The following Gregory J53 backpack review was submitted by Lindsey. See all female travel backpack reviews.
Hi! My name is Lindsey and I’m currently a graduate student of international affairs at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, Switzerland. In the past few years I’ve taught abroad in China, waited tables on the beach in Florida, and spent a few months working in lodges and hostels in New Zealand. I’ve ventured on long solo trips in the past, like the Trans-Mongolian Railway, but these days most of my travel involves weekend or week-long trips to European cities with friends.
It was after that long trek from Beijing to Saint Petersburg that I decided it was time to downsize from my previous pack, and after a lot of research I went with the Gregory J53 backpack.
What’s your backpack brand and model? How much does this backpack typically cost?
This lovely bag is an older model Gregory J53 backpack. According to my original receipt, it’s technically the Jade 50, although I believe the bag ranges from 51-55 liters depending on what size you go with. The cost when I bought it from REI at the end of 2014 was $185; with a few discounts, I got mine for $150. Nowadays, the newer version is about $200.
How long have you had your backpack and where have you traveled with it?
I’ve now had this pack for just over two years. It was with me for 3 months of solid travel all over the North and South Islands of New Zealand, two weeks of travel in Denmark and Portugal before I started my graduate program in September 2015, and the many 3-7 day trips I’ve taken around Europe over the past year and a half.
What factors were most important to you in choosing a backpack?
I wanted a bag that could be super flexible. When I bought it at the end of 2014, I already knew I would be spending at least a few months traveling around New Zealand with only this pack. I wanted it to fit enough stuff for long stretches, but also wanted it to be small enough to encourage me to pack less.
I wanted to hike with it along some of the Great Tracks, but still be a travel backpack. Because of these considerations, I knew I wanted a pack between 45-55 liters with a full-access zipper to the main compartment.
>>Read our female guide to picking a backpack.
What do you like most about your backpack? Any down sides?
The best part about this backpack is how deceptive the size is – I can fit so much more than I really need while still packing it down to carry it on the European budget airlines. I also love the two pockets in the brain of the pack – the top one is the perfect size for the REI Grande Shower Kit, so I always use it for my toiletries.
I get a little frustrated with the bigger front outer pocket – I find I rarely use it except as a last-minute place for whatever I’ve forgotten. Not really using that pocket is why it usually works as a carry-on, as anything in there adds bulk, where packing it in the main compartment keeps it more compressed. This looks like it’s been addressed in the newer version of this pack, which now got rid of the bulky pocket and just has a catch-all for jackets, etc.
Another little issue is that the bottom of the pack isn’t flat, it’s angled. This is why it works so well in the overhead compartments of a plane, but means it doesn’t stand up well on its own.
Tell us about the fit and comfort level of your backpack.
I’m rather tall but petite – 5’8” and about 125lbs. Finding a bag that would fit both my torso height and my waist size has always been a problem, but the hip belt for this pack doubles back on itself and fits me with room to go tighter. The shoulder straps are fairly narrow, perfect for my frame, and the mesh along the back panel as well as the padding on the shoulders are extremely comfortable for long journeys – both for city travel and for actual hikes through the wilderness.
>>Check out the best backpacks for slim and petite women.
If you want to take your backpack as carry-on luggage, can you?
Absolutely! Again, it’s best to ignore the bulky outer pocket if that’s what you’re going for, but I’ve never had a problem with carrying it on (even when it was packed to the brim, like after my shopping sprees in Portugal!).
Have you found the size to be too small, just right, or too large?
Honestly, it’s probably a bit too big. I always have room to spare, even when packing for 2 weeks at a time. But, I wanted something that would work for all kinds of trips, and the size has been perfectly flexible to fit that.
Overall, would you recommend your backpack?
Absolutely! In fact, I recommended it to a friend about a year and a half ago, before we went to Portugal together, and we ended up having matching packs for our trip. She says it was a good recommendation as well!
About the author: Lindsey’s life goal is to see every UNESCO World Heritage Site – and, at 47 out of over 1000, she has a long way left to go! Check out her Instagram for a lot of silliness, a lot of sunsets, and the occasional cat.
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