Gear Review: Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60
“Lighter is better.”
It’s a mantra adopted by thousands of hikers in pursuit of the perfect ultralight backpack, one that offers comfortable support, bountiful space, and durability that will last thousands of miles on the toughest terrain.
Yet there’s one big problem: in order to meet all of those needs, a backpack must have more padding, more fabric, tougher materials, and, subsequently, more weight. As a pack’s weight gets lighter, at least one of the above categories has to be sacrificed.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the ultralight backpacking “tax” that seems to get a little steeper each year.
For years, Granite Gear has been one of the foremost companies attempting to balance comfort, space, and durability while continually shaving pounds off of their subsequent models. The company found its greatest success in 2003 when they released the Vapor Trail, a 2 lb. 5 oz. pack capable of carrying 30 lbs. and 59 liters of supplies. It received stellar reviews and quickly became one of the most popular packs on the AT—I spotted several during my 2014 thru-hike. It was also my pack of choice until its untimely demise at the hands of Heathrow airport in 2012.
The Vapor Trail was retired from Granite Gear’s lineup in 2011, and in 2012 they released the pack they named as its successor: the Crown V.C. 60. Weighing in at a paltry 2 lbs. 2 oz., the Crown is advertised to hold up to 35 lbs. comfortably thanks to the new “Vapor Current” suspension technology—in other words, it’s an ultralight pack capable of lugging midweight loads.
It sounded like an ideal pack for an AT thru-hike, so after waving a sad goodbye to my trusty Vapor Trail, I adorned the Crown and started the long walk to Maine. Was this pack as good as Granite Gear claimed? Or were the weight-saving sacrifices enough to negate the benefits of being an ultralight hiker?
After spending 2,185.3 miles with the Crown, I found my answer.
Shaving the Weight
The Crown V.C. 60 saves much of the weight by replacing everything that was, for so many years, seen as standard material for a quality backpack. Where most backpacks use nylon webbing straps to cinch everything down, the Crown mostly uses Granite Gear’s “Lineloc” compression system, which is made of shoestring-thick nylon cords. While small, the Lineloc cords were more than able to cinch down even the bulkiest of loads. The small amount of webbing the Crown uses for the load lifters, shoulder strap connectors, and hip belt support is only ¼ inch thick, where other packs often have webbing that is ½ inch or thicker. The thickest webbing is for tightening the hip belt, and even that is only ½ inch.
The hip belt and shoulder strap padding on the Crown seems absolutely minuscule at first, though I was never sore or uncomfortable unless I was carrying more than the suggested weight limit of 35 lbs.—which, if you plan on carrying more than that, this isn’t the pack for you anyway (and if you’re wondering why I was carrying 35 lbs., let’s just say that I got over my craving for apples really quickly). Granite Gear referred to this material as “dual density padding,” and supposedly it would mold to your hips and shoulders over time. I’m not entirely sure if that’s ever happened with my pack, but I was always comfortable nonetheless.
The back panel, composed of what seems to be a slightly stiffer version of the same padding, is designed with little air currents throughout the surface to help cool your back. While nothing short of a blizzard could stop me from sweating, I never found my back to be as unbearably hot as it would sometimes get with my previous packs.
What helps the Crown simultaneously stay cool and, more importantly, manage weight is the Vapor Current frame, which is a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) sheet. It’s extremely flexible and full of ventilation holes, and it initially seems like it wouldn’t give any real support. Once you load your pack, however, the frame locks into place and pushes back against the load, making the pack surprisingly sturdy for how light the HDPE material is. Granite Gear has made this frame removable as well, meaning that if you feel the need to sacrifice support in favor of even less weight, you can easily remove it via the water bladder pocket.
The other things that have been dropped are standard for most lightweight packs. There are no zippers aside from one to close the internal frame/hydration pocket, and it has only the 60-liter main compartment and three external stretchy mesh pockets for storage. There is no lid included with the crown, which instead uses a roll-top enclosure that snaps securely to the sides of the pack. This was one of my favorite features, as it can be extended and compressed depending on how much you’re carrying at the time—no need for a super-huge pack when you’re only carrying one day’s worth of food. (NOTE: you can purchase a separate “Lineloc Lid” to strap on using the attached clips if you need extra storage space, though the color scheme does not match at all due to the lid being clearly designed as a compliment to Granite Gear’s Blaze A.C. 60 backpack). There are no pouches or pockets on the hip belt either, though there are several loops that allow for accessories to be strapped on.
