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Gregory Octal 55 Women’s Backpack Review

Gregory Octal 55 Backpack Review

Gregory Octal 55 Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Great Women's Pack

The Gregory Octal 55 is a women-specific ventilated backpack that weighs just 2 and a half pounds. Rich in pockets and features, it's plush, but won't slow you down.

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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
  • Sizing
    • 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
The Octal 55 is a ventilated backpack with a mesh cavity to promote airflow and keep you dry.
The Octal 55 is a ventilated backpack with a mesh cavity to promote airflow and keep you dry.

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 Octal has female-specific shoulder straps and a hip belt that are designed to fit around a women's curves without chafing.
The Octal has female-specific shoulder straps and a gender-specific hip belt that are designed to fit around a women’s curves without chafing.

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.

The Octal includes a fitted backpack rain cover
The Octal includes a fitted backpack rain cover

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.

front stretch pocket is large enough to carry crocs and wet clothes
The front stretch pocket is large enough to carry crocs and wet clothes.

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.

Water bottles don't fall out of the holder pockets when I bend over
Water bottles don’t fall out of the holder pockets when I bend over.

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.

Z-shaped side compression straps
Z-shaped side compression straps

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.

The Octal 55 has rear straps for carrying a sleeping pad or a tent
The Octal 55 has rear straps for carrying a sleeping pad or a tent

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 / ModelVentilatedWeightPrice
REI Flash 55No2 lbs 10 oz$199
Granite Gear Crown 2 60No2 lbs 3 oz$200
Gregory Jade 53Yes3 lbs 6 oz$200
Gregory Octal 55Yes2 lbs 10 oz$209
Osprey Lumina 60Yes1 lbs 14 oz$270
Osprey Eja 58Yes2 lbs 10 oz$220
Osprey Aura AG 50Yes4 lbs 2 oz$240
Osprey Renn 65Yes3 lbs 7 oz$165
The North Face Banchee 50No3 lbs 5 oz$199

Recommendation

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.

The top lid is removable and can be replaced with a simpler and lighter weight speed lid
The top lid is removable and can be replaced with a simpler and lighter weight speed lid

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

Beth Zimmer is an expert backpacker who's backpacked all over New England and Eastern Canada, with a long list of hiking accomplishments to her name. She's section hiked the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, climbed the New England Hundred Highest and the New Hampshire 200 highest (mostly bushwhacks), redlined the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles), and climbed the White Mountain 4000 footers several times over. Beth also teaches GPS and off-trail navigation classes as a volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club and is co-chair of the New Hampshire Excursions Committee, which oversees all volunteer hiking and leadership training activities. When she's not hiking and backpacking, Beth resides in New Hampshire where she can usually be found sipping coffee and planning her next adventure.

Disclosure: Gregory provided a backpack for this review.

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6 comments

  1. I’m really happy with the Octal. It carried well on a 6 nights outing where I started with 10 lbs of food and had to carry a couple litres of water at times.

    Hip belt pocket barely fit my Pixel phone. It would not fit any of the larger phones.

    It’s a great pack. I had high hopes for it and am not disappointed.

    • Looks like we came to the same conclusion! I was really pleased with the Octal. Lightweight. Capacity to carry what I need for backpacking. Great pack all around.

  2. .Beth, when I read this review and saw the pictures I was sure it was you. Then it was confirmed at the end. Sounds like a pack I would consider as I keep thinking I need a new back packing pack. I think the had was part of the giveaway

  3. HI where can I get the womens in Australia?

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