For my first year of hiking, I carried a rigid 80 litre canvas pack that weighed over three kilograms on its own. I hated it. I still own it, but the only purpose it serves now is to a) store my spare equipment and b) remind me of the bad old days of discomfort, shoulder pain, back pain, hip pain...just pain.
Granite Gear changed all this for me. I've been hiking with a 60 litre Blaze for the past couple of years, and not only has this time been pain-free, but also filled with eagerness and enthusiasm to get out on the trails.
This preamble serves to act as something of a disclaimer, as I actively revere Granite Gear packs. So when I was asked by 50 Days to review the little Lutsen pack, I embraced the opportunity.
Gratuitous Granite Gear selfie!
First thing first: fitting the pack. One thing I love dearly about the Granite Gear harness adjustment system is how easy and thorough it is. The women's Lutsen comes in two harness lengths: small/medium, and large/extra-large. Read this as short-to-average height, and tall. My historic experience with Granite Gear is that one is fitted for a pack based on her height, and then acquires a separate hip belt based on the girth of her hips. I am 162 centimetres tall and have wide hips, so for instance in my Blaze pack I am a small in the harness, but a large in the hip belt. Hooray for customisability! In the Lutsen it's a slightly different story: there is only one hip belt. But fret not - said hip belt is completely adjustable! Genius! Velcro with a vice-like grip holds the belt well and truly in place within the harness, and allows for it to be adjusted from extra-small through to extra-large. One belt to rule them all! I was impressed to the point of giddy excitement.
The Chamber of Velcro!
Despite being in inches, the sizing guide on the belt allows you to adjust it to perfectly fit your hip circumference
The shoulder straps adjust by removing the external back panel to move the straps up and down. I'll admit that I didn't quite have the straps done to perfection the first time and needed to lower them a bit once out on the track as I was experiencing a bit of rubbing on the small of my back, but this was user error rather than a fault in pack design. Anyway, once fitted, the pack sat against my back as comfortably as if it had been specifically moulded and built for my exact body. I was thrilled. And it only took about ten minutes, with the only challenge being wrestling the hip belt loose. That Velcro is damn strong!
Easy shoulder adjustment system
On to the process of packing. On first sight I was honestly intrigued (read: concerned) at the size of the pack. Forty-five litres for a multi-day trip was unchartered territory for me. In line with lightweight ethos, though, a pack is only as good as its contents, so naturally I complemented it with lightweight and compact sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and tent. These three items for me weigh in at about five kilos in total - whist I could go lighter, I choose an all-season sleeping bag because I hike in alpine climates where it gets cold overnight, and I like to be snug and cosy. Creature comforts!
Observation number one: the hydration bladder sleeve. A feature of the Lutsen - and all Granite Gear women's specific packs for that matter - is how genuinely well the back plate of the harness moulds to complement the curves of the female body - or at least this female's body! This is all well and good, though in the Lutsen this means that the back plate is somewhat concave. Combine this with a rigid mesh lining, and suddenly one has a challenging time fitting a full 2-litre water bladder into its designated compartment, especially if one decides to wait until after packing one's sleeping gear into the pack first...The solution to this is to place your empty hydration bladder into the compartment before you pack anything else, and to fill it with water once it is in place. Not ideal, but it's at least a remedy.
Observation number two: luxurious space. Packing the rest of my gear went smoothly, and upon completion I was astonished by just how much space I had left over. All up I had my sleeping gear (mat, bag, liner, tent), 2-litre water ladder, a set of thermals, a light polar fleece jumper, changes of socks and jocks, stove, food bag, rain jacket, and first aid kit inside the main compartment and I still had space left over. Now I do have a reputation for being something of a packing wizard (she said without a shred or humility or shame) but I was still surprised at how spacious this little pack was. I pulled the lid down and placed my compass, pen, multi-tool and PLD in the shallow front zip pocket, and my trowel and toiletries bag in the deeper top pocket. AND STILL THERE WAS SPACE. It really was impressive.
So much space for a little pack!
Observation number three: rigid mesh outer pockets. Just as with the inner compartment for the hydration bladder, the external pockets - two on the sides, one large one at the front - are not elasticised. This means they were fine for storing my map on one side, tent poles on the other, and sliding my camp sandals into the front (just), but when it came to trying to fit a one-litre Nalgene in...the results were less than ideal. The mesh ripped away from the stitching, and not much pressure had been applied. Perhaps this one pocket was slightly defective? In any case, stretchy mesh - as exists on my Blaze - would be much more effective for this purpose.
Outer pockets are ideal for a map...
...just not so good for larger items :(
Observation number four: comfort under load. All up I was carrying about 12 kilos of gear (pack weight included), and the Lutsen handled this superbly. As mentioned above, I initially felt a bit of rubbing on the small of my back, but this was arguably due to my imperfect pack fitting rather than the pack's design. Once rectified I no longer had this issue. The pack was snug without being tight, and the shoulder straps, whilst feeling quite firm and rigid under hand, did not dig into my neck and shoulders once on my back. The hip belt is incredibly well padded, and the added feature of a mesh zipped pocket on the left side and a padded, covered "Barrier" pocket on the right side (designed for storing phone or camera, for instance) was a welcomed inclusion.
The Barrier pocket allows for safe and easy access to your phone or small camera
My walk took me up Mt Cobbler which required rock scrambling to reach the summit, and the little Lutsen sitting comfortably on my back did not obstruct me in this pursuit at all - it did not feel cumbersome or invasive, rather it felt something akin to Yoda upon the back of Luke Skywalker, providing a comforting sense of guidance and support.
The only time I felt the weight on my back was when I added an extra 4 litres of water to my load when heading up to Mt Speculation for the second night, as there's no water source up there. The Lutsen definitely didn't enjoy that extra weight, but it was good to push it to its limit to ascertain the sweet spot for the load. Keep it to about 12kg maximum and you'll have a happy little pack on your back!
Overall observations: the Granite Gear Lutsen 45 is the embodiment of The Little Pack That Could. It is spacious, capable, comfortable, and mostly well-designed. Substituting the rigid mesh of the external pockets and the internal hydration bladder compartment would render this pack as close to perfect as one could hope for, and this is really the only feature of which I am critical. It was wonderful to try another pack in the Granite Gear range, as it confirmed for me that their packs are, overall, fundamentally well designed, made well to cater for the intricacies of the female form, and epitomise the practicality and comfort sought out by lightweight hikers.