GEAR SHOP: Review
Gregory OpticUL Backpack
Gregory Mountain Products was born in 1977 as Wayne Gregory’s dream of improving on the clunky external frame packs of the day. Since then, Gregory has been a leader in the outdoor industry for its innovations in ergonomic design and commitment to user comfort. Our first thru-hiking backpack was Gregory’s Palisade. This 6.5-pound, 80-liter beast of a backpack accompanied us on 100s of miles on the PCT and JMT. And while heavy, it sure was comfy. Since then, we’ve gone through several Gregory packs, managing to get a little lighter with each new model. This year, we took up the new Optic 58, Gregory’s entry into the ultralight category. Our first impression: pretty nice. But how did Gregory manage to squeeze so many features into a 2.5-pound pack?
Wanna see what’s going in our pack? Scroll down for our full kit.
Starting with the main compartment, loading the Optic 58 is a breeze, thanks to the nice, wide top opening. We had no problem getting our entire kit inside, with room to spare. The interior features a fixed hydration sleeve that can accommodate a 3-liter bladder. We found getting a hydration nozzle and tube out of the tiny port to be a little challenging due to it’s location right against the frame structure. On the outside are three large, mesh pockets: one on each side and one on the back. The side pockets are large and deep enough to accommodate our insulated bottle and camp chair—very important! These pockets also have side slots for easy bottle placement and access, which was nice for not having to screw our arm around to reach our drink. The back mesh pocket was roomy enough to carry our camp sandals and tarp. It’s also a good place for rain gear. The Optic’s hipbelt offers two pockets that were convenient for snacks, hand sanitizer, bug wipes and our smartphone. These are some of the easiest-to-use hipbelt pockets we’ve ever experienced. The Optic is topped off with a floating lid that provides enough room for our rain gear, tent essentials and toiletry bag. Underneath the lid is a second zipper pocket that contains the pack’s rain cover (included—yay!). The lid’s float range is quite minimal—good for encouraging us not to overpack—and is fairly easily removable. Additional features include a weather flap for hiking sans lid, two exterior tool loops and an integrated compression/sleeping pad strap system. All that, and it’s still just 2.5 pounds!
For its support and harness system, the Optic employs an ultralight perimeter aluminum frame that keeps the back panel firmly rigid. It has a slightly concave structure, which provides a comfortable shape around the shoulders and against the back. On the back is an Aerospan mesh panel which helps keep the air circulating between our back and the pack, which we found especially nice for keeping cool on big ascents. When properly fitted, the pack load is supported by a large, nicely-cushioned lumbar pad and an adjustable, generously-padded hipbelt. Both of these are constructed of ventilating, FocusForm mesh fabrics. The shoulder harness is constructed of similar FocusForm mesh material; thicker on top where the padding is most important, then tapered thin in front where it’s not as essential. These straps are not height-adjustable, so choosing the right torso size is important for a proper fit (see sizes below). Once we got the Optic loaded and fitted with all our gear and food inside (approx. 30 lbs; max capacity 35 lbs.), we were quite pleased with how it felt going on, without any noticeably odd pressure points. Now to hit the trail.
Hitting the Trail
Once we got the Optic out on the trail it was smooth sailing. As we hiked, we were pretty easily able to fine-tune the fit just right thanks to its multiple adjustment points. Up the trail, down the trail, over rocks and around blowdown, it held fast and managed our load easily without any bouncing or internal jostling. That’s due in part to its unique V-compression strap system that helps cinch in the pack around the entire load. The Optic’s lightweight, 100D nylon main body feels thin and a little floppy (it collapses easily during loading and unloading), but held up fine to the usual poking and scraping on trail. The bottom of the pack employs a heavier, 210D material, so we didn’t hesitate to drop it trailside, happily without incident. Admittedly, we are a little apprehensive about the integrity and longevity of the external mesh pockets. While we managed not to, it would be quite easy to poke something sharp right through these. We didn’t get any rain while testing this pack, so we created some of our own. Light moisture beaded on the main body, but it wasn’t long before prolonged dampness started to seep through. That’s where the included, custom-fit rain cover comes in handy; it goes on quick and easy. Props to Gregory for making this a standard feature on so many of their packs.
The 2.5-pound Gregory Optic 58 sacrifices heavy-duty materials for tons of features while maintaining extraordinary comfort. Despite our concerns about its prolonged durability, we really enjoyed our time with it on trail. After all, when going ultralight, sacrifices have to be made. As someone who takes pretty meticulous care of their gear, we wouldn’t worry too much about inflicting unnecessary damage to it on our own long-distance adventures. For the hiker who puts their gear thru the ringer, this pack could have a potentially short lifespan; we would not choose this pack for bushwhacking or mountaineering in harsh terrain. But for the average weekender or section-hiker who’s looking to enjoy the features and fit of a traditional pack, while also getting to drop a few pounds from their load, we would definitely recommend the Optic as a fine choice for cruising in lightweight comfort. $220
PROS: Solid, comfortable harness system with good ventilation; sunglasses bungee and hydration hose clip among tons of sweet features; rain cover included.
CONS: The light fabric and mesh sections might damage easily; poor hydration port placement.
The Optic is available in 58L and 48L sizes. Also available as the women’s Octal in 55L and 45L sizes.
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What we’re packing. (Approx. 30 lbs.)
Gregory Optic 58 Specs
Gregory Octal 55 Specs