The Gregory Zulu 55 (2019 model) is a ventilated, adjustable frame backpack that’s loaded with features but still fairly light, weighing in at 3 lbs 10 oz. While the Zulu and its female sibling, the Gregory Jade 53, have been on the market for many years, the new models have been completely redesigned and are very different than before. Both packs have a completely different frame which is now adjustable as well as ventilated, so you can dial your torso length and stay coolers and drier in hot weather. That’s in addition to numerous other improvements, including enlarged hip belt pockets, a pivoting and flexible hip belt, softer lumbar panels, and more durable external mesh. The new Zulu and Jade are so different from the previous models that I’m surprised Gregory didn’t just give them new product names.
Specs at Glance
- Weight: 3 lbs 10 oz
- Volume (liters): 55L (65L, 40L, 30L also available)
- Gender: Male, the women’s model is the Jade 53.
- Frame type: Internal, Perimeter
- Adjustable Length: Yes
- Ventilated: Yes
- Bear Canister Compatible: Yes
- Rain Cover: Included, weighs 3.2 oz.
- Pack Access: Top/Panel/Sleeping Bag
- Exterior Pockets: 6
- Torso Sizes: (M/L: 18-22 inches), (S/M: 16-20 inches)
- Hip belt sizes: (M/L: 29-51 inches), S/M: 27-46 inches
- Materials: 210-denier nylon/210-denier high-tenacity nylon
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Zulu 55 has a brand new perimeter frame suspension system that replaces the criss-cross wire frame of the previous model. The new Zulu frame is has an adjustable length torso, so you can dial in a custom fit. It’s also ventilated with a mesh backing that flows seamlessly over the pre-curved hip belt and gently wraps around your waist. While the area behind the mesh is curved to enable airflow, it’s doesn’t intrude noticeably into the pack’s main compartment or interfere with packing.
The perimeter steel wire is a 360 degree loop that terminates in the hip belt behind your hips for excellent load transfer. It flexes naturally when you walk and scramble, providing excellent torsional flex and stability. The bottom lumbar area at the base of the frame is covered with free-floating padding that adapts naturally to your body shape and doesn’t cause any unwanted pressure in this sensitive area. When the pack is loaded, the ventilated mesh wraps gently around your mid back and shoulders, so the pack is aligned with your torso and not pulling you backwards like some ventilated backpacks can.
The length of the torso is easy to adjust by releasing the velcro yoke that connect the shoulder straps to the frame. Sizing is marked on the yoke so you can keep track of your preferred torso length and adjust it accordingly. The velcro holds firmly when reattached and won’t slip under load.
The shoulder straps are connected to the frame by load lifter straps and are covered by the same breathable mesh covering the hip belt. The shoulder pads are S-shaped, so they’ll be comfortable regardless of your upper body physique, including well-developed and muscular chests. Both shoulder straps have external sunglass holders and hydration loops, so you can locate items on the side you like. A sliding sternum strap makes it easy to adjust the strap height depending on your preference and chest size.
The Zulu hip belt has a single center buckle and closes with pull forward straps for mechanical advantage. Internal foam cutouts in the pre-curved hip belt wings wrap above and below your iliac crest (hip bones) to prevent slipping. They feel nice when you’re wearing the pack.
Backpack Storage and Organization Setup
The Zulu 55 is a conventional alpine-style backpack with a floating top lid. The top lid has two zippered pockets, one on top and one on the underside of the lid where the optional rain cover is stored. The floating lid is attached to the pack with four webbing straps and can be raised 4 inches if you need to overstuff the pack and use the extra extension collar at the top of the main compartment. You can also use the lid to hold over-size items between the lid and the top of the main compartment, like a sleeping pad, rope, or tent body.
The main compartment can be accessed in one of three ways: from the top through a drawstring closure under the top lid, through a front panel that zips closed around the front mesh pocket, and through a sleeping bag hatch. Panel access if very convenient for travel because you can access deeply buried gear without having to unpack the packs contents. There’s also a separate sleeping bag hatch at the base of the pack with an optional shelf in the interior to wall off a sleeping bag compartment if you want one.
The packs two mesh pockets that can be used to hold gear or water bottles. The mesh covering these pockets is quite robust and tear resistant. The front of these pockets has a holster-style opening so you can reach back and pull a bottle out one-handed or replace it while wearing the pack. This feature works best with 1L Nalgene bottles: longer soda and water bottles have a tendency to pop out of the pockets when you bend over or se the pack down on the ground. You can still carry taller water bottles, but you have to position them vertically toward the rear of the side pockets to do so.
The front stretch mesh pocket is fairly narrow and best used for stuffing coats and other layers into. But it’s not wide or large enough to store a pair of crocs in, for instance. It too is covered with the same heavy-duty mesh found on the side pockets, with small weave that won’t catch on overhanging shrubs and vegetation.
Finally, the hip belt has two oversized zippered pockets. Both are hard-faced for better durability and water resistance. They easily fit a Smartphone, point and shoot camera, or snack bars.
Backpack Compression and External Attachment System
The Zulu 55 has two tiers of side compression straps that both close with easy to open and close squeeze buckles. This makes it a lot easier to secure gear, including snowshoes, to the sides of the pack if you need to carry heavy or bulky objects that won’t fit in the pack bag. You can also carry items between the top of the main compartment and the floating lid such as sleeping pads, tent bodies, or rope coils.
The Zulu 55 also comes with a pair of sleeping pad straps that originate at the base of the pack and connect to buckles just above the sleep bag hatch pocket. These are not removable straps, but it’s still a nice feature that helps extend the range of this 55L backpack.
The pack has a single ice axe loop on the front with an elastic shaft holder that can also be used to carry trekking poles on the front of the pack. There are however no daisy chains on the exterior of the pack because they’d interfere with the panel access zipper. The only exception to this are four gear loops on the top lid that could be used to hang a solar panel or secure a climbing helmet to the top of the pack.
Comparable Ventilated and Adjustable-Length Backpacks
The number of ventilated and adjustable-length backpacks available today is quite small, as you can see below. The number of sub-4 pound packs in this category is ever smaller, but includes the Zulu 55.
|Make / Model||Weight||Price||Women's Version|
|Osprey Atmos AG 50M||4 lbs 3 oz||$240||Osprey Aura AG 50|
|Osprey Rook 50||3 lbs 8 oz||$155||Osprey Renn 50|
|Osprey Aether AG 60||5 lbs 3 oz||$290||Osprey Ariel AG 55|
|Deuter Futura Vario 50+10||4 lb s 9 0z||$230||Deuter Futura Vario|
|Gregory Zulu 55||3 lbs 10 oz||$199||Gregory Jade 53|
Weighing just over 3.5 pounds, the Gregory Zulu 55 is a great pack for multi-day trips or overseas travel, with a variety of organization options and access methods that make it easy to pack and extract gear. It has comfortable and lively backpacking pack with a back-hugging ventilated and adjustable frame. While its integrated mesh back panel and hip belt are comparable to Osprey’s AntiGravity (AG) suspension system, the Zulu is substantially lighter weight than the AG packs and has a less intrusive ventilation cavity that doesn’t pull you backwards or interfere with packing the main compartment. But the thing about the Zulu 55 that really stands out for me is how natural it feels when you strap it on, especially the hip belt. It doesn’t slip, at-all, and doesn’t create a lot of pressure on the hips, even when you pack really heavy. The new Zulu 55 is a keeper. Highly recommended!
Disclosure: Gregory provided the author with 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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