Granite Gear Crown VC 60 – Long-Term Review

The Short Version
The Granite Gear Crown VC 60 has some excellent features and the craftsmanship is detailed and precise.  Above everything else, the hipbelt shines.  Despite its relatively light weight (5.68 oz / 161 g), the dual-density foam is both adaptive and supportive for my oddly shaped hips.  If it were not for the hipbelt, this pack would have been returned long ago.

Unfortunately, the pack’s frame system does not hold up under the same scrutiny.  There are two chief problems:  (1) the framesheet itself  is not stiff enough to provide the support the pack needs, and (2) the cutouts on the Vapor Current foam backpanel create thin sections which cause the back to fold in and out like an accordion when packed without a frame.  Whether framed or frameless, I found the suspension lacking and progressively more frustrating.  Thus, the pack has been returned to REI.

The unfortunately inadequate suspension of the Crown VC 60.

The unfortunately inadequate suspension of the Crown VC 60.

The Long Version
First, let me talk about what the Crown VC 60 does well.  The belt is relatively simple, with no bells and whistles.  It focuses on one thing alone—excellent carry.  There are very few hipbelts on the market today that do what the Vapor Current belt does.  It manages to be relatively light (5.68 oz measured) while still using a very durable fabric (what appears to be 500 denier Cordura), a full wrap-around design (31 inches of padding, in size Medium), and dual-density foam that molds over time to the shape of the individual hiker’s hips.

Granite Gear claims that the upper limit for the Crown is 35 lbs.  The most that I ever carried on an actual trip was a 28-lb. load at the beginning of a shoulder season hike in April.  I did exceed the 30 lbs.—perhaps going as high as 32 lbs. or so—on a test hike when I strapped my wife’s pack to the top of mine.  Even so, I never had to over-tighten the hipbelt to avoid it creeping down my hips.  The only issue I have had with the hipbelt is that when worn over very slick nylon, such as that on the Patagonia Houdini, the belt tends to creep down some.  But even in that situation, it was a minor problem.  I simply shrugged my shoulders and slightly re-adjusted the pack.

Were I to make any suggestions for improvement, it would simply be to use a slightly stiffer foam as the foundation for the belt.  This would allow the belt to carry heavier loads, such as those above 35-40 lbs.  However, that would likely mean a denser, and thus heavier, choice of material.  As it stands, Granite Gear has made an excellent compromise between weight and load support.  The hipbelt more than exceeds the needs of the lightweight backpacker.

The very excellent Crown VC 60 belt---classic Granite Gear quality and comfort

The very excellent Crown VC 60 belt—classic Granite Gear quality and comfort

Whereas the hipbelt burnishes the pack’s allure, the rest of the Vapor Current suspension tarnishes it.  Granite Gear claims that the pack is good to 25 lbs. without the framesheet in, good to 35 lbs. with it.  Neither has proven to be true.

I noticed the beginnings of a problem on my first trip out with the pack, but I was excited and enthusiastic enough that I ignored what was then only a burgeoning problem.  As I continued to take the pack out, the trouble with the suspension grew worse.  To describe the issue, let me quote myself on the BPL forums, in the midst of trying to solve the quandary of the Crown’s suspension:

The problem has been this: After about 10-12 miles of hiking without the framesheet, the Vapor Current suspension begins to collapse—quickly and significantly—regardless of the load I am carrying. This has happened with 18 lbs. at the beginning of a trip and with 12 lbs. at the end of a trip. I’ve re-arranged the pack contents several times mid-hike with the same result.

Initially, I used a 1/8″ CCF pad folded up to add a little stiffness to the backpanel. This worked well at the beginning of the day, but by the end, the frame sagged poorly. In the middle of one trip, I even stuffed it tightly into the frame sleeve, but the problem came right back. Then I cut a section of a RidgeRest into the exact shape of the HDPE framesheet, and that provided excellent load transfer for light loads—for about 10 miles. So far, my experience has been extremely consistent after about 125 miles with the pack.

What is so odd is that I don’t experience torso collapse from the beginning. But when it goes, it goes fast.

When carried as a frameless pack (i.e., without the high-density polyethylene framesheet—supposedly good up to 25 lbs.), the culprit is the Vapor Current suspension.  The cutouts in the foam backpanel create weak points.  The depressions are supposed to allow air to circulate against one’s back (the effect is marginal at best, driven more by marketing than performance), but the unintended side effect is that the foam is so shallow there that it has little strength.  The repeated up-and-down stress of a half-day’s miles causes the back to buckle.  As the stress continues hike after hike, the foam loses its resistance and readily collapses.  On one trip, it took less than four miles of the second day to experience serious failure.

