Best known for their ultralight hiking and backpacking equipment, Granite Gear has changed its tune lately with a series of innovative but not necessarily paper thin packs. First, the Nimbus Trace Access hit the market with its gorgeous semi-exposed maple frame, and now, for 2016, we get the Lutsen. Available in 35, 45 and 55-liter models, the Lutsen lands in the competitive sweet spot for overnight and multi-day packs in price and design. Curious about their highly touted Re-Fit torso and hipbelt system, we gave the largest capacity model a thorough test. What we found is the Lutsen not only fits extremely well, but also can haul a surprisingly heavy load for its 3-pound weight. Below are our thoughts on the Lutsen's construction, organization, comfort, Re-Fit adjusters, and more. To see how the Lutsen stacks up, check out our comparison table and article on the best backpacking packs.
In true Granite Gear fashion, weight is kept to a minimum, and despite a strong plastic frame and good organization, the Lutsen 55 weighs just over 3 pounds. The company takes the gram-at-a-time approach to keeping things light, such as narrow webbing for the compression straps and 100-denier fabrics in low wear areas. But they didn’t go overboard with the Lutsen. There’s tough 210-denier fabrics along the bottom of the pack and everything has a solid and well-built feel to it. Most importantly, despite the weight trimming measures, we’ve experienced no durability issues thus far. If you want to really cut weight, the top lid and plastic framesheet are removable.
Lightweight packs often compromise in organization, but we think Granite Gear has done a fine job of balancing practicality while avoiding excess. To start, the 55-liter capacity is just about perfect for lightweight multi-day trips or thru-hiking. If you’re used to bringing the kitchen sink, you’ll need to trim a few non-essentials and stick to compressible gear, but we found the space to be more than sufficient.
The Lutsen is a traditional top loader with an adjoining floating lid for extra storage, and the main compartment secures with a roll-top closure. In what is now commonplace on modern backpacking packs, the Lutsen has a large mesh exterior stuff pocket. We often throw in a jacket, camp shoes or something that needs drying into this handy space. Another must-have is zippered hipbelt pockets, and the Lutsen has one on each side—the right pocket has a water-resistant exterior and soft tricot interior, and the left is mesh. Both pockets are quite large, even swallowing a point-and-shoot camera (Sony RX100) in its hard-sided case. Of note, the thin padding on the hipbelt meant I could feel the camera case against my side more than I’d like, but there were no problems when I went without the case.
My one complaint in regards to organization is that there’s no additional access to the main compartment. The opening at the top is very large, easily accommodating an average-sized bear canister, but you still have to dig or remove items to get to the bottom of the pack. I’d be willing to accept the extra ounces and cost for the convenience this zipper provides. Outside of that nitpick, I really like the organization. Unlike some luxury packs that cover the front and sides with little pockets, the Lutsen has enough compartments to distribute the load and keep what’s important readily available, but isn’t overly complicated to add unnecessary (in my opinion) complexity and weight.
Fit and Comfort
A technical pack like the Lutsen is intended for moving fast and light, and with about 25 pounds on my back over an unrelentingly steep 10-mile trail, comfort was excellent. That being said, most packs are reasonably comfortable with 25 pounds, so the follow up “loaded down” test was more telling. Here, I came close to reaching Granite Gear’s recommended 40-pound max with enough gear for a family trek, and was similarly impressed. For me, the suspension and padding felt like it could handle even a little more.
Credit the stiff plastic framesheet and foam padding along the hipbelt and shoulder straps for keeping things supportive and comfy. Although relatively thin, the hipbelt molded immediately to my waist and the firm padding on the shoulder straps is just right. Another contributor is a fit that is simply spot on. Granite Gear’s tunable Re-Fit design allows you dial in the torso and hipbelt to your exact specifications, which gives it a personalized feel for just about any body type.
A prominent lumbar support is built into the framesheet, which contributes to the close fit. And compression straps that wrap around the sides and front of the bag keep the load snugged up against your back. With a 55-liter capacity and an empty weight of 3 pounds, it’s still not intended for serious heavy hauling—for reference a pack like the Gregory Baltoro 65 weighs 5 pounds—but we still give the Lutsen high marks for carrying comfort and ability.
