The Gregory Packs Paragon 48 is a new lightweight, alpine-style backpack designed to fill the void between minimalist ultralight backpacks and the plush and deluxe, monster capacity backpacks that Gregory is known for like the Denali 100 or the Baltoro 85. Weighing 3 pounds (minus an optional rain cover), the Paragon 48 has an adjustable length torso, a lightweight frame, and a pre-curved hip belt that make it very comfortable to wear, even when heavily loaded. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of capabilities and comfort that Gregory was able to add to the Paragon 48 backpack, while still keeping it relatively lightweight.
- Pack Weight: 3 pounds (size M/L)
- Rain Cover: 3.4 ounces
- Maximum recommended load: 40 pounds
- Style: Top lid, alpine-style
- Body: 210D CryptoRip Nylon and 100D High Tenacity Nylon
- Base: 210D High Tenacity Nylon w/ 135D High Density polyester reinforcement
- Lining, Harness, Hipbelt, Lumbar: 135D High Density Embossed Polyester
- Torso sizes: 18″-22″
- Waist sizes: 25″-53″
- Sex: Men’s only – the Women’s version of the Paragon 48 is called the Maven 45.
The Paragon is available in 38L, 48L, 58L, and 68L sizes. I chose to review the 48L size because it’s large enough for multi-day backpacking trips, including thru-hikes, but not so heavy to disqualify from consideration for lightweight backpacking. Truth is, the pack feels a lot bigger than 48L in term of the amount of gear it can hold and carry comfortable, but that’s probably the result of having a good frame and suspension system.
Let’s take a closer look at this backpack.
Internal Storage and Organization
Floating top lid
The Paragon 48 is an alpine style backpack with a floating top lid pocket, so you can raise and lower it if you want to stuff gear underneath against the top of the main compartment like ropes, tent bodies, or a sleeping pad. Unfortunately a bear canister doesn’t fit under the Paragon 48 top lid because it’s not wide enough, but you get the idea.
The Paragon top lid has two pockets, but they’re both quite shallow. The bottom pocket is sized for maps and the top pocket, for small navigation devices or personal items. This is good…because the top lid acts more like a flap instead of a lid, and doesn’t flop awkwardly backwards when the main compartment isn’t full. Nicely done. This is a common problem with many other packs that have floating top lids.
The main compartment is cavernous and closes with a draw string. There’s an internal hydration pocket along the back panel, that runs all the way down to the base of the pack, so quite long. It has a single hook at the top where you can hang a reservoir, with ports that come out the center top of the pack, between the shoulder straps.
You can also access the bottom of the pack through a sleeping bag zipper from the outside, although there isn’t an internal shelf to segregate a sleeping bag from the rest of the main compartment. When you unzip the sleeping bag compartment, the entire base of the backpack is accessible so you can reach gear packed there without having to take out everything out of the top of the main compartment.
Despite the sleeping bag zipper, my advice is to line the inside of this pack and all backpacks with a white plastic compactors bag to keep your gear dry if you plan on hiking in a climate that has rain. Rain and moisture leak through the seams of all backpacks, (even ones made with waterproof fabrics and when you use a rain cover) but a plastic bag will keep your gear dry. It does however make having a bottom zipper pointless because you’ll just see the plastic when you unzip the zipper.
Side water bottle pockets
The Paragon 48 has mesh side water bottle pocket that are large enough to hold a Nalgene bottle wrapped in winter insulation. They’re both reachable when the pack is worn and it’s easy to take a bottle out and replace it. The base of the mesh pockets is flush with the bottom of the pack and not protected by an extra fabric panel, so expect the mesh to rip and abrade fairly quickly.
Rear shovel pocket
There’s a deep mesh shovel pocket on the back of the pack for storing loose or wet items. There’s also a hidden zippered pocket inside it which Gregory uses to store the optional included rain fly (weighs 3.5 ounces). That hidden pocket is great to stash flat items like plane tickets or guide-book pages, stuff you want convenient access too, without having to open the pack.
As for the optional rain cover, I’d discard it. As I recommend previously, I’d line this pack with a big plastic bag to keep the contents dry. Backpacks like the Paragon, made with modern nylons, don’t absorb much water when they get wet. I think carrying a rain cover is fairly pointless as long as you line the pack, but YMMV.
Compression and External Attachment System
The Paragon has plenty of external attachment points in keeping with its alpine-style character. In addition to the floating lid pocket, described above, the pack has two tiers of side compression straps, which are good for securing long items to the side of the pack. The straps are long enough to comfortably store snowshoes on the sides of the pack, but they don’t unbuckle with a clip, so it takes a little fiddling to get them under the straps. The bottom side compression strap can also be routed on the inside of the side water bottle pocket, so you can have compression that won’t compromised the pocket’s use.
The Paragon 48 also comes with a pair of webbing straps along the bottom of the pack that are good for securing items like tents or sleeping pads to the base of the pack. You don’t see these straps on many backpacks anymore but they are very handy for hauling awkwardly sized gear. These same straps perform double duty on the Paragon as a pair of ice axe holders, although the pack only includes one elastic shaft holder. None of these straps are removable however, at least not without a pair of scissors.
