By Jason B.
Gregory Mountain Products was founded in 1977 by Wayne Gregory. The original philosophy of “a properly designed pack is worn, not carried” is carried over to today’s packs. They offer a full range of backpacks, daypacks, and hydration packs. Their website is easy to navigate and provides easy to read descriptions and videos featuring their products.
This fall I will be reviewing the Paragon 68, the largest pack available in Gregory’s new “lightweight” series. Gregory describes it this way “Nine times out of ten, a pack this light with this kind of capacity would be stripped of anything close to comfort or convenience. The Paragon 68 is the exception, tearing up the trail with lightweight, ventilated ease thanks to Aerolon suspension, and offering deluxe features you’d be hard-pressed to find inside its weight class.” The Paragon is also available in 38L, 48L, and 58L sizes. The 68L pack retails for $249.95.
I will begin my description with the suspension and then cover the specific features of the pack.
The Paragon series features the Aerolon suspension which is “a customized lightweight 7001 aluminum chassis design to deliver uncompromised ventilation and load stabilizing trail performance to reduce energy expenditure on the trail.” Basically, the main structure of the pack is the aluminum chassis and everything else is tied into it. The back panel features their “Matrix Ventilation System” which is foam with triangular shaped cutouts behind a mesh panel that is supposed to increase air flow and moisture evaporation while remaining comfortable. The shoulder straps have the same foam with triangular cutouts. The pack also features Gregory’s “Gripton Lumbar Pad which is “soft-molded silicon gription pad technology for enhanced load transfer and energy savings.”
To say that the pack is fully featured is an understatement. The pack is a standard internal frame with a large main compartment that is separated by a divider. This is where the comparison to a standard internal frame pack stops.
The hood features two pockets – a large pocket with a “C” shaped zipper that allows the pocket to be completely opened and a smaller pocket with a key holder. The top of the hood also features four webbing attachment points. In addition, the sleeping bag divider in the main body of the pack can be removed and used as an Ultra-Light top flap option by using it to replace the pocketed hood.
Access into the main pack bag is from the top and features easy one hand closure via a rubberized loop and one hand closing by pulling the yellow webbing loop.
The pack features a large elastic shove it pocket on the front and inside of the pocket there is a smaller zippered pocket where the included raincover is stored.
Inside the main compartment of the pack is the Sidekick Day pack which doubles as the hydration bladder storage and an easily removable lightweight summit pack.
The pack bag features standard mesh side pockets. However, the right pocket features what Gregory calls a “Sidewinder Bottle Stash” pocket where a water bottle can be stowed for easy access from the side instead of from the top of the pocket. There is also a sewn loop that could be used for a tether to ensure a bottle did not go far if it fell out.
The side of the pack also features Z shaped compression straps with molded webbing keepers to help manage excess webbing and keep it from flapping around.
The hip belt features a pocket on each side, one mesh and one fabric. The pockets are attached to the hipbelt with a Velcro type of fastener and can be adjusted along the belt so that the pockets are easy to reach for the user.
I am really excited to try out this pack while backpacking this fall. There are a couple features described above that really stand out to me. I like the Gripton Lumbar Pad. I am hopeful that it will help the pack stay in place. I find that my pack tends to slide off of my hips and back over time and requires adjustment. Maybe this will happen less with the Paragon. I also like the adjustable hip belt pockets, they seem easy to adjust and should enhance my ability to maximize the use of these pockets. A third item that jumps out in my initial thoughts is the ventilation on the back panel. It is hot in the South, even in the winter, so I am looking forward to see how well this pack keeps my back dry.
I also like that many of the straps are connected to the pack via a girth hitch. This makes the straps easily removable and when combined with the numerous webbing attachment points throughout the pack provides numerous options to maximize the carrying ability of the pack.
When I am reviewing a pack, I use the following criteria as the basis for my evaluation: fit, durability and usefulness. A sampling of the things that I look for include – how is easy is the pack to adjust before using and while on the trail? How does the pack handle on trail and off trail backpacking? Am I able to keep my contents relatively organized?
Update Gregory Paragon
January 18, 2018
I have used the Gregory Paragon backpack on the following trips: an overnight backpacking trip with my daughter in the Black Creek Wilderness; backpacking with friends in the Kisatchie National Forest; and a solo overnight backpacking trip in the Black Creek Wilderness. Conditions have been all over the place with temperatures in the upper 80s for the first trip; temperatures in the 30s for the Kisatchie Trip, and temperatures in the 50s with rain for my solo trip. The pack handled all conditions with ease. Overall, I have over 40 miles of backpacking with the pack.
I generally evaluate packs on three criteria – fit, durability, and usefulness. The Gregory Paragon scores high marks in all three criteria.
My number one priority when choosing a pack is does it fit well. One of the characteristics of a well fitting pack is adjustability. The Gregory Paragon has great adjustability which has allowed me to dial in the fit of the pack. The shoulder straps are easily adjusted via a Velcro closure on the back panel and takes less than 30 seconds to adjust and has approximately 5” of travel to accommodate a wide range of body types. I found that the halfway mark between the M and L settings on the back panel works best for me. The hip belt has a wide range of adjustability, too, with plenty of webbing to accommodate different waist sizes.
