A preliminary review, but very pleased already
Ill preface this review with my cut and paste statement that I work as a backcountry backpacking guide in Yosemite National Park. Nearly all of the products I take the time to review have seen at least a half a season, if not more, of use... and Im committed to not bothering to write a review until I feel like Ive really gotten to know a product. *This review is an exception. I've had the pack on a couple short hikes (4 miles) to kick the tires and form a relatively informed opinion since my season in Yosemite doesn't start for another month or so. I wanted to get a solid review up to help out people looking for a nice, lightweight pack.* I never thought Id bother to write reviews, but Ive recently decided that since Ive spent so much time over these last many years reading reviews, and finding a tremendous amount of value in articulate and well-informed opinions, that I wanted to give back to the community. So, with that being said, here we go...
I've had a few Granite Gear packs and so far my favorite is likely the Nimbus Latitude. I wrote up a review on it, although the pack is long discontinued, so the review is a slightly meaningless. This pack, after really putting some months and miles on it, may very well be my new favorite. Its about a pound lighter than the Nimbus, and while it doesn't accommodate a bear can quite as well as the Nimbus, it does a fine job. However, after playing with a few setups I've finally come up with an optimal solution.
Upon first putting the pack on I was immediately happy with the torso length. I ordered a long, as I not only have a long torso... but I prefer to keep nearly all the weight off my shoulders. However, I also immediately noticed that where the top of the two shoulder straps are sewn to the pack they are quite close together, leaving anyone with a wide neck having to deal with quite a bit of abrasion from the straps rubbing the sides of their neck at the base. I have a relatively long, narrow neck... and even with a couple fingers space between my shoulders and the straps I still am aware of the proximity of the shoulder straps, though abrasion isn't an issue. If one was so inclined they might find a great solution in cutting up a fleece (or using some sheepskin seatbelt cover) to place over the shoulder straps for comfort.
The pack sits very nicely on my waist, and distributes weight very well. With the pack filled to about 30 pounds or so with my normal kit (including food, etc) it tucked into my lower back very well, and other than my issue with the shoulder straps the pack was very, very comfortable. However, very important to note is that as of this moment the waist belts for this pack are quite oversized. I have a 34" waist or so... and the men's medium belt just barely fits with it cinched as tight as it will go. Keep that in mind when ordering a pack.
The quality of the pack itself is fantastic. The stitching and fabric are top notch, and the pack itself looks and feels bombproof. The removable, internal backpanel feels quite flimsy, and that's a bit misleading. If you're skilled at packing your pack well, and keep it tight, then you'll find the pack's seeming lack of structure only an illusion. The pack holds its shape well when packed properly, and melds to your back perfectly, while keeping weight distributed very well.
As for bear cans... here's a quick bit of info. I carry both Garcias and BV500s depending on the trip and clients. I've always preferred to pack the can horizontally inside the top of my pack, and while that's possible to do with a Garcia in this pack... a BV500 will not really fit well horizontally. You can force it, but it stresses the fabric and stitching way past what is reasonable. I spent an hour or two hiking around four miles with my full kit and a Garcia inside, and the pack did very well. However, I found the best setup is to pack all my standard gear which fills the pack to a few inches below the top of the backpanel, then close the rolltop and use the two clips to secure it. Then take the bear can, place it firmly on top of the closed rolltop, then use the two top straps to secure the bear can on top. This has a really beneficial side effect - it creates tension between the top of the rolltop, below the backpanel, and the top straps. This pulls the internal backpanel upwards toward the back of the bear can and makes the pack more structured, which not only lifts the shoulders straps further off your shoulders, helping to solve the abrasion issue mentioned earlier, but it also helps tighten the entire pack and load which helps distribute the load into your lower back and waist. The moment I tried this setup the difference was obvious... and it'll be the setup I use this upcoming season.
Since this is an early review I very well might come back in a few months and ass a few notes or an update to this review.
All in all... this is a fantastic pack, and very comfortable given its incredibly light weight. It's definitely another piece of gear that reflects Granite Gear's great design philosophy... and the quality of their products.