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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Gregory Contour 60 or Cairn 58 pack > Test Report by Ray Estrella

Gregory Contour 60 Backpack
Test Series by Raymond Estrella
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - July 26, 2013
FIELD REPORT - November 09, 2013
LONG TERM REPORT - January 12, 2014

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 53
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 213 lb (96.60 kg)

I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly ultralight, I try to be as light as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.


INITIAL REPORT

The Product

Manufacturer: Gregory Mountain Products IMAGE 1
Web site: www.gregorypacks.com
Product: Contour 60
Size: Medium
Torso fit range: 18-20 in (46-51 cm)
Year manufactured: 2013
MSRP: N/A
Weight listed: 4 lb (1.8 kg)
Actual weight 4.34 lb (1.97 kg)
Volume listed: 3661 cu in (60 L)
Load weight suggested: to about 45 lb (20.4 kg)
Color reviewed: Graphite gray
Image courtesy Gregory Mountain Products

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

The Counter 60 is a mix of good and bad for me. Well, good and unnecessary is a better description. The suspension is excellent, the best I have seen from Gregory in a decade. But the complexity and multitude of pockets and "packing areas" doesn't work as far as this backpacker is concerned. Please read on for the details.

Product Description

The Gregory Mountain Products Contour 60 pack (hereafter referred to as the Contour or pack) is a dark grey with orange highlights, hybrid top-loading pack, the middle size of Gregory's new Contour series that they say is "an organizational dream for access not only when you get to camp, but all along the way." I think it may be the busiest, oops, most feature laden, pack I have ever seen.

Front, back, side


Most of the pack is made of 100 denier Robic nylon. The bottom and a couple spots on the side are made from heavier 420 denier Robic nylon. The Robic material is a very high tenacity nylon made by Hyosung from Japan. This nylon is said to be stronger than nylon 66 and is coated with silicon on the back.

The Contour is built around Gregory's new Trail Smart Packing System design. The main pack is actually divided lengthwise. Their idea is that gear that only gets used at the end of the day like shelter, bag, pad, cook stuff, etc. be packed in the main compartment. This part loads like a top-loading pack with a very generous opening. The body gets smaller as it heads down towards the hip belt. I suppose this keeps heavy items close to the body where it helps keep the user's center of gravity close.

There is a 5 in (13 cm) extension collar at the top of the body. A tethered draw cord closes the top of the extension. The draw cord secures with a very strong pull-type cord lock, the reason for the tether. A nylon strap with a quick-disconnect buckle goes over the top of the pack. From what I can tell the main purpose of this strap is to provide support for another strap that continues below it to the outer pocket. (More on it later.)

Inside the main pack is a good-sized hydration pocket. While the pocket is in the pack the access to it is not. Instead I look where the extension collar meets the backpanel to find a pull-open access. There are two straps with clips that hold most hydration bladders that have connection points at each side. Unfortunately most of mine use a center attachment point so I will have to jury-rig something if I want to keep my reservoir centered. (I just made a loop of Spectra cord to go between the clips letting my reservoirs hang in the middle as seen in the picture below.) I find it funny that Gregory makes the claim that the "External hydration sleeve attaches directly to internal frame." The truth is that the frame IS the back of the main pack body. My gear will be against said frame, not in a separate pack body as is the norm.

A long zipper on the left side (when wearing) of the pack gives access to the main body without having to open the top.

Next is the Dump pocket, Gregory's name for the open pocket at the back of the pack. It attaches with three buckles. The two side buckles are extensions of the side compression straps and the top one is the extension of the strap I mentioned earlier. Because that strap is attached to the frame it allows the dump pocket to be securely tightened without stressing the pack body. The dump pocket looks to be quite large from outside but is actually kind of small. That is because of what is hiding between it and the main pack.

Features galore...


