GREGORY CAIRN 58 BACKPACK
Test Series By Theresa Lawrence
INITIAL REPORT - July 31, 2013
FIELD REPORT - October 22, 2013
LONG TERM REPORT - January 07, 2014
theresa_newell AT yahoo DOT com
Sparwood, British Columbia, Canada
5' 8" (1.73 m)
125 lb (56.70 kg)
I have more than 15 years of backpacking experience. Day hikes and 2-3 day backpacking trips take place on most weekends throughout the year while longer trips are only occasional. I backpack predominantly in mountain terrain (Coast Range, Cascades and Canadian Rockies) with the goal of summiting peaks. Activities I use my gear with include mountaineering, ski touring, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, trail running, Search and Rescue and overseas travel. I like my gear to be reasonably light, convenient and simple to use though I would not claim to be a lightweight hiker.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Gregory Mountain Products
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Manufacturer's Website: http://gregorypacks.com
MSRP: not available
Listed Weight: 3 lbs 15 oz (1.79 kg)
Measured Weight: 4 lbs 3 oz (1.90 kg)
Sizes: XS, S, M
Listed Volumes: XS (56 L), S (58 L), M (60 L)
Listed Torso Lengths: XS 14-16 in (35.6- 40.6 cm), S 16-18 in (40.6-45.7 cm), M 18-20 in (45.7-51 cm)
Intended Load Limit: 45 lbs (20 kg)
Colors: Magnetic Grey, Teal Green, Hibiscus Pink
Size and Color Tested: M - Magnetic Grey
Warranty: lifetime guarantee from manufacture workmanship defects
Product Description (obtained mainly from the website):
The Gregory Cairn 58 backpack is designed specifically for women with the intent of good fit, comfort, lightweight construction and packing organization. The pack is made out of 420D and 100D Robic fabrics with UTS (ultimate tensile strength) coating, which is a silicone based coating that makes fabric waterproof without making it brittle. It also bonds better than other coatings so it ends up being more permanent instead of just on top of the fabric. The pack is designed with a lot of unique features such as the highly water resistant roll top closing top pocket with waterproof zipper and sealed seams. The pack boasts Gregory's Response LT suspension and Response LT formed auto-fit waist belt with ventilated channels on a Wishbone Wire frame with a harness of Monobond Architecture featuring thermo-bonded, four layer construction. That was a mouthful. Moving on to Gregory's new Trail Smart Packing System, this pack is divided into 3 functional sections for Camp, Trail and On-The-Go items. Other features include a rain cover, external hydration sleeve attached to the internal frame (sounds like an oxymoron and is definitely unique), side stash security pocket, large front dump pocket, dual waistbelt pockets, two-stage compression on lower bag and over main top opening and clip for hydration hose (right side only).
My first impression of the Cairn was that it was pretty sleek looking in color and design and is very light. Previous Gregory packs I've owned (years and years ago) were very heavy, nice bags though. So, I was much impressed that despite all the added features, pockets, zippers, etc. it remains lightweight. That is the next thing, this bag is full of surprises, pockets and hidden areas all over, which also lends itself to being the most confusing pack I've ever seen. All that means is that I don't just throw all my stuff into one big sack, everything will have a home when I'm done figuring it all out.
So, there are 2 pockets on the belt, a pocket for the rain cover on the bottom and 2 big side pockets with an elastic neck (thankfully not mesh). A zippered pocket lies behind one side pocket (the other side has a zipper going into the main body). A big dump pocket is found on the back and behind this hides a zipper access into a large area which is separate from the main body. The zippered access has a zippered mesh pocket on its underside and inside this large separate area is a large mesh pocket making another separate area to keep from losing things. The main body is top access, with drawstring, and separate from this next to the frame is the hydration sleeve. Finally there is the top pocket with the roll top closure with a zippered pocket on its underside. I am hoping this bag will have enough storage options for me, I'm not sure that it will (sarcasm). If you didn't follow all that, let's just say there are a lot of pockets!
There are tool loops on one side and a bungee type cord and clasp to fix said item(s) in place, but there are also some loops attached to the bottom compression buckles (area that can hold extra gear externally like a sleeping pad). I'm not sure they are ice axe loops, but maybe they can be used as such, though there aren't any corresponding fixtures on top that would hold it in place. However, there are multiple compression straps and quick-closures in the vicinity, I'm sure can double as such ... something to test later.
There's a lot of quick-closures and some seem unnecessary, like the two on the bottom that seem to connect just to compress the sack vertically. Certainly one can store something in there like a sleeping mat, but I'm sure the same thing can be achieved with compression straps alone that don't come undone. The front drop pocket has 3 quick-closures and there are 2 more on each side for compression straps, one on the top access, but oddly the roll top closure doesn't have any. It just rolls then cinches down with compression straps that don't come undone ... this one's quite interesting, I'm curious how this will work on the trail.
