Granite Gear Vapor Trail Review

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by Alan Dixon | 2004-08-24 03:00:00-06

Overview

vapor trail pack
Granite Gear Vapor Trail (manufacturer's photo).

The Granite Gear Vapor Trail uses a flexible high-density polyethylene (HDPE) framesheet in combination with a virtual frame to transfer the load to your hips. When packed with 30 pounds (14 kg) or less, the harness design, frame sheet, compression strap system/virtual frame, and load lifter straps work well together to create a comfortable carry. Our primary reviewer found the Vapor Trail pack to be very comfortable and more amenable to the female body than most ultralight packs. In the past, other internal frame packs have bruised her hips and pulled at her shoulders. The flexible HDPE plastic framesheet strikes a compromise between light weight and flexibility to move with your torso but still provide enough 'frame' to transfer load to your hips when the pack is fully compressed.

The Vapor Trail has one of the best external hydration pockets we've seen on a pack. It doesn't take away pack volume, sits close to your back for balance, and you can remove the bladder without opening the pack or removing any gear!

The Granite Gear Vapor Trail is made with more rugged fabrics than many packs in its weight class, with substantial fabric reinforcements in the abrasion-prone areas of the pack's bottom panel, lower sides, and rear panel. The Vapor Trail is suitable, both in load carrying capability and features, for backpacking, off-trail scrambling, and alpine climbing. Major weaknesses of this pack include shoulder strap attachment points that are too low on the backpanel, contributing to poor load lifter strap performance when the pack is under packed, and limited external pocket storage for commonly accessed items. Admittedly, climbers and minimalists may love the pack's current pocket configuration.

Specifications

• Backpack Style

internal frame pack (framesheet), top-loading with roll-top closure.

• Fabric Description

210d, 6.5 oz/yd2 (221 g/m2) Cordura nylon/polyester blend in high stress (shoulder strap and compression strap attachments) and high wear (rear pack panel, bottom of the pack) areas; 70d 2.4 oz/yd2 (81 g/m2) silicone coated nylon in the packbag. 8.5 oz/yd2 (288 g/m2) Durastretch (four way stretch nylon) on side pockets.

• Sizes (Size Short tested)

SizesTorso Length (in)Torso Length (cm)
Short15-1838-46
Regular18-2146-53
Long21-2553-64

• Volume (Size Short tested)

SizesVolume (ci)Volume (L)
Short3,30054
Regular3,60059
Long3,90064

• Weight (Size Short tested)

SizesBackpacking Light Measured oz (g)Manufacturer Specification oz (g)
Short32.2 (921)30 (850)
RegularNot measured32 (907)
LongNot measured34 (964)

• Volume to Weight Ratio

102 ci/oz (based on 3300 ci and a measured weight of 32.2 oz)

• Load Carrying Capacity

35 lbs (16 kg) is a reasonable limit for the average user if a good virtual frame is used to supplement the framesheet. It may be pushed to as much as 40 lbs (18 kg) for hikers who find weight on their shoulders tolerable. Granite Gear claims 30 lbs (14 kg).

• Carry Load to Pack Weight Performance Ratio

17 (based on 35 lbs and a measured weight of 32.2 oz)

• MSRP

$150

• Manufacturer's Contact Information

Granite Gear, 218-834-6157
http://www.granitegear.com

Features

Numerical ratings follow on a scale of 1 to 5 (1=poor, 5=excellent), and are relative to other internal frame packs tested by Backpacking Light.

Frame and Suspension - 4.0

The Vapor Trail's anatomically curved shoulder straps are more padded (0.5 in, 1.2 cm thick) than those found on many lightweight internal frame packs. With the pack properly loaded and compressed, the load lifter straps pull the pack close to your back for optimal pack stability and balance while hiking or scrambling on rough terrain. Shoulder straps are attached to the top of the frame sheet but well below the top of the pack and the load lifter straps attachment points. In our opinion, the shoulder straps are attached too low and negate the ability of the load lifter straps to maintain stability (tension) in the upper portion of the pack when the upper portion of the pack is not tightly packed and compressed. Fortunately, this problem can be alleviated in large part by properly adjusting the upper compression system so the section between the top of the frame sheet and the load lifter attachment points is rigid.

We found the well padded, 4 inch (10 cm) wide and 7/8 inch (2 cm) thick, hipbelt provided good load transfer to our hips for loads of up to 30 pounds (14 kg), providing the pack's compression system was properly used to create a virtual frame to supplement the somewhat flexible framesheet's performance. Ultralight hikers, who are used to minimal or no hipbelts, will appreciate the well-padded belt found on the Vapor Trail.

The Vapor Trail's soft foam back panel padding and padded ergonomic harness are more comfortable than those used in many ultralight framed backpacks, especially those in the 2 pound (0.9 kg) range. Alison, the lead tester for the Vapor Trail, found the well-padded hipbelt exceptionally comfortable on her bruise-prone hips. The 2.5 inch wide (6 cm) and 1/2 inch thick (1.2 cm) anatomically curved and padded shoulder straps are a boon to sensitive shoulders as pack weight increases and more weight inevitably gets transferred to the shoulders.

Usable Features and Ease of Use - 3.5

side pockets
Granite Gear Vapor Trail showing side pocket in use and rear compression straps securing a sleeping pad.