When the dump pocket is opened we see a green (in the case of my color pack) horseshoe zipper track that has two zipper pulls on it. When opened it exposes a huge area. It is like having a panel-loader sewn to the back of a top-loader. (See above) Gregory calls this the Trail area, meant for items that may be used during the day like rain gear, extra layers, lunch and such. The very first thing I did when finding this area was to see if the material between the main pack and this Trail section was waterproof. Alas, it is not. So much for rain gear or wet shelters or tent footprints being kept here.

Inside the Trail area is two mesh pockets. One is mounted to the face of the panel and has a zipper to keep items in place. The second mesh pocket is a huge open pocket that has a bit of elastic. It reminds me of a laundry bag and I know that I will keep my puffy there. (Down sweaters and the like.)

Two side compression straps run on each side of the pack, one upper and one lower. The two mentioned earlier compress the top portion of the Contour while two lower straps handle that duty for the lower portion. These lower straps have the option to run through or over the side pockets. A perusal of my many pack reviews will explain why I will have them running through the pockets.

The side pockets are made with a slanted, elastic-gathered opening. They are nice and deep and will hold a Nalgene bottle. They are not big enough to hold a bottle with an insulated holder though, a disappointment for winter use. Sitting alongside the right hand pocket is a zipper pull that accesses a "side stash security pocket". It shares space with the side pocket so anything bulky put into it will hinder a full-size bottle going in.

At the very bottom of the pack a small zipper pulls open to reveal the included rain cover. The 3.17 oz (90 g) color-matched cover is attached by way of a tethered clip which is nice as it allows it to be removed for storage elsewhere, something I will certainly do. Why? Because the material between the rain cover pocket and the bottom of the pack (where my down bag goes) is NOT waterproof! I set a wet rag in there while writing this and had water immediately seeping through. A wet cover being re-stowed will do the same.

The face of the pack boasts two large ice axe or tool loops at the bottom. I can only find corresponding attachment points for the right side though. It has quite an intricate bungee/loop/clip system that hides away when not needed (see pic just below logo). The left has nothing above it. Finally, just up from the bottom of the pack is a set of sleeping pad straps with quick-connect buckles.

An adjustable and removable lid bearing a Gregory logo and the Contour name sits on top of the pack. It is made in a dry-bag style with seam-taped construction and a stiffened waterproof zipper. The opening rolls down once closed and the lid straps pulled taut to keep it secured. When the lid is flipped over another zippered pocket is found on the inner face.

The suspension of Contour is called Response LT. I am actually pretty impressed by it. Instead of traditional stays it has a metal wire wishbone frame that runs from the hip belt up to a stiff nylon plate at the top of the backpanel. While Gregory says that this size has a torso fit range of 18 to 20 in (46-51 cm) it should be noted that there is no adjustment possible of the actual suspension as the harness is at a fixed location on the backpanel and the hip belt attachment is fixed too. Fortunately the medium fits me dead on.

The shoulder straps are made of "MonoBond Architecture with thermo-bonded, four layer construction". This is a a combination of pretty stiff perforated foam covered by highly breathable mesh and tough nylon for strength. It is very lightweight. The straps have the common adjustments top and bottom. The top adjustment pulls the pack closer to the back, while the lower adjustment transfers weight between hip and shoulders.

The right-side shoulder strap has a white plastic tube clip to keep a hydration tube in place. The clip is sewn on so right side is the only option. Sorry Lefties… The left strap has nothing on it. I wish that there was a horizontal piece of webbing to be able to hang a knife from. Crossing the shoulder straps is a four-position sternum strap that closes with a quick-connector.

The hip belt is constructed in the same way as the shoulder pads but it uses thicker foam. Each side of the hip belt pivots allowing the belt to conform to many waist angles. It fits my wide waist just fine. The belt attaches in the center but adjusts from the sides. I have always liked this way of tightening a hip belt better than the packs that tighten from the center.

On each side of the hip belt there is a small pocket. They are accessed by way of a zipper that slants steeply down. This greatly impacts the usefulness of the pockets, another head-scratcher for me.

Lastly the backpanel is made of breathable mesh covering soft foam. It has some air channels running lengthwise to assist in cooling the back.