Independent of its innovative fit system, we would recommend the Lutsen as a solid multi-day option. But what makes it a truly fantastic design is its Re-Fit torso and hipbelt adjusters. Simply put, the customizable fit was the easiest, most precise and most tunable design we’ve ever used. For reference, at the entry level, the Kelty Catalyst has the PerfectFIT system, but that’s limited to torso adjustments. Osprey’s premium AG line of packs has a fit-on-the-fly hipbelt and a sliding adjustment for the harness, but it still lacks the precision and ease of use of the Re-Fit. The Granite Gear system is something that will be appreciated by novices and pros alike, particularly those that have found themselves in-between sizes or unable to get the fit just right.
The beauty of the Velcro adjustments is that you can be extremely precise—most packs will only adjust between a few fixed points. But with the Velcro and markers listing the torso and hipbelt measurements, you can easily make minute changes. Access to both the hipbelt and torso adjustments is quite clear—you simply undo the Velcro, slide out either the shoulder straps or hipbelt, and line up the numbers to your corresponding size. Unfortunately, the unisex design does max out at 22 inches in the large size, so folks with a really long torso can’t use the Lutsen, but otherwise we expect that most should be pleased with the fit.
What We Like
- Granite Gear isn’t the first to come up with an adjustable fit system, but this is one of the best we’ve seen. It’s easy to adjust, precise and, importantly, unobtrusive.
- The pack weighs just over 3 lbs. and can haul 40 lbs. with reasonable comfort.
- Adaptable design: removable plastic framesheet and top lid work well for ultralight trips.
- Absolutely zero durability issues to report thus far despite the relatively thin materials.
What We Don’t
- It’s a top loader only. Despite the lightweight design, we’d still prefer an access point to the bottom or sides of the pack.
- Back ventilation is average, which for me translates to a sweaty back in most warm conditions. The problem, I suspect, is that there isn’t a lot of space for air to truly flow. So, despite a number of holes cut into the foam backpanel and a mesh overlay, it still isn’t all that breathable.
- The compression straps are great for keeping the load compact, but there are a lot of them and they can get in the way.
|Granite Gear Lutsen 55||$219||3 lb. 1 oz.||Nylon (100D & 200D)||7 exterior||Top||35, 45, 55L|
|Osprey Exos 58||$220||2 lb. 10 oz.||Nylon (100D)||7 exterior||Top||38, 48, 58L|
|REI Flash 65||$199||3 lb. 10 oz.||Nylon (100D & 410D)||6 exterior||Top, front||65L|
|The North Face Banchee 65||$239||3 lb. 9 oz.||Nylon (210D)||8 exterior||Top||35, 50, 65L|
|Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60||$200||2 lb. 2 oz.||Nylon (100D & 200D)||3 exterior||Top||60L|
Priced at $219 for the 55-liter model, the Lutsen is in a crowded field of overnight and multi-day packs. For the weight, however, those options diminish quickly. An ultralight competitor is the Osprey Exos 58, which undercuts the Lutsen by 10 ounces (large size). Thru-hikers would be smart to consider both options, and we give the edge to the Lutsen for the added durability and carrying comfort if your pack approaches 40 pounds. A lightweight option with a larger capacity is the REI Flash 65. We do like the inclusion of the j-zipper access on the Flash, but it does lack the easily adjustable fit of the Granite Gear and the fit and finish falls short (although, so too does the price).
Among the Granite Gear lineup, the Lutsen falls in-between the ultralight 2-pound Crown VC and the premium Nimbus Trace Access. To us, the Lutsen has the widest appeal, thanks to a more supportive design (the ultralight packs aren’t capable of comfortably handling 40 pounds), and the Trace Access 60 is on a different stratosphere with its $330 price tag. In the end, we just like this pack. There’s no perfect answer for every backpacker, but we think the Lutsen is a standout for bringing together a highly customizable fit with a lightweight construction that isn't overloaded with features. A smart design, indeed.
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