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Float Like a Butterfly, Pack Like a Mule: Gregory Jade, Zulu Backpack Series Review

For spring 2023, Gregory updated its fan-favorite Jade and Zulu backpack series, with some fresh new features that make it one of the most comfortable packs I've ever worn.

Hiking with the Gregory Jade and Zulu backpackAnother view of the Gregory Jade pack in testing; (photo/Lauren Kelsch)
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There were a few more miles standing between me and Jackal Hut. And despite the 60-pound pack on my back, I still felt all right. My shoulders weren’t aching from the Gregory Zulu 65’s straps, and my hips weren’t chafed from the hipbelt. My quads, however, were feeling pretty scorched as the skin track wound uphill at 45 degrees.

Our group had booked this 10th Mountain Division Hut months prior, and we had it for just a few days. So, why was I so overpacked?

Largely because one friend was proposing to another on this trip, and I’d been tasked with carrying my drone, a DSLR camera, and several small bottles of champagne on top of my own gear, beer, food, and personal items.

But also partly, I was overpacked simply because I had so much room to spare. My Gregory Zulu 65 was like a black hole that always seemed to have room to gobble up another jacket, more dehydrated meals, that extra gravity filter, an Aeropress, binoculars, and what’s that you’ve got there? Some down booties? A Bluetooth speaker? Give it here, it’ll fit.

Thus, the 60-pound pack. It was a pattern that would repeat itself over several more hut trips, and then into spring backpacking season as I continued testing this Gregory backpack.

And, I’ve been impressed. Thanks to the FreeFloat suspension system and a 3D comfort cradle hip belt, I can load this thing to the gills without destroying my shoulders and hips. I can pack for an extended backpacking trip (or ski hut party, or backcountry proposal) without stressing about space. And it’s loaded with all the bells and whistles that make for a wicked functional backpack.

In short: The Gregory Zulu (and women’s counterpart, the Jade) is one of the most well-designed and comfortable big backpacking backpacks I’ve ever encountered. The suspension system and hip belt are packed with technology that helps the pack move ergonomically with you as you hike. Its 65L volume is large enough to accommodate a week’s worth of backpacking supplies. And zippers on the front and bottom make it simple to access contents without unpacking everything. It’s easy to overpack with this bag — but that just requires some personal restraint.

Gregory Jade and Zulu Backpack Series


  • External material 100% nylon
  • Frame materials 4mm alloy steel & fiberglass anti-barreling stay & HDPE
  • Pack body 210D honeycomb Cryptorip HD nylon/210D high-tenacity nylon
  • Pack bottom 630D high-density nylon/135D high-density polyester
  • Lining 135D high-density embossed polyester
  • Suspension Dual-density LifeSpan EVA foam
  • Frame type Internal perimeter wire
  • Suspension technology Freefloat
  • Compartment access Top / U-Zip / Bottom
  • Closure type Drawcord / Zipper
  • Number of external pockets 6


  • Very comfortable suspension system and hip belt
  • Adequate volume for longer backpacking trips, or more gear
  • Zipper access on the front and bottom make access easy


  • Easy to overpack
  • Heavy; far from an ultralight pack

Gregory Jade and Zulu Series Backpack Review

The Gregory Jade and Zulu packs are functionally the same — but the Jade is for women and the Zulu is for men. Gregory just altered the shape slightly so that the women’s pack fits ergonomically to the female form.

Beyond that, all of the features Gregory built into this bomber pack series are the same between the Zulu and the Jade. We had one of each for this test and made sure to put both through the wringer over 9 months of backpacking and backcountry adventures.

These packs have been a favorite in the Gregory family for a long time. For spring 2023, Gregory upgraded the Zulu and Jade packs with a more supportive and comfortable suspension system, dynamic carry, improved torso adjustment, and new recycled materials.

I have not used previous versions of the Zulu, so I can’t compare these new versions to older ones. But I can tell you this is one of the most — if not the most — comfortable backpacking packs I’ve ever used. My partner agreed; she felt the same way about the Jade. This is a seriously comfy pack.

It’s All in the Hips

Skinning with the Gregory Jade and Zulu backpack
The author skinning while wearing the Gregory Zulu 65L (left) and the Gregory Jade 53L (right); (photo/Will Brendza)

Hipbelts can make or break a pack. I’ve worn minimalist packs and climbing packs that are uncomfortable on the hips for one reason or another — they ride awkwardly on your body, they don’t have enough (or any) padding, they don’t adjust easily, or they’re too narrow and constricting.

That is not the case with the 2023 version of the Jade and Zulu backpacks. Gregory added a big FreeFloat dynamic hipbelt to these packs that moves with your body. It’s connected to several FreeFloat panels that attach the hipbelt to the pack’s internal alloy frame.

So, instead of being a single static unit flopping from side to side with every step, this pack pivots and flexes with your natural gait. That’s a far more comfortable experience, and it saves energy on the trail.

Gregory also put more padding into the hipbelts for 2023. That extra cushion conformed well to my lower back. And where some packs might have chafed my skin right around my hip bones, the Zulu’s hipbelt hugged my body and provided cushion.

