FIELD REPORT: Gregory Keeler Backpack -- Ken
Here is my Field Report on the Gregory Keeler backpack. The html version is
on the test folder at
Field Report: Gregory Keeler Backpack
1 February 2005
Manufacturer: Gregory Mountain Products
Model: Keeler Backpack
Type: Internal Frame Backpack
Fits: 19.5 to 21.5 in (50 to 55 cm) torso
Listed Weight: 92 oz (2.6 kg)
Weight As Delivered: 99 oz (2.81 kg)
Location where tests were conducted:
I tested the Keeler on several day hikes and a long weekend backpacking trip
over the winter of 2004-2005 in the mountains of Southwest Virginia and
Northeastern Tennessee. Elevations ranged from 3500 ft (1067 m) to 5500 ft
(1676 m), with low temperatures around 20 F (-7 C) at night, and highs
around freezing during the day. There was snow on the ground, and I walked
through an ice storm in pursuit of this test.
This photo was made on Thanksgiving weekend in the Mt. Rogers high country
in Virginia. The angle makes the pack look much smaller than it really is.
The Gregory Keeler is the largest pack in their Escape Series. Gregory
describes these packs as
"lightweight overnight packs [which] are designed to carry loads less than
40 pounds, and are optimal for extended weekend trips. Four models offer
different capacities and features for a variety of backcountry options."
This series includes the popular Reality pack, the Forester, and the Acadia.
The four Escape Series packs aren't too much different in size, ranging from
3800 to 4800 in^3 (62 to 79 l, size medium), and have slightly different
feature sets. Though Gregory describes these as 'overnight' packs, they have
sufficient capacity and load support for everything from gear-intensive day
trips to serious long-distance hikes. The Escape Series packs have an
internal frame and are available in four sizes, covering a torso length
range from 14 to 21.5 in (35 to 55 cm). Hip belts and shoulder straps are
interchangeable, and available in three sizes.
The interested reader will find a comprehensive description of the pack in
my Initial Report.
So what's a Keeler, anyway? A Google search returned 766,000 hits, most of
them genealogical. Then my spouse noticed that many of Gregory's packs are
named after mountains in California (Whitney, Palisade, Shasta). That's when
I found Keeler Needle, 14,240 ft (4340 m), a prominent spire south of the
peak of Mt. Whitney.
This is going to be a short section: the Keeler is one sweet ride. At first
glance, the suspension system appears simple and unsophisticated -- a hip
belt and two shoulder straps. But that simplicity hides a lot of serious
engineering and design work. Let's look at some of the features that might
not otherwise jump out:
The hip belt and the shoulder harnesses are pre-curved to fit the user's
body without wrinkling or bunching. This means that the smooth wicking
fabric on the inside of the suspension system lies flat against the body, so
it won't rub or chafe. In addition, the molded foam in the suspension is
stiff enough to provide support, especially in the hip belt, while still
feeling soft and pliable against the user's hips.
The shoulder straps are attached to the top of the pack with a swivel, which
allows the harness to automatically adapt to the shape and width of the
user's shoulders and torso. Gregory calls this their AutoCant harness, and
it works well in practice. In addition, the two load lifter straps work to
change the angle of the pack and move weight from the shoulders to the hips
The Keeler has a stiff foam framesheet and a single aluminum stay to provide
shape and support to the pack. The combination easily provides the support
necessary for my usual winter backpacking load of 35-40 lb (16-18 kg). For
the last few years I have been using and testing ultralight frameless packs
and very light framed packs, and all of them required very fussy and careful
loading in order to carry comfortably. Not so the Keeler -- I can just toss
all my gear in the top, throw it on my back, and start hiking. The padded
back panel is covered with the same smooth wicking fabric, and the shape of
the stay and framesheet perfectly matches my back.
While on the trail, finding my 'comfort zone' was easy. There are very few
adjustments that can be made while hiking: put on the pack, tighten the
shoulder straps, tighten the hipbelt, adjust the load lifters, and start
hiking. If things don't feel quite right, a tiny adjustment on the shoulder
straps and lifters almost always does the trick. Like the other Gregory
packs that I have owned and used, the Keeler just feels terrific when I
strap it on, and still feels terrific at the end of the day.
I did notice a couple of annoyances. The bottom half of the shoulder strap
is a single long piece of flat nylon webbing. It runs through a locking
buckle on the top half of the strap, but the end isn't sewn over to keep it
from sliding back out. As a result, I would occasionally put on the pack and
find the shoulder strap had come apart. Also, the load lifter straps are far
too long -- walking on a windy ridgeline in Tennessee, one strap was
constantly hitting me in the face until I tucked it under the shoulder
harness (where I couldn't adjust it easily). Finally, this pack squeaks when
I walk -- a constant 'eee eee eee eee' with every step. It's not that loud,
so I can usually tune it out, but it's loud enough that my hiking partners
mentioned it. My spouse ended up walking rather far in front when I wore the
In my Initial Report, I noted that the Keeler has a lot of pockets and panel
doors and other interesting features. Let's look at how I was able to use
these features when on the trail.