Whew, that was a lot of stuff to talk about. Time to load it up and get it on the trail. Come back in a couple of months to see if the Contour with its plethora of features is all that, or falls flat.


FIELD REPORT

Field Data

Steaming in rain pants


I have used the Contour 60 for a total of nine days during the first portion of testing. All took place in Minnesota (MN). This is from my hiking log:

June 29: Went on the first snowless overnighter of the year. Just went out to the private property north of Halstad. The prairie grass was already at mid-July height and it was all wet from rain. Tried to hike at the forest edges to avoid mud and camped near the Red River. Only went about 7 mi (11 km) in temps from 48 to 75 F (9-24 C). Starting pack weight: 22 lb (10 kg).

July 13: Went on an overnighter in central MN. Took the newly rerouted section of the North Country Trail (NCT) in the Paul Bunyan State Forest. Used Forest Service roads also to create a loop of about 20 mi (32 km). Bugs were horrible in the trees, and it rained in the late afternoon and some during the night. Temps from 55 to 80 F (13-27 C). Starting pack weight: 24 lb (10.9 kg). (The picture below is on the new section of NCT next to the lake.)

July 28: Went to the Halverson Trail area for three days of winding, crisscrossing exploration hiking. Used the NCT, unmaintained Hunter Trails, Forest Service roads and ATV/snowmobile tracks plus a newly "discovered" abandoned Walking Trail (found a brush buried sign). Terrain was very wet but was lucky to only have rain at night. Bugs horrible in the trees but not bad at all in the clearings. Temps from 55 to 82 F (13-28 C) with somewhere between 24-27 mi (39-43 km) of distance traveled with a starting pack weight of 26 lb (11.8 kg).

Aug 10: Because of discovering a pit toilet that I never knew about on my previous hike I decided to take the kids to Halverson Lake for their first time. (They don't care for squatting;-) We parked at the NCT trailhead but caught the Halverson Trail for a more direct route. After making camp we went to a flooded Hunter Trail that I knew from the previous trip was full of baby frogs for a frog catching safari. They brought a dozen back to camp. Weather was great for hiking, cool for that time of year so they only went in the lake once. Temps from 45-ish to 70 F (7-21 C) and started pouring in the middle of the night which saw me out running to gather our stuff that we had drying. Went about 9 mi (14 km) total with a starting pack weight of approximately 33 lb (15 kg).

NCT by Waboose

Observations

Let me start off by praising Gregory Mountain Products for the work they have done with the Response LT suspension. I stopped using Gregory packs because I found the suspension too uncomfortable, especially in the lumbar area. After seeing the Response LT it looked like I could live with it which is why I applied to test the pack. Well my speculation was proven out over the past few months. This is a great suspension! It fits very well and is very comfortable. The hip belt feels the best of any Gregory I can remember. (I have been using them sporadically since the 1980's.)

The shoulder straps and load lifters are easy to adjust and fine tune to give a comfortable carry too. One change I would love to see on the shoulder straps is to replace the plastic hydration tube clip with a nylon strap to run it through instead, and to have it on both sides. This would let the tube be routed to whichever side the user likes best. But more importantly to me it would allow me to use the other side to clip a knife to in the manner of a whitewater river guide's knife. This is the only pack I have that does not allow me to use my Gerber Guardian.

For the past 10 years I have worked at being a lightweight hiker. This being the case my 3-season loads are fairly light and very low-volume, so the Contour spent most of the time half-full. I carried ALL my gear in the main pack, the part next to my body. There was plenty of room there for it. On the trip with the kids I used all of the areas and really loaded the Contour up as I brought a lot of food, a couple of small fleece blankets as back-up for the kids, and a 4-person tent. I forgot to weigh the pack before we left but at a minimum it had to be 33 lb (15 kg). It felt good on my back and handled great as we hiked. Here is a shot at the trailhead in all of its fully packed glory. (Hmm, I look fully packed too…)

We're right here kids


The rain cover is nice to have included as part of the pack. It was a very wet end of spring and beginning of summer, although I did get lucky with most of the mid and late summer hiking. I don't keep the cover in the pocket made for it. Instead I keep it with my rain gear in the Trail area most of the time, and in the dump pocket on the trip with the kids.

