UPDATE, January 2013: After continued problems with the pack’s suspension, which appeared shortly after writing this initial survey, I can no longer recommend the Crown VC 60. Please see the long-term review for full details. The following post remains otherwise in-tact.
I have recently been looking for the last piece in my transition to ultralight backpacking—the pack itself. All but convinced to go with a new GoLite Jam 50, I ordered the Granite Gear Crown VC 60 to try on as a comparison. Surprised by the fit and carry, the Crown has become my backpack of choice.
Since I am relatively new to UL, this is my first experience with a (sort of, see below) frameless pack. Bear in mind that my impressions and comparisons are drawn primarily from the world of traditional (i.e., heavy) internal-framed packs.
Measurement and Fit
The following measurements are based upon my pack—a size Regular torso with a Medium hipbelt:
Main Pack Weight – 23.14 oz / 656 g
Hipbelt Weight – 5.68 oz / 161 g
Framesheet Weight – 5.75 oz / 163 g
Total Weight – 34.57 oz / 980 g
Main Pack Dimensions – 14.5 x 8.5 x 24.75″/ 36.8 x 21.6 x 62.9 cm (excluding extension collar—Note: The pack is not rectangular; as such, dimensions are approximate)
True Torso Length – 17.75″ / 45.1 cm (from the middle of the hipbelt)
Traditional Torso Length – 19.5″ / 49.5 cm (from the bottom of the hipbelt)
Shoulder Strap Length – 18″ / 45.7 cm
Shoulder Strap Width – 2.625″ / 6.7 cm
Hipbelt Length – 31″ / 78.7 cm
Hipbelt Height – 4.25″ / 10.8 cm
Extension Collar Length – 10.75″ / 27.3 cm
Lineloc Cord Length (Side) – 11″ / 27.9 cm
Lineloc Cord Length (Front) – 9″ / 22.9 cm
Side Pockets Height – 8.25″ tapering to 5.5″ / 21 cm to 14 cm
Side Pockets Width – 8″ / 20.3 cm
Hydration Sleeve Height – 22.25″ /56.5 cm
Hydration Sleeve Width – 9.625″ / 24.4 cm (Note: The hydration sleeve and the framesheet sleeve are integrated into one to save weight.)
The pack fits me very well. Regarding my torso length, someone at REI once tried to measure me at a 16″ torso. Technically, she was right—I have extremely high iliac crests, topping out well above my belly button. What she failed to see was that it would do me little good to have the bottom third of my back hanging out below a pack.
What I have found is that I wear this pack a little higher than previous ones I’ve owned, and the wrap-around hipbelt essentially negates my problems with far less tension on the belt than I am used to. For me, the torso length is ideal, and thus the fit is excellent. I do not need the load lifters unless experiencing torso collapse from a heavy load (30 pounds and above, in my experience so far).
Materials and Durability
According to Granite Gear’s website, the main pack (the grey fabric) is made of 100 denier ripstop nylon while the bottom and reinforcement sections (the green fabric) are made of 210 denier Cordura nylon (in a taffeta weave). The pockets are made of some kind of stretch mesh.
While I have yet to experience any kind of long-term use of these materials (obviously, since the pack was only recently released), I did have the opportunity to spend some time bushwacking with the pack through nine-year old deadfall and new reforestation.
After examination, I can find no evidence of snags or wear on the nylon materials. I was particularly concerned about the stretch mesh pockets, as they caught on several branches, and the right pocket has one small tear, about 3/8″ (0.83 cm) long. To be fair, I was at a point of serious frustration with the conditions, and I felt the snag, but pushed on without trying to remove it. I cannot imagine that any other mesh would have fared differently.
Time will tell if these trends holds true. For the present, at least, I am generally positive.
Load Carry and Suspension
Granite Gear lists the maximum load capacity to 35 lbs / 16 kg. So far, I have carried the pack on several day hike tests, with normal UL two-day loads (17-18 lbs / 8 kg total pack weight) and one overnighter (28 lbs / 12.7 kg, including snowshoes and 3 1/2 liters of water). On one day hike, I also strapped my wife’s pack to the top, bringing the total to 30 lbs / 13.6 kg.
Without a doubt, in each of these instances, the Crown has carried the load excellently. The hipbelt both wraps around my waist very well, and it is made of a dense, stiff foam that gives it a great deal of structure. My waist is sized at 36″ / 91.4 cm, and the Medium hipbelt leaves me with about 4″ of webbing when cinched. After several hikes, the foam has begun to conform to the shape of my hips well.
