I’ve been a fan of the Gregory Jade women’s backpack for a while. In fact, I spent a month trekking the trails of Europe while researching for my new guidebook, Exploring Europe on Foot, with one attached to my back. When you spend that much time with a backpack, you get to know it pretty well—its strengths and its weaknesses. When I had the opportunity to try the latest Jade 53—hot off the shelf and two years newer than my existing Jade—I was curious to see if the updated version improved on the design I already loved.
The first thing I noticed about the new Jade 53 was the gorgeous color, a vivid purple, that looked both hardcore and feminine at the same time. Less obvious than the bright new color, but more important, were the little feature changes that made a big difference in the usability of this pack. On my older Jade, the hipbelt pockets had been too small for many modern electronic devices (e.g., the big iPhone 6s). No more! The new pockets are some of the largest I’ve seen and easily fit both my cell phone and my camera. I used to carry a separate summit pack when I hiked with my old Jade, but the new one comes with a summit pack conveniently built into the main compartment—perfect for packing essentials for dayhiking in the backcountry. Another improvement, the pack’s side pockets are now mesh and easier to reach. I love being able to access my coffee thermos without help or wrenching my arms!
On the Trail
Because I hike commute to work, I started using the Jade 53 for urban hiking. The new Jade is the perfect backpack for the job. Its roomy interior allowed me to stow everything I needed for a whole day of work, from my laptop (which conveniently slides into the summit pack) to my lunch bag and a sweater. Thanks to an upgrade in fabric, the bag felt more durable and water resistant than its predecessor. When it was just sprinkling, I didn’t even bother with the integrated rain cover. And I love the addition of the stretchy mesh front pocket, which is perfect for stowing accessories. The pack was just as great in the woods as it was on the streets of Seattle. On a particularly steep hike up to Mailbox Peak, I was grateful for one holdover from the previous Jade 53—the 3D suspended mesh back panel that provides plenty of ventilation to avoid a sweaty back.
Pros and Cons
PROS: I am quite happy that Gregory updated just the right amount of features when it came to this pack. The addition of larger hip-belt pockets, more mesh on the other pockets, a summit pack and a clip for a hydration pack hose are all great improvements. I also love that Gregory didn’t change the things I already loved about the pack—namely how comfortable and usable it is.
CONS: Both this Jade 53 and the older version carry their rain covers in the front, not on the bottom, of the pack. This encroaches a bit on the storage capacity of the front mesh pocket. Also, the standard rain cover seems to be a one-size-fits-all model that seems a bit oversized and sags on the 53L pack.
If you’re looking to upgrade your existing hiking backpack, the updated Gregory Jade 53 is a worthy investment. It excels as a large daypack, an urban hiking commuter bag or a long-distance overnight backpack. I liked it so much that it will be going back to Europe with me on my next research trip.
The Gregory Jade women’s backpack is available in sizes from 28L to 63L and is priced from $129–$239. The comparable Gregory Zulu men’s backpack is available in sizes from 30L to 65L and is priced from $139–$229.