WOW, what a thread; my beloved Virga! I have owned no less than four over about as many years and my wife has a brand new one (same as Ians' exactly but a short torso)...and yes, they do come with a "tacky sort of feeling" liner. This serves to protect the backpack and acts as a sort of h2o resistant coating. It does wear off a bit over time but DON'T SCRUB IT! Doing so my cause it to flake, peal or other- let it alone and it will serve you well.
I found the best way to pack is to simply allow your thermarest or pad to create a roll inside then pack within that. I have also had excellent success folding my thermarest short in fourths then using that flat against my back on the inside of the pack- VERY comfy!
The collar is long for sure, BUT, it sure came in handy with an 8 day resupply! The one I sold Brad had been modified from the original owner then sold to me...it was awesome. His wife was a professional seamstress and did all the mods for him. If memory serves, she shortened it to 4" which in my opinion is great provided you are not going to max the pack out or be faced with a big resupply- hence the reason I sold it. For my JMT thru hikes, four and counting, I find I must allow for at least a six day resupply AND a Sierra approved bear canister which sucks but keeps bears alive.
My vote is to try it, I think you will become a convert. Not to knock any other brands but I have tried a bunch and keep coming back to the Virga's simplicity and amazing shoulder harness/straps--second to none in comfort and carrying ability for a sub 2 pound pack. The web belt is a plus if you scramble at all or hike the Sierra where you are either hiking up or down...a lot! Otherwise, I would axe that and save the weight.
I am going to try an MLD Zip to shave off a few more ounces this next hike 2010 but still have some reservations as I know how well the Virga lasts, carries and holds all my junk (about 13 pounds with 3 day food/fuel and 1 liter of water). Also, you may want to use a pack liner from GossamerGear or BPL which would make that "sticky" sensatiion null.
post again if you want more...