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Granite Gear Virga 2 Review

For the ultimate lightweight pack, this pack steals the show with its entirely frameless design and streamlined set of features.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $140 List | $104.96 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Very light, large volume, versatile compression system
Cons:  No frame, poor comfort for medium loads
Manufacturer:   Granite Gear
By Brandon Lampley ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 31, 2016
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SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 16
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio - 35% 10
  • Comfort to Carry - 25% 5
  • Features - 20% 7
  • Adaptability - 10% 6
  • Durability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

The Granite Gear Virga 2 is unique in that it is an absolutely frameless pack - the only model in our review of this kind. Weighing in at 18.6 ounces, it is also the lightest pack we tested. In the not distant past, many ultralight backpackers carried a simple closed cell foam sleeping pad as part of their hiking/sleeping system. Placed inside the Virga 2 to form a barrel-like frame, a foam pad is key to loading this pack as intended. A "back-sized piece" of the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite is the perfect compliment but does add another ounce or two. For that extra ounce, you get "inflatable pad insurance": if your inflatable pad leaks, you will have something to put under you. If you want to add a pouch for easy access to snacks, it will add another few ounces.

Most ultralight backpackers prefer the comfort an inflatable sleeping pad delivers, and many prefer a pack with a tensioned or straightforward frame. All of our awarding winning packs carry medium loads more comfortably than the Virga 2. That said, we still have a few friends that prefer a frameless pack with a rolled pad inside as the "frame." If you're in this group, the Virga 2 is an excellent and affordable choice. While the ZPacks Arc Blast 55 is only a little heavier and higher scoring, it is also more than double the price. The Granite Gear Virga 26 is the same pack design at about half the volume.


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Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $104.96 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$270 List$260 List$210 List$145 List
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Pros Very light, large volume, versatile compression systemDurable, comfortable, well-designed pockets, carries light and heavy loads wellLightweight, carries light and medium loads well, adaptable, perfect feature set, more durable than mostCarries both light and heavier loads in comfort, large side pockets, very durable constructionSimple design, inexpensive, durable
Cons No frame, poor comfort for medium loadsLarge capacity makes it less versatileA little small for a bear canisterRelatively heavy, delicate carbon frame rodsFoam pad falls out easily, shoulder straps lack support
Bottom Line For the ultimate lightweight pack, this pack steals the show with its entirely frameless design and streamlined set of features.This pack wowed us with its perfect set of features, comfortable design, and carrying capacity.Delivers a perfect set of features, plenty of pockets, comfortable straps, and carries well.The ULA Ohm 2.0 was one of our favorite packs with its comfortable waist belt, large side pockets, and a volume that is just right for ultralight backpacking.A lightweight, simplified version of our favorite pack from this same company, making a durable, well-designed option.
Rating Categories Granite Gear Virga 2 Gossamer Gear Mariposa Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Adventure Equipme... Ultralight Adventure Equipme...
Weight To Volume Ratio (35%)
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Comfort To Carry (25%)
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5
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Features (20%)
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Adaptability (10%)
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Specs Granite Gear Virga 2 Gossamer Gear... Gossamer Gear... Ultralight... Ultralight...
Total Weight (ounces) 18.5 oz 30.5 oz 31.5 oz 31.4 oz oz 24 oz
Stripped Weight (ounces) 18.5 oz 30.5 oz 27.5 oz 20.4 oz 23 oz
Claimed Volume (liters) 50-58 L 60 L 40 L 63 L 54 L
Measured Main Pack Volume (liters) 41 L 48 L 38 L 41 L 45 L
Measured Volume Total (minus hip belt and shoulder strap pockets)(liters) 49 L 64 L 53 L 48 L 53 L
Measured Volume Stripped (minus hip belt, shoulder pockets, and removable lids)(ounces) 49 L 59 L 48 L 48 L 53 L
Average Weight-to-Volume Ratio (grams/Liter) 10 g/L 14 g/L 13.5 g/L 14.5 g/L 12.8 g/L
Carrying Comfort 15 pounds Good Great Great Great Great
Carrying Comfort 30 pounds Poor Great Great Great Poor
Frame Type None (foam pad) Foam pad/ removable stay Foam pad/removable stay Simple Frame - 1.2 oz carbon fiber / Delrin active suspension hoop Removable foam pad
Fabric Cordura 70 & 100 denier Robic nylon 70 & 100 denier robic nylon ULA 210 Robic nylon 210 Robic nylon, 400d Robic Bottom Panel
Main Pack Pockets 3 4 3 3 (front and sides) 3
Hip Belt Pockets none 2 2 Two Two
Single Hip Belt Pocket Capacity N/a 4 4 cliff bars 8 Clif Bars 2 cliff bars
Shoulder Strap Pockets None no No No No
Whistle on Sternum Strap None No Yes No No
Internal Hydration Sleeve Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bag Sizes/Torso Lengths Available Long, short, regular S,m,l S,m,l S, M, L, XL S,M,L,XL
Mix and Match Hip Belt Sizes No S, m, l S, m, l Sm, s, m, l, xl S, M, L, XL
Can Easily Strip Off Frame and Hip Belt No Good Good Yes No
BearVault BV500 Compatibility Ok Good Ok Just OK Ok
Lid (aka Brain) No No Yes No Lid No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Granite Gear Virga 2 is the lightest pack we tested, and the only one with no frame of any sort. It is the definition of simplicity. No hip belt pockets, and a minimal but perfectly functional set of main pack pockets and compression straps.

