Review: Gregory Focal 58 and Facet 55 Ultralight Backpacks

Ultralight Backpack
Gregory Focal 58 and Facet 55
$240, 58L/3,539 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz. (men’s small)
Sizes: men’s S-L, women’s XS-M
moosejaw.com

Starting my six-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon with more than the recommended max weight in my Gregory Focal 58 and planning some strenuous days of hiking up to 12 miles with over 7,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss—including seven very steep off-trail miles—I knew I’d put this pack to a serious test. Not a problem for the Focal 58, though, which proved not only comfortable but has a nice feature set, too.

The Gregory Focal 58 harness.
The Gregory Focal 58 harness.

I carried the men’s Focal 58 (the women’s model is the Facet 55) for four of our six days in the canyon—we had two layover nights and dayhiked from a couple of camps—with 25 to over 35 pounds inside, including, at times, up to four liters (8.5 pounds) of water.

Replacing Gregory’s similar Optic and Octal (which were four ounces lighter) for 2022, this top-loader has an internal, tubular, perimeter wire frame—tubular to trim weight while maintaining stability—with an HDPE framesheet and a fiberglass cross-stay that prevents barreling and lends the pack substantial rigidity: The frame has very slight flex to it, resulting in better support and stability when pushing the pack’s weight capacity.

Gregory says the Focal 58 carries up to 35 pounds comfortably and I found that just about spot-on: With six days of food, almost three liters of water, camera gear and various gear I was testing, I began our Grand Canyon hike with the pack a bit north of 35 pounds and a hard first day hiking nearly 11 miles, partly off-trail, with over 7,000 feet of cumulative uphill and downhill; by day’s end, I felt those miles a bit in my shoulders, which I attributed to having overloaded the pack beyond its recommended capacity. (I sometimes do that on the first day of a trip, rather than choosing a heavier pack, knowing that by day two my pack weight may drop into the comfortable zone.)

But I noticed the pack felt considerably more comfortable once its weight dropped to around 35 pounds and under, even on two more 12-mile canyon days with significant up and down.


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The Gregory Focal 58 front side.
The Gregory Focal 58 front side.

Gregory’s FreeFloat suspension sports flex panels that allow some movement of the pack with your body. The tensioned, ventilated back panel enables abundant air flow across your back, which makes a difference in comfort on strenuous hikes and hot temps. But because the pack bag rides fairly close to the back panel and the frame efficiently transfers weight to the hips, I never got the feeling of the pack hanging off my shoulders—except when I exceeded its recommended weight, and even then, it wans’t bad. Even on our last day’s 4,400-foot uphill slog from the Colorado River to the South Rim, the Focal carried comfortably.

The very breathable, perforated foam in the shoulder straps, lumbar pad, and hipbelt softened the load, with the entire harness wrapping very comfortably around hips and over shoulders to distribute the weight and prevent pressure points; and it’s treated with odor-controlling Polygiene.

These fixed (non-adjustable) packs come in three men’s and women’s sizes, fitting torsos from 16 to 22 inches in the men’s Focal and 14 to 20 inches in the women’s Facet. While I’ve worn a men’s medium in other Gregory packs, the men’s small Focal fit my 18-inch torso well, even though I’m on the cusp between men’s small and medium.

A wide mouth provides easy access and when loading and unloading the spacious main compartment, which had adequate space for six days‘ worth of food, a four-liter water dromedary at times, and the usual gear plus a favorite ultralight camp chair. The pack lacks a separate zipper accessing the bottom for a sleeping bag, but I and don’t miss that zipper and rarely use it on other packs; I consider it superfluous weight.

There are six external pockets (not including the zippered pocket on the lid’s underside): two spacious zippered hipbelt pockets that each hold a large smartphone plus two or three energy bars; a zippered lid pocket with good space for packs in this category; two stretch-mesh side pockets that hold a liter bottle and are easily reached while wearing the pack; and a large, stretch-mesh front pocket that swallows a wet rainfly or jacket with room to spare.

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The Gregory Focal 58 hipbelt.
The Gregory Focal 58 hipbelt.

The removable, floating lid allows you to extend the pack’s capacity or leave the lid behind if you want to shave a few ounces of pack weight, replacing it with a weather flap that comes with the pack.

The pack fabric—comprised of almost 50 percent recycled materials—is reasonably durable, high-density, 100-denier nylon with 210-denier nylon in the bottom and a PFC-free DWR—comparable to many packs in this weight class and price point. The three external mesh pockets suffered no damage from the abrasive rock in the Grand Canyon, but I was careful with it; that mesh could tear easily.

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The Focal and Facet also sport some useful features found on heavier, traditional packs, including: front attachments for trekking poles or one ice axe; adjustable Z-compression straps that permit you to attach a foam sleeping pad to one side or across the lower front; top compression on the main compartment; and a whistle on the sternum strap. The internal bladder sleeve is conveniently compatible with Gregory’s nice 3D Hydro reservoir, allowing you to easily clip that bladder onto a hook that holds it in place.

The smaller versions of these packs are the men’s Focal 48 ($220, 2 lbs. 10 oz.) and women’s Facet 45 ($220, 2 lbs. 8 oz.).

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Gregory Focal 58 and Facet 55

Comfort/Support
Fit
Access
Features
Weight-to-Performance
Value

The Verdict

While among the heaviest ultralight backpacks, the Gregory men’s Focal 58 and 48 and women’s Facet 55 and 45 are well-designed, comfortable packs for backpackers who are willing to accept a reasonable weight penalty for some organizational features of traditional backpacks and the support to carry up to 35 pounds.

4.2

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You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Gregory Focal 58 or Focal 48 at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com, or a women’s Gregory Facet 55 or Facet 45 at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com.

See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs” and “The Best Ultralight Backpacks,” my “5 Expert Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack,” and all of my reviews of backpacks, backpacking gear, ultralight backpacks, and ultralight backpacking gear at The Big Outside.

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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

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2 thoughts on “Review: Gregory Focal 58 and Facet 55 Ultralight Backpacks”

    • Hi Tee,

      I haven’t seen a cubic-inch measure of the lid pocket’s capacity, but it’s as spacious as just about any backpacking pack of comparable total capacity. It’ll fit sunglasses, map, hat, gloves, sunblock, and plenty of other small items. On my scale, that removable lid weights four ounces and the weather cover that clips into place for the main compartment when hiking without the lid weighs an ounce, a weight savings of just three ounces.

      Reply