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Gregory Zulu 55 Backpack Review

Gregory Zulu 55 Backpack Review

Gregory Zulu 55

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Super Comfortable Ventilated Pack

The Gregory Zulu 55 is a ventilated, adjustable frame backpack that's loaded with features but still fairly lightweight. It 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.

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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 Gregory Zulu 55 is a ventilated adjustable length backpack
The Gregory Zulu 55 is a ventilated adjustable length backpack

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 yoke has graduated markings for adjusting torso length
The shoulder yoke has graduated markings for adjusting torso length

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 front stretch mesh pocket is surrounded by a zipper. Opening it provides panel access to the pack’s interior
The front stretch mesh pocket is surrounded by a zipper. Opening it provides panel access to the pack’s interior.

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 side water bottle pockets work best with shorter squat nalgene bottles and not tall narrow soda
The side water bottle pockets work best with shorter squat 1L Nalgene bottles and not tall narrow soda bottles, which have a tendency to fall out of the front holster slots.

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.

The hip belt pockets atre generously sized with plenty of room for a smartphone and snacks
The hip belt pockets are generously sized with plenty of room for a smartphone and snacks.

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 has two tiers of side compression straps and sleeping pad straps on the bottom and front of the pack
The Zulu 55 has two tiers of side compression straps and sleeping pad straps on the bottom and front of the pack.

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.

The Zulu 55 has a trekking pole/ice axer loop..
The Zulu 55 has a trekking pole/ice axe loop..

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 / ModelWeightPriceWomen's Version
Osprey Atmos AG 50M4 lbs 3 oz$240Osprey Aura AG 50
Osprey Rook 503 lbs 8 oz$155Osprey Renn 50
Osprey Aether AG 605 lbs 3 oz$290Osprey Ariel AG 55
Deuter Futura Vario 50+104 lb s 9 0z$230Deuter Futura Vario
Gregory Zulu 553 lbs 10 oz$199Gregory Jade 53

Recommendation

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.

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8 comments

  1. Looks like a great pack. This year I’m switching from a Z Packs Arc Haul pack to the Granite Gear crown 2 38L . I’m just looking for a little more comfort. Plus I’ll be hiking this year 15 lbs. lighter in body weight. So why go for a little more comfort. Love your site.

  2. I had been looking at both packs for awhile now but was always between sizes on the torso length. I’ll have to check them out again now that’s it’s been redesigned.

  3. Thank you for the review. How would you compare this pack, especially the fit, to the Paragon 58, which I just bought.

  4. Bill in Roswell GA

    Gregory has been rocking some great packs that past few years as shown in Section Hiker’s pack reviews. That they can offer the new Zulu 55 at only $199 should make it a winner in the market place. Good call on comparing adjustable shoulder harness packs. Are there any other panel zip packs well under 4 pounds at 55 liters? Nothing comes to mind in a decently light pack. I’m happy with my Optic (thanks to Phillips great review) for a lightweight pack, but the Zulu will appeal to a broader market. Best pack for $200? Hmmm….

    Cheers,
    Bill in Roswell, GA

  5. What’s the max comfortable load you see with this pack? Is this a 30-35# pack or a 40-50# pack? Trying to advise Scouts for Philmont, and with shared gear it’s tough to keep the weight down when they haven’t gone lightweight in other regards.

    That info would also be handy in the reference for this pack in the 10 best backpacks article.

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