The Granite Gear Virga, introduced about ten years ago, has become a stalwart among frameless backpacks. It’s a fairly Spartan pack, and retains a plain webbing hipbelt when other pack manufacturers have added a padded hipbelt. But it has Granite Gear’s DNA – a great fit, comfortable shoulder straps, and a load lifter design that really works. How does the veteran Virga compare with newer cutting edge frameless backpacks?
A distinctive feature on the Granite Gear Virga is a cradle on the front of the pack for attaching a tent or other gear.
|Year/Model||2011 Granite Gear Virga http://granitegear.com|
|Style||Top loading frameless backpack, rolltop closure with two top compression straps|
|Volume||Size Long Torso tested. Specified volume 3200 cubic inches (52 L); measured volume|
3940 cubic inches (65 L) including pockets and extension collar
|Weight||Measured Weight: 23.5 oz (666 g)|
Manufacturer Specification: 19 oz (539 g)
|Sizes Available||Unisex Short, Regular, Long Torso (Long Torso will be dropped in fall 2011)|
|Fabrics||Pack body is 70d ripstop nylon with 210d Cordura nylon reinforcements, pockets are|
|Features||1.5-inch (4-cm) webbing hipbelt, thick firm shoulder straps, two large side stretchwoven pockets, front cradle with two straps for attaching gear, two compression straps each side,|
sternum strap, 18-in (46-cm) extension collar, rolltop closure with two top compression
straps, load lifters, two ice axe loops, haul loop
|Volume to Weight Ratio||168 in3/oz (based on 3940 in3 and measured weight of 23.5 oz (size Long Torso)|
Load Carrying Capacity
|28-lb (12.7 kg) estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day|
|Carry Load to Pack|
|19 (based on 28-lb load and a measured weight of 1.47 lb)|
As with other packs in our frameless backpacks roundup, we are discovering substantial discrepancies between our measured pack volume and the manufacturer’s specified volume. In the case of the Virga, the specified volume is 3200 cubic inches (52 L), and our measured total volume is 3940 cubic inches (65 L) which includes all pockets and the extension collar. That’s a difference of 740 cubic inches (12 L), which is the approximate volume of the pockets plus extension collar, which are not normally included in total volume according to the ASTM standard. However, for frameless backpacks, the traditional method is to include all pockets and the extension collar in the total volume, and itemize the volumes by component because lightweight backpackers want that information.
The Virga’s measured volume bumps it into our larger volume packs category, which is frameless backpacks suitable for lightweight backpacking. As will be seen in this review, the Virga simply has too much volume to be used for ultralight backpacking.
Views of the Granite Gear Virga: The frontpanel (far left) has a cradle with two straps for attaching a sleeping pad, tent, or other items. The backpanel (second photo) is fabric against your back. The Virga has a 1.5-inch (4-cm) unpadded webbing hipbelt. Each side (third photo) has one large stretchwoven pocket and two compression straps. The lower compression strap can be routed under the pocket. The pack’s top (far right) has two compression straps.
Suspension: Granite Gear does not skimp on the shoulder straps (left); they are thick and comfortable. The Virga has a yoke at the top of the pack (right) that works in conjunction with the pack’s load lifters to effectively pull the top of the pack against your shoulders without adding pressure.
Features: Close up view of the pack’s front cradle (left) for attaching a tent or a gear bag to the front of the pack. The side stretchwoven pockets (right) will easily hold two water bottles, rainwear, or a hydration reservoir.
I tested the Virga on a six-day spring backpacking trip in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park carrying 26-28 pounds (11.8 to 12.7 kg). I am carrying 28 pounds in this photo; although there is significant pack torso collapse, the Virga carried the load comfortably because of its good fit and comfortable suspension system.
Although the Virga lacks some of the amenities of the newer packs, its fit and comfort are remarkable. The Virga has a yoke at the top of the pack that works in conjunction with the pack’s load lifters to effectively pull the top of the pack against your shoulders without adding pressure to the shoulders. The shoulder straps are well padded, and the 1.5-inch (4-cm) wide hipbelt is comfortable.
Although the Virga’s volume is specified at 3200 cubic inches (52 L), which would put it in the category of frameless backpacks for ultralight backpacking, it is in fact a larger volume backpack that is more suitable for lightweight backpacking. It simply has too much volume for ultralight backpacking, except perhaps for carrying an extended food supply.