Looking critically at the Vapor Current backpanel, this ought not be a surprise.  When examined laterally, there are several weak sections across the backpanel that simply do not have enough support.  The collapse was linear—in the picture below, the frame would buckle in along the red lines and jut out along the yellow ones, producing an effect much like the bellows of an accordion.

granite gear suspension failure

Yet when carried as a framed pack, the HDPE framesheet continued to frustrate.  While having the frame in place prevented the collapse of the backpanel, the framesheet was stiff enough to keep it from fitting the shape of my back well but flexible enough that it carried poorly.  My whole purpose in going frameless in the first place was so that the pack would hug my back better.  The side panels of the Crown are contoured to produce exactly this effect, and before the backpanel collapsed, it did this very well without the frame.  But the HDPE sheet negated the effect enough that the pack lost the dialed-in fit which sold me on it in the first place.

Furthermore, the framesheet suffers from problems common to all framesheets I have used.  It flexes well laterally but not longitudinally—the exact opposite of what a hiker would want in a pack.  The pack remained stiff against my back when moved side-to-side or turned one way or the other, but it the frame was flexible enough that the two inches that stuck out above the shoulder straps were always curved backward, pulled back by the webbing meant to cinch down the top.  This meant that the pack always pulled slightly away from me no matter how I adjusted it.  At the same time, it was unresponsive to my movement along the trail.

A far better solution would be to use dual aluminum rods in place of the framesheet.  It would allow more effective load transfer to the hipbelt as well as providing a more useful structure to cinch the pack against.  It would also be much lighter:  the stays for the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter weigh in at 4.02 oz / 114 g for the pair, and the Gossamer Gear hoop stay in Large weighs 3.65 oz / 105 g.  Conversely, the Crown’s framesheet weighs in at 5.75 oz / 163 g despite a significant loss in function.

If a capable MYOGer were to find a good deal on the Crown—something more than the 20% off one can easily find throughout the year—, it could be fitted with a hoop stay.  In fact, the Gossamer Gear hoop stay in size Large would provide a surprisingly nice, tightly-fitting replacement for the stock framesheet.  For me, however, it is not worth the trouble.

The Crown VC 60 with a Gossamer Gear aluminum hoop stay in size Medium.  The size Large stay would extend all the way to the top of the frame for the size Regular Crown.

The Crown VC 60 with a Gossamer Gear aluminum hoop stay in size Medium. The size Large stay would extend all the way to the top of the frame sleeve for the size Regular Crown.

Conclusions
When I first bought the Crown VC 60, my biggest concern was the long-term durability  of the 100 denier fabric used for the main body.  However, I was never able to push the limits of the pack’s materials—or truly come to understand its other features—because of continuing problems with the pack’s suspension.  When evaluating packs—or designing my own—two issues stand above all the rest: fit and carry.  While the Crown VC 60 fit me very well, it’s load carry proved fatally inadequate.

Yet, the hipbelt remains the pack’s best feature.  I have been so impressed with the fit of the belt and its balance of comfort and support that even after I determined to return the Crown to REI, I had my new pack modified to accept the Crown’s belt.  It is too early for a long-term review on the new pack, but I have few complaints.

The Crown VC 60 could be a very excellent pack—a standout among 2-lb. framed packs, a category dominated by the ULA Circuit and the HMG Porter.  But the choice of a framesheet over aluminum stays and the hype of air-circulating cutouts on the foam backpanel make the pack’s suspension woefully inadequate.  The solution for dramatic improvement is simple:  (1) remove the cutouts along the backpanel so that it is a solid piece of foam, half an inch thick, and (2) replace the framesheet with dual aluminum stays.  Sometimes the simplest remedies are the most revolutionary.

After nearly a year hiking with the Crown, I for one am happier elsewhere.

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “Granite Gear Crown VC 60 – Long-Term Review

  1. Pingback: Granite Gear Crown VC 60 – Early Impressions |

  2. Groundskeeper

    Thorough review. I have no interest in the pack but I have an older Ozone that has been a great workhorse. I’m been altering and making packs (for fun) and I like reading off the radar reviews to study all that is out there, always trying to refine stuff. After reading your very informative description (with detailed specs and pics) of the hip belt I may actually buy a VC 60 hip belt for a project, Glad you enjoy the pack!

    Reply
  3. UpperLeft

    Thank you for writing this informative review.

    I recently purchased this pack, although I haven’t had a chance to really test it out yet. It was a replacement for the Blaze, which I thought was overkill for my needs. I generally keep my total pack weight below 20 pounds. My initial plan was to upgrade to the Klymit AirBeam frame should I need it. But…

    My current sleeping pad is a full-length Thermarest ProLite. On a whim, earlier today I removed the Crown’s frame sheet, inserted the ProLite into the frame sheet compartment and added a few puffs of air to provide a little extra support. It seems to work well, although I’m hesitant to rely on this setup in the backcountry. I’m also not sure I’m really just asking for a puncture (this is my main concern). The ProLite is obviously not designed for this. The setup does seem roughly akin to the AirBeam though. My goal isn’t, at this time, to add load carrying capacity to the pack. My goal is to get dual-use out of the ProLite (which I’m carrying anyway), allowing me to leave the Crown’s frame sheet at home.

    What do you think?

