[GEAR REVIEW] Granite Gear Virga

Think of Virga as the python of the frameless packs.  It consumes whatever gears you throw inside, devouring all your equipments like nobody’s business.

Granite Gear Virga was released in 2011, I managed to get the second hand Virga at half the price a year ago.The pack is considered a veteran among those state-of-the-art cuben-fiber frameless backpacks today. The first Virga is old but its weight is still considered lightweight by today’s standards.

For a half-decade year old backpack, can it keep up with current demands?

Specifications

  • Materials: Cordura 70D ripstop nylon (Blue fabrics:Main body), Cordura 210D nylon (Green fabrics: front cradle, back, and bottom)
  • Volume: 52 L
  • Weight: 628 g / 22 oz (Regular Torso)

Features:

  • Top loading frameless backpack with rolltop closure and 2 compression straps
  • Front cradle with two straps
  • Thick-padded shoulder straps, load lifters, and sternum strap
  • Large side stretchwoven pockets
  • 4 cm thick webbing hipbelt
  • 2 compression straps on each side
  • Two ice axe loops and haul loop
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The mighty Virga

On-the-trail performance

I tested Virga on three  occasions: Two overnight camps and a 4-day-hike. In the initial overnight camp tests, it performed very well. I managed to match the manufacturer’s recomendation of comfortable load at 9 kg and had no issues whatsoever.

The third test was a 4-day hike to Raung Mountain where there’s no water spring so I have to carry 6-litre water (6 kg/13-lbs) from the basecamp. Combined with equipments and some food, the weight was 13.85 kg/32.7-lbs. It was clearly overloaded, but I managed to make my trip comfortable by adjusting the hipbelt.

Left: Packing the overloaded Virga | Right: Collapsed torso is expected in an overloaded pack, but somehow it’s still comfortable

Granite Gear designed Virga with spartan approach so the hip belt is just 4cm (1.5-inch) plain thick webbing, wide enough to hug your hip without any need for luxury such as large-padded hip belts. They are for sissies.

Although the pack was overloaded, once I tightened the webbing hip belt, most of the weight transferred equally on the hip, the heavy load became bearable and the thick-padded shoulder straps made my shoulders very happy. One thing I learned from the overloaded Virga: The key is in the hip belt.

On the second day I got some friction marks on the hip, well it was normal because  I carried 13.85 kg load on a pack that is designed only for hauling 9 kg load, with unpadded hipbelt!

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The 4 cm plain webbing hip belt
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Thick-padded shoulder strap

Although Virga is marketed as an ultralight backpack, it has too much volume (52L). No ultralight backpacker would ever think of buying more than 40-litre backpack.  Of course it’s not without purpose. Most of us ultralight geeks roll a closed-cell sleeping pad inside our packs, which is taking a lot of space, as a backsystem in a frameless backpack.

The large volume in Virga is to compensate the space  taken by the sleeping pad, so there would be enough room to put the remaining gears. No more sleeping pad awkwardly dangling outside the pack or stuck on tree branches. Those days are over, everything must come inside.

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How to pack a Virga
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Rolltop closure with two compression straps

There are two large stretchwoven pocket on each side. One pocket can hold a large 1.5-litre bottle with a few additional gears such as tent frames, trowel, or tripod.

Another unique feature on the Virga is the cradle at the front of the pack. You can put whatever you think fit on the front cradle. I usually attach tent or trekking poles. The lack of front pocket makes the cradle function limited to some items.

Virga is hydration compatible, there’s a hook to attach water bladder and two holes to insert the tube on the right or the left, whichever you think convenience.  No separated compartment  to hold the bladder makes the bladder sometimes slide left or right during a hike.

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Large stretchwoven pocket
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Upper side-compression strap
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Lower side-compression strap
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A hook for water bladder
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The front cradle to attach whatever you want to attach.

What really bothers me is the unusually long extension collar. At first it really gets in the way when I’m packing, but after a few uses, I eventually get used to it and find that it has another function as a mini bivy sack for my cold feet when sleeping.

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Virga’s loooooooooooong extension collar

Verdict

Minimalistic but spartan, Granite Gear find the balance between light and strength in Virga. Unlike most ultralight packs with durability issues like Berghaus Hyper 37, Virga is built to last and designed to withstand heavy abuse on the trail.  It has only basic features and there’s no flashy accessories for gimmicks.

The true test of a gear is when it’s used beyond the manufacturer’s recommendation and all my doubts on Virga were vanished when I overloaded it on a 4-day hike.

Yes it’s an inconspicuous weird looking pack, the green-colored front cradle looks like the silhouette of Spawn’s mask, the huge extension collar forced me to pack like weirdos. But when I take Virga on the trail, it seems that everything is in its right place, the feature serves its function and it exceeds my expectations.

For me, it’s all that matters.

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Author with Virga at camp VII (Pondok Rasta) Mount Raung
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