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).

7 thoughts on “Granite Gear VC60 and Airbeam

  1. Have a look at the Gossamer Gear Mariposa or Gorilla packs. Backpackinglight.co.uk do them in the UK. The latest versions are supposed to be even better than the version I have, which is excellent. Interestingly, I’ve got an Airbeam frame for my Mariposa and I’ve had no deflation problems. It’s very comfortable. Martin Rye has reviewed the new version of the Gorilla and raves about it.

  2. I did watch Bob’s video at BackpackingLight on the Gossamer Gear packs, and the Mariposa has much to commend it, especially the back and side external pocket arrangement and of course its weight. Maybe I’m getting over sensitive these days, but I couldn’t believe that its load support and comfort would satisfy me with that thin, loosely coupled hipbelt and ‘stay’ system. I’ve tried one pack with a metal frame stay and a quite firm but loose hipbelt and it just didn’t work for me, it still felt saggy much like the VC60 with its plastic sheet and didn’t take enough weight off the shoulders, it was enough to make me avoid that kind of system altogether. It would be interesting to try it if I get chance.
    In the end I settled on the Boreas Buttermilk, a little heavier than the Lightspeed but its load support and comfort are superb.

  3. Interesting review on your Golite Lightspeed pack. You’ve really picked the camping gears with one of the best reputations. Comfort is everything. You might also want to get new ideas for your next trip, safety and other tips on what to bring and what not: Check this out

  4. No pack I’ve seen is absolutely perfect, but the original Lightspeed is the best I’ve owned so far and I’m hoping the Boreas will be its equal after a few more trip evaluations.
    An interesting site there, it’s always good to read the opinions and experiences of others, though after many thousands of miles of all season camping I always keep my own counsel in the end!.

  5. Hi Geoff. Backpack and shoes are the hardest thing for me to get right. I have the Montane 55 which I found pretty comfortable but there is still something that I can’t quite put my finger on about the fit. I have the GG Blaze good pack but again not absolutely spot on for me. Maybe I am too fussy!. I think I will end up migrating to the Gorilla or Mariposa which I was trying to avoid as everyone seems to have those! However an informative post Geoff – The Buttermilk is one I considered a few years back but was not easily available until Bob started bringing them in from the USA.

  6. Pack and shoes are the most important to me too, I’m a real fusspot.
    The Montane pack was very good but I found it rather less comfortable than the Lightspeed or Boreas, possibly because the main back pad didn’t extend the full width of the base of the pack. The Boreas pad is continuous round to the sides, it’s hard to convey the effect in words.
    I’m on my second pair of Salomon Exode shoes now, excellent for me.

  7. Try the Helios 55 from Katabaticgear! I had the Montane Grand tour as well, but the helios put it to shame!

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