The Blaze A.C. 60 is not born of blazon fireworks or Las Vegas-style, in-your-face theatrics. Its appearance is relatively unassuming, though not unattractive… techy enough to look like a contemporary pack, but without standing out, the Blaze reminds me of a good spy’s ability to blend in. It performs well in the field, too, and looks its role: solid, light, utilitarian.
|Model||Blaze A.C. 60|
|Sizes Available||Short, Regular (Torso) Small, Medium, Large, X-Large (Hipbelt)|
|Fabrics||100D Ripstop, 210D Nylon Cordura, Stretch Mesh Fabric|
|Features||Full-height stretch mesh front pocket, Lineloc compression system, two stretch mesh side pockets, zippered bladder sleeve, two ice axe loops, interchangeable hipbelt, adjustable torso length, optional lid|
|Volume||60 liters / 3660 cubic inches|
|Weight Manufacturer||2 lbs 14 oz / 1.3 kg|
|Weight BPL||2 lbs 14.4 oz / 1.3 kg|
|Maximum Comfortable Carrying Capacity||35 lbs / 16 kg|
Checking out the Basics
The Blaze A.C. 60’s identity is clearly Granite Gear, with the twin vertical “fins” of robustly nubby nylon. Between those familiar fins is a new feature, however – a stretch mesh pocket running the full height, constrained by a Lineloc compression system in place of the familiar webbing. In fact, the whole pack compression uses Linelocs and cordage in place of traditional webbing and “Fastexery.” It is clean and streamlined, with paracord-esque cordage joining panels via compression points. There is a matching pair of stretch mesh side pockets of conventional depth as well, and a small quick-release Lineloc to allow compressing over or under/through the pocket.
The trademark vertical “fins” and overall arrangement of the pack.
From the factory, the Blaze comes lid-less, a roll-topper with a sleeve that extends about a foot above the frame and main body of the pack. An optional top pocket is available for those of you who just have to have a lid, but I was quite happy with the pack sans lid. One compression strap crosses laterally over the top of the pack, and one crosses front to back. For a 12-inch extension above the frame, my initial impression was that the two straps wouldn’t provide enough load control, but field trials showed otherwise.
My torso length is 17.5 inches; given that most Regular (or Medium) frames start around an 18-inch torso length, I trial-fitted both a short and a regular frame. I found that the regular frame fit me better. I generally wear a 33- or 34-inch waist pant, and found that the size medium hipbelt fit me well. Actually, it seems like the Blaze A.C. 60 belt wraps around more than many other manufacturers, to the point that I briefly toyed with a size small hipbelt, but the medium was clearly the way to go for me. The only difference in the women’s Ki model is a women’s-specific hipbelt; both genders get the same shoulder harness (and rest of the pack). In all honesty, “back in the day” we used to make packs gender-specific by swapping the shoulder harness and hipbelt, and generally by selecting a shorter-torsoed pack for women. My point is that prior experience has shown it to be a practical way to fit and manufacture packs, with equal comfort and performance, and I openly embrace any such endeavors of simplification.
Business-side fitment; note hipbelt wrap, shoulder harness, load lifters.
The shoulder harness worked well for me and proved extremely comfortable under a variety of loads and miles, but my decade or so of experience as a professional packfitter prompted some thoughts about the harness that I would recommend you consider when fitting the pack. The harness, while of excellent construction and state-of-the-market in finish quality, is not as curved as other harnesses on the more ‘traditional’ market, and the straps are perhaps a touch longer in use. As I said, I found the pack and harness quite comfortable, however, there is little strap curvature around the neck, and some people might experience a bit of rubbing there. This is of particular note because the way we typically adjust that neck opening during a fit is to raise or lower the harness. In fitting many, many people, I have found that the Granite Gear harness tends to fit a little too close, borderline pinching on some people, even when the straps cannot be lowered/the torso made shorter. Also, I’ve found that the clearance of the shoulder harness isn’t ideal for the exceptional variety of people Granite Gear intends to fit with their packs. I strongly encourage Granite Gear to consider developing slightly more anatomical and more sizes of harnesses. End soapbox.
The frame of the Blaze seems to provide a good amount of support for an ultralight pack. The back panel is a serpentine-ish molded foam sheet that inserts into a stretch mesh back panel. I’ll admit, I thought the air channels looked pretty gimmicky. I mean, c’mon. How well can they work? But on an early prototype I was testing, which was trial-fitted with stacked and glued foam, a few of the foam blocks shifted and on some stretches of trail I absentmindedly found myself thinking that my back seemed a bit hotter and wetter. The production model is rock-solid, one-piece construction that performs well and feels comfortable.
The back panel proved to be quite comfortable, both in terms of physical contact and airflow.
Looking into the Finer Details
I noticed the lighter main-body fabric of the pack the first time I touched it. While distinctly nylon in feel, the material has a more substantial canvas kind of feel, too. I haven’t researched the materials science on this one, folks! But it feels like a more robust, inspiring material than Granite Gear’s ‘legacy’ packs. The next two things I noticed were tactile as well. The stretch mesh feels like it has an excellent balance of stretch, durability, breathability, retainability (of stuff in pockets), and weight. The Lineloc compression cords pull through somewhat stiffly, though they release easily with upward thumb pressure on the device. At first blush, it seems like the cordage has a bit too much bite when tightening, but with use it becomes apparent that it’s just right.