Granite Gear's Vapor Trail has features that will appeal to hikers and climbers alike. The Vapor Trail has Durastretch side pockets that, when used in combination with side compression straps, are suitable for long, skinny items like tent poles, a fishing rod, trekking poles, or snow anchors. The side pockets are capable of carrying 1-liter water bottles. However, they are covered by the lower side panel compression straps, making it quite a feat to remove and replace a water bottle while wearing the pack. The rear compression straps are ideal for holding bulky and large items like a wet tarp or an additional sleeping mat (e.g., on a snow trip).

The Vapor Trail has most of the features one would want in an off-trail and alpine climbing backpack - durable fabric in high wear areas, dual tool loops, a reasonably slim profile for good balance and arm swing clearance, large capacity, a versatile compression system, and easy climbing rope attachment using the top and side compression straps. When the Vapor Trail was properly packed with a full load, we found its load control and pack stability were excellent for off-trail scrambling, bushwhacking, and climbing.

The Vapor Trail has an additional pocket behind the padded backpanel, accessible from the outside, that will accommodate a full three-liter Platypus bladder comfortably. This setup is one of the best hydration pockets we've used, allowing easy access to a bladder without unpacking or opening anything. The water is held close to your back for good balance and is insulated by the foam backpanel and pack contents. This excellent, albeit unintentional, hydration pocket significantly improves the pack's rating in this category. In addition, it leaves the side pockets free of water bottles and available for storage of other items.

Load Volume Flexibility (Compression) - 5.0

The Granite Gear Vapor Tail's effective compression system controls loads of almost any size, keeping even day-sized loads stable. With eight compression straps, and two catenary compression panels, the Vapor Trail's ability to stabilize a load in unmatched by most internal frame backpacks on the market. The dual top closure straps compress the top of the pack effectively, playing an essential role in maximizing the effectiveness of the shoulder strap load lifters.

Field Performance

The Vapor Trail was tested in the High Sierras, the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Northeast, and along the Ice Age Trail in the Midwest. Conditions encountered included difficult off-trail travel over rock, ice, snow, scree slogs, and some serious bushwhacking.

Pack Load Carrying - 3.5

Granite Gear rates the Vapor Trail load carrying capacity at 30 pounds (14 kg). With its sturdy hip belt, well-padded and ergonomic harness, and combination framesheet/virtual frame, the Vapor Trail handles 30-pound (14 kg) loads with ease. If one can tolerate a bit of weight on their shoulders, and a good virtual frame has been created, 40 pounds (18 kg) can be carried without too much discomfort. Overall, we estimate that 35 pounds (16 kg) is a reasonable limit for the average user if a good virtual frame is used to supplement the framesheet.

The Vapor Trail's compression system can compress the packbag to create a nearly rigid pack enhancing the framesheet's performance and efficiently transferring the load between shoulders and hips. Pulling the pack tight to the back allows for excellent load control and wearer balance when carrying loads up to 30 pounds.

Durability - 3.5

climbing with the VT
Fabric Ruggedness: Climbing down a Class III col in the High Sierras. The Granite gear's durable fabric and excellent load control is an asset.

The only thing holding the Granite Gear Vapor Trail back from a higher durability rating is the use of silicone coated nylon fabric in the pack body. Even so, fabric reinforcements in key areas make the Vapor Trail suitable for alpine scrambling and bushwhacking in conditions where you won't constantly drag your pack against sharp rock or plow pack-first into groves of slide alder. The Granite Gear Vapor Trail uses a more tear and abrasion resistant 2.4 oz/yd2 (81 g/m2) silnylon as compared to the more common 1.3 to 1.7 oz/yd2 (44 - 58 g/m2) fabrics used by other manufacturers. Cordura (6.5 oz/yd2, 221 g/m2) is used in high wear areas, such as the bottom, back panel, and much of the rear panel. The Durastretch side pockets protect the silnylon on the lower side panels. Still, the pack has some of the lighter fabric exposed, and as strong as it is relative to lighter silicone coated nylons, it won't withstand repeated abrasion.

Value - 4.0

At only $150 we think the Granite Gear Vapor Trail is a good value. For its weight, the Vapor Trail provides efficient load transfer to the hips, offers a comfortable harness, is durably constructed, and offers a versatile compression system suitable for a wide range of load sizes. The Vapor Trail's durability, climbing friendly amenities, stability, and minimalist design will appeal to aggressive off-trail travelers and fast and light climbers who don't overly abuse their packs. We especially like the Vapor Trail's external hydration pocket.

Recommendations for Improvement

  • The Vapor Trail's lower compression straps run over the top of the side pockets. If you have these compression straps tightened down, you'll need to loosen them to access pocket contents, a nearly impossible task to perform while hiking. We suggest moving these straps up to clear the top of the pockets.
  • The lower portion of the pack is prone to abrasion (e.g., sliding down a steep slope) and would benefit from tougher fabric in the region below the lowest compression straps.
  • While adaptable to a wider range of torso sizes than other frameless packs, the Granite Gear Vapor Trail's shoulder strap-and-load-lifter system is quite sensitive to torso collapse when the pack is under-loaded or improperly packed, making the Vapor Trail more appropriate for lightweight hikers who pay a reasonable amount of attention to packing their pack. Extending the frame sheet to the top of the pack and raising the shoulder strap attachment points would increase the pack's load carrying capacity.
  • In lieu of the solid side pockets, we'd prefer to see mesh pockets that better expand and contract to different volumes and allow us the capability to see what is in the pockets.

Citation

"Granite Gear Vapor Trail Review," by Alan Dixon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/granite_gear_vapor_trail_review.html, 2004-08-24 03:00:00-06.

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