carrying a GPS and compass. However, like a lot of top lid pockets, it has a tendency to flop backpack when the main pack compartment isn’t full or the top lid is packed with heavy electronics.
In testing the Lutsen 55L, I found that I prefer carrying it without the top lid in three season weather, even though the extra storage is convenient. Using the top lid is more important for winter weather, when you want fast access to extra hats and gloves, or need to carry rope or other technical gear under the floating lid. When the top lid is not in use, you can use the orphaned webbing straps as horizontal compression. I illustrate this in a later section of this review.
Being a roll top, most of the Lutsen’s storage is in the pack’s large main compartment. There’s an elasticized hydration pocket in the front of that compartment if you use a hydration reservoir and a center port behind the neck for routing a hose.
The Lutsen 55L has three exterior pockets, like most other Granite Gear packs, along the sides of the pack for water bottles, and a rear mesh pocket for storing wet or frequently accessed items. The side pockets are made with a stretchy soft shell material and have side hole cutout so you can run compression strap webbing through the pocket or over it, a signature Granite Gear backpack feature found on most of their other backpacks. While I can usually pull a one-liter soda bottle out of the side pockets on the Lutsen 55L, I can almost never get it back into the pocket while wearing the backpack. YMMV.
The rear mesh pocket on the Lutsen 55L is noticeably wider than on other Granite Gear backpacks and a real improvement, making it easier to store a cook pot, jacket, or tent body on the back of the pack.
The Lutsen 55L also has two built-in hip belt pockets, another huge improvement over their other packs where you has to buy accessory pockets and attach them to the hip belt yourself. One the pockets is solid with a waterproof zipper and the other has a mesh face and a zipper. I use them for storing bug dope and my Aqua Mira, so they’re always handy.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Lutsen 55L has a new adjustable frame and hip belt which make it possible for you to customize the measurements of the pack to fit your exact body dimensions. If there’s ever a downside to having an adjustable torso length and hip belt system on a backpack, it’s that it usually adds some weight to the backpack, but backpack fit always trumps backpack weight in my experience if you plan to do a hike with any kind of magnitude, unless of course, you can find a fixed length backpack and a fixed length hip belt that fit your body measurements exactly.
Torso Length Adjustment
You adjust the torso length of the Lutsen 55L by raising or lowering the shoulder pads using a conventional velcro-based adjustment system. Pull the shoulder pads away from the velcro and raise or lower the pad so they match your torso length, which is marked on the fabric backer. Make sure to align the mid-line vertically, so that both shoulder pads remain level, unless you’re a hunchback and need one higher than the other.
Hip Belt Adjustment
The Re-Fit hip belts is adjusted similarly, by matching your hip diameter to the markings on the hip belt. If you don’t know what your hip size is, try measuring the circumference of your body sightly below your belly button. You’re going to want to cover the tops of your hip bones with the hip belt, with some of the fabric running a bit above them.
To adjust the hip belt, pull the entire thing out of the pack – it slides right out. Separate the two sides by pulling apart the velcro that holds them together. Reattach the velcro to fit your hip belt size as marked on the hip belt. When you’ve finished adjusting it, slide it back in under the lumber pad, and make sure it’s centered. It’s a very simple system, but the hip belt is very secure once adjusted, and very comfortable. Surprisingly so. This is one of the best fitting backpacking hip belts I’ve ever tried.
Plastic Frame Sheet
The Lutsen 55L has a plastic frame sheet (see shoulder pad photo above) that attaches the shoulder pads and hip belt to the pack bag. The bottom runs all the way down into the lumbar pad area to provide weight to hip load transfer. The frame is not a solid sheet. It’s more like a balloon frame with hollow center and it’s sewn in, hence not-removable.
The front of frame sheet is covered with a thick piece of foam with air channels to provide ventilation. It didn’t stop me from sweating in the summer heat, but YMMV. I think it pulls the pack a bit backwards away from your back, particularly when the top lid pockets are overloaded, which is one of the reason why I prefer using the Lutsen 55L without the top lid pockets. I’ve also found the lumbar padding to be uncomfortably hard over the length of a day, again compared with the other Granite Gear packs that I’ve used previously.
External Attachment Points and Compression System
The external attachment and compression system on the Lutsen 55L backpack is excellent. It has two tiers of compression straps on the sides of the pack, as well as two straps across the rear mesh pocket, which can also be used to secure snowshoes to the back of the pack if you hike in winter conditions. Top compression is provided by the roll top closure on the main pack back as well as a rope webbing strap that loops over the roll top buckles.
If you’d like, you can use the top pocket like a floating lid and pile gear on top of the main pack bag, keeping it in place when you tighten down the top lid pocket.The top lid also has four gear loops sewn around the corners, if you want lash additional gear or supplies to the top of it.
If you decide that you don’t want to use the top lid pocket, you can convert the two rear straps and four plastic buckles that normally hold the top lid into a third tier of side compression straps, as shown above. This helps keep the orphaned straps out-of-the-way as well.
Finally, the Lutsen 55L comes with a pair of ice axe loops and shaft keepers attached to the back of the pack, which can also be used to secure trekking poles.
Granite Gear’s Lutsen 55L multi-day backpack has an adjustable frame and hip belt that you can dial in to fit your exact body measurements. While adjustable torso length packs have been around for years, having an adjustable hip belt is a real innovation, especially one as comfortable, supportive, and fully featured as the Re-Fit belt, which includes high-capacity, sewn-on hip belt pockets, a Granite Gear first. If you’ve had problems finding a multi-day backpack that fits your hips. I recommend you try the Lutsen 55.
If there’s a downside to adjustability, it’s that it adds some weight to the Lutsen 55L which comes in at 3 pounds 2 ounces in a men’s large (there are multiple torso length ranges available). A good fit always trumps gear weight when it comes to backpacks, so I wouldn’t let that factor too much in whether you try a Lutsen 55L or not. It is a fully featured, durable backpack that can be configured for many different kinds of backpacking trips, from wilderness backpacking to long distance thru-hiking.
- 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
- 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
Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a sample Granite Gear Lutsen 55 backpack for this review.
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