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GG Vapor Trail Initial Report - Andy's 2nd attempt

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  • amytys
    Granite Gear Vapor Trail 3600 Backpack Initial Review Date Published: August, 27, 2002 Update History: None Personal Biographical Information: Reviewed By:
    Message 1 of 70 , Aug 27, 2002
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      Granite Gear Vapor Trail 3600 Backpack
      Initial Review

      Date Published: August, 27, 2002
      Update History: None

      Personal Biographical Information: Reviewed By: Andrew Mytys
      Email: amytys@...
      Homepage: Andy's Lightweight Backpacking Site
      Location: Michigan
      Age: 33
      Height: 6'1" (183cm)
      Torso Length: 21" (53cm)
      Weight: 165lbs (75kg)

      Backpacking Background:

      I live in Michigan and have been hiking seriously for 15 years,
      although I've camped since I was 6 years old. My hiking experience is
      limited to the continental United States and Europe. I spend about 2-
      months per year on the trail. 2-4 day outings are reserved for my
      home state of Michigan, where I'm a year-round hiker (including
      winter/snow camping). I also enjoy hiking in nearby states such as
      Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as treks into Ontario, Canada
      (Bruce Peninsula, Algonquin Provincial Park). I reserve my 4-7 day
      trips for November through March when the weather is perfect for
      tackling environments such as the Grand Canyon. Longer trips are
      usually in the summer where I'll most likely be somewhere along the
      Pacific Crest or on the Continental Divide. As longer periods of time
      become available, I take in extended hikes in more remote areas of
      the world where just getting from home to the trailhead can take 2-3

      I consider myself a lightweight hiker. I carry the lightest gear I
      can get my hands which will provide a comfortable wilderness
      experience and adequately support the goals of my trip. Unless my
      goals are time/distance oriented, my pace is always slow. I rarely
      exceed 1.5 miles/hour. I rest frequently, hike long days, and enjoy
      whatever nature throws my way.

      Product Information:
      Manufacturer: Granite Gear (http://www.granitegear.com)
      Item: Vapor Trail 3600 Backpack
      Year of manufacture: 2002
      Retail Price: $145 (all sizes)
      Listed Weight: 2lbs (0.9kg)
      Weight as delivered: 2lbs, 1oz
      Rated load capacity: 30lbs (13.6kg)

      Product Description:

      Granite Gear (GG) has taken a page out of the "Ultralight Mantra" -
      Take only what you will use - and applied it to the Backpack. The
      result is the Vapor Trail, a 2-pound pack that delivers big on

      Made in the USA, the Vapor Trail is a 3600 cu/in (60 liter) top
      loading backpack. Its a fairly simple design that includes only the
      features necessary to ensure a secure, comfortable, load when
      carrying up to 30-lbs (13.6-kg) of gear. The design includes a haul
      loop, side pockets made of a stretchable, solid, material and side
      and front compression straps that can double to secure tents, stuff
      sacks, hydration bottles, trekking poles, etc. There is also a load
      compression system at the top of the pack consisting of a single
      center strap and a side-to-side strap. About the only features of
      this pack that you might not find yourself using all the time are two
      ice-axe loops and a removable hipbelt.

      The Vapor Trail's suspension has all the standard components -
      Hipbelt, sternum strap, delta straps, and load-lifters. The stitching
      on high stress areas, such as the point where the shoulder straps are
      sewn to the packframe, is solid. There's also padding - LOTS of it.
      The shoulder strap, hipbelt, and rear of the pack are all generously
      padded. The padding on the back of the pack has a deep stitch running
      down the center, resulting in a curved padded area for the muscles on
      either side of your spine. This stitch ends before hitting the bottom
      of the pack so that you've got a solid pad for your lumbar region.
      Finally, there is a lightweight, polyethylene, framesheet that helps
      to secure the form of the padding.

      Two horizontal compression straps along the left and right sides and
      two horizontal compression straps at the front of the pack ensure
      that the pack molds itself into a nice, tight, package around your
      gear. There's also a center top compression strap that allows you to
      secure any gear that makes use of the pack's extension skirt,
      minimizing the movement and maximizing the balance of this additional
      load. In addition to this top, center, strap there is a side-to-side,
      strap at the top of the pack.

      The pack does not come with a top, lid, pocket. However, the generous
      extension skirt (18-inches/46cm) allows for plenty of room to roll
      down and secure with the top compression strap. Dovetailed with the
      top side-to-side strap, the closure system is similar to that of a

      The Vapor Trail model used in testing was a demo unit from the
      manufacturer. As this model has yet to be sold in the consumer
      market, details are sketchy in terms of sizing. Existing packs from
      GG accommodate a wide range of torso lengths (14-22 inches or 35-
      56cm) and initial sales literature indicates that this pack will be
      available in short, medium, and long torso lengths. Likewise,
      existing GG packs fit waist sizes from 26-46 inches (66-117cm) with
      custom ordering available for sizes outside of this range. As the
      Vapor Trail has a removable hipbelt, I would think that similar
      sizing options would also be available.

