The Gregory Packs Octal 55 is an ultralight backpack with a ventilated frame that helps evaporate back sweat and keep your shirt dry when hiking. Weighing 2 lbs 10 oz, it’s also one of a very small handful of female specific ultralight backpacks today, with shoulder straps and a specially curved and padded hip belt to fit around the woman’s form. For all of their innovation, cottage backpacking manufacturers have been pretty slow to make backpacks specifically for women, with female-specific shoulder straps and hip belts.
If you’re looking at the Osprey Eja or Osprey Lumina backpacks because they are women’s backpacks and have ventilated frames, I’d encourage you to compare them against the Gregory Octal 55. While it has a more conventional appearance, the Octal carries heavier loads closer to your back and core than the Eja or Lumina, making it much more responsive when scrambling or hiking uphill. Plus it has hip belt pockets and a comfortable hip belt. The Octal is also available in multiple volumes including 45 liter and 55 liter sizes. The men’s version of this backpack is called the Optic 58.
Specs at a Glance:
- Gender: Women’s
- Ventilated: Yes
- Frame: Internal
- Rain cover: Included
- Pockets: 8, including main compartment
- Max recommended load: 30-35 pounds
- Total weight: 2 lbs 10 oz (women’s small)
- Removable Components:
- Rain cover: 3.2 oz
- Top lid: 3.1 oz
- Speed Lid: 1.2 oz
- Women’s Extra Small: Torso – 14 to 16″, Hips: 22-46″
- Women’s Small: Torso – 16-18″, Hips: 22-48″
- Women’s Medium: Torso – 18-20″, Hips: 25-53
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Gregory Octal is a ventilated “trampoline-style” backpack that’s optimized for effective airflow behind your back. Breathable mesh is suspended in front of the back panel creating a large ventilated space behind your back that’s designed to evaporate sweat before it can soak your shirt. The mesh is tightly stretched across the aluminum frame, hence the name, trampoline, which also serves to anchor the hip belt and load lifters. While many backpacks claim to provide foam air channels to facilitate ventilation, you really need a deep cavity behind the shoulder straps to keep your back and shirt perspiration free.
The Octal 55 has a lightweight wire frame with horizontal reinforcements that help stiffen it up. The mesh trampoline is suspended from it, with a cavity that’s 1 to 2 inches deep behind it to facilitate air flow. You can feel the mesh on your back, but there’s no noticeable backwards pull to throw you off-balance when the pack is heavily loaded, and load transfer to the hip belt is really superb. Load lifters are included and anchored to the wire frame for maximum effectiveness. I was very impressed with how the weight of the pack felt “tight” and “one” with my body and movement. I was able to transfer the load through my hips, and keep the weight transfer off my shoulders. This is super important to me, because I’m not very tall and have a slim build.
The hip belt has beefy hip belt pockets and is pre-curved to wrap around female hip bones. It’s wide enough to comfortably transfer load of a loaded pack, but not too bulky, and fits well. It’s covered with wicking mesh and has a slight lumbar pad at the rear, that’s well cushioned and hardly noticeable. The hip belt also has a pull forward cinch system that’s easy to tighten.
Backpack Organization and Storage
The Octal 55 is a conventional top loading backpack that closes with a drawstring. It has a top lid with two pockets, one external and one under the lid for storing small items like gloves, maps, and keys. The top lid can be replaced with a speed lid that does not have pockets, but covers the drawstring opening to block out rain or dust. While the top lid is technically a floating lid, it has very short straps which make it less suitable for compressing bulky gear against the top of the main compartment, which is how floating lids are normally used.
The pack has a front stretch mesh pocket which is good for storing layers or wet items. It’s large enough for me to fit my Crocs and a rain coat, which is my favorite use for this kind of pocket. There are also two large stretch mesh side water bottle pockets. The side bottle pockets are large enough to fit two 1L Smartwater bottles at once. They also have holster-style front cutouts, designed for use with Nalgene liter bottles , if you prefer them. Unlike other packs, the pocket and stretchy design hold a Nalgene securely in place so they never slip out, even when you bend over. While you can pull a bottle stored in the side pocket out through the holster-hole, you need to take the pack off to get it back into the side pocket. If you prefer to use a hydration system, there is a large hydration pocket in the main compartment and a central hang loop to keep it vertical.
The hip belt has two large zippered solid pockets with large zipper pulls, so you can open them when wearing gloves. The pockets are large enough to store cell phones, a point and shoot camera, or snack bars. There are no pockets on the shoulder straps, although there is a place to hang sunglasses.
External Attachment Points and Compression
The Octal 55 has side compression straps on each side of the pack – a top strap and a bottom one – threaded in a diagonal pattern. They work well as compression straps, but the diagonal pattern and the lack of side release buckles makes it difficult to use them for holding larger items along the sides of the pack.
However, it is possible to attach a sleeping pad or tent to the bottom of the pack with accessory webbing. This is a nice feature to have on a backpacking pack and one that’s often missing on 50-60 liter backpacks. The bottom side compression strap is threaded to come out the bottom and back of the side compression pocket and has enough slack in it to hold a pad or tent.
The pack also comes with a pair of ice axe loops that can also be used as trekking pole holders. Two adjustable elastic shaft/pole holders are included along the sides of the front mesh pocket, another feature that’s left off many packs. Nice attention to detail, that.
If you want to rig up your own external attachment points there are four webbing loops on the corners of the front mesh pocket for this purpose. Just tie some elastic cord between them, add a cord lock to help tension it, and you can attach wet clothing to the back of the pack with ease. There are additional webbing loops on the top lid that can also be used to hang a solar panel.
Comparable Women’s Backpacks
|Make / Model||Ventilated||Weight||Price|
|REI Flash 55||No||2 lbs 10 oz||$199|
|Granite Gear Crown 2 60||No||2 lbs 3 oz||$200|
|Gregory Jade 53||Yes||3 lbs 6 oz||$200|
|Gregory Octal 55||Yes||2 lbs 10 oz||$209|
|Osprey Lumina 60||Yes||1 lbs 14 oz||$270|
|Osprey Eja 58||Yes||2 lbs 10 oz||$220|
|Osprey Aura AG 50||Yes||4 lbs 2 oz||$240|
|Osprey Renn 65||Yes||3 lbs 7 oz||$165|
|The North Face Banchee 50||No||3 lbs 5 oz||$199|
The Gregory Octal 55 is an ultralight ventilated backpack that weighs 42 ounces, but can be lightened down to 37 ounces, if you remove its optional components. Ventilated, trampoline style backpacks are desirable because they help reduce perspiration and keep your shirt dry when backpacking. Some ventilated frames, including the Osprey Eja, can throw you off-balance because they shift your center of gravity behind your hips. That’s not the case with the Octal 55, which sits closer to your hips and core muscles where it can be carried more comfortably and efficiently.
Gregory has done a really nice job with the Octal 55 and demonstrated that you can make a fully featured, ventilated women’s backpack that weighs close to 2 and 1/2 pounds. If you prefer a backpack that’s been designed for women, I’d encourage you to put the Gregory Packs Octal 55 on your short list for serious consideration. I’m pretty impressed with this pack and think it’s a great addition to the handful of women’s specific lightweight backpacks available today.
About the Author
Disclosure: Gregory provided a backpack for this review.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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