Name: Mark Verber
Height/Weight/Torso: 5'10" (1.8 m) / 180 lb (82 kg) / 19.5" (50 cm)
Region: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Date: Sep 1, 2004, Minor Updates in 2010
Review Item: Granite Gear
Vapor Trail (2002 edition)
Volume Listed: 3600 cu with extension collar
Listed weight: 32oz
Weight as delivered: 34oz
For me, carry comfort trumps all other factors. For seven years I didn't find a a pack which beat the vapor trail when carrying a light weight, moderate volume loads until I tried Gossamer Gear Gorilla and was won over. This is saying something. I had tried fifteen different packs looking for the one pack which was as comfortable as the Vapor Trail but suited me better. The Vapor Trail was pretty close to an ideal pack for me. It would have been perfect with a smaller extension collar, the frame sheet that extended to support the load lifters, and more usable side pockets (the 2010 model largely fixed the pockets), but these are really incremental improvements when put in perspective of a 2lb pack which carries like a dream. I am not the only person to reach this conclusions. The Vapor Trail has won awards from Backpacker Magazine and seems to have one of the more commonly used (and praised) pack among people who completed the PCT and AT. Nearly everyone I know who has tried a Vapor Trail has become a converter. If you are looking for a pack which is between 2200-3200ci to carry 30lbs or less, you should try the Vapor Trail. If you don't have a nearby store, order it from REI. They have a good return policy if you don't like it.
The Vapor Trail is a simple, slender pack. There is one large section to the bag which is top loading without any addition access points. There is no lid. Accord to folks at BGT, the volume of the Vapor Trail is 2571 cu/in (42 l) for the main body and another 1307 cu/in (21 l) for the oversize extension collar. The extension collar pulls shut with typical string pull rather than a more typical drybag style opening found on lidless packs. When fully filled the extension collar results in the pack towering over my head and is rather awkward. The straps which secure the extension collar are well designed. This pack has a well designed hip belt and shoulder straps. The padding is outstanding, especially when you consider how light this pack is. Suspension system is a semi-ridged plastic sheet with soft foam covered with a wicking material facing the back. The space between the pack and the suspension system can be used for hydration system or a sitting pad. There are two side pockets made from a stretching material which are not well designed. In the second half of 2004 a hydration sleeve was added to the inside of the Vapor Trail's pack body.
Hiking around the California Coastal Ranges, Sierras, Rockies. Weather from 0-95F. Carry weight from 15lb-35lb. Elevation sea level to 14k ft.
From a weight / carry comfort perspective, this is the best pack I have ever used for <25 lbs loads, and the second most comfortable pack I have ever used for 25-35lbs (after the Osprey Aether 60). This is pretty amazing when you realize that this pack weights just over 2 lbs. I can't image going back to my sub-1lb ultra-light pack after using the Vapor Trail for a season. Padding is just the right amount. The "S" shape shoulder straps are very comfortable in a variety of positions though I would appreciate if they were maybe 1/2" longer. I actually find 20 lbs reasonably comfortable without using the hip strap! The hip strap is great. It is thick and stiff enough that I don't have to crank it down for it to sits on-top of my hips. Most hip belts require me to tight the belt so much that it hurts after several hours, or that it feels so loose that it feels unstable. The pack hugs my body and is very stable even when I am jumping between rocks. I have repeatedly forgotten that I had this pack on when carrying light loads (<22 lbs). I have found the material over the frame sheet and the inside of the straps to be reasonably effective at wicking. My back doesn't feel as sweat soaked as when I have used backpacks made from sil-nylon. That's not to say it's perfect, I would much prefer real ventilation and my back not to get wet at all. If the top of the pack is tightly packed, the load lifter help extend the effective torso length of the pack, which is otherwise bit short for me in the medium, and a bit too long in the large.
So what's there not to like about this pack? It is not the most convenient pack I have used. Lets start with the Vapor Trail enormous extension collar. When the collar is fully extended the pack become unwieldy (the collar extended several inches above the head) and is only stability by the tightness of your packing and two strap which cross-cross over the top. I can't imagine using the pack with the extension collar fully extended... I would switch to a higher volume pack. As a result I believe a significant portion of the Vapor Trail's extension collar is useless fabric. Not only is this a waste of material and extra weight, but it also hinders access to the main pack bag. I repeatedly find myself fighting to the collar when I try to insert and remove items, especially larger items like my Bearicade Weekender bear canister. It is possible to jam the weekender in horizontally at the bottom of the pack, but I prefer to carry a canister vertically. I would suggest that while the Vapor Trail is able to hold more than 3600cu/in... that the pack is actually useful for loads between 2200-3100cu/in. The compression system of the main body is adequate for smaller loads.