Pockets: The top lid pocket on the Keeler is great. It not only holds a lot
of gear, the U-shaped zipper opens the entire top of the pocket so I can see
all my gear at once. No more digging out everything in the lid pocket to
find the one thing buried at the bottom. On the weekend backpacking trip, I
had my snacks and lunch, spare gloves and a warm hat, maps and trail guide,
first aid kit, YakTrax (traction device for boots), Aqua Mira bottles, empty
6-liter water bag, and my camera in the lid pocket, and still had room left
The large front pocket gave me mixed results. On the positive side, it too
holds a lot of gear. I had my tarp, bivy sack, stakes, and guy lines in this
pocket, and still had room when I needed a place to stash my rain shell. On
the down side, it can be difficult to gain access to this pocket. First, the
top compression strap covers the outside of this pocket, and when it's
tightened down for hiking, it compresses the pocket enough that I can't get
anything in or out easily. Loosening this compression strap requires that I
open the lid pocket, loosen the top compression strap, open the front
pocket, get whatever it is I need, close the front pocket, retighten the
compression strap, and reclose the lid pocket. That significantly reduces
the utility of the front pocket while hiking.
The two mesh lower side pockets were fine. They each hold a full 1-l Nalgene
bottle, and there doesn't seem to be any danger of the bottle falling out. I
was able to reach the bottle and return it without too many contortions,
except when wearing gloves.
I used the water bladder pocket on the day hikes, but left it at home for
the long weekend hike. This pocket is fine, and I like being able to remove
it when I want to use bottles instead of a bladder. I used bladder with a
particularly large bite valve, and I could easily thread it through the
drinking tube outlet port on the right side of the pack.
Panel Access Doors: The large sleeping bag compartment can be reached in two
ways, the most common being through the large panel door at the bottom front
of the pack. The compartment and the panel door are each large enough to fit
my winter sleeping bag, with enough room left over for my down jacket. This
door is easily opened when the pack is full, and I found it a good place to
stash stuff that I might want during the day, like my warm jacket. This door
is covered by two long straps, which can hold equipment attached to the
outside of the pack: a tent or a sleeping pad, perhaps. I used them to carry
my Waldies camp clogs.
The two side panel doors are the most unusual feature on the Keeler. They
look like side pockets, but they open a large door in each side of the pack.
In adidtion, each panel has a small, zippered mesh pocket on the inside. I
was able to stash my toilet items in one, and a water filter in the other.
I'm still trying to figure out the best way to use these side doors into the
pack. I have traditionally lined my pack with a large trash bag, in order to
keep the contents dry in the rainy Southern Appalachians. So when I open
these doors, I am looking at the outside of the trash bag, and none of my
gear is accessible. (And on the weekend backpacking trip, walking all day in
the freezing rain, I was very happy to have the plastic bag inside my pack.)
I can see the utility of these doors for hiking in drier conditions, though.
Overall Size: The Keeler is 5300 in~3 (87 l) in size large, twenty percent
larger than my usual pack. I have used my regular pack for winter hiking,
and it can be a tight fit with a larger sleeping bag, more clothing, bigger
stove and pot, and all the other additional equipment that goes on a winter
trip. I found the Keeler to be a more usable size for my winter gear --
everything fit, and there was enough room left over for a couple extra days
of food if I needed it.
Attachment Points: There's an ice axe strap, which I don't use, but it looks
to be in the right place. The Keeler doesn't have a good way of attaching
large items vertically to the back of the pack. I like to carry an
extra-large Ridgerest pad, which at 25 in (64 cm) wide is too wide to carry
horizontally on the base of the Keeler. But there's no bungee cord, and no
good place to attach one, so I found it difficult to carry the pad. I also
tried attaching my snowshoes vertically, and this was even more difficult.
The snowshoes weigh a lot more than the sleeping pad, and need a solid
support. I can cross over the lid pocket straps and the bottom pad straps,
but this doesn't seem to be an elegant solution.
Durability: The Keeler has held up well to use and abuse so far. No frayed
edges, no blown stitching, everything still looks brand new.
Overall Performance: There are, of course, two kinds of backpackers: those
who like the One Big Sack, and those who like the Lots of Little Pockets.
I've always been a One Big Sack guy: my packing system is designed for a
top-loading pack with few or no pockets. I organize my equipment into
sil-nylon stuff sacks, and I pack so that everything I need for the day is
near the top.
The Keeler is an excellent example of the LLP style of backpack, and I am
still learning how to adapt to this style while on the trail. This is mostly
a matter of trying to remember in which pocket I put a particular piece of
gear, but I am confident that extended use will allow me to develop an
efficient workflow with this pack.
The Keeler is a large, well-made, durable pack with a lot of features and an
easy, comfortable carry.