I wore this pack over ski clothes and with regular hiking clothes, on short 2-mile hikes and longer 8- to 9-mile hikes, and had minimal abrasion issues. Both our male and female tester (for the women’s Jade) really loved the comfort and fit of the hipbelt on these packs.

Easy, Breezy, Suspended, Adjustable

The Gregory Jade and Zulu backpack
The back panel and shoulder straps on the Zulu 65L; (photo/Will Brendza)

I am a big fan of ventilated, suspended back panels on backpacking packs. My back tends to sweat a lot and having that extra level of ventilation is a big bonus for me. So, I was psyched about the Zulu’s moisture-wicking mesh back panel. It’s suspended to create a pocket of air between the pack and your back. Of course, lots of packs have some level of ventilation in design.

I still sweat through my clothes despite the added ventilation. But, at least I wasn’t soaking through the pack (which has happened to me before).

That back panel is also adaptable to different torso sizes, with 3.5 inches of adjustability. Gregory sells the Zulu and Jade backpacks in small, small/medium, medium, medium/large, and large sizes (here’s Gregory’s size chart — for reference, I’m a 5’11” male and the M/L is perfect for me). They also sell the packs in 30L, 45L, 55L, and 65L versions.

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Favorite Features

The Gregory Jade and Zulu backpack
Long zippered access to the main compartment makes packing a breeze; (photo/Will Brendza)

Gregory threw every feature and the kitchen sink into the Zulu and Jade series of backpacks. They have six external pockets — two on either side of the hip belt, two stretch mesh pockets on either side of the pack, one large stretch pocket on the front, and a floating pocket on top (in the brain). It also has a compartment with an included rainfly stashed behind the front pocket.

My favorite feature Gregory included, though, is the front and bottom access zippers. For a pack this big, having access to all of the pack’s contents without unpacking everything is huge. The front U-zipper also allows you to better organize the pack as you’re packing it. And the bottom zipper allows access to the sleeping bag compartment at the bottom.

Gregory also added a slick little sunglasses “QuickStow” loop to one of the die-cut shoulder straps. So, you can hang your shades on your person without worrying about smashing or scratching them in a pocket. There’s also a hydration clip to attach the hose of a bladder.

Then, there are the adjustable attachment loops and upper shock locks for trekking poles or ice axes, the custom comfort-grip molded zipper pulls, molded webbing keepers to hold straps down, and reflective attachment points on the outside.

This pack has almost every one of my favorite backpacking features included in it. Gregory did not hold out on this one.

Notes on Materials and Construction

Skinning with the Gregory Jade and Zulu backpack; (photo/Will Brendza)
Putting in thorough testing on the skin track; (photo/Will Brendza)

As with so many brands, Gregory is in the midst of a push to source more of its materials sustainably. By using a life cycle analysis tool and switching some components to recycled materials, Gregory was able to reduce the carbon footprint of every Jade and Zulu pack by 26%.

The changes Gregory made to the Jade and Zulu’s body include 40% recycled 400D polyester ripstop material. Similarly, the lining of the pack is made from 40% post-consumer recycled 135D polyester, and the body, lining, and the base are all coated with PFC-free DWR.

The Cons

Gregory Jade Backpack Review; (photo/Will Brendza)
The Gregory Jade backpack 53L; (photo/Will Brendza)

If I’m going to be honest, the capacity of the 65L is a double-edged sword. I love being able to pack whatever I want and I enjoy not stressing about pack space. But sometimes it does take some personal restraint not to fill a 65L pack to its brim every time I hit the trail. I also find myself offering to carry other people’s stuff when they don’t have room.

But that’s a me problem. And, anyway, Gregory sells multiple different sizes of the Jade and Zulu packs. So if this was some kind of deal breaker (which it certainly isn’t), I could simply opt for a smaller pack. Or, I could just exercise some self-control.

A bigger con: the Zulu is also a relatively heavy pack on its own. Compared to GearJunkie’s favorite packs from 2023, it lands pretty squarely in the middle-weight class of backpacking packs, at 3.68 pounds. That weight isn’t an issue for me, but if you’re looking for an ultralight or lighter-weight backpacking pack, this isn’t it. The Zulu and the Jade are far from minimalist.

Gregory Zulu and Jade Backpacks: The Final Word

The Gregory Jade and Zulu backpack
We conducted thorough side-by-side testing of both the men’s and women’s packs; (photo/Will Brendza)

The ski up to Jackal Hut went off without a hitch. I arrived, legs thoroughly thrashed, but shoulders and hips intact. I captured some awesome shots of the landscape, of the ski hut, and, of course, of my friend’s proposal. It was worth carrying all that heavy gear up in the end.

Had I been using another pack, maybe my opinion would be different. But the Gregory Zulu backpack, with its 3D comfort cradle hipbelt, dynamic flex panels, die-cut shoulder harness, and adjustable, ventilated back panel, made the exertion bearable.

Those features would continue to impress me over the course of the next 8 months, too. Over numerous other hut trips and backpacking excursions, this bag has endeared itself to me. I trust it. I look forward to wearing it. And I know that it’s going to last me a really long time.

Sure, it’s heavier, and sometimes I overpack it. But, by and large, I find it hard to be critical of this thing. It’s a wildly comfortable and well-designed backpacking pack, and I highly recommend it.

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