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FR - Granite Gear Stratus Access FZ - Steve

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  • Nazdarovye
    Here s my FR for the Stratus Access pack. You ll find the HTML version, including pictures, in the test folder at: http://tinyurl.com/3ljfr Raw text follows. -
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2005
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      Here's my FR for the Stratus Access pack. You'll find the HTML version,
      including pictures, in the test folder at:


      Raw text follows.

      - Steve

      Field Report: Granite Gear Straus Access FZ 4500 Backpack
      February 1, 2005

      Reviewer's Information

      Name: Steve Nelson
      Age: 44
      Gender: Male
      Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
      Weight: 155 lb (70 kg)
      Torso length: 20" (51 cm) (this and following measurements done per
      Granite Gear Instructions)
      Hip circumference: 32" (81 cm)
      Chest circumference: 39" (99 cm)
      Email address: nazdarovye at earthlink • net
      City, State, Country: San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.

      Backpacking Background:

      As an interface design and usability consultant by trade, I'm always
      excited by analyzing and improving designs and processes; backpacking
      provides a fertile and fun arena for that. I have been backpacking
      since I was a kid growing up in upstate New York: we backpacked and
      canoe-camped in all seasons, throughout the Adirondacks and nearby
      areas, ranging as far as La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve, Quebec. As an
      adult, I've backpacked and hiked extensively in California, but also
      have taken trips throughout the West, from New Mexico to British
      Columbia, and return often to the Adirondacks.

      In the past year I made the transition to lightweight and ultralight
      backpacking. I like moving fast, and lightening the load facilitates
      that. I also enjoy urban strolls, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing,
      kayaking, and aviation in addition to hiking and backpacking, so my
      gear gets exposed to a wide variety of uses and conditions.

      Product information


      Granite Gear

      Product Name:

      Stratus Access FZ 4500 Backpack

      Year of Manufacture:


      Manufacturer's URL:



      US $300.00

      Stated Weight

      5 lb 12 oz (2.6 kg)

      Measured Weight:

      5 lb 13.65 oz (2.66 kg) on a digital scale

      Stated Volume:

      4500 ci (74 L)


      The Granite Gear Stratus Access FZ 4500 Backpack is a moderate-volume
      pack featuring a unique frame sheet and load stabilizing supension
      along with a panel-access pack body. I provided much more descriptive
      detail in my initial report, which you may wish to reference along with
      this report, which focuses on my first uses of the Stratus Access pack
      in the field.

      Field Locations

      I've used the pack on four overnight trips so far—two at Yosemite
      National Park and one at Castle Peak in the Donner Pass area of
      Northern California (all in winter conditions), plus one at Point Reyes
      National Seashore (in mild coastal winter conditions). Loads on these
      trips have ranged from approximately 30-37 lb (14-17 kg). Altitudes
      ranged from sea level to over 9,000 ft (over 2,700 m). Temperatures
      have ranged from 15° to 60° F (-9° to 16° C), winds have ranged from
      calm to gale force, and precipitation has mostly been non-existent
      (just a light dusting of snow on one occasion).

      Trail conditions have been fairly benign—I've stuck mainly to
      established trails, with only a bit of bushwhacking at Yosemite and
      Castle Peak. I have set the pack on rock, dirt, mud and snow, though
      I've been careful not to dredge it through those elements, and I do my
      best to set it on a pad or inside a shelter whenever possible.

      Field Impressions

      So far I've enjoyed my use of the Stratus Access pack. It's carried the
      moderate loads I've tried quite well, and it features a large number of
      suspension, compression and load-carrying adjustments that I
      appreciate, even as I am still learning how to optimize them. With that
      said, I'd like to delve into more detail on several specific aspects of
      the pack:

      Fit and Feel

      While I like the feel of the Stratus Access overall, I don't believe
      I've quite "dialed in" the suspension and its myriad adjustments to the
      point where the pack is completely a fit for me.

      On the positive side, the shoulder straps and hip belt are well-padded
      and comfortable, and the various adjustment straps are easy to find and
      use. In addition, while I'd initially worried that elements of the pack
      design might get in the way of my stride and arm swing, the pack has
      actually been quite compatible with my fast hiking and snowshoeing
      pace. I like the slim profile of the overall pack body, and the
      occipital cavity is quite well designed (it's easy to look up and down
      while wearing the pack; I can even wear a Tilley hat and not feel like
      the pack is crushing its bring against the back of my neck).

      On the negative side, I've found it hard to get the pack to feel like
      the hip belt is carrying as much of the load as I'd like; the pack
      seems to want to carry more weight on the shoulders than I prefer, and
      I've not yet found a way to asjust it to alleviate this. With shoulder
      straps set so the weight is resting on my hips, the pack seems
      unstable; tightening the shoulder straps makes it feel more stable, but
      of course hikes weight off of my hips.