If you want to rig up your own external attachment system with cord and cord locks, there are a few external loops you can leverage for this purpose. I count six possible attachment points on the perimeter of the rear mesh shovel pocket and four on top of the floating lid. That Paragon is not really optimized for this, but you can bend it to your will if you’re motivated.
Backpack Frame and Suspension System
While the Paragon 48 is a bit heavily “featured” with old-school comforts and organizational features, the adjustable length torso size and lightweight frame are surprisingly streamlined and top-notch. They really “make” this pack special, even if some of the pack’s bells and whistles aren’t perfect from a more minimalist perspective.
There’s also a lot to be said for buying a backpack with an adjustable torso size, especially for beginner backpackers, who may have a hard time understanding how a well-fitting backpack should feel when they buy one. Having an adjustable length pack lets you really dial in a personalized, precise fit that’s unobtainable without having a custom backpack made just for you. The weight trade-off is often worth it.
Adjustable torso length
The Paragon 48 has a rip and stick style, velcro-based, torso length adjustment system that lets you raise and lower the height of the shoulder straps. It’s very simple to use and doesn’t slip under load. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to correlate the height of the shoulder straps with your torso length, if you already know what it is, because the size indicators don’t have printed torso lengths in inches or centimeters.
The front of the torso adjustment system touching your back is ventilated and well cushioned for comfort. It flares out slightly as it drops behind the lumbar region, but not uncomfortably, and helps with load transfer to the hip belt. The rear wings of the hip belt connect to the frame behind the lumber pad. They are stiffened with plastic to prevent the hip belt from buckling and hip belt wings are pre-curved, providing a nice wrap around the sides of your hip. Pocket placement is a little farther back than I prefer, but still usable.
The Paragon 48’s frame is an aluminum tube that runs along the perimeter of the back panel and slots down into the hip belt. It has a horizontal plastic stiffener located inside the main compartment behind the small of your back, but is fairly minimal as frames go. When coupled with the adjustable torso length system and ventilated backpack, it provides plenty of rigidity for the Paragon 48 and excellent load transfer to the hip belt. I’ve carried a ton of heavy gear on hikes using the Paragon 48 and rate its max load at a comfortable 40 pounds.
The hip belt length is fixed on the Paragon 48 to the S/M and M/L sized packs (the hip belt is not interchangeable like some of Gregory’s other pack’s), but still generously sized. While covered with mesh, the hip belt is not overly padded, which I prefer on a pack this size, because it provides a more responsive fit.
Note: The hip belt on the larger Paragon 58 and 68 is adjustable and can be resized. Too bad they left this feature off the Paragon 48.
The hip belt has two zippered pockets, one mesh (and prone to rips) and one solid, both large enough to be useful. The hip belt size is adjusted using the two-way, pull-forward Scherer cinch that many other backpacks use. There are also hip control webbing straps linking the hip belt to the base of the pack, to let you pull it closer to the hip belt for better load control when scrambling. These straps are handy for clipping an insulated water bottle to with a carabiner, if you use the Paragon 48 for snowshoeing and other winter hiking pursuits.
The Paragon 48 has load lifters that let you pull the top of the pack closer to your shoulders and help align it with your hips. These can be hard to identify when reaching back behind your shoulders blindly, because they’re co-located near with the front straps of the floating lid. Nothing much you can do about that. It’s something most packs with floating lids suffer from.
The shoulder straps on this men’s only pack are J-curved to wrap around your chest. They’re also ventilated using the same foam and cutout pattern found on the back panel. Beside hydration hose keeper straps, they’re aren’t any good places to attach accessory pockets on the outside of the Paragon’s shoulder straps, something to consider if you like to attach a Delorme InReach, a GPS unit, or a camera pocket there.
The Gregory Packs Paragon 48 does an admirable job balancing light weight, comfort, and features while weighing exactly 3 pounds, without the optional rain cover. The aluminum frame, pre-curved hip belt, and adjustable torso length make this an excellent backpack to try if you like a more traditional, alpine-style feature set. Having an adjustable torso length on a backpack this lightweight is also a big benefit compared with packs that only have fixed torso length ranges.
While there are a few features on this pack that I could do without like the bottom sleeping bag compartment zipper and the rain cover, those are easy to live with and trumped by the Paragon’s excellent frame and suspension system. I like body hugging packs like the Paragon that move with you, even when they’re loaded with 35-40 pounds of gear and food. I recommend that you add the Paragon 48 to your shortlist if you’re looking for a top loading backpack with the Paragon’s feature set.
- Adjustable torso length
- Lightweight, but stiff frame transfers weight to hip belt
- Pre-curved hip belt wings provide great fit
- Top lid doesn’t flop around uselessly when main compartment is less than full
- Mesh on side water bottle pockets and hip belt pocket is prone to damage
- Bottom hatch is useless if you line your pack with a pack liner, which I still recommend even though this pack comes with an optional rain cover
- Limited attachment points on shoulder straps
Disclosure: Gregory Packs provided the author with a sample backpack for this review.
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