Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58
$250, 3 lbs. 12 oz. (men’s regular)
Sizes: men’s and women’s short (fits torsos 14-18 inches) and regular (fits torsos 18-22 inches). Unisex shoulder straps S-L, men’s and women’s hipbelts S-XL.
Granite Gear Leopard V.C. 46 with Klymit AirBeam Frame
$230, 2 lbs. 6 oz. (men’s regular with AirBeam pack frame)
Sizes: men’s regular (fits torsos 18-21 inches) and long (fits torsos 21-24 inches), four sizes of hipbelts for both men and women.
How light do you want to go? With the Leopard A.C. 58 and the Leopard V.C. 46, Granite Gear offers nearly identical backpacks that both deliver a lot of performance for their weight and price. The main difference, besides capacity? One is a lightweight load-hauler with a traditional internal frame, the other a pack designed for ounce-counting ultralighters, with an optional upgrade to an inflatable frame. I wanted to compare the conventional plastic framesheet in the A.C. 58 against the air frame in the V.C. 46 with the AirBeam upgrade, which is one-third lighter.
I carried the Leopard A.C. 58 on a four-day, partly off-trail, September hike in the Olympic Mountains. The flexible framesheet felt slightly overloaded when I started out with a bit over 40 pounds, but quite comfortable once my pack weight dropped below 40 pounds after the first day. The suspension remained stable, moving with me while I scrambled very steep, wet rock and slippery heather slopes off-trail in the Bailey Range of the Olympics, thanks in part to the dual-density shoulder straps and a pre-curved hipbelt that sports more padding than the V.C. 46 hipbelt. The back pad is curved to allow a little space for airflow, which kept my back less sweaty. The shoulder straps can be adjusted to six positions marked to 18-22 inches torso length, which allowed me to dial in a good fit for my 18-inch torso.
Carrying up to 35 pounds on a three-day, mostly off-trail traverse of the canyons and steep talus and scree slopes of the Waterpocket Fold Formation in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, I was impressed by the comfort of the Leopard V.C. 46, with the AirBeam frame, made by Klymit. The AirBeam, inflated with several breaths, slips easily into the framesheet sleeve inside the pack, and can double as a camp seat and insulation under your feet when sleeping if you sleep on a short air mattress (like I do to shave a little weight). It can be purchased with the V.C. 46 instead of its standard framesheet, or purchased and installed later for $50. It helps make this pack nearly a pound and a half lighter than the A.C.. 58, but it also has more than 700 cubic inches less capacity. Still, it’s big enough space for a five-day ultralight trip, if your other gear is compact. Unlike the A.C. 58, its shoulder straps are sewn in place, not adjustable. Air channels in the back pad kept my back cooler.
As for features, the packs are fraternal twins. Both sport Cordura high-tenacity nylon (100- and 210-denier). Both have a floating, removable lid—you can shed five ounces by leaving it at home—and a roll-top closure to seal the main packbag. Both can be purchased with optional hipbelt gear loops and a front crampon attachment with rubberized straps that make getting the crampons in and out a breeze and held my spikes completely securely in the Olympics. The dual rope straps under the lid in both packs hold a rope quite securely (with a reasonably full load in the pack); but it’s a nuisance, when you’re not carrying a rope, to have to clip and unclip those two extra straps to get in and out of the pack. That gets to my only real gripe about both packs: the lack of a panel zipper to access the main compartment. With the lid on and rope straps in place, you have to unclip six buckles to get inside.
Verdict: Since both packs carry up to 40 pounds equally well, if you really want to minimize weight and can fit your trips into a 46-liter pack, go with the V.C. 46 with the AirBeam frame. If you need a little more capacity (and a lightweight pack with crampon attachments) and prefer the simplicity of a standard internal framesheet that you don’t have to mess with, the A.C. 58 is an excellent choice.
See my tips on ultralight backpacking and my reviews of ultralight backpacking gear. See also my reviews of other backpacks I like, including larger models like the Gregory Contour 70L and women’s Cairn 68L, the Arc’teryx Altra 65, and the Osprey Atmos 65.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.