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Gregory Spectrum Backpack REVIEW

An internal frame panel loading pack with a polished design, plenty of features, and rock solid performance. The Lexus of small volume panel loaders? Perhaps.


by Will Rietveld | 2005-08-23 03:00:00-06

Gregory Spectrum Backpack REVIEW


The Gregory Spectrum is like a Lexus. It is well thought out, elegantly made, has most every feature you would want, and weighs less than 2.25 pounds. Surprise—it’s a panel loader, even though it’s literally covered with outside mesh pockets. The comfortable shoulder harness and articulated, padded plastic framesheet allow the Spectrum to carry as much gear as you can put into the pack. While the Spectrum is one of the most functional and versatile packs we have tested, it stops short of being a climbing or slot canyon pack. The abrasion would be too much for the thinner fabric and mesh pockets. Nevertheless, I bushwhacked the Spectrum through a lot of rough places and it stood up fine. It’s a fine multi-use smaller volume pack.

What's Good

  • Panel loading
  • Five outside mesh pockets provide lots of convenient storage
  • Conforms closely to your body
  • Great suspension system

What's Not So Good

  • Compression straps interfere with inserting water bottles into side pockets
  • Contents of mesh hipbelt pockets get wet when you set the pack down in the snow or hike in the rain


Backpack 2005 Gregory Spectrum
Style Internal frame, panel loading
Volume 2100 ci (34 L) size L
Weight 2 lb 3.7 oz (1.01 kg) measured weight; manufacturer’s specification 2 lb 5 oz (1.10 kg)
Fabrics Main pack body is 70d silicone impregnated ripstop nylon; top pocket, bottom, and center of the backpanel are 210d polyurethane-coated ripstop nylon. Pockets are nylon mesh with an elastic binding.
Features Two mesh water bottle pockets, mesh front pocket, mesh hipbelt pockets, zippered top pocket, internal hydration sleeve and port, haul loop, side compression straps, load lifters, sternum strap, daisy chain, six D-rings for accessory straps.
Volume to Weight Ratio 58.8 ci/oz size L (based on 2100 ci and a measured weight of 35.7 oz)
Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity 20 lb (9.1 kg) BPL estimated
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio 9.1 (based on 20 lb and a measured weight of 2.2 lb)
MSRP $119


The Spectrum, at 2100 cubic inches (size L) is a superb multi-purpose pack. I used the Spectrum as a daypack on numerous snowshoeing trips, day hikes in the desert and mountains, and peak ascents. It could be used for an ultralight overnight trip (by attaching some gear to the front with an accessory strap), but there are other packs around that provide a better volume:weight ratio for that purpose.

The first thing you notice about the Spectrum is its quality construction and attention to detail. All seams have a nylon binding. All zippers (not the water-resistant type) have double sliders and convenient cord-plus-knob pull tabs. High quality and appropriate materials are used throughout the pack to make it both light and durable.

The second thing you notice is that the pack is full-featured. The top pocket is very convenient and big enough to hold lunch. There are a total of five roomy outside mesh pockets (one on the front, two on the sides, and two on the hipbelt), side compression straps, lots of attachment points, and a huge hydration sleeve. Four of the attachment points (D-rings on the front panel) can be used to attach snowshoes or a tall stuff sack full of extra gear. Accessory straps (not provided) are needed for these applications. One annoyance is the four D-rings on the front panel interfere with opening/closing the zipper (tip: hold the D-rings with one hand while zipping with the other).

Gregory claims that the Spectrum has two ice axe loops, but there are actually only two plastic D-rings on the bottom front to attach an ice axe using an accessory strap (not provided).

Although the manufacturer photos don’t readily show it, the Spectrum is a panel loader. The zippered panel (with double sliders) is about 17 inches tall and 9 inches wide, so it is very convenient to access the contents of the main compartment, including the hydration sleeve. Unlike some other panel-loading packs we have reviewed, the Spectrum does not have a tendency to auto-unload (meaning the panel zipper bursts open and the pack contents are dumped on the trail!). There is a side-release buckle at the top of the front panel to keep the panel closed and support the large front mesh pocket and anything attached to the front of the pack.

The Gregory Spectrum is a panel loader (top left), with a nearly full-height double slider zipper. A side-release buckle (top right) ensures that the panel will not auto-unload on the trail, and supports any gear attached to the front of the pack. A zippered top pocket (bottom left) is big enough for lunch and valuables, and has a key clip. The huge mesh hipbelt pockets (bottom right) will hold a lot of smaller items.

Hipbelt pockets are the rage nowadays, and the Spectrum does not disappoint. Would you believe full-length (11 inches long) bellowed mesh hipbelt pockets with full-length zippers? I found them big and stretchy enough to stuff in a bunch of smaller items - like glove liners, snacks, sunscreen, sweatband, GPS — you name it. The downside is when you take the pack off and set it on the ground, the hipbelt pockets sit right in the dirt (or snow) and the contents can easily get dirty or wet. For my digital camera, I preferred to attach a small camera case to the webbing end of the hipbelt, or enclose it in an Aloksak if I put the camera into a hipbelt pocket. The other obvious disadvantage of mesh hipbelt pockets is when it rains, the contents get wet.

