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Hands-on Gear Review
Granite Gear Virga 26 Review
Cons: Difficult to access main compartment when loaded, not very comfortable unless packed perfectly
Bottom line: Ultralight, inconvenient, and uncomfortable - unless you pack carefully.
The Granite Gear Virga 26 will hike any distance on your next day hike. The simple design and large size lets you carry the essentials while you trek the Highline Trail in Glacier, do a rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon, spend Saturday finding your wilderness, or anything in between. The lightweight design maximizes usability over versatility and convenience. You won't find easy access to the energy bar buried at the bottom of your pack, a padded or ventilated back panel, or other amenities, but you will appreciate the comfortable shoulder straps and thoughtful design. Because it lacks great organization and easy access, we found it much less versatile than panel loading day packs, like the Osprey Talon 22, which is incredibly versatile. The Virga works well for its designed purpose of crushing long trails and hiking the distance.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Daypacks for Hiking and Travel
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Love it or hate it, the Virga has the features you need without wasting ounces on amenities. It is a specialized piece of gear that may fit the niche you're into.
Comfort is all about how you pack in the Virga. Your back will be at the mercy of your packing skills as this pack lacks a frame, padded back panel, or other amenities. This isn't inherently a negative thing, but it does make it less comfortable out of the box than packs like the Gregory Salvo 24 that has a framed and vented mesh back panel. It is easy enough to cut a piece of closed cell foam to slide in the Virga to add a bit of extra comfort. Though this pack has a narrow hip belt, the shoulder straps are wide and really well padded. It is a great pack for long days in the mountains, provided that you pack well. It is much more comfortable than the REI Co-op Flash 18 and Arc'teryx Cierzo 18.
The benefit of the simple design is that the pack is astonishingly lightweight at just 16 ounces! That's 2 ounces less than the Deuter Speed Lite 20 that feels much smaller than the Virga. When volume per weight is taken into consideration, the Virga quickly rises to the top of our review as the highest performing lightweight daypack. While the REI Co-op Flash 18 scores higher in our lineup because we think it is a little more versatile and easy to use, the Virga is an excellent pick if you're looking for a super lightweight pack for long distance hiking.
The top loading design of the Virga lends itself to carrying more stuff than we usually need for a single day out. When loaded with heavy climbing gear, our reviewers wished that it had a more substantial hip belt. Depending on your preferences, you will either find the simple top loading design to be freeing and adaptable, or restrictive and difficult to use. Top loading packs of this size are good for carrying a lot of stuff, but not so good at keeping that stuff organized and easily accessible.
For this reason, we think that this pack is less versatile than others that we reviewed like the Editors' Choice winning Osprey Talon 22 that works well for many different activities. The Virga on the other hand really excels at long day hikes where you need to carry more than the essentials to give yourself a bigger margin for errors. It also could work as an ultralight pack for short overnight trips, though we would recommend the Granite Gear Virga 2 for this purpose as it has a beefier hip belt, and only weighs a couple ounces more.
Ease of Use
The simplicity of the Virga strips away organizational features that many people love. The top loading design is easy to use, but makes it difficult to retrieve items stashed at the bottom of the pack. While we love that this pack has compression straps, they are very thin and the buckles are small and hard to use with gloves on. One tester complained that the water bottle pockets were really difficult to stuff a Nalgene into unless it was in the pocket prior to packing. This was a common problem among daypacks and plagues many larger backpacking backpacks, so we'll give the Virga some grace on that front. The front stuff pocket is nice to have, but it is very slender and can be difficult to get your hand into when the pack is fully loaded. Overall, the Virga is essential a top loading, roll-top tube, with straps. It is easy to use as it relates to simplicity, but difficult to use as it relates to organization and accessibility.
Constructed with 100D and 210D Cordura Nylon, you wouldn't want to haul this pack up a granite chimney or carry skis on a regular basis, but it will probably survive the rigors of long distance hiking for miles and miles to come. If skiing or climbing are something you want your daypack to do well, check out the Deuter Speed Lite 20 and Arc'teryx Cierzo 18 respectively; both of these are more durable than the Virga. We think that the Virga works best for hiking, and since that is what it was made for, we find it sufficiently durable. During our tests, we did not notice any undue wear or broken stitches.
Simple features, ultra-low weight, and a top loading design make this pack best used for cranking out the miles on long day hikes or ultralight overnight ventures. For overnights, it has enough room for an ultralight sleeping bag, some dry food, a puffy layer, ultralight shelter, and an alcohol stove.
The Virga is one of the most expensive packs in this review. Considering that it really only works well for one application, and packs like the Osprey Talon 22 or Osprey Daylite work well for many applications, we think that it isn't a particularly great value unless you are buying knowing that it is a niche product designed for long hikes. In that case, buy it in good conscience knowing that it is the lightest weight pack for the volume of any that we tested.
The Granite Gear Virga 26 is an excellent lightweight backpack for long day hikes or ultralight overnights. The packs simplicity makes it really lightweight but limits its usefulness around town and for less extreme ventures. Many people will miss the versatile prowess of heavier backpacks that have more zippered compartments, more comfortable and breathable back panels, beefier hip belts, and fun features. Overall, the Virga excels for its designed use as a lightweight pack for high mileage days.
The bigger variation of this pack is the Granite Gear Virga 2 that we reviewed in our Ultralight backpack review. It weighs a little more, but is a quite a bit bigger.
— Jeremy Bauman
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