Gregory Palisade Backpack Review
I needed to replace my decade-old Camp Trails Wilderness external frame backpack. I'd guess it's seen about 350-400 nights and well over 1,000 miles of use. The bag's water-repellant coating was gone, several spots in the fabric were nearly worn through, and it was getting a funky smell to it. But what made me decide to buy a new pack was when I pulled it out one time and noticed two missing clevis pins. I had no extras, and neither did the local EMS! I decided to look for a new pack.
I studied specs and finally had a short list of backpacks that interested me. After walking around the store for nearly 3 hours with a fully-weighted Gregory Palisade, I decided that's what I would buy. It is a bit larger than I need for most trips, but the harness fit exceptionally well and felt very comfortable hanging off my back. It's a great pack: if fits better and is more stable than the Wilderness ever did.
The Camp Trails Wilderness backpack's suspension and padding were significant and a giant leap ahead of most other packs of the time, but compared to today's suspension and padding, it's terrible. I almost regret not buying a pack a few years ago for the improved comfort.
I bought a size small pack with size medium shoulder straps and hipbelt. I was able to try the different sizes to figure out what best fit my contours and made me the most comfortable. The pack size was fit to my torso length, then the shoulder straps and hipbelt were chosen based on what felt/fit best. Changing the two aren't something you're likely to do much after the pack is fitted to you, but the ease with which it could be adjusted impressed me. (The photos below show how the shoulder straps fit into position on the framesheet of the pack, and how the hipbelt slid over the rigid part of the hipbelt frame support.) It all went together quickly and easily (and without tools) so if I feel something needs to be adjusted while on the trail, it's an easy thing to change. Of course, pull this strap and that strap let you fine-tune the fit around your hips and shoulders.
As you can see in the photo, the shoulder strap can pivot as necessary to fit your shoulder curve. The hipbelt attachment offers a similar screw-in-place system that can be adjusted to better sit on the shelf of your hips. Both of these adjustments make for a very good fit when combined with the curved designs of the shoulder strap and hipbelt. Both also use fairly thin (but dense) padding, which works well to make a comfortable ride without being bulky and getting in the way.
The thing I don't like about internal frame packs is that they don't really have pockets. (Or at least, not enough for me!) I like using pockets to organize my gear. The top of the Palisade works as a pocket which can also be detached and used as a fanny pack. It's about 500 cubic inches--a nice size--but I can't see getting into using it as a fanny pack. When I want a smaller pack I usually just bring one, and when backpacking I'm tired at the end and don't want to run off on a little jaunt.
Back to pockets: the front of the pack has a smallish pocket (about 6- × 15-inches, though only about 1-inch deep) which also gives access to the inside of the main compartment, as seen in the photo at the right. That's really the only pocket, though. I use stuff sacks to help keep things organized, but there's really no substitute for a few extra pockets! There's also a mesh pocket on the outside of the pack to shove a few little things in.
Inside the main compartment is a "shelf" separating the upper and lower parts of the Palisade. The lower half is where the sleeping bag is supposed to go. My EMS Mountain Light 20 bag and Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad both fit in the bottom compartment with plenty of room to spare (maybe even enough room for another bag), so the shelf really just ends up making me waste space. The shelf can be easily unclipped and lay to the side, though I may eventually cut it out just to keep it from getting in the way. In the photo at the right, you can see a red stuff sack below the shelf.
As I mentioned, the Palisade is bigger than I need. It's a good size for winter weekend trips where I'm bringing extra clothes, bulkier clothes, a second sleeping pad and an extra blanket or two. But for spring and fall trips--where I'm only filling about 1/2 to 2/3 of the bag--there's plenty of wasted space. The compression straps let me cinch the load pretty well to avoid too much shifting.
I'm happy with my purchase of a Gregory Palisade internal frame backpack, and highly recommend it. (Though, admittedly, it is the only large internal frame pack I've used for more than one or two nights!) The smaller Gregory packs are also nice, though I don't think the suspension is anywhere near as comfortable.