Granite Gear Virga Review

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Granite Gear Virga Review

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    Addie Bedford
    BPL Member


    Locale: Montana

    Companion forum thread to:

    Granite Gear Virga Review

    Jim Colten
    BPL Member


    Locale: MN

    Nice to see "my pack" reviewed!

    I've used a Virga for about 5 years and my experience confirms pretty much everything Will reports, including a maximum comfortable load carrying capacity in the 25-30lb range and the excessive extension collar. I know exactly what to do to shorten the collar but just can't seem to make myself take a scissors to it.

    I can think of only one improvement … a better compression system. Frameless packs carry MUCH better when packed "full". As the volume of my kit has shrunk the base weight gear fits into a pack about 2/3 the size of the Virga and I use a modified Golite Ion on short trips. The Virga comes out if I need to carry several days of consumables … but it won't carry quite so well when there's just 1-2 days of food inside. New Granite Gear pack models have been using compression based on nylon line and lineloc 3 adjusters … if the Virga had 4 of those adjusters on each side rather than the two straps I think it would remain "full" for a much wider range of volumes.

    Einstein X
    BPL Member


    Locale: The Netherlands

    Hey Will,

    Firstly, I'd like to say you're so lucky to be able to hike in Utah. I was there on my US South West holiday last year and Utah is amazing. In fact, otherworldly if you come from Europe.

    Anyway I noticed your baseball cap in the first picture. Seems light. What make and model is it?


    Link .
    BPL Member


    Tim Mullins
    BPL Member


    Locale: Brisbane, Australia

    I have been using the Virga for about a year now and found it useful for the follow situations:
    – carrying the bulkier items in winter when temps drop below 5 degrees C
    – taking my 8 year old on multiday walks

    I find the low weight fantasic and the load carrying excellent. I don't like hip belts period, so the webbing ones on this pack I just stuff in the side pockets. I probably should just cut them off.

    I use a closed cell foam mat to line the inside of the pack to give it shape and comfort. The extension collar is a bit of pain but occasionally I use it when taking my daughter and we have lots of polar fleece items.

    The pack never seems to show any signs of wear, so I expect to be using the pack for a long time to come which is especially good considering the very resonable price.

    I have a friend that has the Vapor Ki and I can honestly say there is not one feature on that pack that I would add to the Virga.

    Inaki Diaz de Etura
    BPL Member


    Locale: Iberia highlands

    The Virga has been my pack of choice for years for thru-hikes. I love this pack in almost all aspects and it fits (in the wide sense of the word) me perfectly for the long trips. The one thing I would (and I actually did) change is the waist belt. The provided belt is fine for very light loads but it does little to transfer weight to hips and this pack admits enough stuff to make it uncomfortable if you have to carry most of the weight on the shoulders. I added a wider, lightly padded belt (namely, a ULA belt from another pack) and even though this made the Virga a bit heavier, it turned it into a potential load hauler monster. I've carried as much as 43 lbs. The pack was a solid brick with a rolled CCF pad inside and I could carry a good amount of weight on the hips. It was nearly as comfortable as 43 lbs. can be.

    I understand this is not a pack for such a load to be carried consistently but in the long hikes it sometimes happens. That's why I like this pack for this use: it's very versatile. It has the volume and, with the proper belt, the carrying capacity to carry virtually anything.

    That's also why I don't find the extension collar as oversized as many. I've used a good part of that length before with just enough extra to give it a couple rolls. The extra fabric is not much weight anyway and I never found it bothersome for load/unload. I must say my Virga is a very old model… maybe it's the perspective but the pic in the article shows a collar that looks longer than the one in mine.

    Another thing I like is the compression system. I don't like shock cord for this. Straps are a bit heavier but I find them far easier to use and more effective too. I also find them more useful to carry stuff (any kind of it) outside. And the strap compression system in the Virga is the best I've used. The catenary cat panels on the front work well to distribute the tensions and avoid concentrating them is one spot which is a common source of problems.