Trying on the pack, while it's not fully loaded, is very comfortable so far. The frame isn't adjustable, however, with the different torso sizes available, options are provided for different sized people. The medium fits my torso perfectly it would seem. The shoulder straps adjust easily, as does the hip belt. The chest sternum strap has several height options, which is easily adjusted with a metal clasp that secures to different heights along the shoulder strap.
I'm somewhat disappointed with how small the hip belt pockets are, I can just barely get my digital camera (slightly smaller than a deck of cards) in there. It's such a tight fit, that I may have to find a new spot for it because it takes some effort to get it in and out ... I'll see, I have hunch there may be another pocket option I can try.
Well I'm excited and looking forward to loading this Cairn up and taking it into the backcountry to see how all these unique features can be used and abused (of course I wouldn't do that). If all works well, it will make my life easier on the trail, here's hoping. Check here in about 2 months to see how it goes.
- Lots of pockets, organizing features
- Attractive pack
- Fits comfortably, great adjustability of waist and shoulder straps (not yet loaded though)
- Small waistbelt pockets (too small for my digital camera - Olympus Stylus 790 SW; a tad smaller than a deck of cards)
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I took the Gregory Cairn on the following trips and experienced a range of conditions:
- 3 week trip to Scotland where it was used in the following ways:
* carried my travel items on and off planes, trains, buses, underground tubes and a campervan
* day hike on Ben Nevis, 570 m (1870 ft) - weather was misty, 22 C (72 F)
- 1 overnight to Willamina Lake, Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada
* 350 m (1148 ft) elevation gain, 6 km (3.7 mi) return trail
* weather - snow, sleet, gale force winds, temperatures -1 (30 F) to 2 C (36 F)
- 2 overnights to Bowman, Lower and Middle Quartz Lakes, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
* 610 m (2000 ft) elevation gain, 17 km (10.6 mi) loop
* weather - dry, sunny, 1 C (34 F) to 13 C (55 F)
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
COMFORT AND FIT
So far the Cairn has been great to wear. It sits comfortably on my hips/ shoulders and it was easy to adjust to my torso and waist. The chest strap was a bit tricky with the metal clips that were difficult to remove, but now that they are set they won't need moving again. I like how the waist straps adjust by pulling from the sides, but I'm left with long tails that have nowhere to be tucked away. I may just cut these eventually. The wishbone frame works well to distribute the weight on my hips and shoulders. I have no concerns with my back and it does allow for some venting.
I'm usually one to just stuff everything into a big sack of a pack, but my eyes have been opened to just how efficient a smaller pack volume can be with the use of the Trail Smart Packing System. This system is brilliant and doesn't add to the weight of the pack. Somehow with all the additional pockets and zippers, the pack is still lighter than most packs I've used of this size. What's great is that I don't have to pack my water bladder first to ensure it fits in the pack once full of water. Because of the external sleeve between the frame and the backpack, there's always enough room for it and it can easily be taken out to fill it up on trail and put back in. The waist pockets are quite small. So far all that I've used them for are lip balm and snack bars. My small camera doesn't fit in it, but there is a vertical zippered pocket beside the frame that can be reached by my right hand when I'm wearing the pack, which is convenient. The rest of the compartments have proved useful for maximizing the space inside the pack. The top lid pocket with the roll top and zipper is easy to access and provides an extra secured water resistant area. Though when it was raining I just used the rain cover, which has gotten good use so far, and has proved to be reliable.
I haven't made up my mind on the system used to hold my hiking poles. It has proved useful, but the bottom loops don't adjust, and seem like the poles will fall through them, though that has never happened. I might suggest making these loops smaller, since they are elastic, they would still fit a range of sizes. The top clasp and bungee on this tool system works well.
I have no concerns about the durability of the pack. Everything appears to be well constructed and reinforced where needed. Having said that, I will be looking at this closely in the long term testing phase to see if it does indeed hold up to my expectations.
So far the Cairn has met my expectations and has helped organize my packing making everything I need on the trail accessible. I am very impressed by the lightweight fabrics and materials used and it still feels of superior quality. I look forward to taking it out on more trips and testing its durability.
- Easy to organize and pack
- Comfortable and fits well
- Efficient use of space
- The waist pockets could be a little bigger
- The loops for the poles may be a little on the large side to hold them in place
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Over the last couple months I've used the Cairn on the following trips within the Southern Canadian Rocky Mountains.
