The Gregory Focal 48 is a great lightweight pack with more bells and whistles than most packs in this category. It fits great and carries loads of 20 to 30 pounds like a champ. This pack is for experienced backpackers looking to get into lightweight backpacking, but who still want a pack that looks and functions more like a traditional pack.
- Fully featured like heavier packs, but lightweight
- The most useful side pockets that I have ever used
- Good value when considering the price to volume and quality
- Not the lightest pack in this category
I have spent the last 30 years refining my equipment and technique for backpacking. I have carried ridiculously heavy loads and packs that were too light for the conditions and everything in between.
It turns out that lightweight backpacks are not for everyone or every condition. If you plan to carry outlandish loads, please buy an outlandish backpack.
If, however, you are planning on weighing every piece of gear you are bringing and plan on going light, please read on for my full review of the Gregory Focal 48.
The Gregory Focal 48 Hands-on Review
The Focal has 48 liters of capacity, with 44 liters coming in the main compartment and the remainder being split between the outside compartments. This is the perfect size for my trips for up to 6 days in moderate conditions.
The Focal is comfortable when carrying loads up to 25 pounds and becomes increasingly less comfortable as the weight increases. If you routinely carry loads over 30 pounds, you should probably find a more robust pack.
The Focal weighs in at 2.54 pounds, making it one of the heavier packs in this category when compared to something like the Osprey Levity, which comes in at 1.85 pounds with similar features but less durability. You can get the Gregory Focal in black with blue accents. I personally like the way this pack looks, for what it’s worth.
I prefer a smaller pack to help me make better discussions on what to pack, but if you need more volume, it also comes in a 58-liter version.
Gregory also makes a woman’s specific version called the Facet that comes in 45- and 55-liter versions.
I am 5’ 10” and weigh in at 170 pounds. Ok, 180 pounds if I am being honest, and the medium fits me perfectly.
Outdoor Empire Score: 5/5
The pack is made from a combination of 100D to 210D High-Density Nylon. The nylon is 40% to 45% recycled. The Focal does a good job balancing weight and durability. It feels robust when handling and packing it. However, like most lightweight gear, it must be treated and handled with respect.
After my testing, I found no evidence of wear.
The pack has a PFC-Free DWR coating. I am not sure how long the coating will last, but the stuff inside the pack stayed dry during an hour-long rain storm during a test trip. It was nice to have some protection without carrying a pack cover. Not all of the packs on the trip faired so well in the storm.
The build quality of this pack is top notch and the construction is well thought out. This is to be expected from a company like Gregory which has been making packs for so long.
The main pack is basically a giant sack with no dividers and only one access through the top. The top has an extended tube and is closed via a drawcord. There is a top pocket that provides a certain amount of vertical compression.
Not having dividers makes organizing gear a little tricky, but it can be done with a bit of practice and forethought.
To further help regulate the pack’s volume, several compression straps are on the sides. These seemed to work just fine, and I could easily manage the volume inside the pack. The webbing used is thinner and lighter than other packs, like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50, and might end up being a failure point after some use.
Top and Hip Pockets
Some lightweight packs forgo a top pocket and I, for one, am glad that the Focus has one. I like separating out stuff like my keys, headlamps, and other small items that don’t fit other places. Plus, it allows easy access throughout the day without digging through the main pack.
The top pocket is well thought-out and has a main compartment on the top and a small one underneath. The pockets were big enough to easily carry the stuff that I wanted to put in them.
There are two hip pockets sewn into the hip belt. The pockets are big enough to fit my phone and snacks. I sometimes forgot that the pockets were there and I found that I didn’t always use them as well as I could have.
I might have been using a running pack for too long, but I miss having pockets on the shoulder straps. They are better for organizing the small items I want to access throughout the day. Also, pockets on the shoulder straps allow access without taking the pack off.
Side and Back Pockets
The Focus has two medium side pockets and a large back pocket. The pockets are made of stretchy mesh and are not waterproof.
I have found that I love the big pocket on the back and use it for items that I need easy access to throughout the day, like a jacket and toilet paper. I also use it to put wet things in during the day to let them air out or separate them from the dry stuff in my pack. Most often, this is a damp tent or tarp.
The side pockets on this pack are awesome! They are, by far, my favorite side pockets of any pack that I have ever used. I could easily stow longer items like tent poles and my Tenkara fly rod without problems.
The compression straps on the side helped manage this load. They are big enough to carry a liter bottle of water on each side. This is my preferred method of carrying water.
Here is the amazing part: the pockets are open at the top like normal but also have an opening facing forward. This allowed me to easily access my water bottles without dislocating my shoulder or being a contortionist.