    Another brilliant touch which is surprisingly absent in most packs I've seen is the shoulder strap connection to the pack body. It's designed so the tension on the seam when wearing the pack is lenghwise to the stitching so the seam is much stronger because all the stitches work together at the same time and there's not a single row of stitches that takes most of the tension.

    The size is just what I need for most thru-hikes; my standard set of gear fills the pack comfortably but then I have the extra room when I need it. It's this versatility that makes it so convenient for thru-hikes, particularly for those with long sections, varying conditions/seasons or just a high degree of uncertainty.

    Will Rietveld
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southwest Colorado

    The hat I'm wearing is the Montbell Stainless Mesh Cap. Its very lightweight and covers well, but guess what — it doesn't provide good sun protection, the top of my head got sunburned. I haven't worn the hat since that trip. Bummer.

    Dan Montgomery


    Locale: Hampton Roads, VA

    I've had the old, black and gold, Virga for six or seven years. I don't get out as much as many backpackinglighters. Mostly one- or two-nighters, though I just returned from seven nights in Lassen National Park and on the southern leg of the John Muir Trail.

    I'm not quite an ultralighter. My usual base weight is around 11 pounds. Get rid of my heavy camera, I suppose, and I'd be there.
    Over all these years of changing gear to lighten loads, my Virga is the one piece of gear I've never considered replacing. It is very comfortable on me. I have, and need, a long model.

    Some points, working from top to bottom:

    — It is a huge extension collar. This used to bother me, and I've considered shortening it, but I realized one day that I'd simply gotten used to it. And it came in handy on Mt. Whitney, when I was able to easily carry some items for a group member suffering from altitude sickness. I have shortened the closure straps and removed the collar's tightening cord and cordlock to save a bit of weight. By the way, I often use the collar as something as a top pocket by tucking an item into the fold as I roll up the collar (I hope that makes sense).

    — I've replaced the side and front compression straps with very light shock cord of the rubber-bands-for-girls'-hair variety. Instead of cinching everything down, I let my sleeping bag, tent and down sweater expand, or I squeeze them down, as needed, so the pack is always "full." Those familiar with Mike Clelland's book know this as "the cloud." This is one great idea I actually arrived at on my own, and it's worked well for me.

    — Despite being a slob in many areas of my life, I like a tidy, sleek backpack. I do not want more pockets on the Virga. You can get a lot in those side pockets by the way, especially with a soft, cloudy tent and sleeping bag in the bottom of the pack.

    — I've trimmed the load-lifter straps, shoulder straps, sternum strap and hip belt straps.

    — I've used rolled-up closed-cell pads, folded Z-Rest pads and folded inflatable pads inside the Virga. They've all worked very nicely. I currently use a large NeoAir, despite the incredible expense. I do like how the large NeoAir, at 25 inches wide, makes a 25-inch tall framesheet. I usually leave a puff of air in the mattress, which helps stiffen it up when the pack is full.

    — I don't want a padded hip belt. It's not at all necessary on the Virga, unless you are carrying more weight than it's designed for. I might even cut the ends of the belt narrower, allowing for use of a smaller, lighter buckle.

    — I have sewn a Gossamer Gear pocket onto my hipbelt, for carrying my camera.

    One small complaint about Granite Gear: When I saw the long Virga on clearance, I asked GG customer service if the Virga was being discontinued. The nice lady said no, it's not. Now I read that the long version is being discontinued. Why didn't she tell me that? And yes, it bums me out a bit to think that the maker of the pack I've been talking up and recommending to other (especially tall) backpackers for all these years feels it's better off without my business, just because I'm tall (and not freakishly tall, just kinda tall).

    Here is my Virga at Trail Crest, partway up the Mt. Whitney trail. I used the blue Zip-Sack as a day pack for the final leg to the summit.

    Virga at Trail Crest

    I'm also happy to report that the Virga withstands morning frost.
    Frosty Virga

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