Things I like:
1. The suspension system is excellent, and the pack carries like a dream.
2. There's plenty of room for all my winter gear.
3. The top (lid) pocket is well designed and useful.
Things I don't like:
1. No easy way to attach snowshoes or a large pad vertically.
2. Difficult access to the front pocket.
3. It squeaks.
4. All those features add weight.
Name: Ken Bennett
Height: 6' 2" (190 cm)
Weight: 210 lbs (96 kg)
Email: bennettk at wfu dot edu
Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.A.
With twelve years of hiking and backpacking experience, and several hundred
miles of the Appalachian Trail under my belt, my goal is to section-hike the
whole thing before I croak. I carry lightweight gear, including a tarp and a
homemade alcohol stove, and my base weight for warm-weather trips is about
18 pounds (8 kg).
> There was snow on the ground, and I walkedYou are definitely a better man than I...
> through an ice storm in pursuit of this test.
BTW, you posted your FR in the OR section instead of the TESTS section in
the TEST folder.
> I would occasionally put on the pack and find the shoulderYeah, a thumb loop would fix that.
> strap had come apart.
> Also, the load lifter straps are far too long -- walking on aIn fairness, I think they're long so that you can cut them to suit you. ALL
> windy ridgeline in Tennessee, one strap was constantly hitting
> me in the face until I tucked it under the shoulder
> harness (where I couldn't adjust it easily).
the straps on the Keeler are WAY too long for me. I'm going to cut them
after the test, but I wonder if we shouldn't be allowed to cut them as part
of the 'fit' process. Any mod not involved in the test want to hazard a
> Finally, this pack squeaks when I walk -- a constant 'eee eeeHmmm... Mine doesn't squeak... Are you sure it's the pack? The only thing
> eee eee' with every step.
that COULD squeak IMO is the attachment points for the shoulder strap
rivets. You might slip a drop of oil behind them and see if that solves it.
- On 2/1/05 7:45 PM, "Shane Steinkamp" <shane@...> wrote:
>I sincerely doubt that.
>> There was snow on the ground, and I walked
>> through an ice storm in pursuit of this test.
> You are definitely a better man than I...
>Yup, I'm an idiot. At least it's the test folder, not a real folder.
> BTW, you posted your FR in the OR section instead of the TESTS section in
> the TEST folder.
> Hmmm... Mine doesn't squeak... Are you sure it's the pack? The only thingThis is my fourth Gregory pack, third in the Escape series, and all of them
> that COULD squeak IMO is the attachment points for the shoulder strap
> rivets. You might slip a drop of oil behind them and see if that solves it.
have squeaked. I think it's the aluminum stay moving every-so-slightly in
against the framesheet. But I'm willing to be wrong.
What, you think it might be my knees squeaking? <g> Hmm, could be.
Nice report, BTW.
PS -- I *greatly* appreciated your letter in ATN this month.
- Just now reading the other reports. It seems our experiences over all
are positive. I read Shanes comments on the squeaking. To add. mine
didn't squeak either. on accessing the front pocket, I didnt have
that much trouble getting my tolitries out but did notice having to
tug a little. I got stuff out without undoing or loosening anything.
maybe I didnt tighten all the straps down as tightly but I tighented
um down like I always do. pretty snug.
I noticed your experiences trying to put gear on the back of the pack.
I had the same trouble but never thought to cross the lid straps for
smaller items. good idea for a short term fix.
--- In BackpackGearTest@yahoogroups.com, ken bennett <bennettk@w...>
> Greetings,it too
> The large front pocket gave me mixed results. On the positive side,
> holds a lot of gear. I had my tarp, bivy sack, stakes, and guy linesin this
> pocket, and still had room when I needed a place to stash my rainshell. On
> the down side, it can be difficult to gain access to this pocket.First, the
> top compression strap covers the outside of this pocket, and when it'scan't get
> tightened down for hiking, it compresses the pocket enough that I
> anything in or out easily. Loosening this compression strap requiresthat I
> open the lid pocket, loosen the top compression strap, open the frontreduces
> pocket, get whatever it is I need, close the front pocket, retighten the
> compression strap, and reclose the lid pocket. That significantly
> the utility of the front pocket while hiking.The Keeler doesn't have a good way of attaching
> large items vertically to the back of the pack. I like to carry anto carry
> extra-large Ridgerest pad, which at 25 in (64 cm) wide is too wide
> horizontally on the base of the Keeler. But there's no bungee cord,and no
> good place to attach one, so I found it difficult to carry the pad.I also
> tried attaching my snowshoes vertically, and this was even moredifficult.
> The snowshoes weigh a lot more than the sleeping pad, and need a solidstraps,
> support. I can cross over the lid pocket straps and the bottom pad
> but this doesn't seem to be an elegant solution.
- Hi Ken,
Nice looking report. I liked your self portrait. ;-)
No edits for you so upload at will!
> Field Report: Gregory Keeler Backpack
> 1 February 2005
- On 2/3/05 10:54 PM, "Rami" <noble.path@...> wrote:
>Thanks, Rami. I did find a typo that I'll fix <g>. I'll get it up later
> Hi Ken,
> Nice looking report. I liked your self portrait. ;-)
> No edits for you so upload at will!