Despite their sustainable advantages, I’ve never been able to love an undyed pack. Camo appeals to my military side. Earth tones pair with my bushcraft background. REI-esque neon colors charm my RuPaul-esque love of the extra. However, while testing the “wedding white edition,” as my partner puts it, undyed Virga3, two things began to change my mind.
The first was Granite Gear’s Instagram page, full of examples of what creative minds have done to blank canvas editions of the company’s packs. The second was how cool the pearly palette helped keep my back on a 35-mile stretch of trail trekked in nearly 100-degree heat.
The Granite Gear Virga3 and I have been an odd trail couple for the past several weeks, backpacking along Northwestern Illinois, namely the Mississippi Palisades. On one hand, it sticks to Granite Gear’s widely beloved gear organization template of massive side and frontal shove-it pockets, with external compression straps galore. For gear-accessibility nuts like myself, such generous external storage in a lidless roll-top bag, makes for a lightweight solution to gear availability.
Unlike its predecessor, the Virga3 also features generous hip belt pockets and impressive adjustability. For both the women’s-specific and unisex models, the Virga3 offers two torso and hip belt sizes. Between them, the pack can accommodate torsos from 15 to 24 inches, adjust to waists from 24 to 54 inches, and be set to narrow or wide shoulders.
With a short torso, long limbs, and a penchant for powerlifting, I tend to resemble your least favorite wide receiver more than your favorite ultralight hiker. So the Virga3’s ample adjustability and dual chest straps should make it a match made in ultralight heaven.
On the other hand, the 55L version’s recommended maximum carry weight of 25 pounds hits a slightly awkward spot: It’s large for an overnight pack. Its volume may tempt many a long-distance hiker to pack that little bit extra. Still, it demands a light loadout. For someone who has no problem schlepping 60-pound rucksacks, the Virga3 has been a test of discipline.
But make no mistake, the Virga3 is a pack that rewards diligence.
In short: The Granite Gear Virga3 ($140 on sale) offers arguably the best bang-for-your-buck adjustability (and comfort) of any ultralight pack on the market. The pack features all the hallmarks of Granite Gear’s flexible approach to gear arrangement and availability. Like many ultralight packs, it does struggle to shift weight to your hips — exacerbated by the load lifters’ tendency to settle into a shallow angle from the shoulder straps to the pack.
However, with a comfortable harness system and dual chest straps, what weight is on your upper torso should carry comfortably and organized. In its construction, the Virga3 ditches a frame sheet, stays, or foams in the back panel — and in the latest version, ditches dyes too.
- Materials Robic high-tenacity nylon (100D and 210D) with barrier DWR treatment, 98% undyed fabric
- Storage Two zippered hip belt pockets, two side water bottle pockets, front shove-it pocket, ice axe attachments
- Style Rolltop closure
- Volume 55 L (regular & long)
- Verified weight 1 lb., 10.8 oz. (regular); 1 lb., 11.5 oz. (long)
- Simple, quick adjustability
- Better options for fit in straps, hip belt
- Durable, thoughtful design
- Quite affordable
- Easily accessible side pockets
- Compression straps are difficult to effectively use without a frame
- Recommend foam sleeping pad to add rigidity
Granite Gear Virga3 2023 Undyed Review
There are few frameless ultralight packs in the Virga3’s volume class that are under $200. Granted, that’s because many leverage pricier fabrics like Ultra or Dyneema. Nevertheless, “ultralight” and “budget” are two trails that rarely cross.
Price-wise, this leaves the 55L Virga3 in the odd position of competing with the benchmarks set by its more popular lightweight siblings, the Crown 2 and Crown 3. Where the Virga3 pulls ahead, both of its 26L little sibling and its contemporaries, is in adjustability.
A personal pet peeve of mine is hearing pack sizing boiled down to just torso length, or worse, height. If a pack’s strap refuses to contour to your shoulders, its hip belt padding ends in an awkward place, and the shape of a pack’s frame causes hotspots. Which means your experience on the trail won’t match your experience in the store.
For people who don’t fall squarely into a pack’s range of measurements, this can be annoying, to say the least. And at the most, it can leave you more prone to injury when hiking with an ill-sized or ill-fitting pack.
The Virga3 sets out to tackle this by having four different fitting options, all featuring a torso adjustment system that allows you to select between two widths for the shoulder straps.
The unisex version offers two sizes for torsos between 18-21 inches and 21-24 inches, and two hip belt sizes between 26 and 52 inches. The women’s model covers torso sizes from 15-18 to 18-21 inches, with two hip belt options covering a range from 24 to 52 inches.
A Note on Volume vs. Load
Adjustability aside, the Virga3 is aimed at a very specific market niche. The sweet spot for many ultralight packs runs 35-50 L — enough volume for ultralight mileage while enforcing selective packing. At 55 L, the Virga3 has to compete with ultralight compatriots like the Zpacks Arc Blast 55 and Hyperlite Southwest 55, which are rated for 30-40-pound loads.
They also compete with similarly priced lightweights such as Granite Gear’s Crown 2 and Mountainsmith’s Scream 55, which can comfortably haul 35-45-pound loads. But with a recommended max carry weight of 25 pounds (the same capacity as its smaller 26L model), the Virga3 demands trekkers with discipline to pack lightly.
The Compartmentalization: Structure, Storage, and Pockets
As with most Granite Gear packs, there is a simple litmus test to know if its approach to gear arrangement will work for you. If your packing routine is either a) shove it all in, or b) compartmentalize everything into storage cubes to give the pack structure, the Virga3 will probably appeal to you. Even as a gear junkie who likes panel loading options, the Virga3 left me little to desire for gear access.
