The Granite Gear Virga 2 is a 54-liter ultralight backpack that is lightweight even by today’s standards. Weighing just 1 pound and 3 ounces (19 ounces) it is truly frameless, without even a foam back pad behind the shoulder straps. Despite its low weight, the Virga 2 is a fully-featured Granite Gear backpack with all of the standard amenities that come on their other overnight packs, including large external mesh pockets, an excellent compression system, and a roll-top closure, making the Virga 2 a good choice for minimalist backpacking, short trips, or more technical day hiking.
Organization and Storage
The layout and setup of the Granite Gear Virga 2 is similar to the other overnight backpacks in the Granite Gear product line with a large main compartment and three external mesh pockets on the sides and front of the backpack. Rated at 54 liters of internal capacity (not counting the external pocket volumes), the Virga 2 is surprisingly high-capacity for a frameless pack with a maximum recommended load limit of 20 pounds. There’s even a long extension collar which will let you add even more gear, beyond 54 liters, if required.
Why this much space? Many hikers who carry frameless backpacks create a virtual frame by inserting a rolled-up foam pad into the backpack to give it some rigidity and make it easier to carry. These foam pads eat up a lot of interior space, which explains why the volume of the Virga 2 is so oversized for its maximum weight recommendation.
Still, rolling up a foam pad like this is pretty old school since so many backpackers have switched away from foam pads to inflatable ones which require significantly less interior volume to carry. Normally, I just insert a single panel of foam into a frameless pack behind the fabric panel that the shoulder harness is attached to, especially since I use a Therm-a-Rest Xlite sleeping pad and don’t want to carry the extra bulk of a foam sleeping pad.
In addition to the main compartment, the Virga 2 also has three external mesh pockets that provide storage on the exterior of the pack. The purpose of these pockets is to store everything you need during the day so you don’t have to stop and dig around inside your backpack to get it, especially when it’s raining. It also helps you hike faster and farther because you need to take fewer long stops to unpack and re-pack your gear.
I typically store two one-liter bottles in the side pockets when I hike and my wet Sawyer mini water filter, a platypus hydration reservoir, rain jacket, snacks/lunch, my tarp, and a small ditty bag of other essentials in the big pocket. This lets me walk all day, pretty much non-stop, and even set up camp at night without ever opening the main compartment of my backpack.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
If you plan on hiking with more than 20 pounds of gear, water, and consumables then the Virga 2 is not for you. This pack has no frame at all, which means that most of the load is going to ride on your shoulders and not on the hip belt since the purpose of a frame is to transfer the weight of a heavier pack to your hips so it can be carried by your stronger muscles.
In the absence of a frame, the Virga 2 is quite small and unpadded compared to packs with higher load ratings, although the shoulder straps are fairly well padded to let you carry more of the weight on your shoulders. Load lifters are also provided, which is a nice touch on such a lightweight backpack, and one that’s useful for pulling the load closer to your torso.
There is one issue with the Virga 2 torso length sizing that I discovered during testing related to the harness and suspension system. I found that the Virga 2 runs a bit small in a regular size, which is recommended for people with torso lengths from 19-21 inches in length. I have a torso size of 18.5″ and I found the torso length on the regular Virga 2 to be a bit short for me which was a little unexpected. It’s not completely surprising, however, since frameless backpacks often suffer from something called torso collapse (because they don’t have a frame) which has the effect of shortening the pack’s effective torso length.
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 which provides vertical compression to help scrunch down your load. These compression options are handy if you find yourself carrying heavy but low volume gear because they help bring the load as close to your core as possible, making it easier to carry. Load lifters augment this capability on the Virga 2, particularly if you need to pull a high volume, “puffy” load closer to your back.
All of Granite Gears packs, including the Virga 2, let you thread the lower side compression strap under a water bottle in the side pocket, making it possible to have compression around the base of the pack even if you have something in the pocket like a water bottle. This is also an excellent design element and really useful for compressing the base of the pack where you probably store your sleeping bag or quilt.
The Granite Gear Virga 2 is an excellent frameless backpack for ultralight minimalist backpackers who need to carry 20 pounds of gear and supplies or less. Weighing just 1 pound and 3 ounces (19 ounces) the Virga 2 has a surprisingly high volume (54 liters) and still comes with many features that you’d only expect on heavier backpacks such as a fully functional compression system, large extension collar, and load lifters. While you can certainly find lighter weight ultralight backpacks than the Virga 2, there are very few as durable and inexpensive in this price range ($139, retail), making it an excellent value for the money.
- Fixed padded hip belt
- 10 mm webbing straps to save weight
- Ice axe and tool loops
- Hydration port
- Internal hydration reservoir hanger
- External stretch mesh pockets
- Rolltop closure
- Extension collar
- Frameless suspension
- Fabrics: Cordura, Nylon 100D and 210D
- Internal covered volume: 54 liters
- Gender: unisex
- Weight: 1 pound 3 ounces (19 ounces)
- Short: Fits torsos 15-18 inches
- Regular: Fits torsos 18-21 inches
- Long: Fist torsos 21-24 inches
Disclaimer: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a sample backpack from Granite Gear for this review.
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