IR: Granite Gear Stratus Access FZ 4500 - David
- Here goes... I'll try to get an html version in the test folder with
an obvious filename tomorrow...
Initial Report - Granite Gear Stratus Access FZ ("Full Zoot") 4500
December 1, 2004
Name: David Sowards-Emmerd
Height: 5' 8'' (1.73 m)
Weight: 155 lb (70 kg)
Email Address: drunken_marmotATyahooDOTcom
Los Altos, California, USA
Date: December 1, 2004
I began backpacking semi-frequently about four years ago, soon
after moving to California. I generally take weekend (1 night)
trips, and occasionally take 3-4 day trips. Most of my
backpacking experience is at moderate altitude, 6,000'-12,000'
(1,800-3,650 m), in conditions ranging from dry desert to hail/heavy
snow in the mountains. In winter and spring I split time between
Southern California (SoCal) deserts and snowshoeing/skiing/snowcamping in
the Sierra/Cascades. Summer and fall I tend to stick to the high country.
I have reduced my packweight down to less than 50 lb (23 kg) over
the past year - including food/water and a bear barrel. I'm trying to
include more mountaineering, climbing and bouldering in my trips.
Current Packs and Pack Philosophy:
I still have and use the following packs: Gregory Denali Pro,
Gregory Whitney, Dana Design Bombpack (older model), Osprey
Aether 60, Marmot Talus, Gregory Halo, Mystery Ranch Mountain
Monkey and a handful of other even smaller packs. None of these
(save the Aether) are even remotely lightweight. I much
prefer a more comfortable, bombproof-construction pack, built
to last a decade or more - even if it means an extra couple
The product was received on November 19, 2004, the night before
for a 9-day roadtrip.
Manufacturer's Website: <a
''If you need the ability to comfortably carry a more traditional load of
45-60 pounds and you want a pack that is as light as possible
task, yet still offers the convenience of easy access to your gear
the packs to check out! Our Standard Packer packs are engineered to
heavier loads. Our 3D Tepex frame technology and dual density back padding
combined with a beefy, well padded exoskeleton hip belt and our unique
Control dynamic load stabilizing system work together to support and
heavy loads while still allowing full hip rotation. The bottom line
supreme comfort on and off trail and the ultimate convenience at a minimal
weight! New for 2004: internal hydration sleeve and port.''
Weight: 5 lb 12 oz / 2.61 kg (torso size not specified)
Volume: 4500 ci / 74 l (torso size not specified)
Specifications (as measured by tester)
Color: Wrought Iron (silver-gray)
Size: Torso Length: Short
Shoulder Straps: Medium Trim
Weight (total): 5 lb 13 oz / 2.63 kg
Weight (lid pocket w/o repair kit): 12.4 oz / 351 g
Weight (repair kit): 0.7 oz / 19 g
The pack arrived in a surprisingly small box, much smaller
than expected for a framed pack. The materials and craftsmanship
all appear to be top notch. I especially like the Durastretch
material. However, there does seem to be an excess of straps,
buckles and ladderlocs. This was accentuated by the fully cinched
form in which the pack arrived where it looked like more straps
than fabric. However, after a few days, I'm used to all the
straps and have them all hardwired into my brain.
The materials are all high quality: high-tenacity 210 dernier
Cordura, high-tenacity 70 dernier Sil-Cordura ripstop (internals and
spindrift collar), and Durastretch with Vapex are used for the
majority of the pack.
Instead of the typical stay/framesheet combination typically found in
full size packs, the Access boasts a 3D Tepex frame which is claimed to
fit backs better as well as prevent back muscle fatigue. I easily
the framesheet from the pack (as described in the Owners Manual). It
appears to be a flexible, composite material that returns to its original
shape after flexing (the manufacturer claims this will always be the
I'm curious to see how well this supports a heavy load compared to stiff
aluminum stays, and like the idea of its shock absorbtion properties. A
Durastretch with Vapex covered foam provides the interface between the
frame and my back. This waterproof/breathable stretch material is
to keep the foam dry, and I will report on its drying properties in later
The waistbelt, also dual density foam covered with Durastretch with
attaches to the framesheet with a single screw and some hook-and-loop
fasteners but still is free to rotate a bit about the screw. In addition
to the standard stabilizer straps, the waistbelt has a second strap, the
Cruise Control system, that runs from one side of the waistbelt to the
other through a metal figure-8 on the bottom of the front of the pack
The shoulder straps, again foam covered with Durastretch/Vapex, attach
with screws to the framesheet. A thicker, rubbery material is used as a
more durable extension of the shoulder straps where they connect to the
frame. Extra flaps of this material are also used in this area to
screws from abrading the back padding.
