Gregory Octal 55
I had a really hard time finding a backpack that fit me well. My first focus was on a light weight, but even more important was a comfortable feel of the backpack. Initially I really wanted to get the ÜLA Circuit but the medium sized one was way to big, and the small one didn't quite feel right. I also tried the Granite Gear Crown 2 but couldn't get that one in the right size. Then I checked out the Osprey Exos and Eja Backpacks, but the new versions of those don't have any hipbelt pockets, and I knew I definitely wanted those. In the end I found the Gregory Octal, and that's what I stuck with. This review is based on my experience with this pack on a four day hike on the Albsteig and about two months of tramping on the the Te Araroa Trail.
This review is structured to first give some general specs, then details about the specific parts, and a conclusion of the pros and cons in the end. You might want to skip there if you just want to get an overview.
The Gregory Octal comes in two sizes, the 55 and the 45. I use the 55 Liter Backpack. The men's version of the Backpack is the Gregory Optic, which also comes in both 55 and 45 Liter versions.
The backpack features:
- A big main compartment with a sleeve for a water bladder
- Two mesh side pockets with front access (if the bottle is small enough to fit through)
- A large mesh front pocket
- Hipbelt Pockets just big enough to fit my Honor smartphone
- Several loops to attach hiking poles and other equipment
- Z-style compression straps
- A fastener for sunglasses on the shoulder strap
- A double bottom compression strap to fasten a tent or other equipment with
- A removable backpack lid (brain)
- An optional lightweight weather-flap to use in place of the lid
- A fitted raincover
- A trampoline-style ventilated back
- A lightweight internal frame
Backpack weight for Size MD: 1100 grams
Backpack lid weight:
Raincover weight: 90 grams
When I first got the Gregory Octal and packed it full to try it out, it looked very bulky when full. That is due to the fact that it is pretty wide, but not very hight.
Nevertheless it felt pretty good on my back. The load lifters allow some room for a good fit on you and the compression straps help keeping the weight as close to your body as the general frame and back panel design will allow.
The light wire frame keeps the backpack in shape and the mesh away from the pack backside. This construction lets air flow between the backpack and your back. While it sounds reasonable it didn't really keep me from sweating, but it might feel slightly more comfortable than a pack panel that sticks right to your back. Hard to say.
The back panel
While the trampoline style backpanel of the Osprey Exos had put the weight too far away from my back and felt like it was throwing me off-balance, I never had that feeling with the Octal.
But when I first tried the Octal with hiking weight on the four day hike on the Albsteig my back hurt a lot. I suppose that was from hunching over to shift the weight forward so the pack wouldn't pull be back. By now I think that was mostly due to wrong loading, and got better once I took better care to pack heavy things further down. That helped and the next few days were fine. After that I never had similar problems.
If you do pack sloppy, like I did in the beginning, or in general have trouble with the pack pulling you back, the Gregory Octal and its trampoline style back might not be for you though.
The thickly padded and pre-formed hipbelt worked out wonderful for me. It did an amazing job transferring the weight of the load onto my hips and off my shoulders. The belt fit great and was always comfortable, I never had trouble with chafing or similar things. If there's one thing that bothered me then that the belt felt to wide for my size. I could barely shorten it small enough to fit me. In the end the hipbelt pockets were almost touching the buckle and I had pretty much no more strap to shorten the belt further. That on the other hand helped to make the pockets much more accessible than on other backpacks I've used - where they're sometimes really far in the back and hard to reach.
The main compartment of the backpack is pretty huge and to keep it organized I used serveral drybags to keep my stuff ordered. The maximum weight I carried with the pack would be right around 15kg. Those could be carried fairly comfortably - as comfortable as it goes, anywas.
The big mesh front pocket is great for wet clothes, wet shoes or the bag full of trash that you don't want in your bag.
The side pockets fit waterbottles of all sizes, we used first 1.5 Liter bottles and later switched to 1 Liter bottles. Those I could even pull out of the front-access holes, which would have worked even better with smaller bottles.
While in the beginning I stored the tent inside the main compartment, towards then end of the trail I more often than not carried the tent outside the pack, attached to the bottom compression straps. That is a very convenient feature that I missed in in many other packs.
The loops for attaching trekking poles didn't work out too well for me. The poles always stayed a bit wobbly and not tightly fastened, which bothered me a bit. Also setting down the backpack always pushed the poles right out of the little loops at the backpack bottom.
Most of the backpack held up pretty well during our two month trip on the Te Araroa.
We did have to do some bushwhacking though, and in the end I had a minor tear in the backpack lid (brain) - however that happened. There the material is the same as on the main backpack and the only explanation would be that it happened while pushing through a thorny thicket once, when we lost the way. Still it was a bit disappointing. I added some duck-tape to prevent it from tearing further and later added a fabric patch over it, so now it doesn't bother me anymore.
The least durable parts were, as expected, the mesh pockets. They didn't wear out and go baggy as I had thought they would - or not yet - but they did suffer a few tears. I always sewed them up as soon as possible with dental floss to prevent the mesh from ripping up more and then they retained full functionality. But of course it makes me wonder how long they'll keep up in the end.
All other parts of the backpack are basically as good as new, despite two months of constant packing and unpacking, setting the pack on dirty, uneven, rough ground, bushwacking and everything else. So all in all I am pretty happy with it.
The sunglass holder
I didn't use it very often, but every once in a while it was pretty nice to have it. Since I am always wearing glasses I had to switch back and forth often and the little strap helped keep the other pair of glasses handy. But when the glasses are fastened to your shoulder strap you sometimes strike them with your arm while walking - smearing them which is not quite so great.
The included raincover
On days when my backpack was really fully packed and had bottles in both mesh side pockets, the cover didn't quite cover the whole pack. I managed to pull it over the edges, but some places would peek through and let water in.
In high winds the raincover sometimes flapped around, which was annoying and got me worried that it might be torn off. A way to attach it to the pack would have been nice for those occasions.
In general I will probably be taking a pack liner rather than a cover in the future, since my pack got wet despite the cover from water that ran down my rainjacket in the back. That caused water to pool in the bottom of the raincover, which then got both the bottom of my pack wet, and splashed water onto the back of my pants every once in while.
The weatherflap as a replacement for the brain
I like the extra pocket space in the backpack lid though, so I never tried it out. I should work out nicely though.
The Gregory Octal is a great backpack for multi-day hikes. It is comfortable to wear, big enough to fit everything you need and has a few clever features to help enjoy your trip.
In general has a great value for a fairly small price, as most backpacks in the same weight class will cost twice as much. With the lighter weight come lighter materials, and especially in the case of the mesh that does seem to impair the durabilty at least a little bit.
Things that could, at least in my opinion, be improved about the pack would be:
Slightly bigger hipbelt pockets - or at least a more rectangular shape, because bigger smartphones are pretty hard to fit in.
I chose and bought the pack myself, this is not a sponsored or paid post in any way. This review is about my personal experiences with the Gregory Octal 55 Backpack to help others find out if this pack is right for them.