This is a deluxe, fully-featured trekking and backpacking rucksack with Gregory’s trademark carrying comfort. The pivoting harness and wraparound hipbelt are supportive yet move with your body, alleviating soreness in the hips and shoulders. It’s a great pack for long miles and heavy loads. We also appreciated the brand’s focus on sustainability, which means you can offset the environmental impact of your next long-distance walk or thru-hike.
Stable and comfortable
Can handle heavy loads
Sustainable fabrics and carbon-conscious build
Not the lightest
Slightly fussy design
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Gregory packs are generally known for their great carrying comfort and belt-and-braces designs. The new Gregory Katmai %% (women’s Kalmia) is no exception.
It boasts an array of features, including everything from a hideaway water bottle holster to handy sunglasses storage. There are three pockets in the floating lid alone, plus a main compartment with a separate bottom section, top and side access, a zipped forward pocket, front stretch pocket, twin hipbelt pockets… the list goes on. (For more on all of this, check out our guides on the parts of a backpack and how to choose a backpack). But those extras shouldn’t detract from the pack’s primary focus, which is to handle heavy loads with ease.
The Katmai is built around a perimeter aluminium alloy frame, incorporating a fibreglass cross-stay for added stability. This also helps to prevent the pack from ‘barreling’ when it is fully laden, aiding carrying comfort. The harness and hipbelt uses a system adapted from Gregory’s Baltoro and Deva packs, namely, adjustable, pivoting shoulder straps and a one-piece wrapround hipbelt, which provides plenty of support whilst flexing with the natural movements of your body. According to the brand, this keeps the weight stabilised but not rigid, so the pack works with you to save energy.
The back panel is also well ventilated, with suspended mesh providing plenty of airflow. But if you do find yourself getting hot and sweaty on the trail, it also has a Polygiene anti-bacterial treatment, designed to reduce odours. This should keep your pack smelling fresher for longer, which might be particularly handy for extended trekking trips in warmer climates.
Unlike some other backpacking backpacks we’ve tested recently (see the Osprey Levity 45 and Montane Trailblazer 44), this isn’t a lightweight, minimalist rucksack. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of that. It tips the scales at just over 2kg, which is more than double the weight of some other packs. On the other hand, it can also handle more than double the max carrying capacity (in terms of weight) of those others - more on this in What size backpack do I need? So, this is a pack to choose if you know you’re going to be hauling heavy loads, or if you’ve struggled with big packs in the past and are looking for carrying comfort first and foremost.
In recent years, the outdoor industry has increasingly focused on the sustainability of its products – particularly apparel. It’s taken a while for that to filter through to rucksacks, but refreshingly all the fabrics used to put the Katmai together include recycled nylon. Apparently, this has resulted in a 28% reduction in the product’s carbon footprint compared to a conventional nylon pack. Gregory have calculated that to offset this amount, you would need to hike 89 miles with the pack instead of driving.
• RRP: $260 (US) / £210 (UK)
• Volume: 55L / 3,356 cu in
• Weight: 2.12kg / 4lb 10.9oz
• Dimensions (HxWxD): 77 x 42 x 32cm / 30 x 17 x 13 in
• Sizes: S/M and M/L torso lengths
• Fabric: 210D nylon With PFC-free DWR (40% recycled content) & 420D nylon with PFC-free DWR (45% recycled content)
In the field
This is a very capable pack that comes into its own when fully laden – the plush padding of the harness and that body-hugging hipbelt soak up pressure points while transferring the weight extremely well. It means that, if so inclined, you could carry up to 20 kilos in this pack with (relative) ease. In an age of ‘fast and light’ backpacking, that approach is less common, but of course on longer trekking trips, especially for expeditions in remote and isolated terrain with no prospect of resupply, you may have no option.
Our adventures were restricted to weekend wild camps and shorter multi-day trips in the mountains of Snowdonia, North Wales, where the Katmai performed admirably. Admittedly, we could have got away with a slightly lighter and smaller pack, but this one swallowed tent, sleeping bag, mat, backpacking stove, cooking kit and more with room to spare. The conventional floating lid and twin-compartment design will be very familiar to seasoned backpackers – dare we say it even seems a bit old school? – but this does make for easy packing. The profusion of pockets also makes it easy to arrange your kit, enabling quick access to snacks, waterproof layers and so on. As such, it’s a practical and useable pack for life on the trail, and has rightfully earned its place on our list of the best hiking backpacks.
If there’s one accusation we might level at the Katmai, it’s that the pack is so laden with features that it sometimes seems a little fussy. There are plenty of compression straps and zips, some of which occasionally get in the way of the other. This is most noticeable when accessing the main compartment through the side-entry zip, which first means unbuckling the two side compression straps.
It’s a minor inconvenience though, and not one for which there is an obvious solution. And inevitably, all these bells and whistles also add a little weight. Tipping the scales at over 2kg unladen, the Katmai 55 is no featherweight. But on your back, it isn’t something that is particularly noticeable given the high level of carrying comfort.
An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.