Performance Comparison


Rolling up for a quick overnight and some high altitude fly fishing in Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. For very light loads  we love the Virga 2.
Rolling up for a quick overnight and some high altitude fly fishing in Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. For very light loads, we love the Virga 2.

Weight-to-Volume Ratio


This product is made in three torso sizes; we tested a regular model.

Weight Bottom Line

Total Weight with all modular components = 1 lb 2.6 oz

This pack has no removable components.

Large side pockets and an average size front pocket make up this model's exterior storage. You can see the opening in the side pocket that allows the compression strap to function inside. All packs should use this feature.
Large side pockets and an average size front pocket make up this model's exterior storage. You can see the opening in the side pocket that allows the compression strap to function inside. All packs should use this feature.

OGL Measured Volume Bottom Line:

We measured the volume of the Virga with a 48" RidgeRest closed cell foam pad rolled around the perimeter of the interior to form a barrel-like frame. This is the best use mode of this pack.

Total Volume = 49 L
Main Bag = 41 L
Front Pocket = 3 L
Side Pockets = 5 L

Calculated at 10 g/L max and stripped, this pack earned the best overall average weight-to-volume score. However, these calculations were done without the added weight of the closed cell foam pad. The ZPacks Arc Blast 55 also earned a 10 in this metric with its 11 g/L average. For the overwhelming majority of hikers focused on the lightest possible pack, we highly recommend the Arc Blast. Another competitor that scored highly in this metric is the ULA Circuit, which provides plenty of support and carrying capacity while keeping a relatively low weight-to-volume ratio.

Load Carrying Comfort


This ultralight backpack is a bit of a throwback to the days when rolling a closed cell foam pad inside to form a "frame" was a common practice. Some ultralight hikers still prefer this style. If you are one of them, we found the Virga very comfortable, earning a "Great" rating, for carrying 15 pounds. On the other hand, we found it did not carry 30 pounds well. In fact, it was one of only three packs we describe as "Poor" for carrying these more substantial loads. The pack's lack of support and cushion in the shoulder straps caused pain and irritation on the shoulders after only a few hours on the trail.

All packed up in the Virga with our winter kit and five days of food. We don't recommend a load this heavy for this pack. It functions best with loads in the teens.
All packed up in the Virga with our winter kit and five days of food. We don't recommend a load this heavy for this pack. It functions best with loads in the teens.