While none of these omissions may seem like much individually, collectively they shave off those precious ounces that add up to pounds. It’s similar to how professional swimmers shave their leg and arm hair to reduce as much friction as possible: it may not seem like it would make much difference at first, but after hiking up and down steep inclines with a pack full of food and water, you quickly understand how much each ounce counts.
At 60 liters, there is more than enough room in the main compartment to fit everything you could possibly need in your pack, especially if you use compression sacks. The stretchy pockets are also handy for stashing water bottles, rain gear, and other material you might need without having to disassemble your entire pack (though I do have one major caveat with this feature, which I’ll get to later). There is also one small stretchy pocket on each shoulder strap, perfect for stowing small items like pocket knives, ChapStick, and antibiotic ointment—something that’s always nice to have easily accessible after you fall down for the fifth time in a day.
In short, the Crown V.C. 60 has been designed with the minimalist in mind. It gives you everything you need without many bells and whistles, shaving ounces here and there until you’re left with everything you need and little else. Yet even with these omissions, the pack remains comfortable even after a day of uphill climbs as long as you respect the weight limit.
Where Things Fall Apart—Literally
For over half of my thru-hike, my Crown V.C. 60 was in pristine condition. The ripstop nylon and Cordura fabric that the pack’s body is constructed of is surprisingly hardy: despite being dropped, thrown, slammed, trampled, fallen on, kicked, used for a makeshift bench, rolled off a mountain (twice), rained on, snowed on, hailed on, and submitted to dozens of other stresses, I never got any more damage on the majority of my pack than a few sweat stains.
The same cannot be said, however, for the stretchy mesh external pockets.
Day-after-day insertion and removal of water bottles, jackets, and other materials eventually began to wear out the pockets, producing ever-widening holes that became a real issue toward the end of my hike: I eventually had to keep many smaller items—such as my Aquamira bottles—in bags that were too large to fall through the holes. Thankfully, the mesh maintained its tension despite these holes, meaning I could continue putting things in the pockets as long as they were packed tight. Of course, that only increased the strain, thus widening the holes. The pockets never reached a point where they were unusable, but let’s just say that I reached Katahdin not a moment too soon.
I contacted Granite Gear about this flaw when I returned home, and I was told that this problem is irreparable: according to the representative I spoke with, it’s impossible to sew on new pockets without ruining the integrity of the mesh fabric. In other words, the new pockets would just end up ripping to pieces in short order.
Which makes me wonder: how did they get the pockets on in the first place? If sewing doesn’t work, I have to assume that sorcery was involved. Either way, my $200 pack now has two permanent holes in the pockets, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
One other complaint I have is the location of the lid attachment clips. While they were always out of the way whenever my pack was full, the pack seemed to bow inward slightly whenever it had very little inside (e.g., just before a resupply when I was out of food). This bowing caused the attachment clips to rub on my upper back—I would never notice it until the end of the day, when close inspection showed two small, sore red marks in the shape of the clips on my shoulders. Personally, I’m not a fan of unnecessary scars, so I eventually made sure to pack my equipment less tightly on days with lighter loads, as this would solve the lid clip problem altogether.
Lastly, be aware that the hip belt on the Crown seems to run a little large—I’m 6’3” and have what some may refer to as “child-birthing hips,” yet I had to cinch my medium-sized hip belt as tight as possible by the time I reached Damascus, VA. Hikers that were thinner than me had to call Granite Gear and request small-sized replacement hip belts. In other words, even if you’re large enough for the medium hip belt now, you should consider starting off with the small hip belt before you begin a multi-month hike: it may save you some discomfort further down the trail when you’ve lost all of your baby fat.
Should You Buy It?
Despite its flaws, I can still recommend the Crown V.C 60 for those looking for a lightweight, comfortable thru-hiking pack. It has more than enough storage for extended hauls—I had supplies for at least five days on multiple occasions—and it only lost its comfort when I disregarded the weight limitations. That being said, I’m not aware of anyone who took this pack on a thru-hike without experiencing rips or holes in the external pockets. While handy for stuffing pretty much anything you need to the outside of your pack, the stretchy mesh fabric just isn’t designed to last.
Does that mean that the Crown V.C. 60 is a bad pack? I guess it really just depends on what you need. If you’re looking for a great pack specifically for a thru-hike, the Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 has everything you need for reaching Katahdin/Springer Mountain comfortably. If you’re an avid hiker and want a bag that will last for years, or if you are notoriously rough on your gear, you might want to invest in a sturdier—albeit heavier—backpack.
For a thru-hiker like me, the answer was obvious: lighter is better.
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