      Also, a number of times I've felt as if the pack is leaning toward my
      left side, even though the load is balanced and straps adjusted evenly;
      this is something I've not noted on other packs. I've not yet sorted
      out what's going on, but it has happened often enought that it has me
      curious, so I'm going to simply keep an eye on this in long-term

      I've not yet decided whether the "cruise control" straps really do
      anytihng for my comfort and mobility (even though their purpose and
      usage is well-explained in the pack's instruction manual). I've tried
      them out, and don't find a significant difference in the stability of
      the pack or in my range of bending motion (the area they're meant to

      The whole issue of fit is one I intend to spend a lot more time playing
      with in my long-term testing. Given the superior adjustability of the
      Stratus Access FZ and its suspension, I have confidence I will find the
      right combination of settings to make me feel "one" with this pack—but
      it is not a given.


      So far the pack has swallowed everything I've thrown at it—though
      occasionally it's taken some thought and reorganization to get
      everything (especially on snow camping trips) to fit. There are a lot
      of straps and flaps to deal with, including three internal compression
      straps, the access panel, two cinch cords, three more external
      compression straps across the front, three compression straps down each
      side, and the lid and its attachment points. The good news is that
      there's a lot of latitude for adjustment, and a lot of ways to cinch
      down my loads.

      I really have appreciated the compression straps as extra, built-in
      straps for securing items—as you will see in the pictures below, it's
      possible to attach a lot of gear to the pack without needing any extra
      straps or cords. I especially like the "wings" of the outside front
      straps; it's easy to strap a tent, pad, shovel and other items here,
      yet have easy access to those items as well as the interior of the

      Since I generally go ultralight during the rest of the year, I have
      reduced the weight and volume of even my winter kit to somewhat less
      than I see most people hauling. That said, I still have had to pack
      carefully to fit all of my cold-weather gear into the Stratus Access.
      The best strategy seems to be to use compression and stuff sacks to
      organize and separate gear, rather than trying to cram it loose into
      the pack body. This is in part because of the nature of the panel
      access system and its internal compression straps; it's easier to load
      stuff sacks, then cinch the internal straps around them, than to snap
      those straps closed, zip up the panel, and try to load the pack like a
      traditional top-loader, though I have successfully used both

      Here are two views of the pack loaded up with winter gear, including
      snowshoes, an ice axe, a snow claw, a full-length blue foam pad and a
      Cloudburst tarptent strapped to the exterior of the pack body, and a
      sit pad and extra clothing strapped to the lid; the pack contained a
      full set of winter clothing layers including insulated pants and down
      booties, a 5°F (-15° C) sleeping bag, hydration bladder and full
      cooking setup:

      The pack handled all of this gear, though it was definitely filled to

      One last loading note: I use a BearVault bear canister, and have tried
      loading it two ways: standing vertically in the upper part of the pack
      body, and shoved horizontally down toward the bottom of the pack. Both
      have worked adequately, though when I stow the BearVault vertically,
      it's a tight squeeze with a full hydration bladder in the hydration

      Convertible Lid/Hip Pack

      One of my favorite features of the Stratus Access pack is its lid. The
      lid is capacious enough to hold all kinds of items I want to have handy
      (lights, personal care items, maps, batteries, first aid and survival
      kits, and so on), and it has top straps with buckles which I have found
      quite handy for holding a sit pad and extra clothing layers.
      Furthermore, it's easy to remove the lid and convert it to a hip pack
      (the belt is built in, and just has to be deployed and tied into load
      lifters). Here's a picture of me wearing the lid this way for day
      hiking near Castle Peak:

      While the capacity of the lid is not enough for an extended day hike,
      it's large enough to hold snacks and a couple of liters of water along
      with miscellaneous items, and the external straps can hold extra
      clothing or other items.

      Other Features

      The stretchy external pockets come in handy—I like external pockets—but
      they're a bit small and suffer in volume when the pack is full.
      Generally, I use them to hold a bag of snacks on one side, and mitten
      shells and a bandanna on the other. There's not room for much more when
      the pack is full, and I wouldn't mind larger pockets.

      The hydration sleeve is smaller than I'd like—I can just barely squeeze
      in my insulated winter 3 qt (3 L) bladder, and can't fit my 4 qt (4 L)
      hydration bladder when it's full. Also, the hydration port is too
      small—I've ended up simply routing the hose and bite valve of my
      bladder out the top of the pack body, snaking it under the edge of the
      lid and around to the shoulder strap. I'd love to see Granite Gear
      enlarge both of these in future versions of the pack.

