A 3.5 pound pack is certainly on the edge of what this site is about but I thought I'd bring up the Gregory z65. It was recently re-released for 2014 with enough changes for me to nominate it for MIP - most improved pack (MIP) of the year (that I've used).
For those that haven't seen, the pack dropped a full pound in the update, going down to 3lb, 6oz. It also adopted the mesh back/trampoline style of the Exos and similar packs.
The Baltoro fits me better than any other pack I've ever tried, but at it's very high weight of 6lbs, it's only relegated to dad loads when the whole family goes and my base weight sky-rockets and I need more suspensions and padding to support it all. With the great fit that Gregory packs provide me, I've been on the lookout for one that might get close to doing a solo trip. The z65 finally dropped enough way to eek it's way into getting my attention.
After trying on a number of contenders - I've decided to add it to the rotation for trips where the weight is a bit higher (full week trips without resupply) but less than family trip.
A bit more detail:
I'm 5'11", 175 lbs and thinnish build.
I have a full week trip coming up this summer and decided to evaluate any new pack possibilities out there. I've purchased (and either returned - or kept) a number of packs over the last few years. Some fit fairly well - some not so great. I have a body style where many traditional packs hurt my hips and don't provide the support I seek. As mentioned, the exception is the Baltoro. Its hip belt and lumbar support fits me like a glove. It feels like they made a pack just for me that reaches out and gives me a gentle hug every time I put it on.
I compared my Gossamer Gear Mariposa (which fits me the best of any sub 5 lb pack) to the Gregory z65 to the new Osprey Exos. The following were my personal results.
- GG Mariposa: Comfortable hip belt, great organization system, etc. When the load is lighter, this is definitely my go-to pack. At the top of my full pack load (30 - 35 pounds with all the food and water I need for my trip), however, the comfort starts to drop just a bit. For the weight, a fantastic pack. Just didn't quite do the trick for the needs of the longer, heavier trip.
- Osprey Exos 58: I had this pack in the past and it fit okay - I used it for a season and didn't hate it. The Mariposa beat it out and I sold it. I wanted to try out the new 2014 update - the lighter weight, flapjack panel, reported increased padding, larger waist buckle and other features looked promising.
I tried it on with 30 lbs today and walked up some steep hills in a greenbelt near me - no go. I find it noticeably less comfortable than the old Exos by a good bit. The suspension at the bottom was tweaked just enough that it now jabs into my hips making it instantly uncomfortable. Also, the padding was taken out of about 1/2 of the shoulder straps. They left it in where it curves up over the shoulders, but at about nipple level (or just above) the padding stops and it's just the mesh fabric. It's not necessarily all that uncomfortable - just an odd feeling and adds to the overall sense of changes that don't really work. It might work for some, but didn't do the trick for me.
- Gregory z65: Similar to the Exos, but with an extra pound. Trying it with the same contents and trip as the Exos, the z65 excelled where the Exos failed. True to their other packs, the waist belt area is designed to provide just enough lumbar support and extended hip belt just a bit lower to really increase comfort for my body style. I walked the same distance with a bit more weight (the extra pound of the pack - both carried the same gear), it was much more comfortable and easily worth the extra weight.
The trampoline style back does what most packs of this sort do. It provides excellent ventilation, but sets the pack just a bit further away from the body. Not a huge deal and certainly not uncomfortable for me. But, it does set things off balance a touch more than a standard pack like the Mariposa. If I was doing exclusively off trail, over trees, up boulder style hiking, I might not choose this pack.
Will the z65 be for everyone? No. Is it a new category killer? At 3.5lbs, probably not. Is it absolutely, positively perfect for my body? Yes. Am I willing to carry nearly 2 pounds more in base weight to use this pack over the Mariposa in some circumstances? Yes. Does it blow the Exos out of the water (again, for the comfort my body style needs)? Yes.
The z65 - not for everyone, but should certainly be worth your consideration if you need a light-ish pack with some better lumbar support than usual and don't mind a trampoline style back.