Granite Gear VC60 and Airbeam

Crown VC60 and Airbeam FrameA brief post to highlight a disappointing experience testing a new pack system.

My Golite Lightspeed 49l pack (original model) has given superb service for years, but recently it showed heavy signs of wear and a couple of stitching lines started to come apart. Its excellent load support and comfort relative to its weight would be very hard to match in a new pack and this was of primary importance to me (note: the new Lightspeed is a totally different animal: different design, lower capacity and higher weight, it should have a new name). I find nothing worse than significant pressure on the shoulders and I want at least 90% of the load held firmly on the hips.

I ordered a Granite Gear Crown VC60 pack for a home trial, rather more capacious than really needed but the roll-top closure and straps made it easy to compress down. Granite Gear don’t really believe in hipbelt pockets but they sell add-on pockets, I also ordered one of these to try. This was the first pack I’d tried with a removable back frame, and the selling points for me were the very low weight and the large padded hipbelt. I loaded it up with about 10kg of kit.

The hipbelt and back cushioning were comfortable as expected but the removable plastic sheet frame is thin and very bendy, I found that it offered little in the way of load support and the pack still felt ‘saggy’ with insufficient transmission of support from the belt to the pack. However Klymit offer an inflatable Airbeam Frame upgrade that reduces the total weight but improves the load support by stiffening the frame structure – I ordered one of these.

I inflated the Airbeam to a good firmness as recommended and slotted it into the frame pocket, this improved the load support considerably but I felt it wasn’t up to the overall standard of the Lightspeed. At this point I stopped for the evening and removed the Airbeam, leaving it on my desk overnight. Next morning it was severely deflated. I reinflated it, closed the valve firmly and left it again – it deflated badly after about 4 hours.
I returned it and requested a replacement but it was temporarily out of stock, I ordered one from a different retailer with stock and it arrived quickly. Same test, exactly the same result – bad deflation after a few hours, and an online search revealed that some other backpackers had found this problem. At this point I lost confidence in the product, the main pack support mechanism must be completely reliable in the field. The Airbeam seems to be tough and well made, I can only imagine that the problem lies in the valve. All were returned for refunds, and hence the Crown VC60 had to be returned too.

As it turned out I would have returned the VC60 anyway because of the add-on hipbelt pocket. It’s actually a rectangular pouch that attaches via webbing straps through loops on the belt, but it isn’t a firm connection, it juts out and jiggles about and feels horrible. It proves what I often say: an integrated solution is always better than a bolted-on one, in this case very much better.

I also trialled another couple of packs:

The Montane Grand Tour 55, a good pack that gave commendable load support via a T-shaped stay and ticked most boxes for me, but again it didn’t quite match the overall support and comfort of the Lightspeed – I think I’ve been spoilt by this old Golite!. The two mesh pockets on the back (yes the back, not the front as some people insist on calling it) are not as versatile as a single large mesh pocket.

The Lowe Alpine Eclipse 45:55, a decent attempt at a lightweight backpack whose load support is not as good as the Lightspeed or the Montane, and the back mesh pocket is tight, it won’t hold much. Lowe Alpine don’t believe in hipbelt pockets either, and one senses that their designers included them on the Eclipse with gritted teeth – these are a joke. Once the pack is on and the belt tightened, those tight small pockets are curved into a thin crescent shape and will hold hardly anything useful, maybe a chapstick (they won’t even hold a compass without undue stress on the material and zip).

Resurrection

After a long hiatus involving moving home and refurbishment, the blog is resurrected.
The old blog was based on ancient insecure code, some of it deprecated and causing problems with our web server. We abandoned it and started afresh with an up-to-date WordPress core and a new hand-carved theme.

I preserved the old blog archives that proved to be useless but in a moment of ruthlessness I deleted the old SQL database, removing the only record of my old Blogroll. I’ve partially reconstructed it manually from my RSS aggregator but a few are bound to be missing – let me know if yours is absent. I’ve tested the new blog with Firefox 29.0.1 (customized – see below), Internet Explorer 10 and Palemoon 24.6.1 and all seems fine, let me know of any strange behaviour.

Note: recent versions of Firefox have really screwed up default settings for ‘zoom’ behaviour with the result that photos are inflated and look crap. I’ll make a separate post about this.