The photo below shows the Mybecca Foam we line the inside with
Adding a small piece of foam to the Virga made it more comfortable to carry  gave us a camp seat cushion  pillow stuffing and an emergency sleeping pad if our inflatable pad leaked.
Adding a small piece of foam to the Virga made it more comfortable to carry, gave us a camp seat cushion, pillow stuffing and an emergency sleeping pad if our inflatable pad leaked.

For a pack with more support and comfort, weight will be compromised. This is the case for the Gossamer Gear Mariposa and the Haglofs L.I.M. Strive 50 — packs that provide more comfort than the Virga, but add more weight.

Features


This frameless pack is pure minimalism: no frame, a simple roll top closure, and minimally padded shoulder straps and waist belt. Large stretch pockets on the front and sides offer a lot of external storage, and the compression straps work well. Unlike some models like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 3400, the side compression can run inside the side pockets, allowing compression while still allowing you to access your water bottle. While this pack does not have an internal sleeve to hold a hydration bladder, it does have one of the nicest hang loops - it's large with an attached toggle. A single center port lets you route your drinking hose over either shoulder. A similar, but more supportive option is the L.I.M. Strive 50, which has a removable frame and more support but is inspired by simplicity. If you want easy access to snacks, you'll need to buy an accessory like the Rothco Canvas Utility Pouch. However, pouches like this don't stay in place unless you use a safety pin and will move around a lot.
The Rothco Canvas Utility Pouch held our map  bars  water filter and all-important sour gummy worms.
The Rothco Canvas Utility Pouch held our map, bars, water filter and all-important sour gummy worms.
The side pockets are deeper than most on this model. Although the waist belt has no pockets  modular ones are available from Granite Gear.
The side pockets are deeper than most on this model. Although the waist belt has no pockets, modular ones are available from Granite Gear.

Adaptability


Adaptability is not the strong suit of this pack, but the lashing and compression systems create good external carry options. With a rolled foam pad inside, we find the pack functions best if you always have the pad fill the entire main bag. We carried light loads in this pack without using a pad as a barrel frame. It performed well enough and was easily reduced in volume without the internal pad. That said, we think use with a pad at full volume is far and away the best use. Fully featured packs with a removable frame like the Gossamer Gear Mariposa are much more adaptable. We added a Rothco Canvas Utility Pouch ($7) to the hip belt for our phone, snacks and mini water filter.

Durability


With a reputation for building durable packs, Granite Gear does a good job keeping the Virga durable but very light. Heavier Cordura fabric has been used for high wear areas like the pack bottom, and the stretch mesh pocket fabric appears to be more durable than others. As long as you don't try to carry heavy loads that will overwhelm the suspension system, this pack should last a long, long time. For a lightweight pack that is also incredibly durable, but perhaps more substantial than the Virga, we'd recommend the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 3400. This material is incredibly durable, and the pack is overall more substantial than the Virga.

This pack earned an above average score in our durability metric.
This pack earned an above average score in our durability metric.

Best Applications


With a main compartment volume of 40 liters when lined with a 48" Ridge Rest pad, the Virga 2 is perfectly sized for week-long ultralight trips. If you're a closed cell foam sleeping pad devotee, the Virga 2 is a perfect pack.

Value


Retailing at $140, this product is more affordable than most others we tested. But, it fits a very small niche in the ultralight world. If you travel very light with a simple sleeping pad and want a high volume frameless pack, the Virga is a great deal.

Conclusion


The Granite Gear Virga 2 is one of the specialty ultralight backpacks we tested. It is completely frameless, and designed for folks to place a closed cell foam pad inside to form a barrel-like "frame."

This model (left) beside our Best Buy winner the Osprey Exos 48. The Exos is a little more expensive  but more functional and versatile for most lightweight backpackers.
This model (left) beside our Best Buy winner the Osprey Exos 48. The Exos is a little more expensive, but more functional and versatile for most lightweight backpackers.

Sizing, Accessories, & Other Versions


The Virga 2 is made in three torso sizes with an attached waist belt: short, regular, and long. Modular hip belt and shoulder strap pockets are available for this pack.


Brandon Lampley