      As far as colors, the Vapor Trail is available only in cedar-green
      accents on black.

      Product Specifications:

      Size: 3600 Cu/In (60-liters).
      Weight: Listed at 2-pounds (0.9kg). My packed weighed a hair more,
      but certainly nothing outside of reasonable and uncontrollable
      fluctuations due to manufacturing processes.
      Maximum Weight Comfortably Carried: The pack is rated at 30-pounds
      (13.5 kg). As testing progresses, I will be reporting on weights
      exceeding the Vapor Trail's rated maximum weights in order to assess
      comfort and product durability.
      Material Components/Construction: N/A - GG did not supply any
      literature with the test pack containing this information.
      Number of Pockets: 3; Main pocket +2, external, side pockets.
      Available Colors: Cedar-Green accents on Black.

      Initial Impressions:

      One of the interesting things about product testing is the lack of
      choice. You're given an item and you have to test it - You're stuck
      with it for the entire duration of the test. There's a definite
      incentive to find ways around any product issues that you may have.

      I have to admit that, initially, I was not pleased with the Vapor
      Trail. Marketed as a lightweight pack with "some" suspension, the
      Vapor Trail is designed to carry loads of up to 30-pounds. I
      perceived this to mean that this pack could be loaded up exactly like
      a traditional "heavyweight" pack and be just as comfortable... I
      assumed I just had to remain at or below the 30-pound weight rating.
      So, I packed the Vapor Trail just like I would any other pack...
      except I packed less gear.

      This resulted in an instant education in the pros and cons of the
      pack's suspension. Yes, my hips and shoulders were extremely
      comfortable. Also, the hipbelt was serving its function in
      transferring weight to my hips. However, the hipbelt also secured the
      pack to the lower region of my back. Without the benefit of a heavy-
      duty framesheet and aluminum stays, I experienced pressure points
      through the padding that awkwardly forced me to stand at attention -
      I had a "pushing" feeling in the small of my back. Note that there
      wasn't any pain or lumps involved - The pack's padding was doing its
      job, I just felt pressure that went away when I stood completely
      straight. I could not see myself hiking in this posture though.

      If I was a consumer, I probably would have returned the pack back to
      the store... either looking for something more comfortable or
      returning to my old pack, convinced that there was more "hype" to
      lightweight packs than anything else. Because I was stuck as
      a "tester" for 6-months, though, I began to fiddle with packing
      various techniques.

      First I got out my folding camp bucket - A 2.5 gallon capacity PVC-
      coated nylon bucket. I filled this with gear and placed it into the
      pack. Then I put the rest of my gear into the pack and tried it on.
      WOW!!! Suddenly, the Vapor Trail felt like the most comfortable pack
      in my stable. I'm sure the fact that I only had 12-pounds (5.5kg) of
      gear was also a factor but, the pack really felt fantastic.

      Then I began to think about other packing techniques
      that "Ultralight" backpackers use to give their packs "suspension". I
      dumped all the gear out and started at square one. This time, I again
      used the bucket and filled it with gear but then rolled my closed-
      cell sleeping pad around it before sliding it into the pack. A
      perfect fit. This system resulted in a nice, solid, shape to my pack -
      No place for awkward lumps to push through on my lower back. The
      pack was even more comfortable than when packing just the bucket. I
      was really stoked to put in some serious mileage with this setup on
      my back - It was like I was carrying nothing but the framesheet. I'm
      sure that this is the feeling that the engineers had in mind for
      Vapor Trail customers.

      Just out of curiosity, I once again spilled out all my gear and, this
      time, re-packed the Vapor Trail by rolling my gear into the sleeping
      pad, without the bucket, and then sliding the pad into the pack. This
      was also very comfortable.

      Overall, the technique where I used both the pad and bucket worked
      out best. Why??? I suspect it has to do with the optimal size of the
      cylinder that resulted in rolling the sleeping pad around the bucket.
      It was a nice, tight, fit that filled out every inch of fabric in the

      The main issue I found while performing my Initial Test lies with the
      Vapor Trail's rated size.

