Gear Review: Granite Gear Crown2 60

Gear Review:  Granite Gear, Crown2 60 ($200)

Full disclosure: This backpack was provided to me free of charge in exchange for performance feedback.  That rules.  However, these opinions remain my own and are honest.  Bigly.

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Under all that colorful junk and ice axe, there is a backpack.

What is it?

The Crown2 60 by Granite Gear is a backpack, plain and simple.  In an attempt to lighten the load, features are kept to a minimum so that, essentially, it’s just a big nylon tube.  I would not call the Crown2 sexy, but the few chosen features are there for a reason.  For storage, there is a large main compartment, a mesh stuff pocket on the back, two (freaking huge) side bottle pockets, a removable lid, and two hip-belt pockets.  Other bits and bobs include side compression straps, load lifter straps, and a roll-top closure.  And that’s pretty much it.  The pack has a 60 liter capacity and weighs 36 ounces the way I carried it(without the lid, 3oz).  The hip-belt is adjustable and removable(minus 7oz).  This pack is available in three sizes, but the torso size is not adjustable beyond this, unfortunately.

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Say hello to the plastic frame sheet.

The plastic frame is probably the thing I find most interesting about this pack.  The majority of framed, multi-day packs, and all the packs I used before this one, rely on steel or aluminum frame wires to hold their shape and transfer load from shoulders to hips.  I guess that Granite Gear thinks these are heavy because the Crown2 uses a thin plastic sheet instead.  It covers the same area as the foam back panel and slides in behind it through the main opening.  Granite Gear claims that the pack can still handle loads up to 35lbs, and the frame is removable for going super-duper ultralight(minus 6oz).  Bending this thin, hole-filled panel with little effort, I had my doubts, but a few training hikes laid my concerns to rest, earning it a spot on my CDT gear list.

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Does this thing really work? Yep.

How’d it do?

Maaan, you know what? I really liked this backpack.  I like to think of my backpack as my house when I’m on the trail.  It holds my bed, my food, my kitchen, my toothbrush, my toilet, my closet, my everything!  The Crown2 will forever be my CDT house.  But besides the tremendous sentimental value, it performed great.  From a feature standpoint, I loved the versatility despite the simplicity(few pockets, fewer zippers).  With a 60L capacity I rarely had any issues stuffing in all my gear and food, and the roll-top allowed me to tighten the pack down for smaller loads or as I munched through my rations.  The size of my pack fluctuated wildly depending on the length of a particular section or how many burritos I was carrying, but the Crown2’s roll-top helped me keep it looking good, which is the #1 priority on trail.  The mesh pocket was clutch for holding quick access items like maps(rarely used), compass(never used), pack cover, and pooping equipment.  I left the removable lid at home after deciding I didn’t need the added capacity. The adjustable hip-belt is cool because it decouples the hiker’s waist size from torso length, two measurements that don’t always match up on standard backpacks with fixed hip-belts.  I tightened it up regularly during the early days, and by the end of the CDT, I wished I could have reduced it further below 28 inches.  Still, 28-40 inches covers a wide range, which is cool because people come in a wide range of sizes.

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All that stuff goes in there?  Don’t worry, 60L is plenty.

That stuff is all standard and pretty boring and I’m tired of writing it, but my favorite features actually get me embarrassingly juiced.  I’ll start with the frame.  That plastic frame sheet?  Weird, but it enabled me to tailor where the pack contacted my back.  I could make it rigid like a flat board, which I appreciated for stability with heavy loads, and I could also make it concave so that it only touched at the scapula and lumbar, great for airflow on hot, sweaty days. I discovered this by mistake and I doubt it is mentioned in the product brochure(exclusive to HforD readers!).  It’s hard to explain, but I achieved this by packing up with the frame in the desired shape, which the gear would then hold in place.  The flexible plastic frame uniquely allows the pack to slouch with a curved back, creating a gap between skin a pack.  Freakin’ dope!  In actuality, I rarely thought about how I shaped the pack, but it was cool to have the option.  Juiced? If you’re not there yet, then check out the side pockets.  I hated them at first.  Like really hated them, and even mentioned that to the guy who sent me the pack. They seemed hard to reach with the bag on(compared with Osprey and REI packs) and I wished for stretchy material. But he assured me that my opinion would change after some more miles.  He was right.  I got used to reaching back for my water, and I now prefer the no-stretch nylon for easy stuffing and durability.  Each pocket can hold up to three, skinny-ish bottles, which is a lot.  I carried all my bottles, my food jar, and some handy snacks all in the side pockets.  Although the reach-back took some getting used to, having access to all that good stuff with my pack still on was totally awesome.

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Side pockets, freaking huge.  Awesome.

