“Our objective has always stayed the same … develop and build packs that are cost-effective and lightweight while still offering optimal comfort, suspension, compression and exceptional durability. Our new Blaze 60 meets all of these criteria and even more.” —  David Eisenberg, Creative Manager, Granite Gear

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Completing a thru-hike is a transformative experience. Out in nature, building endurance and developing friendships along the way. But setting out for your first, or maybe one of many, thru-hikes, is not a walk in the park. You need a pack that will stand up to the miles and save your back along the way.

The Blaze 60 from Granite Gear, on display at OR Summer Market next week, is unlike any other thru-pack on the market. We talked with David Eisenberg, Creative Manager, Granite Gear, pictured left, from his office on what went into the making of the Blaze and the quality of construction that will stand up to whatever the most experienced thru-hiker throws at it.

What was the idea behind the design of the Blaze 60 as it relates to the Blaze A.C. 60? Granite Gear, (GG), wanted to add a higher level of fit customization and durability to the initial design of the Blaze AC 60.

First we looked at ways to improve the Air Current (AC) frame system. The award-winning Blaze AC 60 had a frame sheet that allowed you to adjust the torso size of the pack to your exact fit, a feature our hikers loved. You would take the frame sheet out of the pack, readjust where the shoulder straps are positioned, and set the frame back in place. We made it a priority to make this process more user friendly. With the new frame’s more contoured shape, the hiker is now able to properly adjust the torso length without taking the frame out. The polycarbonate material that the frame’s made from is now clear which also helps the ease of use, making the adjustment process more intuitive since you can see yourself moving the straps up and down the notches in the frame.

With the new Blaze 60, we maintain all of the key features from Blaze AC 60 but improved upon them. We beefed up the frame system and added thicker foams to increase comfort. It’s still a top drawstring-style opening, but we’ve added a secondary vertical zippered access point along the front to make getting into your pack easier at times. We’ve maintained that same lightweight story that GG has always told, but also added even more durability and functionality with new fabric upgrades. We’ve weeded out some of the issues that we found over the years to make a practically brand new product

What is one of the most important parts to fitting a bag to your body?  Your torso length, for one. We are offering three torso lengths with the Blaze 60—short (15-18″), regular (18-21″) and long (21-24″). You are able to lock in the notches to exactly your torso length and adjust the shoulder straps to perfectly tune it, including the longer torso length in this model. 

Continuing on the perfect fit features, we have a hip belt—one size basically fits all—but we offer it in a men’s and women’s fit that goes from 26″ waist to a 42″ waist on the unisex, and a 24″ to 40″ on the women’s fit. It’s a big spread, but we are using the same exact belt, and it’s achievable by using a velcro center attachment where you can expand and shorten the belt, and it’s all one piece. We call it the “refit hip belt.” The thinking behind it is when you are going on a thru-hike and losing weight, we want hikers to be able to fit the pack on the go and always have that right fit.

The hip belt is one of the most important areas. You want 70 percent of the pack’s weight on your hips. That’s where this refit hip belt becomes so important. You can adjust it week-to-week, month-to-month, depending upon your weight. So the torso length and the hip belt will allow you to carry the Blaze 60 perfectly, and with the new AC frame, the pack now has a higher capacity to hold even more weight. Previously it was a 40 pound load and after extensive testing, we’ve increased that to 50 pounds.

The bag itself only weighs three pounds and you can hold comfortably 50 pounds?  Yes, the regular bag is three pounds, the short bag is 2.9 pounds and the long is 3.1 pounds; it’s accommodating for fabric useage. 

You have an empty bag that weighs three pounds with a carry weight of 50 pounds. What fabrics are you using that offer that ratio of empty-to-fill weight without a problem?  Great question. When we say the ‘carry weight’ we mean what the bag will carry comfortably. That is going to be attributed to the frame sheet, the rigidity and the carry harness system. The fabrics we are using also aid in the lightweight story we tell. 