The Virga is solidly constructed using fabrics that are a good balance of lightweight and durability. However, one thing I noticed is the fine dust in Utah canyon country really sticks to the fabric, so the pack needs to be rinsed after such use.
The measured torso length of the Virga in the Long Torso size is 20.25 inches (51 cm) by the BPL method (inside of shoulder strap to center of the hipbelt), and 21.25 (54 cm) by the conventional manufacturer method (top of shoulder strap to bottom of the hipbelt). It’s a great pack for a tall hiker. Unfortunately Granite Gear plans to drop the Long Torso size in fall 2011.
In our pack compression/volume reduction tests, reported in Part 2A of our frameless backpack state of the market report, we found the Virga can be reduced 42.5 percent in volume, which is quite good. It has two good compression straps on each side that work well, although the two lower ones pass either over or under the side pockets and interfere with pocket access.
From our pack load carrying capacity tests, reported in Part 2B, we estimate that the Virga can comfortably carry around 27 to 28 pounds (12.3 to 12.7 kg). That corresponds exactly with my field experience, where I carried the Virga loaded up with 28 pounds (12.7 kg) quite comfortably.
An unusual feature of the Virga is its huge extension collar, 18 inches (46 cm) high, which nearly doubles the pack’s volume. In my opinion it’s much larger than needed, and it gets in the way when loading the pack. In a pinch the pack could be used as a half bivy!
I’m a pocket freak; I like to have ample outside pockets on a backpack so items needed on the trail are handy and I don’t have to enter the pack’s main compartment during the day. The Virga is deficient in that department; there are only two stretchwoven side pockets and that’s all. Granted the side pockets are large, but they are not enough to meet my needs, especially if I have a water bottle in each one. Rather than the cradle on the front of the pack, I would much prefer a large stretchwoven front pocket that matches the side pockets, and perhaps a top lid on the pack with a zippered pocket. Also, it’s hard for me to live without hipbelt pockets for my digital camera, snacks, and other trail necessities. Granite Gear has add-on hipbelt and shoulder strap pockets available, but they are a bit on the heavy side.
Comparative specifications can be found in my Frameless Backpack State of the Market Report 2011 Part 4. The closest comparisons are the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus and GoLite Pinnacle.
The Virga surprised me with its remarkable fit and comfort. I prefer a pack with a tall torso, and the Virga delivers. The pack hugs my back very well and the suspension system is very comfortable. These features allow this frameless backpack, without removable stays, to comfortably carry a hefty load. Granite Gear really knows how to design a comfortable pack that is also durable and lightweight.
The drawbacks of the Virga are in its features. In my opinion, the huge 18-inch (46-cm) extension collar is overkill and a nuisance when loading the pack because it gets in the way. If the Virga is filled to the capacity of the extension collar, it would be top heavy and beyond its comfortable load carrying capacity. I would recommend trading the long extension collar and front cradle for a large front stretchwoven pocket with one strap connecting it to a top lid with a pocket. For me, that would be a more useful design, because it would provide the outside pocket space that the Virga needs.
Granite Gear seems to like a pack design with a cradle on the front to attach a tent or sleeping pad, because that feature is common in their pack range. With that design, the Virga is a capable load hauler, so it’s a good Sherpa pack for carrying a high volume/moderate weight load. However, for loads over 30 pounds (13.6 kg), a lightweight internal frame pack would be preferable.
In my opinion, the Virga is a frameless backpack that could be great. It fits and carries very well, but its feature set needs to be more fastpacker friendly. With a few revisions it could become one of our favorite packs.
- Good volume reduction system
- Durable fabric
- Very comfortable shoulder straps
- Comfortably carries moderate loads
- Large stretchwoven side pockets
- Excellent construction, very sturdily built, with adequate reinforcements
- Load lifters work very well
- Fits surprisingly well
What’s Not So Good
- Pack has 23% more volume than specified
- Huge extension collar gets in the way when loading pack
- Unpadded webbing hipbelt
- Only two outside pockets
Recommendations For Improvement
- Eliminate the long extension collar
- Add a large stretchwoven front pocket and top lid
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.