    Reply
    1. GR Post author

      With the Prolite, I wouldn’t be worried about puncture. Everything I hear about those pads says that they are tough and last the long-term. Therm-a-Rest chose a 70 denier fabric for both sides, and I have full confidence it will handle most things you throw at it (with a few obvious exceptions—cactus spines, sharp knives, rattlesnake fangs).

      My real concern with the Prolite would be that you would experience the same kind of issues I was with the back of the pack collapsing along those stress points. To avoid this, you really need to keep a high amount of tension along the full length of the back, which the framesheet does by being just barely oversized for the pocket.

      But with a Prolite, I think you’d have two issues that would contribute to poor carry: (1) the pad can’t be shaped to fit the lumbar region of the framesheet, where it curves in from 8 inches to 6 1/8 inches, thus leaving you with inadequate tension along the height of the frame, and (2) I am skeptical that the Prolite, even if it could be shaped to fit the lumbar region, could provide enough vertical rigidity: If you’ll notice, the AirBeam has very narrow channels that prevent the air from moving side-to-side, something that would definitely happen with the Prolite. They also provide a hand pump so that you can get the appropriate amount of air pressure in the frame so that it won’t collapse under the weight of a loaded pack.

      That said, if you’re already carrying the Prolite, it’s a worthwhile experiment. I just worry that you’ll run into the same issues I did or have a less comfortable carry. Then again, comfort is as subjective as fit, and I’m all for experimentation. Would love to have you report back what you find.

      Reply
  4. Aidan

    Hey would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with? I’m looking to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a hard time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking
    for something completely unique. P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    Reply
    1. Clayton M Post author

      I very much like the Ultralight Adventure Equipment belt that they use on the Ohm 2.0/Circuit (and I believe the Catalyst too–though not sure). It is very comfortable and supportive.

      I have been more and more impressed with the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack belt. It’s what I use on my Porter pack. It is not as comfortable as the Granite Gear belt, but it is stiffer and more supportive, capable of handling larger loads. I would also trust the non-removable version that is standard on their 3400 packs. The belts on the 2400 series have less padding and aren’t as stiff as they’re designed for lighter loads. Though, I’ve been told that the 2400 Porter has the same belt as the 3400 version. I know for sure that the 2400 Southwest/Windrider is thinner—my wife carries this pack.

      Of the UL companies, these are the best that I have tried.

      Reply
  5. Raspberry ketone

    Hi! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew
    where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty
    finding one? Thanks a lot!

    Reply
  6. VTMike

    Have been very enthusiastic about getting the GG VC 60 since I’ve been reading about it. Tried it at EMS today with a 16lb load in it and had the same experience you describe here. Staff were unable to correct it. I guess I’m staying with my framed pack for now. A shame too – looks like a nice pack.

    Reply
    1. Clayton M Post author

      On paper, everything looks really good. In actuality, it really falls apart. I have to say—I’m extremely happy with my HMG Porter for the same weight (including after-market side pockets). It carries more and better than the Crown ever did, and the stay system weighs less than the poorly-functioning framesheet in the Crown.

      Reply
  7. Drew Davis

    Hi there – thank you for the review and critique of this pack. Did you happen to try it with the Klymit AirBeam frame made for the pack? If not, based on your experience, do you think it would fix the issues you described? I am looking at getting this pack and the AirBeam, but I don’t want to run into the same issues.

    Reply
    1. Clayton M Post author

      I never did get a chance to try it with the AirBeam frame. Frankly, by the time that was a purchasable option, I had moved on from the pack and its design. It’s not a bad design, I just think that other packs do it better (such as the HMG Windrider/Southwest or ULA Circuit). Those packs also have better frames. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never tried the Circuit’s frame—I say this based on reputation only and the confidence I have in those who use it—, but I have used the HMG frame extensively, and I’m quite impressed.) Both companies also make better hipbelts. After continued use of the HMG belt, I find it even better than the GG belt for support.

      Based on what I’ve read about the AirBeam frames in other packs, I wouldn’t expect it to carry more than 30-35 pounds well. I do think it would be better than the stock framesheet, but that’s still not a high bar to clear. It probably shouldn’t have the same issues that I experienced, but I think it’s only a moderately useful solution. Moreover, given the high volume of this pack, I feel like the frame out to be able to carry more weight than it does.

      Reply
  8. Erin

    This is a great review. I’ve read it a couple of times now in my quest for a lighter pack. The Crown V.C. is very tempting but your review confirmed concerns I had about the suspension.

    Reply
    1. Clayton M Post author

      I know there are a lot of options out there today, but after purchasing an HMG Porter 3400, I have had no need or desire to try a new pack. It’s handled everything I want in a pack with excellence. After more than two years of use, I am still very satisfied. HMG uses the same frame for all their 3400 packs, so I’d expect the same performance from any of them.

      One modification you might consider if hipbelts are an issue for you (as they are me): If they are willing—probably for a small fee—ask them to put an Ice Pack belt on instead of the standard sewn-in belt. I find that I get slightly better carry this way. It’s not necessary for most, but with my oddly-shaped hips, I find it really helpful.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s