The Montane Grand Tour 55L is a mid-size, body hugging backpack that is easy to carry and great for technical hiking and backpacking. Made by the British gear manufacturer Montane, the Grand Tour is the big brother of an acclaimed line of smaller climbing and cragging packs introduced by Montane last year, including the Torque 40L and Medusa 32L. The larger Grand Tour reviewed here is categorized by Montane as a lightweight backpack designed for long trail hiking and I was curious to see how Montane had adapted what is clearly an alpine inspired pack design for American trails.
The Grand Tour 55L is a top-loading, alpine style backpack with a top lid pocket and a large main compartment. The pack has 8 pockets total, including 2 inside the top lid, 2 on the front of the pack, 2 bottle pockets on the sides if the pack, and 2 on the hip belt. The 6 external pockets are made with an elastic see-through mesh for easy drainage but provide no protection from rain.
Weightwise, the Grand Tour weighs 47.5 ounces fully configured on my scale, but also has an 8.8 ounce back panel and center stay which can be removed to lighten it up. The pack is made using highly durable, but light weight fabrics covered with a heavy-duty DWR coating for good water resistance.
The back of the pack has a ventilated pad with grooved air channels to vent perspiration and a sturdy lumbar pad to promote back to hip load transfer. The hip belt is fixed to the pack and has pre-curved hip wings that provide a secure and well controlled body hugging fit.
The Grand Tour is a top loading backpack with a top lid and a large main compartment. The top lid has a large top pocket, called a buddy pocket, because its zipper faces the person walking behind you rather than the back of your head like many other backpacks. This is good if you hike with other people and you don’t mind them rummaging around in your pack for stuff you can’t reach. There’s also a hidden pocket on the underside of the lid which is large enough to fit a folding map or your valuables for safe storage.
The sides of the top lid are made out of elastic mesh so that the top lid stays centered over the main compartment, instead of flopping to the side, as do many top lids that are only secured with a center strap. It mostly stays centered, too, something other packs that share this style of lid can’t claim.
There is a large main storage compartment under the top lid which is cinched tight with a draw string. The main compartment has an attached extension collar that also closes with a draw string which is helpful if you want to carry a bigger than normal load or segregate gear in the extension collar from the contents of the main compartment. I prefer draw strings over roll tops because they let you overstuff a storage space but still provide a degree of compression even if you can’t draw the string completely shut. You don’t get that option with a roll top because you end up cannibalizing capacity in order roll the sides of the compartment together and secure them.
When evaluating backpacks for long distance hiking, the main thing I look for are external pockets that are easy to access during the day without having to unpack the main compartment to get at stuff that you need like snacks, water, a water filter or water purification drops, a map and compass, and rain gear. My style of lightweight backpacking calls for fast transitions (layering, snacks, navigation checks) and external pockets are the key enabler for that kind of hiking.
The Montane Grand Tour 55 provides ample external storage to satisfy this need in the form of:
- Two side mesh pockets that are large enough to carry 1 liter Nalgene bottles
- Two zippered mesh hip belt pockets that are big enough to hold for a small camera, lotions, and snacks.
- Two teardrop pockets on the front of the pack that are large enough for crampons, microspikes, or wet clothing
But I have a few concerns about the design of these pockets from the standpoint of durability after using the Grand Tour in the field. Mesh side pockets are notorious for their tendency to rip and we’ve seen many of the ultralight backpack manufacturers who pioneered their use replace mesh side pockets with solid fabric, which is far more durable.
As a for instance, I accidentally ripped open one of the Grand Tours’ side pockets after less than 30 hours of hiking with the pack. The problem with these rips is that they need to be sewn shut or they grow to the point where the pocket becomes unusable.
I also experienced another unexpected issue with the front zippered pockets on the Grand Tour when they were filled with wet gear, which might be best described as a “wet butt.” When you put wet gear into the front pockets, water drips down the outside of the backpack, under the bottom of the backpack to the hip belt and onto your pants, wetting your butt.
While getting a wet butt while backpacking might not seem like such a problem to you, I know from experience that it can quickly develop into monkeybutt and severe chafing between the cheeks. You haven’t suffered until you’ve had to deal with this condition on a long distance hike. It is why I carry a tube of zinc oxide with me at all times.
Why does it occur on the Grand Tour and not other backpacks that have front mesh pockets? I think it’s because the bottom of the front mesh pockets don’t end at the bottom of the pack, so the water follows the curve of the pack to the hip belt where it wets the wearer’s pants. Other packs with long front mesh pockets (such as the Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 or the Gossamer Gear Mariposa) don’t suffer from this problem because they have flat bottoms instead of a curved ones and the bottom of these packs hang lower.
My advice if you buy the Grand Tour 55 is not to put wet gear into these pockets. If you hike a trail like the PCT which has little rain, then this issue is less serious, but it would be a concern on the Appalachian Trail where needing to carry wet gear is one of the trail’s constant challenges.
The suspension system on the Montane Grand Tour is where this backpack really shines. This pack carries wonderfully when loaded with up to 30-35 pounds of weight because the hip belt, framesheet, and stays work together so well.
First off, are the pre-curved hip fins which hug your hips. They’re moderately wide and padded just right. The hip belt is adjusted using a two-strap scherer cinch, where you pull the hip belt webbing forward to tighten the belt. This helps ensure balanced load distribution between both sides of your body and provides excellent mechanical leverage for getting a snug fit.
Next up are the back panel and stay system. The back panel is padded with moderately stiff padding grooved with air channels to increase back ventilation. White the padding has some give to it, it’s not soft and resists torso collapse when carrying a heavier load.
Like many lightweight backpacks, the Grand Tour has a plastic framesheet and removable stay, which you can removes to save weight. I wouldn’t bother because you won’t save much weight, only 8.8 ounces, and because it’s difficult to get back in place once removed. Furthermore, the vertical stay slots into the center of the hip belt behind the lumbar pad providing a complete connection between the back panel and hip belt, significantly enhancing this pack’s carrying comfort under load. Taking it out defeats the key strength of this pack.
In addition to the framesheet and center stay, there’s a horizontal aluminum stay in the Grand Tour at the top of the back panel which is not removable. It’s primary purpose is to anchor the pack’s load lifters, but it complements the framesheet and further prevents the back panel from buckling or torqueing under heavy loads.
The Montane Grand Tour 55 L is a high-capacity lightweight backpack (under 3 pounds) with an excellent suspension system capable of comfortably hauling 5+ day backpacking loads. It has a fantastic assortment of pockets that let you keep frequently needed gear close at hand without requiring a long stop to unpack the main compartment, enabling shorter stops when you are trying to hike high mileage days. My only concerns about the pack involve the durability of the side mesh pockets and the flow of water down the back of the pack when carrying wet gear or hiking in sustained rain. Both of these issues can “managed” by using a rain cover to protect the side mesh pockets from protruding branches and to prevent rain from soaking the hip belt and pants of the wearer, a common practice used by many backpackers, just not me. Given how good the suspension system is on this pack and the utility provided by the huge top lid pocket, carrying a rain cover might be a small price to pay to wear such a great fitting backpack.
- Fantastic fit with precurved hip belt fins.
- Great load to hip transfer with center stay and framesheet suspension system
- Cavernous top lid pocket
- Extension collar with draw string closure
- Mesh side pockets tear easily and aren’t durable
- Wet items in front mesh pockets drip water onto the hip belt/your butt
- Weight: 1,290g / 45.5oz
- Stripped Weight: 1,100g / 38.8oz
- Sizing: one size only – fits me perfectly with an 18.5″ torso, but the torso range is undocumented
Disclosure: The author received a backpack for this review.
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