Looking back, I have been through quite a few packs over the past few years. It seems there is always something not quite right, or a feature (or lack thereof) that annoys me and I just can’t get past it. Most commonly it is uncomfortable shoulder straps, sloppy sewing or inadequate/lack of outside pockets. And volume always seems to be an issue. 30-35 liters is too big . . . 16-20 liters is too small. While there really are a lot of great packs out there, I just haven’t found that “perfect” pack. I guess I need to learn how to sew.
It’s been awhile since I have purchased a pack from a non-cottage company (depending on what your accepted definition of cottage is) but when I saw some photos of the new Granite Gear Virga 26, I was intrigued.
I of course had heard of the original Virga and the Virga 2. The Virga was a staple in the lightweight backpacking community for a number of years and could be considered a classic in this genre. And Granite Gear has always had a place in my heart due to all the time I spent carrying the Blaze AC 60. That Blaze is to this day, one of the most comfortable load carriers I have ever had on my back.
What really caught my attention about the latest generation of the Virga was that magic number 26. 26 liters is right around the volume I have been looking for. But what does that 26 liters include? Unfortunately, the Granite Gear website does not have a breakdown of specs on the product page. I hate that. Is it 26 liters in the pack body? Does that include the extension collar? Does it include external pockets? Those are details I (and I assume most others) like to know. Having loaded this pack a number of times now, I am going to say the 26 liters does not include external pockets or extension collar. It is most likely the volume of the main pack body, from bottom of pack to the extension collar seam. If anyone out there knows otherwise, please leave a comment and I will make a correction.
I ordered the pack direct from Granite Gear and chose the brilliant blue/moonmist color option. They also have all black and a god awful tiger/java. The tiger/java is an unholy combination of orange, brown and tan, which in my opinion, should never been allowed to happen. Maybe it looks better in person, who knows. Ordering direct, the price is only $119.95 and includes free ground shipping. That’s a great price for a pack of this quality.
-10MM WEBBING STRAPS
-TOOL LOOPS x2
-DUAL HYDRATION PORTS
-INTERNAL HYDRATION HANGER
-LARGE STRETCH SIDE POCKETS
-STRETCH MESH FRONT POCKET
-LOAD LIFTER STRAPS
-STRETCH MESH SHOULDER STRAP POCKETS
-1” REMOVABLE WEBBING BELT
-TORSO LENGTH 18”-21”
-MAX LOAD CARRY = 20lbs
-WEIGHT = 16oz
-CORDURA® FABRIC HIGH TENACITY NYLON (100D AND 210D)
Using 10mm webbing straps is a smart choice. Wider webbing on a pack this size would have been unnecessary and overkill. Not to mention added weight at no real benefit. I also really like the use of side release buckles on all the compression webbing. Much more convenient and quick access than a ladder lock type buckle.
When I saw the load lifter straps I was quite puzzled, to say the least. Why in the world would such a small frameless pack have load lifter straps? Well, these don’t function quite like traditional load lifter straps. The main function of these appears to be simply to pull the upper pack body closer to the users back. They are quite necessary in this regard as the shoulder straps are attached fairly low on the pack body. This gives the straps more of a wrap over shoulder effect than attaching to the pack at a 90* angle, like so many other frameless packs. This works. I find the shoulder straps wrap very comfortable and by tightening the “load lifter” straps, It causes the pack to contour nicely to my back. This pack is quite comfortable and once you get the fit dialed in, seemingly disappears on your back. In the above photo, note the large seam across the back where the shoulder straps are attached. I thought for sure I would feel pressure from this rubbing against my back. Surprisingly this was not an issue, as I didn’t feel it at all.
Quite a bit of extra volume in the extension collar but thankfully, they didn’t overdo it. I find too big of an extension collar just gets in the way and hinders ease of packing. This one is a good size and I didn’t find it to be in the way at all.
Side pockets are important to me and too small of volume has been a deal breaker for me on more than a few smaller volume packs. I’m in the desert and frequently need to carry a lot of water. I don’t like hydration bladders so that means I am carrying multiple water bottles. I need to be able to fit two tall narrow 1 liters bottles in each side pocket. The mesh Granite Gear uses for the side pockets has a lot of stretch and two bottles will fit without putting too much stress on the seams. Now with full mesh as opposed to a solid fabric, you are more likely to experience some damage to the mesh from bushwhacking and overgrown trails. Some may see this as a sacrifice/compromise but this is an example where function outweighs potential durability. I will gladly deal with a few holes in the mesh for the ability to fit two bottles. Having said that, I will point out the mesh feels pretty durable and while out I experienced a couple snags where I was sure the mesh would get torn but it came out unscathed. That says something. One unfortunate thing is I am not able to reach back and remove a bottle while wearing the pack. Not a huge deal but it’s nice when you can.
Overall Impressions: The Virga 26 is a great value low volume pack. The price point of $120 is a great place to start and it only gets better from there. Construction is solid and the Cordura is some pretty tough material and should be able to withstand some abuse while maintaining its integrity. The roll top with top strap is a nice combination which gives you some added water protection and decent top compression. The mesh side and center pockets appear tough and are of adequate volume for my needs. Multiple compression straps help to keep your load tight and adjustable for varying volumes. Torso length is right on for me, I’m close to 19″ and the fit hits a sweet spot. I don’t care for webbing hipbelts and this one is removeable, I took it off as soon as I took the pack out of the box and doubt I will ever put it back on. But some people like having a minimal belt, so it was a good idea on their part to make it optional.
The most I have carried in this pack is around 16-17lbs and I found it to be very comfortable for a frameless pack with no waist belt support. I contribute this to the shoulder strap padding and design as well as the flowing contoured fit against my back which is achieved when the load lifter straps are tightened just right.
I haven’t done much as far as modifications yet but I have removed the webbing belt and trimmed most of the compression straps. These minor tweaks brought the weight down from 16oz to 14.7oz (417grams). That’s not too shabby for a 26L pack with all these features and heavier fabric.
What I would change:
- Make the sternum strap removable.
- The lower side compression straps, in my opinion, really aren’t all that necessary, they could be left off and not have that much of an impact on overall compression.
- Some people may not like the two compression straps which go over the center mesh pocket, this has not been an issue for me.
- I don’t have use for the small mesh pockets on the shoulder straps, they could definitely go. Perhaps if they were placed lower on the shoulder strap they would be more functional but as is they are in an awkward position to reach up and take anything in or out.
- Leave off the hydration ports and internal bladder hanger. Personal preference.
- Haul loop. Not a big deal but not all that necessary. I do like the fact they made it smaller than what I normally see on other packs. There’s nothing worse than a gigantic haul loop that rubs against the back of your neck all day.
- Some of the color options. Personal preference.
- Only one torso size offered. I got lucky and it fits me well, others may have a different experience.