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Granite Gear Virga3 55L Backpack Review

Granite Gear Virga3 55 Backpack Review

The Granite Gear Virga3 55L is a frameless ultralight rolltop backpack with an adjustable torso length and adjustable length hipbelt, that’s available in multiple torso ranges, in unisex (men’s) and women’s models. The unisex men’s version reviewed here weighs 26.9 oz with a hipbelt and 19 oz stripped without one. Being frameless it has a maximum recommended carry weight of 25 lbs, which gives you a multi-day range if you pack carefully and use lightweight backpacking gear.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Unisex (Women’s model also available)
  • Type: Frame-less
  • Adjustable Torso Length/Width: Yes
  • Adjustable Length Hipbelt: Yes, up to waists 52″
  • Full Weight: 1.68 lbs
  • Minus Hipbelt: 1.18 lbs
  • Load Lifters: Yes
  • Pockets: 3 Open
  • Hydration Compatible: Yes
  • Ice Axe/Trekking Pole Loops: 2
  • Colors: White (undyed) or Grey/Red
  • Materials: 100D and 210D Robic nylon
  • Bear Canister Compatibility: A BV475 fits horizontally inside; a BV500 vertically.
  • Max Recommended Load: 25 lbs
  • For complete specs and sizes, visit Granite Gear

Why a 55L Frameless Backpack?

When I started using this backpack, I had to ask myself why anyone would want a high-volume frameless backpack that had a maximum gear weight of 25 lbs. It is a good question, especially since adding a perimeter-style wire frame would only increase the pack weight by a few ounces more, but could easily increase its load-carrying capacity by 50% to 100%. It’s not like the old days, where adding a frame or a frame stay would add much more weight to a backpack than one without.

Here are a few reasons why you might choose the Virga3 55L over other ultralight backpacks:

  1. Cost: With an MSRP of $200, the Virga3 55L is much less expensive than many other ultralight backpacks, which have become outrageously expensive. Leaving the frame out help keeps the retail cost even lower. Doing so lets Granite Gear introduce ultralight backpacking to a much larger audience, which is one of their stated objectives.
  2. Sizing: The torso and hipbelt adjustability, sizing range, and gender-specific models of the Virga3 55L are pretty unique among ultralight backpacks, which are predominantly designed for young, skinny men. If you’re like most people over the age of 25, you’ll welcome the inclusive sizing offered in the Virga3 55L.
  3. Flexibility: The Virga3 55L’s compression system makes it easy to shrink the pack volume if it’s not needed. For example, you can easily shrink the volume down to 40L if that’s all you need. You can’t do that with an ultralight backpack with a fixed volume of 30 or 40 liters. For example, if you’re trying out ultralight backpacking and you’re slowly reducing your gear weight and volume, having a backpack that can span multiple volumes is a big plus.
  4. Minimalism: If you embrace a minimalist philosophy, a frameless ultralight pack will probably appeal to you more than one with a frame. It certainly forces you to walk the walk.

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Virga3 55L 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 a folding foam pad, snowshoes, or a bulky multi-person tent that won’t fit easily inside the pack.

The Virga3 55 has two tiers of compression straps on three sides of the pack.
The Virga3 55 has two tiers of compression straps on three sides of the pack.

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.

There’s no Y-strap on top of the pack, which is something you find on packs designed to carry a bear canister outside and on top of the main compartment, something that would probably overload a backpack like this and make it unmanageable. If you have to carry a canister anyway, it’s probably best to pack it inside the Virga3 55L instead: a BV500 fits vertically, while a BV475 and smaller will fit horizontally in the main compartment.

The side pockets are quite large and have an elastic keeper strap on top to prevent bottles from popping out.
The side pockets are quite large and have an elastic keeper strap on top to prevent bottles from popping out.

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.

Being frameless, the Virga 55L requires a different packing strategy than a backpack with a frame. In order to give the pack some stiffness so it won’t collapse when you’re packing it and to pad your back so the gear inside doesn’t poke you, it has top and bottom pad pockets inside the main compartment, behind the shoulder straps. These are designed to fit a folding foam pad like a Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol sleeping pad.

The Virga3 55L turned inside out. Place a foam pad in the pad pockets provided.
The Virga3 55L turned inside out. Place a foam pad in the top and bottom pad pockets provided.

There are a couple of caveats to this. You’re probably going to want to cut down a foam Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol to four or six sections. Otherwise, the pad will be too thick and it won’t fit into the pack pockets provided. For example, a complete NEMO Switchback won’t fit in the pad pockets. In addition, using a pad that’s too thick will also push your load farther away from your back and core muscles and make it feel heavier.

Once you get a pad into those pockets, it’s best to leave it there and not take it out and put it back in every time you want to use it. I found it very ungainly to do this, unlike packs that have external pad sleeves like the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60, where it’s trivial to pull the pad out to use it to sit down when you want a rest. Unless you can sleep on four sections of a Zlite Sol, this means you’re probably going to want to carry the missing sections of the Zlite Sol to put under your torso and put the Virga3 55L under your legs when you go to sleep at night. That’s pretty common actually. That or carry a separate full-length pad with you.

There are pad pockets inside the pack to hold a foam sleeping pad - in this case a dimpled foam Thermarest ZLite Sol.
There are pad pockets inside the pack to hold a foam sleeping pad – in this case a dimpled foam Therm-a-rest ZLite Sol which shows through the back panel.