Durability wise, I encountered just two minor wear issues during over 2,700 miles on the CDT.  I consider both cosmetic.  First, late in the game, I found two small holes caused by repetitive motion in the hip-belt fabric where it meets the back panel as I was trying to squeeze every last inch out of the waist size.  Second, a small portion of my right hip-belt pocket zipper got rubbed to oblivion.  I have no idea how this happened.  Fortunately, I never needed to open the pocket far enough to where this caused an issue.  The pocket still worked.  And that was it.  Not too shabby.  Definitely too smelly, though.

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Dings:  While the Crown2 handled the claimed 35lb max load rating just fine, I ran into days where I wished it had wider or cushier shoulder straps and/or a skinnier hip-belt.  This is definitely more of a reflection on my lack of self-control when resupplying than the pack itself, but a 60-liter pack can hold a lot of yummy food and soda if hiker hunger is not restrained in the supermarket.  This only became an issue for me during the latter half of the CDT, after I lost enough weight to bottom out the adjustable hip-belt, but SpiceRack disliked the shoulder straps enough pre-hike to choose a different pack(REI Flash 55) instead.  From first-hand experience, they are thinner than those found on packs from ULA, REI, Osprey, and Gossamer Gear.  Thin shoulder straps combined with a hip-belt that couldn’t hug my thru-hiker hips tight enough resulted in minor zings, zaps, and numbness in my shoulders and arms on the first day out of a few towns.  That always indicated that I had bought way too much food, perhaps days extra, but that was an easy problem to fix.  Om nom nom nom.  A 28-inch waist minimum is skinny for sure, but thru-hikers become emaciated on long trails.  I totally dug the easily adjustable hip-belt on the Crown2, but wish it adjusted just a bit smaller.

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Loaded backpacks in Darby.  The Crown2(left) shoulder straps are not as cushy as Spice’s REI Flash 55(middle) straps.  Black is better than baby-poop yellow, though.

Break it Down

The good:

  • Lightweight: It ain’t the lightest, but anyone complaining about 36oz is trying too hard.
  • Cheap: Yeah yeah, I got it for free, but $200 is about as cheap as it gets for a multiday pack.
  • Durable: I did not baby this pack at all.  Minor wear where the hip-belt meets the back panel and a nasty stink are just about the only things that make my pack seem used.
  • Color: I thought black would be lame, but people liked it. When people like my gear, I like myself more.
  • Capacity: 60L carries a ton of stuff and it’s nice to not have to be a Tetris master every morning to fit a large pile into a small pack.  This was a curse when I ended up buying way too much food, but a better hiker could avoid this.
  • Roll-top: Like a dry-bag, the main compartment is shut by rolling the opening as tightly as one wishes.  I like this for compressing a big load and keeping out the rain.  Not water proof, but close enough.
  • Water resistant: The nylon fabric is not waterproof, but it covered my butt when I was too lazy to put on my pack cover in light rain.  I eventually added a pack liner instead, for total peace of mind.
  • Rides low: The Crown2 has more of an ass than my previous packs.  This means that it is not as tall, which keeps the head free to swivel and pivot unimpeded.  It’s beautiful out there.  I liked being able to look around.
  • Side pockets: Hated at first, favorite feature by the end.  They are huge, secure, super versatile, and reachable while worn with average shoulder flexibility.
  • Simple: Less to break, less to go wrong, less weight.
  • Modular: Removable lid, hip-belt, and frame make this adaptable to activities besides thru-hiking.
  • Hip-belt: Adjustable (28-40in waist) to accommodate the diminishing waistline of a thru-hiker.  Not a common feature on backpacks, especially the light ones.
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See how my head is free to bobble as I ogle?  That’s the Crown2 low-ride.  #spicepic

The bad:

  • Hip-belt: I wish it got even smaller.  28in waist is pretty small, but thru-hikers are pretty skinny.  I’m not the skinniest, but bottomed out in Colorado nonetheless.
  • Shoulder straps: Thinner than most and not super cushy.  SpiceRack hated them.  This didn’t bother me except when carrying the heaviest loads while not being able to shrink the hip-belt smaller than 28in.
  • Learning curve: It’s simple, but the plastic frame takes a little getting used to.
  • Non-adjustable torso: If it doesn’t fit, no amount of yoga or spinal traction will fix that.
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Picking berries, trying to keep enough meat on my bones for a 28in waist.  #spicepic

Would I recommend it?

No doubt.  I like the Crown2 60 a lot and will use mine until it falls apart, which might be a while from now.  But of course, of course, of course, people and fit are unique, of course. This pack fit me and I found it comfortable.  SpiceRack did not find it comfortable in the slightest and the fixed torso sizes could be limiting, depending on who you are.  The good news is, the Crown2 is widely available to try on, including at REI, unlike many of the other ultralight backpacks out there.  So yeah, it’s not the flashiest or lightest backpack, but it is lighter than most and does what it is supposed to do for relatively little dinero.  Need I say more?  I don’t think so.

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Crunchberry and I both used the Crown2 60.  Rooster and SpiceRack both used the REI Flash 55.  All of us made the right choice.

That’s it and that’s all.

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