Illustrations of these components and detailed instructions of how to
fine tune the suspension are available in the Owners Manual,
which is available as a .pdf file from the manufacturer's website.
One thing that seems to be lacking on this pack is pockets.
The two stretch side pockets, the hydration bladder pocket,
and the pack top, which has two compartments.
The top pocket on the pack converts nicely to a hipsack. A 2'' / 5 cm
webbing belt and buckle are supplemented by two stabilizer straps, and
both tuck into a stow pouch on the bottom of the top pocket (see photo).
The buckle is the same size as the pack waistbelt buckle and can be
used as a
replacement if one breaks. The top pocket closes with a large (YKK chrome
size 10) water resistant zipper - a bit overkill here, but I like it!
Inside is a smaller zippered mesh pocket with a hook which keys etc.
fastened to - the gear repair kit was already attached to this.
two snap ladderlocs are located on top of (external) the top pocket
more gear to be secured.
The hydration sleeve is located in the usual spot, just behind the
framesheet near the top of the pack. The sleeve is covered by a web of
shockcord which I can use either to secure the contents of the sleeve or
secure some gear (more likely the former). At first glance, it seems a
bit small - I'll see how big a bladder will fit during the field testing
The Durastretch side pockets are really nice, and easily fit a standard
Nalgene bottle with room to spare. One caveat though is that the lowest
side compression strap overlaps with the mouth of the side pocket. This
is good if you want to make sure something doesn't fall out, but when
to access the side pocket while the pack is on, I find this a bit
The main compartment of the pack is basically a large drawstring
with a 18x11.5 '' / 46x29 cm access panel on one side. There is still
of fabric between the drawstring top and the panel extends above the
opening so there is some fabric overlap. Two YKK chrome size 10 zippers
form the left and right sides of the panel, and the top o the panel is
secured by a strap that goes over the top of the pack. The panel itself
is mostly made of Durastretch material to remove some stress from the
zippers when the pack is fully loaded.
Adjusting the attachment points for the shoulder straps (read: setting
torso length) is outlined clearly in the owners manual, so I will not
detail it here. I will say that it was very quick (less than a
easy, but does require a #2 Phillips driver.
This is where the Access really shines, although the large number of
straps is a bit intimidating initially. Each side of the pack has
three compression straps, and three compression straps connect over
the front of the pack. All nine of these straps connect with what I'd
call double ladderloc buckles (snap-together buckles where each half
has a ladderloc connector). Inside the front access panel are two
internal compression straps for securing gear and taking a bit of stress
off the panel zippers. The Cruise Control system provides the main
compression for the bottom of the pack. Lumbar straps on each side of
the pack are effectively compression straps, while at the same time, are
claimed to help keep the pack closer to your lower back when carrying a
heavy load. Finally, the top pocket and the over-the-top strap provide
some downward compression for the pack. One note on the double
these provide more flexibility than single ladderlocs and also mean that
the extra webbing leftover after tightening is half as long because it's
divided between the two sides of the buckle.
The pack shipped with a small repair kit and owner manual included in
the top pocket (the hangtag pointed to these). The repair kit includes
2 screws for frame repairs, a ladderloc buckle and a snap replacement
buckles (see photo). It would be nice to see a small #2 Phillips driver
in the kit also, one of those shaped like a coin with the head sticking
out one end seems about right, but I generally carry at least a
Micra along on all my hikes, so this doesn't concern me much.
Testing Locations and Test Plan:
At the moment, I'm trying to plan several overnight snowcamping trips -
via ski or snowshoe - to Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic National Parks and
to Eldorado and Tahoe National Forests. In addition to snowcamping, I
expect one or two trips to
local parks (Henry Coe State Park, Big Basin State Park, Point Reyes
Seashore) where rain will be more likely than snow, and the pack won't be
needed for insulation so breathability and ventilation will be more
Winter pack weights will probably fall in the 40-65 lb / 18-29 kg
the warmer, rainier trips, I'd expect loads to be under 40 lb / 18 kg and
probably at least one trip will be lightweight (under 25 lb / 11 kg).
