Backpack
Gregory Paragon 58 and Maven 55
$230, 58L/3,539 c.i., 3 lbs. 8 oz. (men’s SM/MD, without the included rain cover)
Sizes: men’s Paragon S/M and M/L, women’s Maven XS/S and S/M
backcountry.com

The first two considerations when buying a backpack should always be 1. decide what type of trips you’ll use it for, and 2. how much carrying capacity (max weight and volume) you need. Two very different backpacking trips of 77 miles in five days (averaging over 15 miles and 8,000 vertical feet per day) on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier and a more leisurely, four-day, 36-mile family hike on the Ruby Crest Trail (photo above) convinced me that, for many backpackers, the newly redesigned, well-featured men’s Paragon 58 and women’s Maven 55 might offer everything they want in a pack for every kind of trip they take—and at a good price for this level of quality.

The Gregory Paragon 58 harness.
The Gregory Paragon 58 harness.

Updated with some changes for 2020, the Paragon 58 and nearly identical women’s Maven 55 (the only real difference being that it’s built to fit women) have support for carrying around 35 pounds very comfortably and, for some backpackers, pushing loads up to 40 pounds. (Gregory claims 50 pounds, but for that much weight, I’d recommend the Gregory men’s Baltoro and women’s Deva.) Credit the sort of frame commonly found in many high-end backpacks: an alloy perimeter frame with a fiberglass cross-stay to improve stability and prevent barreling, plus Gregory’s FreeFloat Suspension System, with flex panels—located on the lower back panel, adjacent to the hipbelt—that allow the hipbelt to pivot and flex with the movement of your body.

While not outfitted with the thick foam padding found in packs made for loads over 40 pounds, the shaped, adjustable hipbelt, shoulder straps, and back pad have enough cush for the sort of moderate loads many backpackers usually carry (because who wants to carry 40 pounds or more unless it’s absolutely necessary?!). Breathable, perforated mesh and foam throughout the harness and the trampoline-style back panel allowed plenty of air flow over my back and hips, even on hot afternoons on the Wonderland Trail.

Both models come in two sizes and three volume capacities for backpacking, each with an adjustable suspension that has about three inches of range for dialing in the fit. With a torso that falls in the upper half of the fit range of the S/M Paragon 58 (15 to 19 inches), I easily achieved a good fit. Gregory’s size charts indicate that the men’s S/M and M/L overlap for torsos measuring 18 to 19 inches, and the women’s XS/S and S/M overlap for torsos measuring 16 to 17 inches—a broad overlap that ensures a good fit due to the torso adjustability.


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The Gregory Paragon 58 on Nevada's Ruby Crest Trail.
The Gregory Paragon 58 on Nevada’s Ruby Crest Trail.

Access is excellent in the top-loading Paragon 58 and Maven 55. The wide mouth and pack bag make it easy to insert one of the largest bear canisters—a Bear Vault BV500 bear canister—on its side in the pack (the more space-efficient way to load a canister into a pack). New for 2020 is a side zipper that provides instant access to most of the main compartment—a feature I like.

Six external pockets include capacious zippered hipbelt pockets that can each fit a large smartphone plus an energy bar or two; a spacious zippered pocket on the floating lid; a stretch-mesh front pocket that can easily swallow a rain jacket; and stretch-mesh side pockets large enough for a liter bottle. One of those side pockets opens to the top and forward, and once I had used—and perhaps stretched—that pocket a bit, I found it easy enough to push a liter bottle into it while wearing the pack.

The Paragon and Maven also sport these features:

  • A loop for attaching sunglasses and a small bungee for temporarily storing trekking poles on the left shoulder strap.
  • Attachments for collapsed trekking poles on the front.
  • A safety whistle on the sternum strap.
  • Zippered access to the segmented sleeping bag compartment.
  • A fitted rain cover that stores in the zippered pocket on the lid’s underside, has enough elasticity to stay on in fairly strong winds, while a short lanyard-type clip can prevent it from blowing away if yanked off by wind.

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Michael Lanza of The Big Outside backpacking the Ruby Crest Trail, Ruby Mountains, Nevada.
Me testing the Gregory Paragon 58 on the Ruby Crest Trail, Ruby Mountains, Nevada.

Fabric in the packs are similar in durability to many in this price and weight range, with a combination of 100-denier and 210-denier high-density nylon in the body and 420-denier high-density nylon in the bottom.

At three-and-a-half pounds or less, the Paragon 58 and Maven 55 fall into a midweight category among packs—versatile enough for trips from overnighters up to a week without seeming either overbuilt for the short outings or inadequate for longer ones. Plus, top and side compression straps compress the packs when not full.

In fact, the Paragon and Maven strongly resemble Gregory’s men’s Zulu 55 and women’s Jade 53, which are heavier but also less expensive.

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The Verdict

For many backpackers, the midsize capacity, midweight, adjustability, and well-featured design of the Gregory men’s Paragon 58 and women’s Maven 55, with the support to comfortably carry all that most backpackers need for trips ranging from overnights to a week, may be an ideal backpack—at a competitive price for this quality.

Other packs in the line are the men’s Gregory Paragon 68, $250,3 lbs. 10 oz., Paragon 48, $200, 3 lbs. 6 oz., and Paragon 38,$160, 2 lbs. 12 oz.; and the women’s Maven 65, $250, 3 lbs. 6 oz., Maven 55, $230, 3 lbs. 5 oz., Maven 45, $200, 3 lbs. 4 oz., and Maven 35, $160, 2 lbs. 11 oz. The Paragon 38 and Maven 35 are large daypacks rather than backpacking packs.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links (or the affiliate links in the above paragraph) to purchase a men’s Paragon 68, 58, 48, or 38 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or a women’s Maven 65, 55, 45 or 35 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

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

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 Wilderness Backpacking Trip,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “10 Tricks for Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can instead download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight backpacking guide, and the 10 tricks for making hiking and backpacking easier.

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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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