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Granite Gear Virga3 26L Backpack Review

Granite Gear Virga3 26 Backpack Review

The new Granite Gear Virga3 26L is a frameless ultralight backpack weighing 1.26 lbs that will appeal to day hikers and backpackers alike. Weighing 20.2 oz (572g), it has an adjustable torso length so you can dial in a personalized fit with numerous pockets and attachment points to carry bulkier gear. Dual sternum straps, shoulder strap bottle elastics, and a removable webbing belt will appeal to fast packers, but don’t interfere with using the Virga3 26 like a regular backpack or personalizing it with the preexisting 3rd party shoulder strap pockets or bottle sleeves you already own.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Unisex
  • Type: Frame-less
  • Adjustable Torso Length/Width: Yes
  • Full Weight: 20.2 oz (572g)
  • Stripped Weight: 18.6 oz (526g)
  • Load Lifters: Yes
  • Pockets: 3 Open
  • Hydration Compatible: Yes
  • Ice Axe/Trekking Pole Loops: 2
  • Colors: White (undyed) or Black
  • Materials: 100D and 210D Robic nylon
  • Max Recommended Load: 20-25 lbs

The new Virga3 26L is in its 3rd generation in the Granite Gear product line. It has always been popular with hikers who want a lower capacity and ultralight version of Granite Gear’s multiday backpacks. With the exception of the hip belt and color options, the Virga3 26 is almost identical to the new Virga3 55L which is also frameless and has been updated as well.

The Virga3 26L is a roll-top with three open pockets on the sides and front.
The Virga3 26L is a roll-top with three open pockets on the sides and front.

The Virga3 26L is a roll-top backpack set up in classic ultralight style with two side water bottle pockets and a front stretch mesh pocket. It has upper and lower compression straps on three sides, not two, which is a signature feature of most Granite Gear backpacks and comes in enormously handy when you have to carry bulky gear like snowshoes that will not fit inside your backpack.

The Virga3 26L has two compression straps on three sides making it easy to carry bulky gear.
The Virga3 26L has two compression straps on three sides making it easy to carry bulky gear.

The Virga3 26L has an adjustable torso length so you can length or shorten the torso to fit better. This is done by raising or lowering the shoulder straps which are attached to daisy chains behind the shoulder straps. Granite Gear has thoughtfully marked the torso length corresponding to the positions in inches so you can easily reposition the straps using the gated buckles that connect them to the daisy chains.

The torso fit can be adjusted by moving the shoulder straps up or down, or wider or narrower.
The torso fit can be adjusted by moving the shoulder straps up or down, or wider or narrower.

In addition to lengthening the torso, you can widen or reduce the width between the shoulder straps which is important for women and many men of smaller stature. If you have the straps set wide and start to feel pain in one of your shoulders, try moving the straps closer together. Shoulder strap distance can be a real issue for some people, especially for men with wide chests, but this level of adjustability has been present on many of the Granite Gear packs I’ve reviewed going back the past 10+ years.

I pack a folding foam pad behind the shoulde straps and then lin ethe interior of the pack with a nylofume pack liner.
I pack a folding foam pad behind the shoulder straps and then line the interior of the pack with a nylofume pack liner.

The Virga3 26L is a frameless backpack requiring a different packing methodology than backpacks with frames or frame stays. Many people position a foam sleeping pad inside the main compartment, directly behind the shoulder straps, or rolled like a big pipe in the main compartment to give the pack some shape so it doesn’t collapse in on itself. Once that’s done you can pack as you normally would stuffing clothing and gear behind the foam pad or inside the rolled cavity that it creates. Personally, I prefer packing four sections of a foam ZLite Sol sleeping pad behind the shoulder straps since a rollable foam pad like the classic Thermarest RidgeRest takes up too much volume, and thinner pads like the Gossamer Gear 1/8″ Thinlight don’t provide enough rigidity. When worn, the Zlite foam pad flattens out against your back and prevents items inside the pack from poking your back.

Ultralight Frameless Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Highly Functional

The new Granite Gear Virga3 26L is a frameless ultralight backpack weighing 1.26 lbs that will appeal to day hikers and backpackers alike. Weighing 20.2 oz (572g), it has an adjustable torso length so you can dial in a personalized fit with numerous pockets and attachment points to carry bulkier gear.