      The Vapor Trail is marketed as having a 3600 cu/in (60l) capacity. No
      way!!! This pack has a 2000 cu/in (35l) capacity in the main
      compartment. That's measured up to the top of the pack's framesheet
      and the point at which the "real" material ends. From that point on,
      you've got 18-inches (45cm) of extension. 40% of this pack's volume
      is in an extension collar!!! Personally, I don't see how Granite Gear
      can justify rating this pack at 3600 cu/in. To be fair, if you were
      to fill the entire 18-inches of extension space, to the point where
      you could just barely cinch the extension top closed, you would
      indeed have 3600 cu/in of volume. However, you would have almost no
      stability to this load, as the compression system at the top of the
      pack is not long enough to fasten around such a configuration. You
      would also have no spare collar material to roll at the top of the
      pack, so there would be little protection from rain.

      I found that, in terms of "useable" volume, the extension collar is
      good for about 800 cu/in (14l) of space. This allows for both the top
      center and side compression straps to be fastened, providing some
      stability to the load - Just make sure you're packing light items
      like an extra fleece jacket. By packing only 800 cu/in, there's also
      enough skirt left for you to properly close the pack, in a drybag
      fashion, for protection from the elements.

      As far as this tester is concerned, the Granite Gear Vapor Trail is
      actually a 2800 cu/in (45l) pack. Fortunately, this does not impact
      my ability to use this pack for multi-day trips and I will be able to
      continue my testing. For consumers, however, the true volume of this
      pack should be noted.

      Next, I tested how a typical lightweight load would work in this pack
      if I were heading into an area that mandated the use of a bear
      canister. I took my Garcia® bear-resistant container and tried to
      place it, horizontally, into the pack. I was pleased to see that the
      Garcia® can would fit. However, placed on its side, the container
      would only fit in the absolute bottom of the pack, or in the
      extension collar - Nowhere in between.

      An additional bonus I found while testing the Garcia® with the Vapor
      Trail was the fact that, when coupled with my closed-foam sleeping
      pad, the total height of the setup allowed me to take full advantage
      of the 2800 cu/in, mentioned above, and have the form of the sleeping
      pad acting as a frame throughout the entire extension collar area.
      With the bear canister positioned, horizontally, at the bottom of the
      pack and the sleeping pad sitting on top, I had a very sturdy pack
      setup that didn't list from one side to the other, even while jumping
      over fallen trees.

      When testing packs, I ask myself a number of questions:

      Does the pack fit comfortably?
      Can the pack hold all of my gear?
      Does the pack provide for quick access to commonly used items?
      Is the pack made with durable materials and assembled in such a way
      that I can depend on it to last over thousands of trail miles?

      Up to this point, the Vapor Trail satisfied my first criteria.

      I was also well on my way to satisfying the second question. However,
      at 2800 cu/in space was getting tight. I still had to worry about a
      tent and water bottles. Both of these are items that I prefer to
      carry outside of my pack. I'd much rather have a wet, soggy, tent and
      water bottle strapped to the outside of my pack than inside, next to
      my down sleeping bag and dry clothes. Even if I use a plastic bag to
      protect these "dry" items... putting wet items inside the pack isn't
      a good idea. Fuel is another fluid I like to keep separate.

      To meet my goal, I planned to use the Vapor Trail's two, side,
      elastic pockets and side compression straps. I found that the amount
      of room that these side pockets provide depends directly on what
      sorts of items are in the pack itself. With soft items at the bottom
      of the pack, there was no problem in fitting a 48-oz (1.4l) Nalgene
      bottle in each of the side pockets. However, with a hard Garcia® can
      pressing outward on the bottom of the pack, I was only able to fit a
      Nalgene bottle in one pocket - The other side pocket was extremely
      limited in what it could hold. I also noticed that these pockets have
      a small opening in one of their corners. These are most likely used
      for drainage in cases, for example, where a water bottle leaks.

      By using the side pockets, I was able to secure my tent, poles, and
      footprint to one side of the pack. On the other side, I stowed my
      fuel and water bottles. On occasions where I would use a bear-
      resistant canister, I do not anticipate any issues with simply using
      one side pocket for my water and fuel bottles, while using the Vapor
      Trail's compression straps on the opposite side to secure my tent
      components to the pack without relying on the pocket at all.

      My third question deals with being able to comfortably access gear.
      In finalizing where all my gear would be positioned within the Vapor
      Trail, I found that I would most likely be taking the pack off and
      diving in for frequently used items like my raingear, knee brace,
      hat, gloves, snacks, etc. There just wasn't any room on the outside
      of the pack and, with no top pocket, there wasn't a good alternative
      to just putting everything inside the main compartment.

