- Buyer's Guide
Drive By :: Granite Gear Virga 26
The Granite Gear Virga 26 is certainly not the first of its kind. It’s an ultralight bag that skirts the line between weight and functionality. Cherry-picking this feature and that feature, all the while designing everything through a lightweight filter.
Most outdoors enthusiasts find themselves drawn to the ultralight dogma, and I’m no different. Simplistic gear plus minimal weight equals faster and more comfortable travel over rough terrain. Some extreme believers feel they only need an ultralight sack with unpadded shoulder straps and no waist belt; the Virga 26 is not for them. Others want to strike that balance between weight, functionality, and comfort. That’s who Granite Gear is aiming to please with the Virga.
“It’s an ultralight bag that skirts the line between weight and functionality.”
The bag is constructed from 100D and 210D Cordura (a high tenacity nylon) and feels just rugged enough to last the test of time. The aesthetics are nice, though a bit cluttered, and you’ll have a color choice to make between tiger – java, brilliant blue – moonmist, or the unimaginative black. One of the first things you’ll notice visually are the thin webbing straps, only 10mm, which helps save on some weight.
Most bag makers are still trying to find their ultralight sweet spot but more and more it’s becoming apparent that one person’s ultralight is another’s frustratingly simple pile of fabric. Since features are often stripped to save weight, each bag tends to be tailored to fit a specific niche. The Virga is targeted to people wanting an ultralight day bag without compromising on the nice-to-haves. Let’s see how they did.
Who It Suits
The day trekker who wants a bag to carry a couple of coats, lunch, snacks, and enough water for you and a mate. The multi-day backpacker who wants to bring a second bag to do some day hikes with during their week-long excursion. And the mountaineer who wants to travel light but still have plenty of room when shooting for the summit during the wee hours.
Who It Doesn’t
The multi-day trekker who wants a frame or better support from their bag. The traveller who wants to have easy access to their whole pack, top to bottom. Or the comfort seeker looking for a nicely padded waist strap.
Twenty-six liters is actually quite a lot of room for a day bag. In testing, the Virga easily handled everything I would have expected to throw into it and more. The main compartment has a wide mouth, making it easy to get your bulky items in and out. Between the roll-top enclosure and the compression straps down the side of the pack my belongings tended to stay put.
“The main compartment has a wide mouth, making it easy to get your bulky items in and out.“
Many ultralight bags forgo external pockets but Granite Gear decided to not only keep them but make them deeper than most bags. This added a few grams of weight but I found the mesh pockets to be very useful and they minimized my need for getting into the main compartment often. There is one long pocket on the back, two along the sides, and two small mesh pockets on the shoulder straps. The shoulder pockets were the only ones accessible while hiking without a little help from a friend, but that was okay.
There is no top flap. Some of you may be wondering why this fact is in the good section and others may have tears of joy in their eyes. I am personally delighted to see the top flap get the boot, it’s always been an annoyance of mine but for those of you who love their top bag flaps…carry on. In lieu of it they’ve gone with the increasingly popular roll-top enclosure which keeps the bag more watertight and helps compress the contents from the top.
The discussion of comfort is going to land partly in the good section and partly in the bad. The good parts are the nicely designed shoulder straps with just enough cushion to protect your collar bones and the overall minimalist weight, making thicker shoulder straps unnecessary.
“I found the mesh pockets to be very useful and they minimized my need for getting into the main compartment often.”
The Not So Good
The common downside of ultralight bags is the lack of form. The Virga is no different. Besides the padding in the shoulder straps there’s not much more to the bag than nylon fabric and plastic clips. This means you need to pay attention to how the bag is packed. With formless bags I generally like to put a sitting pad or something on the inside of the main compartment against my back. To help keep that pad in place an internal pocket can be handy, but the Virga unfortunately has none.
“Besides the padding in the shoulder straps there’s not much more to the bag than nylon fabric and plastic clips. This means you need to pay attention to how the bag is packed.“
In practical use, if I took the time to carefully pack the bag I could usually get it to ride comfortably. The couple of times I threw some gear in and ran out the door to the gym I was getting poked in the back by my shoes or water bottle on every step.
Others to Consider
I haven’t personally tried these yet but looking around the Web here are a few other options in this space to check out: Montane Ultra Tour 22 Liter Rucksack, Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20, Gregory Verte 25, and the Osprey Talon 22.
The Granite Gear Virga 26 will successfully strike a balance between weight and functionality for some of you and others will think there are too many or too few features. I’m interested to hear which side of the fence you land on, let us know in the comments. Personally, I really dug being able to roll it up and put it inside my much larger multi-day pack and yet have plenty of storage and features of its own while in use. The materials are quality and I don’t doubt this bag will take a beating. If you’re looking for a light bag with just enough features to keep your carry in place, and enough access to keep your sanity when you need a hit of sugar on the trail, then the Virga would be an excellent choice.