I was concerned that the pockets wouldn’t be as secure and would let items fall out, but this was not a problem in my testing. Nothing fell out of the pockets, even during the off-trail and scrambling sections. I was impressed.
Water Bladder Sleeve
I do not usually use a water bladder sleeve while backpacking but the Focal does accommodate one. My friend, who also used the pack, told me that the water bladder sleeve worked great and he had no problems with it.
Suspension and Weight Distribution
Outdoor Empire Score: 4/5
The suspension system of a backpack is how the pack supports the load and helps distribute the weight between the shoulders and hips. Suspension systems can range from complex and heavy to simple and light.
I would classify the suspension system of the Focal as more on the complex side, with all of the adjustments that you would find on a bulkier pack but it remains lightweight.
Gregory uses what it calls the FreeFloat suspension system. This includes a ventilated mesh back panel that allows a significant amount of ventilation for my back. I can fit my entire hand between the mesh back and the back of the pack.
The Focal has a square frame around the back panel that gives the pack a good amount of structure. It is made of lightweight aluminum tubing.
The Focal includes load lifter straps to help pull the load closer to the body and fine-tune the fit. These are important because the load is carried a little further back from the center of mass due to the mesh back panel.
The hip belt is an integral part of the back panel and cannot be removed. I find that this helps distribute weight to the hips better than packs with removable hip belts.
The suspension on this pack does a great job distributing the pack’s weight between my shoulders and hips. Of course, as the pack becomes heavier, more and more of the weight is carried by the shoulders.
Outdoor Empire Score: 5/5
Comfort is subjective but I found this to be a very comfortable pack. It was like putting on a jacket. It just fit me that well. I am not alone in my opinion. My friend, who also used this pack, declared it the most comfortable pack that he has ever worn.
To get this level of comfort out of a pack this light requires some work, of course. Keeping heavy items close to the center of gravity is important as is keeping the weight under 30 pounds.
While testing this pack, I took a trip to Honeycomb and Painted Canyons in the Owyhee desert of eastern Oregon. There are no maintained trails so most of the time I was on cow trails, off trail completely, and there was some light scrambling involved.
After getting the fit dialed in, I had no problems with this pack. Even with the off-trail hiking and scrambling, the weight of the pack did not try and pull me backward and there was minimal sway back and forth. I could scramble up rocks without worrying about my pack getting in the way.
Versatility and Accessories
Outdoor Empire Score: 3/5
The Gregory Focal 48 does one thing, but it does that one thing very well. I don’t feel like I would grab this pack to do anything else except pack it with 3-6 days’ worth of food and equipment and hike all day in relative comfort. If a piece of gear can only do one thing, it had better do it really well and I feel like the Gregory Focus does.
Gregory does not make any accessories that I could find on their website, but it is set up so that I feel like you could attach other accessories from other companies to it without any problems. I could easily attach my camera bag to the shoulder straps and carry my heavy camera comfortably.
Outdoor Empire Score: 4/5
The Focal retails for $229.95 which is about average for a pack in this category. This works out to an average of $4.79 per liter.
Recommendations and Alternatives
Outdoor Empire Score: 4.2/5
The Gregory Focal is a well-made pack by a company that has been making quality packs for a long time and it shows. They have been able to take the features from their more robust packs and successfully make a lightweight pack out of it. The pack ticks all of the right boxes. It is light, comfortable, and well-organized.
|The Gregory Focal 48||Recommended for||Not Ideal for|
|Trip length||3-6 days||> 6 days|
|Overall pack weight||20-30 lbs||< 20 or > 30 lbs|
|Base weight||10-15 lbs||< 10 or > 20 lbs|
|Goal distance per day||15+ miles||30+ miles|
If you are an experienced backpacker looking to decrease your pack weight but still want the look and features of a more traditional pack, I have no problems recommending this pack.
If you are serious about having the lightest pack weight that you can and are willing to sacrifice features or durability, there are more lightweight packs to choose from.
For example, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Junction 2400 is lighter but lacks features like a more sophisticated suspension system and top pocket. The Osprey Levity 45, on the other hand, has a similar feature set but is not as durable.
The other group that might want to stay away from this pack is people like Scout Leaders or parents who need to pack extra to help augment ill-prepared kids. I’m speaking from experience!
For this group, Gregory makes great packs that can accommodate heavier loads. I personally have used the Arc’teryx Bora 60 liter pack on these trips and loved it.
Want to hear more about the alternatives? Check out our review of the Best Ultralight Backpacks.