      Quality and Durability

      Though I can't say I've abused this pack in any way, I've also not
      babied it, and it looks as if it has suffered no wear whatsoever. The
      construction is great, materials are solid, and so far I haven't even
      noticed a loose thread. Zippers and buckles operate smoothly so
      far—everything works as expected.

      The pack has handled snow and wet ground well—so far I've noted no
      leaks or seepage inside the pack body. I've not yet had the pack out in
      heavy precipitation, and am concerned (because of its configuration)
      that the strechy access panel will collect snow and even possibly leak
      moisture into the pack body; I will test this on upcoming trips.

      Long-Term Test Locations

      I'll be using the Stratus Access FZ in the coming months for snow
      camping and extended backpacking trips, and will be focusing on taking
      longer trips, carrying heavier loads, and figuring out how to maximize
      the comfort and utility of its suspension.

      Specific trips planned include:

      Confirmed backpacking and snow camping trips in California, including
      Lassen, Yosemite, Henry Coe State Park, Sequoia National Park

      Car camping in California (Mendocino and Big Sur) during the rainy
      season; possible car camping at other locations this spring (Colorado,
      New York)

      Planned additional winter camping trips and day snowshoe outings in
      California in the Lake Tahoe, Mt. Shasta, Yosemite and Snow Mountain
      Wilderness areas

      Altitudes on these trips will range from sea level to over 10,000 ft
      (3,050 m). Weather will range from cool and crisp fall and winter
      weather in less extreme locations to wet and windy winter coastal
      Pacific storms and active snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. Temperatures
      will likely range from as low as 0° F (-18° C) to as high as 80° F (38°

      Long-Term Test Plan

      In addition to the already-noted points, I will continue to monitor:

      Overall comfort on the trail over a range of loads

      Effect of the shape and other design elements on walking (I love to
      move fast, I hike with poles, and I like narrow pack designs that don't
      get in the way and that stay well-attached to my torso; Granite Gear
      makes a particular point of noting the flexibility of the hip belt
      system on this pack, and I intend to test this)

      Suspension adjustability on the trail (evaluating the "Cruise Control"
      system including load lifters, sternum strap, hip belt adjustments, and
      other elements for load and comfort balancing)

      The effectiveness and comfort of unique suspension elements including
      the "exoskeleton" hip belt and "3D Tepex" frame

      The effect of various weights, volumes, and weight distributions on the
      comfort and stability of the pack

      Ventilation (does the suspension get hot; does it promote or soak up
      excessive perspiration, including in cold weather?)

      Ease of packing, unpacking, repacking, and adjusting for changing loads
      (including the internal compression flaps and straps and what appears
      to be a separate sleeping bag compartment)

      Usefulness of pockets on the lid and the two side pockets (which appear
      to be a bit shallow compared to what I'm used to)

      Ease of use of cinch cords, buckles and other elements, including when
      wearing gloves or mitts

      Suitability and security for lashing external items (including extra
      pads, shelters, sacks, climbing and winter tools, helmet, snowshoes,
      crampons, skis)

      Ability to accommodate bulky items such as a bear canister, including
      flexibility of loading position and orientation

      Usability with a hydration bladder (including more thoroughly
      evaluating the hydration sleeve and port features)

      Durability of materials, accessories and construction (including during
      bushwhacking and non-technical climbing, and in sub-freezing

      Weatherproofness (how waterproof is the pack in fog, precipitation,
      snow and slush, or resting in the wet bottom of a canoe; how effective
      is the pack closure; how well does the water-resistant zipper on the
      lid work; how weather-resistant is the Durastretch fabric?)

      And, of utmost importance, will the back of my Tilley hat's wide brim
      bump against the top of the pack (only being partially facetious

      For all trips I'll record a summary of items carried, their overall
      weight and volume, and note weather and trail conditions along with my


      The Granite Gear Stratus FZ 4500 is an expedition-quality,
      moderate-volume pack with a highly flexible suspension and adjustment
      system. I'm enjoying testing this pack and look forward to zeroing in
      on the right settings for the most comfortable fit.

      Things I like so far:

      High quality construction and tough materials

      Near-infinite adjustability

      Strong, flexible suspension

      Multiple, effective means for load compression

      Removable/convertible lid

      Sleek overall design

      Things I don't like so far:

      Overall comfort is not quite as good as I'd like so far—hard to get the
      pack to be stable while carrying weight mostly on my hips, but this
      could easily be my lack of experience with the pack—I'll keep adjusting

      Hydration features and pockets a bit under-sized

      Thanks to BackpackGearTest and Granite Gear for giving me the
      opportunity to participate in this test.
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