I love the roomy mesh pockets on the outside o fthe Spectrum. The side mesh pockets are big enough to carry a 2-liter water bottle, or a 1-liter bottle with room left over. Unfortunately, water bottles in the side pockets are not reachable with the pack on. One annoyance: the side compression straps are inside the mesh pockets, and water bottles catch on the straps when you insert them into the pockets.

I also love the panel loading feature, which provided quick access to items in the bottom of the pack. The top pocket is also very useful, providing convenient access to frequently used items. It has a key clip inside, and an internal full-width zipper provides top access to the main compartment. The top access was handy to get to items in the top of the pack when I had gear attached to the front of the pack.

The next thing you notice about the Gregory Spectrum is its serious, full-featured suspension system. Technically, the Spectrum is an internal frame pack since it has a flexible plastic sheet in the backpanel. The backpanel is hinged at the lower back, so the bottom end of the pack (with the lumbar pad) contours to your hips. The pack incorporates Gregory’s Wraptor Stabilizer (a stiffened wing at the bottom of the shoulder straps), Sport Harness, and Gullwing waistbelt. These features, combined with a nicely padded hipbelt, shoulder straps, backpanel, and lumbar region provide the capability to comfortably carry some serious weight.

The Spectrum has a great shoulder harness and suspension system (top left). The backpanel articulates above the lumbar pad. The Wraptor Stabilizer (top right) is a stiffened wing and V-strap setup at the end of each shoulder strap. Attaching snowshoes (or other gear) to the front of the pack (bottom left) is easy using four D-ring attachments and an accessory strap. The top pocket contains a zippered opening (bottom right) that allows some access to the main compartment.

In my load-carrying tests, I found that the Spectrum (thanks to its capable suspension system) could comfortably carry as much as 25 pounds of concentrated weight (sand bags and bottles of water). The pack’s volume is the actual limitation, because it would be difficult to stuff 25 pounds of normal gear into the available space. Assuming normal outdoor gear, the pack’s weight carrying capacity maxes out around 20 pounds, and the suspension is fully capable of supporting it. In my field testing I used the Spectrum to carry loads in the 10-15 pound range. It had more than enough room to carry everything I needed for a day outing, even in cold weather.

There are two “V-pull compression straps” on the pack, one on the center of each side. To reduce pack volume for smaller loads, it works best to lay the pack on its back and push down on the front with one hand while tightening (pulling up) the compression straps with the other. The two compression straps adequately snug the pack contents to maintain stability. There is no compression strap on the bottom half of the pack, but it is not really needed for a pack this size.

I was a bit perplexed when I first tried to attach snowshoes to the Spectrum. They wouldn’t fit inside the main compartment or the front mesh pocket, and there were no accessory straps for attaching things. Then I noticed four ¾-inch plastic D-rings on the front panel and used two lightweight webbing straps threaded through the D-rings to attach the snowshoes. Because of the thinner fabrics used, the Spectrum is not up to carrying a lot of gear attached to the outside; a 4-pound pair of snowshoes is about the limit, and there is no provision for attaching skis. Crampons could be placed in a protective sack and strapped to the front of the pack.

The Spectrum’s hydration sleeve is huge, big enough to swallow a 3-liter hydration bladder. It’s easy to route the drinking tube to either side out of the top of the pack, and there are lots of attachments to clip the hose to on the shoulder straps. Since water bottles in the side mesh pockets were not reachable with the pack on, I found using a bladder the most convenient hydration option. The pack has plenty of volume for the bladder and gear, freeing up the side pockets for other things, like rainwear.

The Spectrum stops short of being a climbing pack. Its thinner fabrics and mesh pockets, although adequately durable for general use, are not up to scraping against granite or squeezing through tight slots. Also, it doesn’t have outside attachment points for carrying hardware, or attaching a lot of weight for that matter.

What's Unique

The Spectrum gets it right. This pack provides all the room and utility I could want in a day pack for various types of outings, year-around. It’s very capable and comfortable, while holding pack weight down to a little over 2 pounds.

Recommendations for Improvement

The Spectrum is already well designed and assembled, but there is always room for a few nitpicks. One is to relocate or redesign the side compression straps so they do not interfere with inserting water bottles or gear into the side mesh pockets. Another upgrade would be to make one of the hipbelt pockets waterproof (e.g., made with the 70 denier silnylon fabric used else where in the pack and a water-resistant zipper). It would also be nice if accessory straps were provided for attaching gear to the front of the pack. Finally, if Gregory really wants to provide for everything, including a padded case on the shoulder harness for a digital camera or MP3 player would be nice.


"Gregory Spectrum Backpack REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2005-08-23 03:00:00-06.