The Lineloc compression system is secure, easy to use, and effective. Nope, it doesn’t adjust exactly like your familiar webbing system, but it should be an easy adjustment to make.
There is a zippered full-length, full-width sleeve if you are so inclined to carry a bladder inside the pack, along with two corresponding simple slash pass-throughs. I find it a lot less of a hassle to just strap the bladder on top of the pack. The top and bottom straps of each shoulder pad, and the crossing top compression straps, have ‘neat-freak bundlers,’ little plastic toggle and shock-cord thingies so you can roll up and secure your excess straps. I find the bundlers extraneous, and I’m not sure that many people would actually take the time to use them in the field. Mine will no doubt end up cut off.
Features-wise, however, the Granite Gear team did a delightful job of eliminating most of the usual excess. Aside from those features mentioned, there are two ice axe loops and, yep, that’s about it. (I consider a sternum strap standard on a shoulder harness, and personally wouldn’t consider removing one.)
Fire by Friction?
This pack’s not gonna start any fires on me! Time after time the pack just rode along, not particularly announcing its presence. That is a remarkable feat for a pack – quite a compliment. If you can just about forget the fact that you’re wearing a backpack, well, kudos to the pack! I am not a thru-hiker or an ultra-runner or a mile-monger of any kind, really, but even after 14-mile days, I was in no rush to ditch the pack.
I think the firm, comfortable, full-wrap hipbelt contributes significantly to the comfort. It seems to bear the weight of the frame quite well without developing hot spots. The frame proved plenty supportive for UL loads, and allowed for enough adjustment with load lifters to prevent shoulder soreness. My typical three-season baseweight is somewhere around ten pounds, but on one long weekend trip I brought all sorts of extra “fun” stuff… a chair, hammock, extra tarp, sparklers, a string of LED lights… and after my 13-year old pup decided she’d had enough of her dog pack, I piled her pack of food, pad, line, and doggie sundries into the extension sleeve. Even laden like the proverbial pack mule, I found that the pack not only handled the weight, but was comfortable. I’d guess that my heaviest carry has been around 30 pounds with this pack.
Given the height of the extension sleeve above the frame, I was pleasantly surprised by how secure and non-wobbly the pack was when stuffed to the brim. I anticipated having a giant lump bouncing on the back of my head with each step, but it stayed where it should, above the pack and away from me. Another pleasant surprise was the center stretch pocket. I’ve never been a fan of mesh pockets on the back of a pack, in large part because there is usually a lack of load control over the contents, but also because of the coarseness of the mesh we see in the UL world and, frankly, I’ve just had no need for them. My stuff is all organized in a few dry sacks, the tent or tarp generally just shoved into the corners of the pack. However, I found myself shoving rain gear in this front center pocket. Tossing in the sunglasses. Maybe a foam sit pad or a baggie of GORP. All this stuff is normally just right under the collar of my pack, or in the lid, but I found the slide-in stash convenient. The full height of the pocket offered good trail ‘security,’ and I still had good load control (even when I stuffed in the chair, etc.) with the three Lineloc compressors passing over the pocket. At one point, I shoved a 10×12 sil tarp in the pocket and cinched everything down… only to have the tarp balloon out from between the compression cords. It kind of made me wish for a wispy fabric panel to hold better compression along the length of the pocket, but for an object with as little mass as the tarp, such an alteration would be purely cosmetic.
The Blaze A.C. 60 is an excellent pack for those playing along the borders of ultralight – the majority of us. I found it adapted well to a wide variety of loads, those ranging from small daypack size (and weight) to consuming all available pack space. It provides plenty of support and weight transfer through a comfortable and efficient fit. The pack has necessary features, but few (if any) extraneous bits. The breathability of the back panel was a noticeable benefit. In all, I’ve come to think of the Blaze A.C. 60 as my ultralight workhorse and jack of all trades.
While I, and many others, find the fit to be comfortable, those who find the fit less than ideal will likely find the pack to be a bit more of a generic fit, perhaps reminiscent of a one size fits all tube sock. The analogy might not be particularly apt, but, like those socks, this pack will fit most people well. I would like to see the Granite Gear designers turn some of their efforts away from packbag design to harness and hipbelt design. It seems like the shape of the harness, in particular, needs to catch up with the increasingly contemporary designs and construction of the packs themselves. I hope that part of their consideration will include the relation of curvature as related to where the straps attach to the pack, and any effects on overall torso length. One other nitpicky aspect of design I would like to see the Granite Gear team approach is slightly longer framesheets. When carrying heavier loads, a longer (and correspondingly stiffer, thus likely heavier) framesheet would help with more efficient weight transfer. I think the design of the A.C. 60 is probably just ducky the way it is, but I would be interested in trying out the same thing with a slightly longer frame… I’d be surprised if it didn’t carry even more comfortably.
Nice shot of the suspension… you can just see the edge of the framesheet, back panel vents, and harness wrap, load lifter angle, etc.
So how about it? What’s the bottom line on this pack? I like it. It carries remarkably well while remaining unobtrusive. Its minimalist but (mostly) functional features seem ideal for most ultralight to light backpackers, and I think the pack strikes an excellent balance between “rugged durability” and ultralight. I suspect that most readers would find this a good pack on the trail.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge and is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.