      In further inspecting the design of the Vapor Trail, I found a space
      for a pocket that Granite Gear could easily add to the pack's design.
      Running the length of the entire front of the pack are two pieces of
      fabric, sewn onto the main pack body. Between these two pieces of
      fabric are two, horizontal, compression straps. I really think there
      is room for a vertical pocket in this area. It wouldn't have to
      necessary be as high as the pack itself - It could extend to just
      above the upper compression strap. There is very little downside for
      including such a pocket. It would not significantly impact the weight
      of this pack, particularly if one were to eliminate some of the
      excess length from the delta and load-lifter straps. As the pack
      stands today, you could rig such a pocket with ease. In my case, I
      found a 300 cu/in (5l) stuff sack with an integrated daisy-chain and
      simply looped the compression straps over the sack, through the
      webbing. Now I have convenient, secure, storage for frequently used
      items. At the same time I have increased the pack from my modified
      2800 cu/in rating to 3100 cu/in (50l).

      Finally, there's the question of product durability. As I've already
      mentioned, I was impressed with the type and amounts of stitching
      used in the Vapor Trail's high-stress areas. Most lightweight
      products on the market today make it a point of letting the consumer
      know that, because they are made with lighter-weight materials, they
      will not stand up to the same levels of abuse as their heavyweight
      cousins. I don't see many long-term issues with the Vapor Trail.

      Surely, any sharp pointed object that's pressed into the pack's
      material with force will penetrate the fabric. However, I don't think
      this is a fair assessment of a pack's longevity. The bottom material
      on this pack seems solid - I do not intend to look for a soft sandy
      spot when taking it off. I also don't think that brushing up against
      occassional rocks and trees will damage the material in any way, nor
      do I foresee a compression strap blowing its seam upon tightening. Of
      course, all of this will be addressed in my testing, long-term.

      What I have noticed, however, is that the material that the cinch
      cord is made of is prone to snagging by the cord-lock mechanism. I've
      already got a few snags in my cord.

      Packed correctly, the Vapor Trail is extremely comfortable.
      Generous amounts of padding.
      Solid stitching in high-stress areas.
      Will accommodate a bear-resistant canister packed horizontally.
      Removable hip-belt allows for an optional pack weight savings of
      6.1oz (172gr) for those carrying extremely light (sub-20 pound)

      The pack's rating is misleading. Pushed to its 3600 cu/in limits, the
      pack is unstable and gives little protection from rain.
      The material that the cord, used to cinch the pack's extension skirt,
      is made of is prone to snagging.
      Excess length in delta and load-lifter straps could be trimmed to
      save additional product weight.

      Recommendations For Improvement:

      Add a pocket behind the front compression straps. Such a pocket would
      allow for quick convenient access to frequently used items rather
      than having to hunt for them in the main pack
      Add a lightweight, plastic, key clip on the inside top of the pack.
      This would ensure quick visual verification of where your keys were
      every time the pack was opened, rather than hoping they were still
      somewhere in the bottom of the pack.
      Change the material of the drawcord at the top of the pack to
      something that's not prone to snagging.
    • ratagonia
      ... (snip) ... Mantra Take only what you will use - and applied it to the Backpack. The result is the Vapor Trail, a 2-pound pack that delivers big on ... a
      Message 70 of 70 , Sep 3, 2002
      • 0 Attachment
        --- In BackpackGearTest@y..., "amytys" <amytys@f...> wrote:
        > That's how I came up with the
        > > "Granite Gear (GG) has taken a page out of the 'Ultralight
        Mantra' Take only what you will use - and applied it to the Backpack.
        The result is the Vapor Trail, a 2-pound pack that delivers big on
        > > comfort."
        > line.
        > OK - maybe it does sound like a good sales pitch. Give me a job
        > writing ad copy for Granite Gear... I'm open to Bibler too :) I
        > didn't get this from any "dealer workbook" - it's my words... my
        > observations. I am touched that you think my writing is
        > so "professional" that you would go so far as to think it was from
        a company source like a catalog.

        Uh, really? Wow. 'cause, it is not only professional quality copy,
        it is GOOD professional quality copy, better than the stuff our
        marketing department is churning out. Can you say, "super-
        versatile"? (Not more than twice a page, puh-lease).

        > I would also like to understand just where to confusion lies with
        > regards to how any of the information or opinions I gathered could
        be met in "just a few days". Your comments make it sound like my
        report is completely ficticious. Again... a lot of time and effort
        when into this report. Yes, I only had it for a few days. But, I
        spent at least 6-hours, hands on, with the pack and a variety of gear.

        I thought it was the hyperbole put out by the GG copy writer after
        being told the key phrases by the product designer. Which, since GG
        is a small company, is probably all the same person.

        The real question is, at the end of a long day on the trail, does the
        comfort hold up. Guess we'll know in about 6 months.

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