Internally, the pack includes upper and lower back wall pockets, with a compression strap between them to securely hold a foam sleeping pad — or somewhat awkwardly secure a hydration bladder. This gives the Virga’s frameless nylon shell a little bit of support along the back panel. However, large sizes of popular pads, such as the NEMO Switchback, might have to be cut down to size to comfortably fit in the pockets.
It’s also worth noting the Virga3 is taller and narrower than most of Granite Gear’s packs. I found that I could still fit 3400-size Hyperlite storage pods comfortably — and 4400-size with some work — to reinforce the pack and compartmentalize my gear.
On my treks, the cavernous front mesh pocket running much of the length of the pack was easily able to swallow high-demand toiletries like toilet paper and bug spray, along with snacks, a raincoat, and hat, with room to spare. If you can’t fit it into the shove-it pocket, then the dual compression straps running over it should secure it in place.
One thought: The same can’t necessarily be said of the single, straight compression strap running over the pack’s rolltop closure. I found this strap struggles with securing more rigid objects like tents and bear canisters.
However, given that the Virga3 sports Granite Gear’s hallmark massive side pockets, now sloped for hydration access sans shoulder dislocation, you’ll rarely have to secure anything to the pack’s top. In my tests, I was easily able to fit 1L and 1.5L Smartwater bottles simultaneously in each pocket, with room to spare.
In addition to a shock cord cinch topping each pocket, there are two side compression straps — the bottom-most of which can be routed beneath the pockets to make drawing a bottle easier. Topping off the external storage are two hip belt pockets that, while a tad small for the largest of Otterboxed cellphones, are generously spacious for an ultralight pack.
I packed out the Virga3 with a variety of loadouts between 15 and 25 pounds, both with and without a pad. And, like many frameless packs, it struggles with load transfer — though it struggles less than most.
Without a pad, cinching the pack’s load lifters shifted the pack’s weight to my hips minimally. However, it did produce a nice concavity along my mid-back for excellent ventilation. With both a pad and stuffed packing pods to reinforce the pack’s structure, I could get what felt like 40-45% of the pack’s weight on my hips — with considerable fiddling.
The downside of having different shoulder width options, dual chest straps, and a variable length hip belt, is that these features require more dialing in to find the optimal fit — for a frameless, ultralight pack, adjustments are that much more critical.
I found that with the shoulder straps anchored wide, they hugged my traps more flatly than most packs. And with the chest straps snug, what weight was on my upper torso felt secure and distributed across my chest.
However, this may not be comfortable for everyone. And while I was able to get dialed in, I found myself more hesitant to adjust the suspension for climbs and descents — lest I upset some variable.
The sensitivity of the suspension may be due to a common trait I’ve noticed among Granite Gear packs: The shoulder straps tend to anchor at a shallow angle. This could be a personal adjustment issue, but I’ve noticed it among a number of people trekking with GG packs. And I think it comes down to two issues.
Granite Gear’s ReFit hip belts are fantastically adjustable. However, to enable them to be pulled out and adjusted, Granite’s packs tend to have a bit of breathing room in the panel the belts pass through to anchor them to the pack. This allows their packs, near their max carry weight, to slide downward a bit relative to the hip belt.
Compounding this, their packs’ flat bottoms, while made from durable high-tenacity 210D nylon, have no straps running under them. This makes them incredibly easy to pack, but provides less reinforcement against the packs’ bottoms under load. The end result: The packs can sag, causing the load lifter to run shallow.
The robust frames Granite Gear’s more heavy-duty packs such as the Blaze 60 and Perimeter 50, counteract this well. However, with an ultralight frameless pack like the Virga 55, this sinking tendency can make for a fiddly fitting, and is a con worth noting.
OK, so the pack has a slightly weird load lifter angle, sinks a touch, and tends to draw more weight into your chest (albeit evenly). How does it actually feel? On my treks, surprisingly comfortable.
The Virga3’s ReFit hip belt offers a light, comfortable waist wrap befitting a flowy-shirted romance-novel-cover Prince Charming. The shoulder straps strike a good compromise between reinforcement and pliability. And it’s nice to have the advantage of the dual chest straps and adjustable anchor points to contour to my shoulders.
I think that swiveling shoulder straps would allow for even better contouring. I would be interested in seeing if chest straps with an elastic component would make for a more dynamic fit. And, I’d love to see a Virga that is less inclined to sag under weight (keep in mind that max 25-pound weight limit).
Still, once I got everything dialed in, the Virga3 offered a comfortable carry on a well-designed suspension system sans frame or framestays.
Granite Gear’s Virga3 Undyed: Conclusion
The Virga3 is an odd fellow. It is offers a high-capacity carry, with low capacity limits. It brings inclusivity, a better fit, and approachable pricing, while demanding ultralight know-how and experience to dial things in well. Even as an ex-military bushcraft type who opts to be the pack mule in any group, I can’t help but love the Granite Gear Virga3.
It is fiddly. But it carries pretty comfortably, far more adjustably, and miles more cost-effectively than most any other ultralight pack on the market. On top of that, it still offers the intuitive gear accessibility you expect from Granite Gear. Even if it fell out of my pack rotation, I would still keep it around as a designated loaner for friends.
Finally, the Virga3’s white color uses, impressively, 98% undyed fabrics, a 55% reduction in water — and still held up on trail.
My recommendation? The Virga3 will offer a quality carry at an ultralight price. However, if possible, buy it from a brick-and-mortar retailer where you can go to get it fitted to make sure it’s right for you.