The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Gregory Z30 Pack: Superior Suspension
Posted on: August 28, 2008
Weight: 2 pounds, 12 ounces
I did the math the other day. I average 208 days a year with an overstuffed pack on my back when you combine my job—I guide climbing and skiing—and my personal play time. I'm a beast of burden and, over the years, I've fine-tuned my taste for what I feel are a backpack's most essential features. My first priority is to make sure the suspension system fits properly and evenly distributes my pack's weight across my back. The second is to make sure my pack's volume matches the load I'll need to carry for the day's job. I never get away with fewer than 30 liters.
I also want a pack that's simple—a bag that can get the job done without a bunch of fancy bells and whistles. The Z30, Gregory's 30-liter addition to its Fast and Light series, does all that. It strikes a balance between light weight—it weighs 2 pounds, 12 ounces—and durability without sacrificing performance.
The Z30 incorporates Gregory's Jet Stream Direct Transfer Suspension system, a hybrid internal/external frame designed to adjust automatically to varying weight conditions, as well as promote airflow across the wearer's back. The heavier the load, the more support the pack provides. The rigidly designed suspension system looks more like a tiny trampoline than a pack frame.
I took Gregory's claim of increased load as a direct challenge. I crammed the Z30 with 35 pounds of gear—ten more than the recommended PSI comfort weight—on five separate occasions and dragged it through Southern Utah's slot canyons. At first, I felt a little guilty. This tidy, little daypack looked more like something an adventure runner or hiker might use while frolicking up a speed ascent with minimum gear than a sturdy backcountry pack. It looked out of its element next to my companions' packs, but there was nothing glamorous or minimalist about the tests the Z30 endured.
The top-loading zipper opens up to a medium-sized compartment large enough to carry a 50-meter 8.9mm rope, a lightweight harness, locking carabiners, webbing and a small first aid kit. Due to the size of my rope, the hydration pocket reluctantly received my 1.5-liter hydration system. I slipped my maps and compass into the front zipped pocket; stashed my sunscreen, lip balm and other quick-grabs in the top dump pocket and stored my camera and snacks in the massive hip belt's mesh pockets.
I raised and lowered my Z30 through offwidths. I slid it through trough slots and scraped it against overhangs. I even tossed it into ice-cold pools—and then swam frantically after it. The system carried better than any other pack I've owned. My back stayed dry. And true to Gregory's claim, the suspension system support automatically adjusted each time I added or decreased my pack weight. It felt like an extension of my body. The only downside to the suspension system is its shape—the curve limits what and how I pack.
The pack's smaller shape made it easier to scramble through tight slots and its low-profile top allowed me to tip my head back easily when looking for the next hold. Its 210-denier, ripstop nylon fabric escaped the slot canyons with only minor wear and tear.
If you're looking for a pack with a suspension system that will keep your back dry and will comfortably support a weighted load, then the Z30 needs to be in your quiver.
Pros: Jet Stream Direct Transfer Suspension System is effective, even for relatively heavy loads, and has excellent airflow, which keeps your back dry; low profile; lightweight.
Cons: Curve in suspension system limits loading options; mesh pockets fill with sand and do not receive a load when pack is full.