Utility for PDA-Wielding Executives
“This pack multitasks like a PDA-wielding executive,” notes one ridiculous review of this pack published in another backpacking magazine. We all scratched are heads and asked ourselves, “What exactly does this mean? Is it useful information? What kind of PDA are they talking about? Where did this writer go to college? So, we promise that this review will provide accurate, up-to-date information about the G4 based on an honest evaluation.
We have been reviewing the G4 pack for two years, with a suite of six reviewers from all parts of the world. This report represents a culmination of that field testing period and a summary of our review findings.
About the Pack
The G4 is a large frameless rucksack. It has one top-loading main packbag compartment, three external mesh pockets, and a hip belt. It is designed primarily for light loads of less than 25 pounds.
Weight. Glen Van Peski, the manufacturer, claims an average weight of a standard (no custom options) G4 is 13 oz. We weighed a total eight standard packs – two size larges, four mediums, and two smalls. The range was from 12.7 oz to 13.2 oz, with an average weight of 12.8 oz. It is refreshing to know that a manufacturer’s claim is accurate. Kudos to GVP Gear.
Volume. The main packbag is a voluminous 3,100 cubic inches with a 600 cubic inch capacity extension collar. We found this claim to be accurate if not slightly understated upon verifying the volume with packing peanuts. Two mesh side pockets are approximately 300 cubic inches each, and one external front mesh pocket is approximately 300 cubic inches, bringing the pack’s maximum capacity to 4,600 cubic inches.
Pockets. All pockets are non-stretch mesh, which makes for a little bagginess in the pockets unless they are stuffed. We prefer a stretchier mesh (like PowerMesh) that is less likely to snag on brush, and lies flat against the pack when the pockets are empty.
Extension Collar. The extension collar is shockcorded, which makes for easy opening and closing, but the cleaner-looking configuration is to use the roll-top closure, which works well until the pack and extension collar is overstuffed.
Volume:Weight Ratio. You’ve gotta do the math here. The volume-to-weight ratio of this pack is phenomenal – approximately 354 cubic inches per ounce. Consider that the average internal frame pack of similar volume available in your local outfitters shop is 50-65 cubic inches per ounce, you can begin to appreciate the volume that this pack can carry for its weight. Although we didn’t initially feel that volume was terribly important, we slowly began to appreciate the benefits, especially when packing light but very puffy gear like sleeping bags, down parkas, and 2L titanium pots on winter outings.
Suspension. The G4 is a frameless pack. however, it contains a mesh pad sleeve on the back designed to accomodate one of a variety of folded sleeping pads, with a 6- or 8-section Cascade Designs Z-Rest being the primary recommendation. The shoulder straps and hip belt contain pockets to insert foam padding (included) or small pieces of clothing (like extra socks).
Carrying Capacity. GVP Gear claims that this pack is designed to carry 25 pound loads, and they offer some tips at their Web site for properly packing the pack. Overall, we found this to be a reasonable claim, and we go into more detail about its carrying capacity in the “performance” section below.
Options. The standard G4 comes in Forest Green and Black, has an ice axe loop, and is available in Small (16-19″), Medium (18-22″), and Large (20-24″) torso sizes, and are usually in stock. Custom-built packs offer a variety of options, including different colors, different packbag and pocket fabric specifications, inside pockets, and additional ice axe loops.
Durability. Our GVP packs have hiked more than 1,500 miles during two summer seasons among six reviewers carrying loads up to 35 pounds. They are still like new and we had no seam failures. Four of our packs showed noticeable abrasion marks and two of those were littered with holes on the outside of the pack caused from (1) sliding butt-first down a granite scree slope, and (2) sitting on the pack repeatedly at rest breaks. Two packs have large tears in the side mesh pockets resulting from (1) intense bushwacking through slide alder hillsides in the Washington Cascades (2) a determined packrat on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. Compared to off-the-shelf packs available at your outfitter, we’d give the G4 a “C” for durability as a result of using light fabric. However, this is not your normal pack. It’s for people who want to go ridiculously light and have the skill to be able to take extra care of their gear. So, to be fair, we have to assign a grade that more accurately reflects the durability of this pack: a durability-to-weight grade, for which we give the G4 a resounding “A”. Since it’s inception, the G4 has undergone a variety of design and manufacturing changes, and it shows. It is a well made pack.
Load Carrying Comfort. We tested the G4 carrying a lot of loads that exceeded 25 pounds. We really wanted to push the pack to its limits to evaluate its comfort on those long desert crossings where one might be carrying 10, 20, or more pounds in water weight. Even following the manufacturer’s instructions, we were unable to remain very happy for very long (some reviewers made plots of perceived happiness vs. miles hiked while carrying 35 pounds in the G4 and they were not pretty). Thus, it appears, like most frameless packs, the G4’s lack of frame limits its load carrying capacity. In addition, the use of ultralight fabric for the packbag (1.9 oz ripstop nylon), which has little mechanical resiliency, results in a lack of load stabilization at higher loads that further contributes to discomfort.
Keep in mind that comments above are based on experiences that are clearly outside the norm of manufacturer recommendations, so we will not downgrade our assessment of the pack’s performance due to these limitations. Having said that, all of our reviewers believed that the G4 would be tolerable for short distances with heavy loads if necessary. We do wish the pack had compression straps (at least as a standard option), because small loads slumped to the bottom of the pack and caused it to ride a little low on the butt.
We evaluated several different types of pads to use as the frame, including folded Z-Rest and Therma-Rest Ultralight 3/4 pads in the pad sleeve, a 3/8″ foam pad rolled as a cylinder inside the pack, and a Therma-Rest Ultralight 3/4 pad rolled as a cylinder inside the pack. We found that the folded Z-Rest configuration was comfortable for loads of up to 20 pounds, and we appreciated the accessibility of the pad for rest breaks. A Therma-Rest folded in the same configuration and slightly inflated worked fair, but the mesh pad sleeve was too stretch to contain the pad and help maintain the pack’s shape at heavier loads. The use of a 3/8″ foam pad rolled as a cylinder inside the pack worked extremely well, but at heavier, tighter loads, it did not bend as well to the shape of the spine as did the pads that were in the sleeve. Finally, for those that need more serious weight-bearing capacity, the use of a Therma-Rest Ultralight 3/4 rolled in the pack as a cylinder before packing, and then inflated to its max after packing, proved to be a terrific way to stretch the G4’s load carrying capacity. However, it suffered a similar fate as the cylinder foam pad, and makes the G4 akin to a barrel on your back. Despite that limitation, it was our tester’s unanimous choice for comfort.
In summary, we liked the G4, but it took a lot of time to grow on us, as we learned how to use the pack to its maximum benefit. At first, our reviewers balked at the massive volume, but eventually came to crave it for stuffing the puffies when the temperature dropped.
The G4 is not for everyone. It is not a performance pack for load carrying, nor is it made to withstand the rigors of mountaineering or snow-backpacking through thick evergreen forests. However, it is a trail hiker’s nirvana, and is entirely appropriate for open cross country travel in the mountains. Its remarkable weight means that it contributes little to your load, and if your average pack weight remains under 20 pounds (or even better, under 15), the G4 just might be the pack for you.
Final Grade: A-minus
Suggested Improvements: Stretch mesh material on the pockets, better security for the rolltop (replace Velcro with side-release buckles for better compression).
Glen Van Peski