Second, there are the side pockets. The pockets are made of a very stretchy material which fits snuggly against the pack if the main body of the pack is full. It is possible to place a 1qt water bottle in the pocket, but it takes significant work. I have found it difficult to retrieve items from the side pockets while wearing the Vapor Trail, and almost impossible to return items without taking the pack off. I am not talking large items. I typically have a 1qt ziplock bag which holds a zone bar, some dried fruit and less than 1oz of jerky. More than half the time when I try to pull the ziplock bag from the side pocket I end up putting a hole in the bag because it won't slide out of the pocket. Furthermore, the pocket's opening it strait up, rather than angled which would simplify retrieval of items while wearing this pack. Finally, the bottom compression strap runs over the pockets.
The Vapor Trail has a funny space between the frame sheet and the pack body. I tried using this space for a hydration system. The hydration tube comes out through the open space at the top of the pack and can be clicked to the shoulder strap. Two things I would note. First, the water in this space isn't as well insulated as it would be inside the pack itself. During the summer I find that the water tends to be hotter when I carry it in this space when compared to inside the pack bag. The second issue is that if you really stuff the pack bag tight, a hydration system makes the back pad jut out in an awkward fashion. A partially filled playpus (say 1-1.5L in a 3L bladder) seems fine, but a fully filled bladder seems to degrade comfort.
I tend to baby my gear. For the first year the Vapor Trail had no sign of wear. Then I leaned the back of the pack against a granite boulder. When I picked up the pack the rip-stop black material was scraped between my hard bear canister and the granite boulder. The result was a serious tear. The tear was easily repaired with some black rip-stop tape (duct tape would have worked fine). If you lean this pack against something, always set the pack with the padding / straps facing whatever you are leaning it against. The black material isn't up to rubbing against granite. On the other hand, it handles encounters with softer stone and tree branches with atone. Other than the granite rip, and some staining, the pack is still in good shape.
Gossamer Gear Gorrila (my review): Lighter by .5lb but also smaller. The Gorilla is much easier to live out of because the pockets have easier access (though not as durable), there is a large pocket on the front of the pack for wet things, and it doesn't have a crazy long collar. The foam pad is easily removed for use as a sit pad and is more insulated than the Vapor Trail if you are using it extend a shorty-pad to cover your feet. fabric is more durable that the sil-nylon used of large sections of the Vapor Trail's main body. The hip belt is less substantial, but as comfortable to at least 25lbs. The foam on the Gorilla doesn't have the nice wicking fabric like the Vapor Trail so it feels a lot more sweaty. You can remove the optional stay and sit pad to make the Gorilla a completely frameless pack.
Mountainsmith Ghost: Now discontinued. In the early 2000s was THE go to pack for ultralighter who needed a frame. Volume similar to the main body of the Vapor Trail but doesn't have an extension collar. Nicely designed for an access and usability perspective. Panel loading with a zipper that extends 2/3 of the way down the pack. Big side pockets are easy to reach while still wearing the pack. The mesh used for the pockets isn't that durable, but the rest of the pack is quite durable, especially when considering how light this pack is. Ventilation for the back is a bit better than many light weight internal frame packs. The hip belt is rather wide but thin. Some people find it to be very effective, but I don't do well with "wing" style hip belts. The maximum circumference of the size L seems to be around 36 inches without the extension strap which can add eight more inches. I didn't think the carry comfort matched the Vapor Trail, but there are some people (like my daughter) who prefer the Ghost (or the smaller Seraph).
Six Moon Designs StarLite (my review): Larger volume that the Vapor Trail with good access and nice pockets. I found it had a bit too much volume for my needs. One of the best "frameless" suspensions if you use it without the optional stakes. Carry comfort is decent, though I didn't find it as comfortable as the Vapor Trail. Good durability on the pack fabric, and the mesh used on the pockets has better durability that a number of light weight packs I have tried.
ULA Ohm: Around .5lb lighter with a bit less volume than the main body of the Vapor Trail. The pack is tall and narrow, with two side pockets and a mesh pocket on the back of pack. The pack as a suspension hoop that runs along the sides of the pack which are embedded into the wing waist belt. This is a very attractive looking pack and is very user friendly. The side pockets are roomy without getting in the way and are easily accessible while wearing the pack. The compression system works well and there are a number of nice options. The waist strap is fairly minimalist. Some people will find the waist strap adequate, but I have found I need something more substantial and I found that the stays didn't have a curve which resulted in the pack not carrying as well as I had hoped.
Backpack Gear Test Granite Gear Vapor Trail Reviews
BPL Granite Gear Vapor Trail Review
I did a lot of backpacking from 1972 through the '80s. I started by going to various destinations in Ohio, West Virgina, and Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Destinations expanded to include sections of the AT, the PCT, the Rockies (Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Tetons), The Big Horns, and various destinations in Canada. In the '90s my outdoor activities slowed down to make room for other aspects of life. Nearly all my backpacking was heavy-weight style. In 2001 I started seriously backpacking again... mostly in the Sierras. Over the next three years I switch from a heavyweight to ultralight to lightweight style. My three season base weight is now 8-11 lb (3.5-5 kg). Full carry weight including food and water is typically 15-25 lb (7-11 kg) depending on the length of the trip. Winter trips run a bit heavier.