One thing with GG, we try to find the perfect balance between lightweight and durability. We’re using 100D robic high-tenacity nylon with barrier DWR material for the main body. That’s going to give you an ultralight pack, and we use the fabric on most of the pack. But in the high abrasion and high impact areas—the bottom of the bag, the arches and side water pockets at the bottom of the bag, we’ve added custom 210D robic nylon with UHMWPE, (ultra high molecular weight polyethylene*) fibers that weave through the DWR fabric to form a triple ripstop. 

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*The exclusive fabric uses UHMWPE, which is woven into the fabric, and that material is 10 times stronger than steel, strength-to-weight ratio, it’s water resistant, but still maintains the ultralight story. What we wanted to do was to increase that content into the fabric. The pattern is three threads of UHMWPE woven into the fabric horizontally and vertically instead of the industry standard of one thread increasing the UHMWPE to 21 percent, or three times, the amount currently used in the backpack market. It is an exclusive fabric we are using for this pack.

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Where the UHMWPE is woven into specific areas of the pack, is this out of requests from users of GG packs?  Yes. We have testers out on the trail that are telling us how our packs are functioning. One of the largest areas of concern is the bottom of the pack because it gets the most beat up. 

What other feature(s) have been added to the Blaze 60 that did not exist in previous packs? We’ve added a lid that’s designed to fit right on top of the bag and that is attached to small loops on the top of the pack. If you don’t choose to use the lid, you don’t have to add the extra weight. It’s optional.

Is the pack for the hardcore thru-hiker? I’d say so! For our core users and for those that want a pack that’s going to be lightweight with a comfortable, tailored fit that’s also built to last with its durable fabrics, the answer is absolutely yes. We are very happy with the pack. We have a program called the Grounds Keepers Program which spreads all across the U.S., where we have a team of people and give them a pack—it could be a day hiker or thru-hiker, some stuff sacks and Altra Running came on to give them shoes. The team collects trash on the trail as they are going along and then hike with it until they can dispose of it. The inspiration for the Grounds Keepers came from the Packing It Out team and their founder, Seth Orme, who has tested the Blaze 60 and has really enjoyed carrying it.

What is the reason for the larger pack for load carry? Water is getting harder to find on the trails. Hikers are planning ahead. This bag is going to allow you to pack for the inevitable and stay incredibly comfortable no matter the hiking distance or the pack load because of the strap system, the hip belt and polycarbonate frame sheet that’s going to transfer a lot of the weight to stay comfortable if you are carrying 50-pounds. 

How long was the R&D process? About two years of engineering the new frame and pack body. But you have to look at the overall 30 year history of the brand. GG has done the ergonomic studies of how to fit one person over the other because one size does not fit all. Our hip belt, for example, is so vital, as is the frame sheet. Because it’s all about how that pack is going to carry. It’s the most subtle nuances of the bag, plus the history of the company’s R&D, that really yields a comfort fit.

Is this a perfect pack? We are very happy with the pack. We have a program called the Groundskeeper Program which is all across the U.S., where we have a team of people and give them a pack—it could be a day hiker or thru-hiker, where they collect trash on the trail as they are going along and then carry it out until they can dispose of it. And they have loved the Blaze 60.

We don’t skimp on any details, from the zippers to the fasteners. It’s all branded products. As an example, we only use YKK zippers in this pack because it’s the little decisions that will go a long way and can’t fail on you.

Is this a four-season pack? Definitely. Our consumers like to customize their packs based on the time of year that they’re hiking. You can see the way they rig up their bag and how they become passionate about their bag. We encourage that. I, in turn, love seeing that.

Who is your hero thru-hiker in the U.S.?

Justin “Trauma” Lichter, pictured right. He is one of our tried-and-true biggest contributors, and has been with GG for a long time … and so well-respected. He has hiked over 35,000 miles, nearly one and half times around the world! He has hiked everywhere and where most normal people would not go. 

Is there anything we missed that you would like to tell our readers about the Blaze 60? One more upgrade ... we upgraded the front mesh to a stretch-woven fabric and we changed the side pockets to fabric pockets for durability. On the old hip belt there were no pockets. We’ve increased the size of the hip belt to be able to accommodate a pocket on each side. Anything that you want to have on your person immediately is there. This was a must from all the feedback we received. We deliver with the Blaze 60!

Photos courtesy Granite Gear