Another aspect of a great fit is comfort. The shoulder straps and hip belt have plenty of padding and felt good even when loaded with 40 pounds of gear and worn for 6 plus hours while backpacking on the Backbone Trail in the Kisatchie National Forest.
Durability is the second characteristic I look for in a pack. Most packs are fairly expensive, so as a consumer, I want to be able to get my money’s worth out of the pack. I have treated this pack as I would any other, I lay it on the ground on rest breaks and sit on the back panel while taking a snack or lunch break. It goes in the dirt and pine straw and leaves that cover the trail. Even so the pack still looks new. The mesh side pockets and shove it pocket on the front of the pack show no wear or holes. All of the buckles and zippers still look new and function as intended. I am very pleased with the durability of the pack. I also examined all the stitching and everything is tight with no pulls or damage.
The final characteristic I look for is usefulness. This is pretty subjective because it looks at the features of the pack and determines if they are useful, and I am aware that what I find useful others might not like and vice versa. That being said this pack is chocked full of features to make it the only pack one would need.
The main compartment easily swallows gear. I was able to fit a 20 degree down bag and a Therm-A-Rest Neo Air in the bottom compartment and extra clothes, food, tent, and cooking gear in the top. I usually kept my water filter in the shove it pocket on the outside along with my 10 essentials and tp. I liked the numerous attachment points on the pack. I carry three old platypus 2L water tanks on my hikes so I can get water at a source and then filter back at camp and I like to hang these on the outside of the pack with a carabiner. This was easy to do on the Gregory Paragon because of all the attachment points. It was also easy to attach my soaked tent on the outside of the pack after a wet night in the Black Creek Wilderness.
The hipbelt pockets are very user friendly. I use the mesh pocket for snacks and the fabric pocket for my phone so that it is handy for pictures. I also like how the hip belt pockets can be moved to different on the points hip belt. This allows the user to ensure that the hip belt pockets are positioned where they are most accessible.
I did some dayhiking in the Kisatchie National Forest and was able to use the lightweight summit pack. It did a good job holding an extra layer and my hydration bladder. It is certainly lightweight, and I wouldn’t want to use it for an all day hike, but it was perfect for a couple hour jaunt from camp.
I used the included rain cover on a wet overnight trip into the Black Creek Wilderness. It covered the pack completely and added a layer of protection to my gear. I would still recommend that important gear is kept in dry sacks or other waterproof storage for wet hikes, but it is nice having the rain cover available.
The only feature that I have not really mastered yet is the Sidewinder Water Bottle pocket. I think it is a great concept and does make it easier to retrieve my water bottle. However, I can’t seem to get the bottle back in the pocket once I have removed it.
Overall, I am very pleased with the Gregory Paragon backpack. It fits, is durable, and carries all my gear. I can’t ask for much more than that.
Final Update Gregory Paragon October 11, 2018
I have used the Paragon on two more backpacking trip since my last update. The first was a 6 day, 5 night backpacking trip with Big City Mountaineers. Because of the fires in the Sierras, we scrambled and did a loop in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the coastal mountains near Santa Cruz. Temperatures for this trip where in the 80s during the day and the 60s at night. Humidity was low, and there was no rain. The trails were rocky and the Redwoods were amazing.
My second trip was to the Walls of Jericho in the James D. Martin – Skyline Wildlife Management Area over labor day weekend. Temperatures were in the low 90s during the day and upper 70s at night. Humidity was high. Trails were also rocky and the streams mostly dry except right at the falls area of the Walls.
After these two trips, I have used the Paragon for over 100 miles of backpacking.
As I mentioned before, I evaluate packs on three main criteria – fit, durability and functionality. The fit of the pack is excellent. I dialed it in with my trips last fall and when I put it back on in August for the BCM trip it still fit like a glove. The shoulder straps and hip belt molded nicely to my body and remained comfortable even when carrying almost 50 pounds at the start of the week long trip.
My only complaint with the fit is the hipbelt straps. They are very long which is great for adjustability but I have to tighten the belt as tight as it will go and the excess straps hang to my knees. This is annoying while hiking since they swing against my legs. I usually just tuck them into the mesh hip belt pocket to solve this dilemma. I could also cut the straps so that I did not have as much excess.
Durability of the pack has been superb. The main pack fabric shows no sign of wear and all the connection points for straps and buckles are solid with no loose threads. The bottom of the pack back has taken the most abuse, but is only dirty with no wear. The only place that shows any wear is one of the mesh side pockets and the mesh on the main shove it pocket. There are a few small holes in the mesh, but nothing that compromises the ability of the pocket to be used.
My final thoughts are on the functionality of the pack. The layout of the pack is well done. The numerous attachment points allowed me to carry light gear on the outside and easily hang clothes on the pack to dry while I was hiking.
I was able to easily carry a BearVault BV500 bear canister in the main packbag while continuing to use the bottom compartment for my sleeping bag and NeoAir sleeping pad. I found that I could get a full week’s worth of gear inside the pack if I packed smartly, and had tons of room for weekend glamping trips.
Overall, I have been impressed with the pack. It carries heavy loads well, fits me perfectly, is durable and functional. I think this is the perfect pack for someone looking to upgrade from an entry level pack.
Thanks to 4alloutdoors and Gregory for providing the pack for this review.