- 2 day, 1 night ski tour at Tunnel Creek Hut, near Fernie, BC
* 900 m (2953 ft) elevation gain, 8 km (5 mi) return
* temperatures -10 to -15 C (14 to 5 F), crisp, cold, calm and sunny
- 2 day, 1 night ski tour, Matevik Draw, Sparwood, BC
*350 m (1148 ft) elevation, 4 km (2.5 mi) return
* temperatures -4 to -1 C (25 to 30 F), damp, overcast, windy
- 1 day ski tour, Island Lake Lodge, Fernie, BC
* 500 m (1640 ft) elevation, 16 km (10 mi) return
* temperatures -8 C (18 F), dry, overcast, sunny, windy
- 1 day ski tour, Window Mountain, Crowsnest Pass, Alberta
* 950 m (3117 ft) elevation, 4 km (2.5 mi) return
* temperatures - 8 C (18 F), dry, overcast, light snow
- 1 day ski tour, Corbin Ridge, near Sparwood, BC
* 700 m (2297) elevation, 8 km (5 mi) return
* temperatures - 9 C (16 F), dry, overcast, sunny
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Cairn 58 has worked out well for the size to carry what was needed for a 1-2 night excursion in the winter. As all my backpacking at this time of the year has been ski-touring in the mountains in well below freezing temperatures, space has become limited due to all the extra and heavier gear that is needed to 'survive'. This includes all my avalanche and touring gear (probe, shovel, ice saw, skins and helmet), a much heavier and bulkier sleeping bag (mine is rated to -30 C/ -22 F) and more bulky warm layers. Given all the extras, I am impressed at how well I was able maintain the organization of said items. The front hinge pocket fit my touring skins perfectly and the strap from this pocket that secures to the top of the pack under the lid was able to secure my helmet, with part of the helmet fitting into the pocket as well. This arrangement was very secure for skinning up the trail when I didn't need to be wearing my helmet.
The zippered hinge pocket underneath was great for my avalanche gear. It fit my probe and shovel, as well as first aid and repair kit and all my most needed layers for the trek, which included my shell, my down and my fleece. The rest of the camping gear fit into the main body. My sleeping bag just barely fit the bottom of the pack, but it fit no less. A rolled up sleeping mat, fuel, stove, pots, Nalgene water bottle, a thick novel and extra clothes all fit as well. My partner carried the tent body and fly and I carried the poles and pegs which I secured to the outside of my pack with the side straps and side pocket.
The roll-top lid fit all my winter 'accessories' including my beanie, 3 pairs of varying sized gloves, balaclava and headlamp. The small zippered pocket underneath the lid was where I carried my toothbrush, etc. My small camera lived in the vertical zippered pocket next to the wishbone frame, near one of the side pockets. I had no problem reaching behind to grab the camera. When the pack is full, the slender camera is all that would fit in this pocket. For the hip pockets, I was able to carry lip balm and a knife in one and a small snack bar in the other, which used up all the room they offered.
For my ski tour day trips, as a Search and Rescue habit, I pack for the off chance that I will need to stay the night if something unexpected happens. For this my pack would consist of a lightweight version of my overnight pack. I carry a much lighter and smaller sleeping bag (sometimes I may leave this at home), but I will always be carrying a smaller, lighter sleeping pad, stove, food, mug, extra clothes, first aid and repair kit, a tarp and a bivy. It can still weigh about 20+ lbs (9+ kg).
I did find that it becomes difficult to get anything out of the roll-top lid pocket when the pack is fully loaded. The lid is pulled tight and even after unzipping it there is not much room to fit my hand in and pull out what I need. I overcame this by loosening the straps that held it down first, which worked well enough.
I would say I've used this backpack to its maximum capacity, and should this have been a low quality product, I'm sure it would have burst its seams. However, I can attest this is a high-quality product and I have no concerns whatsoever of loading this pack over and over for many more backpacks to come.
Fully loaded, this backpack has been very comfortable to wear. It hugs my waist perfectly. The suspension, frame and harness system works well to center the load. When I'm skiing down a powder slope with a fully loaded backpack I don't have the sensation that my backpack swings, pulling my center of gravity off in an unfortunate direction with each turn down the slope.
During these winter excursions in the snow, the precipitation wasn't wet and so I didn't have a need to further try out the rain cover, which proved a success during the wet field test. I found during this test period I left my pack lying in the snow quite a bit, including sitting on it for lunch, etc. and the pack material did not seep any dampness from the snow into the pack. All contents in the backpack stayed dry throughout all my trips.
What I also liked about this pack was that when all the camp stuff was emptied, the pack stripped down nicely into a small light pack that was great for climbing and getting in some nice ski turns.
Overall, my impressions with the Cairn 58 have been really positive. I really liked the Trail Smart Packing System. It worked exactly as advertised. Everything I needed was accessible and everything that wasn't needed was out of the way. I have become a big fan of this pack for its organization and I feel that for its size, the arrangement allows it to hold more than would be expected. This has unexpectedly been a great backcountry ski-touring pack. While the zippered hinge pocket wasn't designed for my avalanche gear, it works quite well regardless. The pack itself is light, so for winter backpacking where gear tends to be bulkier and heavier, that is a bonus. And while I felt I had maxed out the space with my bulky winter gear, I could in fact use more of the external strap features and have items strapped to the outside if needed. My future plans with this pack are to continue as I have been as it has taken over as my favorite pack, mostly on account of the Trail Smart Packing System. For a multi-day ski-tour, if more gear is needed, I may opt for a bigger pack.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.
LIKES and DISLIKES as before plus two more thumbs up as a ski-touring pack to hold avalanche gear.
Thank you to Gregory Mountain Products and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to take part in this test series.
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