OK, now the parts I don't care for. The entire "area" thing is a waste of weight to me. I use the Trail area for wet gear to keep it separate from my other gear but since the separating material is not waterproof I have to use a 33 L (2000 cu in) drybag as a liner. As mentioned before I keep my rain cover with my other rain gear. Why have a separate pocket for just one item of my rain pro? Get rid of the extra weight and possible failure point of the zipper and pocket.

The side pockets are fine for holding my water bottles on the trips I don't use a hydration bladder. I can get the bottles out but it is almost impossible for me to get them back in without taking off the pack. A redesign is in order to me.

I really can't stand the top lid. The roll-top drybag emulation is ridiculous. Especially considering that it has a waterproof zipper. I like the waterproof zipper, I just wish it were on a normally shaped lid. Again this design makes it very hard to access without taking the pack off.

Well enough complaining, and time to end this report. It is also time for the weather to switch to winter here and for me to get the Contour out for some cold hiking. Please come back in a couple months to see how it fared. I leave with a picture on an unmaintained (this year at least) Hunter Trail in Paul Bunyan State Forest.

Where's the lawn mower?


LONG-TERM REPORT

Field Data

Over an old RR bridge, don't shoot me!


I used the Contour for a total of ten more days in the form of five overnight backpacking trips, all in the State of Minnesota. One October trip along the Wild Rice and Red Rivers saw a low of 32 F (0 C) and almost solid rain that turned into the first snow of the season the next morning. The picture above is from this trip crossing the Wild Rice River on an abandoned rail road bridge. The Contour is covered with the rain cover and a hunting vest as it was deer rifle season. (Check out the safety orange shoes…;-)

At the end of November I saw the first "real" snow and a low of 0 F (-18 C) in Smoky Hills State Forest.

In January of the new year (2014) I had it out to the Halstad property for a crazy cold trip that went from a high of 0 F to a low of -27 F (-18 to -33 C). The next day was even colder, never getting above -24 F (-31 C). Here is a picture from that trip.

Wayyy cold

Observations

My work and kid schedule made it a lot harder to get out as much as I normally have the past 10 winters. I did not do anything more than day-hiking all of December but I was able to sneak some overnighters with the Contour during the other months. Most trips never saw the pack weight even hit 30 lb (13.6 kg) but the last one was about 35 lb (15.9 kg) as I had a -40 F/C bag crammed into the pack.

As seen in the picture above I had to carry my drinking water in an insulated holder hanging from the compression straps on the side of the pack. Because a 1L Nalgene won't fit in the side, and it is too cold to use even an insulated hydration tube, I had been carrying my water in the back stuff-it pocket. But this trip saw the need for my shovel and with all the gear I had to deal with the cold there was just no room anywhere else. I really dislike hanging heavy items from my packs and again really wished that the Contour's side pockets were bigger.

Nothing else has changed since my last report. Even with the heavier winter load the suspension was great. I really do like it a lot. Wearing a pack over a parka or heavy coat can sometimes be unwieldy but I had no problem with the Contour being uncomfortable or unstable.

I still dislike just about everything else about the pack. The lid is horrible, the belt pockets, like the side pockets, are too small to be of real use, and the zoned pack space scheme is even worse to deal with when I started putting bigger winter gear in them.

My suggestion to Gregory is to go back to a traditional top lid and if they feel the need to make compartments, do it with a removable lower separator. And please make the side pockets usable with an insulated Nalgene.

That's all I have to say about the Contour. I will thank Gregory and BackpackGearTest.org for giving me a reason to go play in the cold while testing this. I will leave with a shot of it in Smoky Hills State Forest. In this one my water is in the stuff-it pocket, not really good for my center of gravity.

First permanent snow of the winter.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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