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Since it is frameless, the Virga3 26 has a tendency to barrel if you pack the main compartment too tightly. This is to be expected and the norm for a frameless backpack. Being frameless, also means that the hip belt, which is a simple webbing strap, is not load-bearing, so the weight of the pack will rest completely on your shoulders. The function of the hip belt in this situation is to pull the bottom of the pack closer to your torso to keep it from bouncing as you walk, although it’s also completely removable if you prefer not to use it or want to use a climbing harness with the pack.

The Virga3 26L comes with two sternum straps and has S-shaped shoulder pads.
The Virga3 26L comes with two sternum straps and has S-shaped shoulder pads.

The shoulder straps are S-shaped, which are usually comfortable for men and women. They have daisy chains sewn to the front, so you can attach bottle sleeves or pockets to them if you have ones you already prefer. Alternatively, the pack comes with four elastic bottle keeper cords that you can use to attach smaller ridged bottles to the shoulder straps. I like my own 3rd party pockets better.

The shoulder straps come with two sternum straps so you can transfer more of the load off your shoulders and onto your upper chest, somewhat like the vest straps that are appearing more and more on lower-volume packs. This is totally optional however and you can easily remove one of the sternum straps if you want a more traditional feel. I found that crisscrossing the two sternum straps is more comfortable for me, especially when hauling bulky and heavy winter traction aids.

The side pockets can hold two 1L Smartwater bottles
The side pockets can hold two 1L Smartwater bottles

The side pockets are deep and can hold two Smartwater bottles. They have a shock cord adjustment running along the top so you can pull the pockets tight to keep the bottles from falling out. The lower-side compression strap can also run through the side pocket or over it, so you can still have compression even if the pocket itself is full. The pack is hydration compatible with a center hose port although there’s just a toggle inside to hang a reservoir and not a reservoir pocket.

You can connect the ends of the rolltop the buckles on the top front compression strap if you want more top compression.
You can connect the ends of the rolltop to the buckles on the top front compression strap if you want more top compression.

The roll top clips together on top of the pack and there’s a perpendicular top strap that holds it down. If prefer using a roll top that connects to the side of the pack rather than the top because it provides better clearance and compression, you can attach the roll top clips to the clips on the upper compression strap covering the front stretch mesh pocket. This eliminates any extra webbing straps and is a nicely executed design feature.

Similar Frameless Backpacks

Make / ModelTotal VolumeWeight
Zpacks Nero Ultra 3838L10.3 oz
Gossamer Gear Kumo36L20 oz
Nashville Packs Cutaway42L17.5 oz
Pa'lante V231L, 37L17-19 oz
Osprey Talon Velocity 30L30L35.5 oz
SWD Ultralight Superior Frameless45L18.2 oz
Mountain Laurel Designs Burn38L16.5 oz
Gossamer Gear G4-2042L20-26 oz
Mountainsmith Zerk 4040L29 oz
ULA CDT54L27.1 oz

Recommendation

The new frameless Virga3 26L is a fun pack to carry and can be used for a variety of hiking and outdoor trips as long as you keep your pack weight under 20-25 pounds and avoid overstuffing the pack. I get a kick out of using the new white undyed coloring, although there are a lot of examples of hikers who’ve illustrated their packs with colorful designs on Granite Gear’s Instagram Feed. The only real criticism I have of the pack is its performance in winter conditions, where the buckles jam up with snow and won’t close. Despite that use case, this new third-generation Virga3 26L is a highly functional and adjustable ultralight backpack that’s perfect for hikers who want a miniature version of a multi-day day ultralight-style backpack for day hiking or fastpacking.

Disclosure: Granite Gear donated a backpack for review.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for the review, it made me look at the new 55l as well. The changes they’ve made are pretty much what I wanted except for two: a v strap on the top and shrinking it to maybe 45l. Daisy chains and the full wrap hip belt on the 55 really are great upgrades. Both packs should do well.

  2. I have the 55L, and was thinking of getting a 26L, as well. Are the hip belts and shoulder straps interchangeable between the two?

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