Once packed, the Zlite foam pad will flatten out against your back, as long as you don’t overstuff the backpack. Since it is frameless, the Virga3 55 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. It takes a little experimentation to pack a frameless backpack, but in general, you want to pack your gear somewhat looser than in a framed pack with a stiffer back panel.

While the Virga3 is rated as a 55L pack, it feels much larger than that if you count the extension collar. In the past Granite Gear only counted the main compartment in their volume specs and not the extension collar or the open pockets on the exterior of the pack, so the pack has at least 55L of capacity, and probably more like 65L. It’s huge for a frameless backpack. Huge.

Backpack Suspension and Hipbelt

The Virga3 55L 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.

Frameless backpacks with adjustable torso lengths are pretty rare, because frankly, torso length isn’t as important as in a backpack with a frame where the hipbelt does the bulk of the carrying. It doesn’t hurt to have an adjustable torso on a frameless backpack, especially one as elegant and lightweight as this one, but you can easily carry 25 lbs on your shoulders, so that aspect is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

It’s easy to adjust the length of the torso or the width of the shoulder straps by repositioning the gatekeeper buckles on the daisy chains.
It’s easy to adjust the length of the torso or the width of the shoulder straps by repositioning the gatekeeper buckles on the daisy chains.

That said the real value of the adjustable torso on this backpack is the fact that you can adjust the width of the shoulder straps. That in my mind the real value of the adjustability on this pack. It’s also a real problem, especially with vest-style packs where one size fits all sizing doesn’t work well across a wide range of chest widths and depths for men and women. Granite Gear has always had some backpacks where you can adjust the width of the shoulder straps, so they’re familiar with this issue and how to address it.

The shoulder straps comes with two sternum straps.
The shoulder straps comes with two sternum straps.

In addition to adjustability, the shoulder straps on the Virga3 55L are S-shaped which most men and women find comfortable. 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.

The hip belt pockets are really big and can hold multiple snack bars and a smartphone.

The hipbelt, like the shoulder straps, is adjustable in terms of length, so you can get a good fit. It’s also entirely removable and just held in place with velcro if you decide not to use it. Since this is a frameless pack, the hipbelt is doing less load carrying than your shoulders, so its real value is twofold: it keeps the pack close to your torso so it won’t throw you off balance and it has pockets. The pockets are actually quite large and convenient to use with ample space for snacks or electronics.

The length of the hipbelt is adjustable

Alternative High-Volume Frameless Backpacks

What other frameless, high-volume backpacks are available?

You can also get a backpack with a removable frame or frame stay and use it like a frameless backpack. For example,

  • The Granite Gear Crown3 60 liter pack has a removable frame sheet and top lid which lowers its weight to 32.6 oz. It costs $240 and is quite similar in design to the Virga3 55.
  • There are other high-volume ultralight packs made by Hyperlite Mountain Gear, like their 3400 series (55L) packs, but they’re much more expensive costing $375 and up since they’re made with Dyneema DCF.

Recommendation

The frameless Granite Gear Virga3 55L can be used for a variety of hiking and outdoor trips as long as you keep your pack weight under 25 pounds. I get a kick out of using the new white undyed coloring, although there are also many examples of hikers who’ve illustrated their packs with colorful designs on Granite Gear’s Instagram Feed.

The Virga3 55L is a high volume pack that can hold a huge amount of gear.
The Virga3 55L is a high-volume frameless pack that can hold a huge amount of gear…as long as it weighs 25 pounds or less. It can hold more, but you’ll feel it on your shoulders.

There are a few reasons why you might like this backpack instead of a smaller-volume frameless backpack or one with a frame. With an MSRP of $200, the Virga3 55L is quite affordable compared to other popular frameless backpacks (see 10 Best Frameless backpacks), especially those made with Dyneema Composite Fabrics or Ultra. If you want to try ultralight backpacking, the Virga3 55L is a good starter pack to experiment with. It’s also amazingly lightweight for its volume, but also easy to compress if that volume is not required. This is particularly useful if you’re going through the process of replacing heavier backpacking gear with lighter more compressible alternatives that require less volume. Finally, in terms of sizing, the Virga3 55L really covers the bases when it comes to fitting a wide variety of people across all genders, shapes, and sizes. There’s no doubt that the Virga3 55L is a much more inclusive backpack that can help more people enjoy the benefits of ultralight backpacking than most of the other frameless backpacks available today.

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Disclosure: Granite Gear donated a backpack for review.

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9 comments

  1. I have been using the Virga 2 for 7 years and absolutely love that pack. It weighs 20 ounces and the most I have carried in it is 26 lbs and have not been uncomfortable with that weight. I roll up a 6′ piece of cooler wrap from Home Depot (it’s the bubble-wrap material that has an aluminum foil-like coating on both sides. I think it cost about $20 for a 20ft roll) and use it for a frame and put it under my sleeping pad for extra warmth at night. The only down side is that my back gets pretty sweaty when I am hiking. This Virga 3 seems to have a better hip-belt and an adjustable torso length, so that could definitely be a plus for only a couple of extra ounces.
    Also, I checked Granite Gear’s website and the Virga 3 is currently selling for $140 – maybe that is last years model?

  2. Philip, thanks for another excellent review.
    Would a frame sheet from GG Crown2 38 fit into the internal pocket to add some structure to this pack?
    At 6 oz (170 g) it should not be a huge weight penalty and defeat Virga’s purpose.

  3. This looks pretty great, just wish the pad pocket were external. I guess that wouldn’t work with the adjustable torso, though.

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