Not everyone wants to own a backpack for every occasion. Most people just want to own one pack that will do whatever they need it to do, and do it well. The Leopard A.C. by Granite Gear is the quintessential backpack for those who want comfort, light weight, and durability in one finely wrapped package.
The Leopard A.C. by Granite Gear is the bigger, beefier brother of the ultralight, and minimalistic Crown V.C. Backpack. It ditches the notion of bare minimum packing in search of comfort and convenience, without adding lots of weight. The Leopard provides all the essentials, yet manages to remain light weight through the careful selection quality materials and clever engineering. I’ve been using the pack for several seasons now, and this is my review (updated 07/18/2016)
About the backpack
The Leopard weighs in at 3 lb 1 oz, and is rated to be able to carry up to 40 pounds comfortably. It’s primary constructed from high strength, lightweight Cordura fabric around most of the pack (100 and 210 denier depending on the situation). Several compression straps are strategically placed across the pack to allow the pack to cinch down to both reduce bulk, and stabilize the pack as you hike.
The suspension is comprised of three components layered on top of each other to create the support system for the pack. First, the frame is a thick but slightly flexible molded plastic panel that follows the length of the spine of the of the user. This creates the shape of the pack and keeps internal items from creating lumps against the spine and also provides rigidity to distribute the weight of the load. A comfortable but firm foam cushioning material is molded to fit the plastic frame and layered on top of it to provide padding. Atop of the frame a stretchy nylon material is pulled over, which wicks moisture and provides a feel good surface against the back. This entire system is designed to fit together, and provides support, comfort and cooling via channels embedded in the foam padding and frame.
The Leopard provides 58 liters of storage space in total, allowing large loads to be carried. There is a floating pocket on the back of the pack that expands to hold bulkier items like jackets, rain gear, or photography equipment. A vertical zipper gives access to a stretchable pocket for other quick access items. There are also two large pockets for water bottles, one on each side. A removable top lid is provided and has a single primary access zipper that leads to the main compartment. Here, you have an attachment for a key ring, and another zippered pocket for smaller items. A small zipper on the lower back of the backpack makes for a great rain cover compartment. Other attachment points are located thoughtfully across the pack to allow for further expansion via optional (sold separately) pockets and other accessories. Finally, pick ax (or trekking pole) connections are located on the back of the pack.
The pack comes in two colors, a yellowish green, and a soft blue. 3 sizes of hip belt and shoulder straps allow for a perfect fit, while an adjustable torso allows for fine tuning. There is also a woman’s version, the Leopard Ki.
The Leopard retails for $249.
What I liked
The Leopard A.C. is perhaps the most comfortable lightweight pack that I’ve ever tested. Generous padding across the shoulders, back, and especially the hips provide a nice cushy feel against the body. The padding is a soft compressible memory foam like material, just firmer so that it doesn’t collapse. This works exceptionally well as it shapes to trouble spots like the collar bones and hips and distributes the weight accordingly. The plastic molded frame is rigid enough to support a lot of weight without buckling, bending or dumping it all onto the shoulders, which can cause a lot of pain in the long run. The custom molded frame’s shape fits right into the curve of the spine and places the weight squarely on the hips of the user, which is ideal for longer trips and heavy loads. The back breaths very well, with gentle breezes blowing right through the padded back panels of the backpack providing a nice evaporative cooling effect while keeping the user dry. The adjustable torso length allows you to fine tune the fit to your own back length to avoid putting pressure on the shoulders. Even after a hard 10 mile, 31 pound day climbing a 6000 foot peak, the pack felt great and stayed relatively dry despite my ongoing perspiration.
Build quality is fantastic. Cordura (very durable)is used extensively throughout the pack, with higher deniers (thickness of the threads) used in high wear and high stress points. Dragging the pack across rocks and trees season after season had no discernable effect on the pack thanks to this fantastically durable material. The compression straps similarly reliable, with a nice thick construction and reinforced attachment points. The zippers are quite stout, yet were easy to manipulate and have yet to hang up or catch fabric inside the teeth. The stitch work is nearly flawless with consistent attractive stitching all over, doubled up in high wear points.This pack has been in a huge variety of conditions and has so far lasted nearly two years of testing with no signs of giving in (as of July 2016). Impressive indeed.
Organization is excellent. A large primary storage bucket holds your primary items like your tent, sleeping bag and spare clothes. A plethora of large pockets and zippers, with smaller pockets within, offers micromanagement of all of your smaller items like headlamps and compasses. I never felt like I was running out of places to put things thanks to the cavernous interior, and everything always finds its place thanks to having so many pockets to choose from. Everything is also easily accessible and secure with all the main compartments being easy to get to from the outside. Extra lashing points allow you to add extra accessory pockets (sold separately) if you’re a buff for compartmentalization. Large stretch pockets on the side hold large or small water bottles without dumping them, and also provide a little extra space for tent poles, bear spray or what have you.
The pack cinches down great, with tensioners located all over the pack. Everything inside is able to be pulled down taut, right against your body, so nothing moves and you gain stability as the weight sits close to the spine. This is very helpful when working your way up sketchy climbs and across rock hops. Access to the primary compartment is simple and easy via the roll top enclosure, which provides expandability, and offers some extra weather protection.
The lid is removable to shed some extra weight. Having a large amount of interior space, one can shed roughly 6 ounces of weight by leaving the lid at home, a welcome option for those who want to go as light as possible and don’t mind sacrificing some organization.
The pack looks great, with more of a green tint than the website would suggest.
What I didn’t like
The torso is adjustable, but it’s confusing to try to figure out on your own. You have to undo a few clips, and basically remove the entire plastic frame out to get to these adjustments, which is a series act of labor. In fact, I had to look up how to get to the adjustment the first time I tried to do it. It’s a pain to adjust but once it’s there it’s very comfortable you shouldn’t have to change it again, thankfully. Just make sure you work out the correct torso length before you hit the trail.
Getting into the main bucket compartment requires 6 clips (two on the lid, two across the roll top, and two on the roll top itself), and unrolling the top closure. While this provides stability and weather protection, it takes a few moments of work to get inside and learning where every clip goes will take a little practice as they can be clipped anywhere and incorrectly. Again, a little practice before the trial will come in handy here.
I would have liked to see straps on the bottom of the pack for attaching a foam sleeping mat or other bulkier items.
Images shown on the website are not quite color accurate. It’s a bit greener than I expected from the photos (which I like personally), but others hoping for the more yellow appearance may be surprised.
Built from rugged Cordura and other high quality materials, the Leopard comes through in producing a lightweight, comfortable pack with bomb proof durability. Organization is phenomenal, with a high capacity and variety of pockets that can be adjusted to take on fast and light overnights to long haul multi-day treks. With it’s highly adjustable frame and suspension, generous padding across the spine and shoulders, and clever Air Current Suspension, the Leopard provides a supportive, yet supremely comfortable backpacking experience in practically any condition. The pack has all the features that I’ve wanted, and one that I didn’t. All this, and it still manages to fall in around the 3 lb mark while supporting heavy loads. The Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58 is a pack designed to do it all, and it does that extremely well. If you’re looking for one pack, and one pack only, this could definitely be the one.
Highest of Recommendations
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