The Gregory Zulu 65 is designed to be a backpack that’s usable year round. It’s robust and stable enough for heavy winter loads, yet well enough ventilated and protected for fast and light summer trips. As a bonus, it even includes a smaller pack hidden inside for basecamp hiking.
The Zulu 65 is built around a lightweight, tubular suspension called the Crossflo Dynamic Trail suspension. The frame tubes circle the top of the pack and cross in the center, just above the lumbar, and extend downward towards the hips. This frame systemextends behind a mesh panel (allowing air to flow through) and terminates inside the hip straps themselves, transferring the weight of the pack to the hips. There are two hip belt pockets, easily accessible while hiking, as well as two water bottle pockets, a removable lid, a zippered sleeping bag compartment, and a large “U” shaped zipper that allows access to any dept of the backpack from behind. There is also an integrated rain cover, a stretchy rear stash pocket, and a cinch style main compartment. The pack body is built from tough 210/100D nylon, depending on the area, and the base of the pack is all 210D nylon. All the harness straps and the lumbar are lined with EVA foam, and they’ve used tightly stretched mesh to create a suspended back panel. The pack retails for $229 and weighs 3 lbs 12 oz (including the 5 oz secondary pack and 5 oz rain cover) with three sizes available.
What I liked
The Crossflo suspension system used in this backpack is one of my favorite technologies in packs today. It provides a great amount of ventilation, with just enough space between my back and the pack to keep me dry and cool, but it doesn’t create the huge bulge in the inside of the backpack like so many others do, which forces gear away from the spine. This keeps the weight of the gear close to the body, improving stability and maintaining a close center of gravity without building up excess heat. It also does a wonderful job of transferring the weight of the pack to the hips, avoiding tension on the shoulders. It’s a rugged enough design to handle hefty loads into the 40’s, but light enough to keep the overall weight of the backpack at a minimum. This flexibility gives the pack a wide range of uses, from winter camping where gear is bulky and heavy, to hot summer trips where less gear is generally carried.
Generous padding is provided throughout the pack in all of the right places, and when paired with the high quality suspension, it makes the Zulu quite the comfortable pack. The padding on the hip straps is especially generous, with two densities foam to provide a soft grip via the top layer, with firm support provided by the second layer . It’s thick enough to take the abuse of the pack’s weight while protecting the user, but thin enough to not overheat or get in the way of swaying arms. The back panel feels great against the spine, thanks to the fact that it’s essentially a bouncy trampoline. This relieves any tension that might have otherwise been pushing against the back, and has the added benefit of smoothing out any lumps of gear that might be created by stuffing the pack to the brim. The back panel transitions smoothly into a soft lumbar pad, which helps keep the pack in place and reinforces the spine. Once adjusted properly, the pack stays put without shifting or swaying and provides excellent overall comfort, especially if you’re packing less than 35 lbs.
Organization within the pack is excellent, with a host of pockets, compartments and clips so that every piece of gear has a convenient place to rest. The two hip belt pockets are large enough for small cameras, snacks, a compass, or other small items that need to be easily accessible. The water bottle pockets will hold large one liter Platypus or Nalgene bottles with extra room for tent poles and such, and do so without dumping items out when scrambling or bending over. The lid houses a key clip so that car keys aren’t lost 9 miles from the trail head, and a large primary compartment for things like headlamps and bug spray makes getting to items that aren’t as often accessed simple.
The main compartment is wide and spacious, easily holding larger tents, cook pots and sleeping pads. It’s access via a clever pull cord/handle system. Pulling on the handle slides the cinch cords through the pack, opening up the main compartment, while pulling on the loop cinches it back closed. The sleeping bag compartment can be unzipped to combine with main compartment and improves space at the sacrifice of organization. Probably my favorite feature is the large “U” shaped zipper that wraps around practically the entire back of the pack. This double zippered access point makes getting to any item, no matter how low or high it’s been packed, really quick and easy. It does so without dumping out all of your gear too, which is great.
The face of the pack comes with a large stretch pocket that’s designed to expand to fit the gear that’s stuffed inside. This is great for stuffing light layers inside, such as a fleece jacket, rain gear or a pair of gloves. Just behind the stretchy pocket lies the rain cover, cleverly hidden away and protected from abrasion or scuffs from trees or rocks while traversing rough trails.
I really appreciated the secondary pack that hides inside the main compartment. This functions as a lightweight, minimalist day pack, perfect for dropping heavy gear and the heavier main pack behind at base camp when all you really need is a couple of essentials. It clips inside the pack for easy carry, or it can be left at home to shave weight.
The included rain cover is also exceptionally handy. It’s fits the shape of the pack very well and provides excellent protection from rain
Holding onto tradition, Gregory has made sure the Zulu is a durable pack. The chosen fabrics (mostly variations of 210D nylon in high stress areas and sections of 100D nylon is others) hold up very well to being drug around, and they shake off mud and rain like a champ. Stuffing angled stoves and equipment into the pack doesn’t seem to be an issue either, as the fabric resists punctures quite well. The straps are soft but obviously well built and all of the clips feel sturdy, without the flex that many have. Stitching quality is also excellent, with smooth lines through and reinforced seams everywhere that it’s needed. All in all, It’s a pretty tough pack.
What I didn’t like
Using the current suspension technology does have one drawback. The suspension isn’t adjustable in any way. It would seem feasible to have shoulder straps that lift, but that’s not the case here. The pack does come in multiple sizes, so make sure you’re fitted properly, but those who wish to fine tune their fit won’t have a lot of options here. Thankfully, the range of sizes should provide most users a size that will accommodate them. Just don’t expect a one size fits all situation. I found the pack to fit me almost perfectly, but on occasion I found myself wanting to extend the torso just a bit to lift some more weight off of my shoulders, but this wasn’t an option.
The Gregory Zulu is a bit of a do it all backpack. The frame is rugged enough for week long trips, yet light enough for fast and light weekends. The capacity is large enough for winter loads, and still the pack cinches down to accommodate a summer kit. It comes complete with every feature that I personally look for in a pack, such as sleeping pad straps, a built in rain cover and high quality water bottle pockets. The crossflow suspension used is probably my favorite on the market right now, due to it’s weight, breathability and stability; Plus, it’s built to last, feels great on the back, and provides long term comfort on the trail. Thanks to being paired with generous yet lightweight padding on the hips and chest, it’s cozy mile after mile. Find the proper fit and the Gregory Zulu is a smart choice for nearly any situation that leaves me with very little to complain about.
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For more information on Gregory and their excellent line of gear, check out http://gregorypacks.com/
I wanted to send a special thanks out to Gregory and Corey at Backbone media for their support and for providing this excellent piece of equipment to review. We couldn’t do this without their help. Thank you so much! Our full disclosure can be found on the about me/contact page.