Mileage per day will range from a few miles to a dozen or so miles for
daytrips and more strenuous overnighters. Elevations will probably
range from below sea level (Death Valley) to 12,000'-14,000' /
depending on which trips work out. Temperatures will range from below
freezing up to 90-100 F / 32-38 C. I've already taken the Access on a
9-day bouldering/hiking/skiing roadtrip and will report on this in my
Field Report. I will also try carrying the Access biking in to work. I
generally shuttle clean clothes and food to work once or twice a week
with a daypack during the summer, but tend to carry large loads once a
week when winter comes around since I need warmer, bulkier clothes, a
jacket, bike lights, etc. Finally, I'll try to squeeze in some training
hikes with the Access, although this probably won't be until the long
term reporting period due to the short days and the fact that the park
I hike in closes around sunset.
Initially, I thought this pack would be slightly heavy for ski/snowshoe
daytrips, but I've already taken it on one and expect more to follow
the testing period.
During the testing period, the following are some general issues I
- Weatherproofing: namely is the bottom/lower front of the pack waterproof
(where it'd normally be set down on the snow). How does it hold up
heavy rain? Also, is the panel access vulnerable to rain, namely
top of the panel flap - when fully loaded, I will see if the top
covers this up.
- Adjustability/Fit: how much adjustment is possible by minor tweaking
when changing layering. The product manual describes the process for
the frame (adjusting or swapping out components) and requires a philips
screwdriver - how realistic is this in the backcountry and are any of
- Comfort: how much weight will it comfortably carry? Can I put most
weight on my hips/legs, or is the suspension lacking? Is the 45-60 lb
suggestion based on the weight that can be transferred to hips or on
weight distributed between shoulders and hips? How comfortable is the
hipbelt, I generally get 'hip hickeys' when wearing a heavy
pack for a long day of hiking - is this hipbelt an improvement? Does the
fabric covering the waistbelt, shoulder straps and back panel bunch up,
contrary to the manufacturer's claim?
- Stability/Balance: I'm a pretty bad skier so this is pretty
me! How snug (how much weight on the shoulders) does the pack have
for activities that require good balance (e.g. scrambling, boulder
skiing)? The manufacturer claims the pack distributes the weight evenly
over the back as well as the shoulder straps and waistbelt. I'll comment
on this in my future reports.
- Quality/Durability: In lowering the weight of the pack, high-quality
lightweight materials were used. How will these hold up over the testing
period - especially the Durastretch fabric.
- Compression Straps: how well does it stabilize the load and can the
pack effectively be converted to a smaller volume pack? Also, how well do
these work as crossover straps (not using intermediate buckles)?
I always wanted internal compression straps! However, how well do these
work on rigid objects like bear barrels, cookware etc.? And how much
do they rely on the side compression straps being tightened properly.
- Hydration Sleeve: How big a bladder will the hydration sleeve fit?
Is it sealed up watertight so that a leaking bladder doesn't necessarily
mean soaking the pack contents? I will probably only use the pack with a
hydration bladder on training hikes and warm weather backpacking due to
the winter freeze up factor.
- Access: How is the panel access set up? Are both zippers connected
together, or can one be opened at a time? How vulnerable is the
Durastretch material in the panel (I tend to lean packs against
right where this fabric is located)?
- Breathability: not so much of an issue for winter since I like to keep
warm and will typically wear several layers, but for training hikes I
to sweat a lot! How well is the pack ventilated? The material between
frame and where my back would be is 'Durastretch with Vapex'
(waterproof/breathable) and is supposed to keep the foam dry - will this
saturate though if I'm sweating a bunch?
- Sleeping Pad: How well does the Access work as a sleeping pad, are the
shoulder straps easy to tuck away? Do they get in the way? I typically
use two 3/4 length pads along with a pack for my winter sleeping setup.
Is the pack thick enough to keep me well insulated?
- Ice Axe Attachment Points: How useful are the ice axe attachment
Do I need to take the ice axe off each time I want to access the contents
of the pack? Does this still work if I have a sleeping pad attached
- External Lashing: Is there a good place to attach pickets/avalanche
probe/poles that doesn't conflict with carrying skis or snowshoes?
- How many useful attachment points are there on the waistbelt and
- What does the "unique Cruise Control dynamic load stabilizing
and how frequently will I feel the need to adjust it?
- How much room is there to overpack between the top pocket and the main
pack? Will a rope and a jacket fit, and just how secure are they?
- Are the 'thumb loops' (they're in the pack photo) at a comfortable
for me? When hiking without poles, which is most of the time,
I tend to hang on to my shoulder straps one way or other.
- Can I fit a bear canister (Garcia model) inside the pack for summer
Is it comfortable, or rubbing on my back? Will it fit with winter
canisters are required even in winter in Yosemite)?
Photos I'll include in the html version:
-top pocket and straps
-front access closed
-front access open + internal compression
-framesheet? - or just refer to diagram on mfg page...