The Crown’s framesheet is made of plastic and generally floppy, but it works very well. I have carried the pack with both the stock framesheet and a folded up Gossamer Gear 1/8″ Thinlight pad, and both transfer weight very well to the hips. In fact, I cannot tell a difference in the carry between the two. Since I already carry the pad for my inflatable mattress, the pack weight drops to 28.82 oz / 817 g. In fact the time that I strapped my wife’s day pack to the Crown, I was using the Thinlight pad instead of the framesheet, and I only experienced minor torso collapse (due to the fact that I just strapped it on with little attempt to balance it) that the load lifters easily resolved.
I also have an old framesheet with a sleeve for an aluminum stay from an old Marmot pack. After a little trimming, it fits in the Crown’s sleeve very nicely. As soon as I can access a friend’s drill press, I intend to add some holes similar to the Crown’s framesheet so that—ideally—I will only be penalized two ounces or less for the improved carry.
The pack also hugs my back very well. I am not convinced that the Vapor Current suspension will resolve my perennial issues with a sweaty back, but it does conform well to the shape of my back (helped of course by the flexibility of the framesheet). The back pad is also robust enough to act as a thin framesheet itself. A careful packer might be able to get by without any kind of frame at all.
Compression and Linelocs
In true Granite Gear fashion, the compression options for the pack are very good. The loss of the third compression strap (compared to the Blaze AC 60—the Crown’s beefier cousin) seems to have little impact on the ability to reduce the pack’s volume.
Frankly, the Linelocs seem gimmicky to me. The 3/8″ webbing used for the top compression straps would barely register as additional weight if used instead of the Linelocs. The cord supplied by Granite Gear is not all that burly. I don’t expect it to abrade quickly, but I don’t expect it to last either. It seems to have no advantage over the thin webbing used elsewhere.
No advantage, that is, save one: modularity. Typical 2mm cord fits well in the Lineloc buckles, meaning that I can add lightweight, dyneema cords cut to any length that I need. I picked up a set of buckles from Gossamer Gear to use with Lawson’s Ironwire. With spring arriving, I haven’t bothered to fiddle with them yet, but it should be a simple process to rig straps for carrying snowshoes on the pack.
Even so, my current velcro straps (which double as my quilt straps) work just fine with the snowshoes, even if they are not as easy-on / easy-off as proper buckles would be.
Likes and Dislikes
Overall, I am very pleased with the Crown so far. There is much to like, and few real negatives so far—only quibbles truly.
(1) The roll-top compression doesn’t give you the option to clip the ends of the extension collar together—the buckles on both ends are female. The hiker should have the option to clip them together at the top or down at the sides. In fact, this is the only place I prefer the Linelocs to the 3/8″ webbing. If a person preferred clipping the roll-top at the top (like I do) he could just remove the side straps altogether without cutting out the option of using them later.
(2) Four buckles have to be unclipped to access the main pack. It’s not terrible, but I’d prefer a simpler system (see above).
(3) The stretch mesh pockets on the shoulder straps are too small and sit too high on my shoulders to be of any use.
(4) The shoulder straps could be longer for broad-chested hikers (like myself). They are just barely long enough for me without being uncomfortable.
(5) The shoulder straps cant very nicely over my trapezius, but I would rather them be spaced 1-1.5″ farther apart.
(6) Linelocs vs. 3/8″ webbing (see above).
(7) The zipper on the framesheet / hydration sleeve is entirely unnecessary. Hook and loop would be just fine.
(1) The fit is excellent—especially the long, tall hipbelt.
(2) Modular components. I can configure the pack in several ways according to the needs of a particular trip, getting it as low 23.14 oz / 656 g (no hipbelt or framesheet). While this is not the lightest pack available, it keeps me from having several specialized packs.
(3) Modular frame options. I feel confident that I can easily meet—if not exceed—the 35 lb / 16 kg limit Granite Gear specifies with the framesheet options that I have. I don’t like to carry that much weight, but I do need to a couple of times a year.
(4) I just plain like the way it looks. The aesthetics of the pack are really pleasing.
(5) For the weight, Granite Gear prioritizes the right things—proper carry, generous padding, and modular options. It is an excellent feature set.
The Granite Gear Crown VC 60 is a well-built pack with an excellent feature set for its weight. I recommend it.