Hands-On with the 55L Backpacking Bag

Backpacking is easily my favorite pastime, whether it is a single night in the woods or a 2,600 mile thru-hike. It is the best feeling to carry everything you need to survive on your back then walk out into the wilderness. Along the way you are always bound to see and experience some pretty amazing things. 

Your backpack is arguably the most important piece of gear to consider when preparing for your backpacking trip. It is your contact point to the rest of your stuff during your entire adventure. I have had the pleasure of trying a number of packs and am pretty picky when it comes to what I like and don’t like. 

When choosing a pack for backpacking trips it is important to have all of your other gear in mind. Once you know what kind of gear you have, or want to invest in, you’ll know how much space you need, how lightweight you want your pack to be, and what small features will work best with your kit.

This is my Gregory Katmai review. I tested the 55L pack, but it also comes in a 65L regular and plus size. I’ll start by saying that the Katmai was a pleasant surprise! Here’s what I thought.

Gregory Katmai Review Summary

Gregory is a household name when it comes to backpacks. They strive to make packs that are “worn not carried,” and they do this through innovative chassis systems that work with your body as you carry the pack as opposed to against it. 

Gregory, along with most of the outdoor gear industry, has begun to place a greater emphasis on sustainability. They have an extensive pack repair program to help keep packs from getting thrown away. If your pack is not repairable at the end of its life, Gregory recycles or repurposes various components of the pack!

The Katmai (men’s) and Kalmia (women’s) are two of Gregory’s best bags. The Gregory Katmai is a classic backpacking backpack with top, bottom, and side entry points. It boasts many attachment points and pockets for gear, as well as plenty of storage for your water.

Since its inception, this bag has become a staple for many thru-hikers. It has many thoughtfully-designed features that make it stand out from basic packs that fall in the same price range.

This bag review will give you the complete breakdown of the Gregory Katmai Backpacking Bag!

Gregory Katmai Pros and Cons


  • The suspended mesh back panel paired with auto-rotating shoulder straps, called the FreeFloat 360 system, is comfortable and ergonomic. A regular backpack is fixed in place and moves wherever your body moves. With the FreeFloat 360, the pack moves on its own so it works with you to stay balanced. 
  • The organization and pockets on this pack are great. I like the outside mesh and zippered pockets that give multiple easy-access storage options while hiking and traveling. 
  • The Katmai comes with a rain fly and has a nice storage place for it to go when not in use.


  • The stowable water bottle holder on the right side of the pack, although a unique and intuitive feature, kind of sits right where your elbow goes. I hit my elbow many times while testing the pack. It also isn’t quite tight enough to hold a slim water bottle, so it may move around or fall out when you bend over. It was really designed for a full-sized Nalgene bottle.
  • This pack by itself weighs 4.68 lbs. I have spent a long time refining my backpacking gear. I try to get my pack as light as possible while hiking longer distances, and over 4 lbs is pretty heavy for a pack. For instance, the Osprey Exos I carried on the Pacific Crest Trail weighs about 2.5 lbs.

Gregory Katmai 55L Backpack Specs

Capacity 55L
Material Nylon
Dimensions 28.7″ x 12.6″ x 16.5″
Weight 4.61 lbs
Max Carry Weight 45 lbs

Is the Gregory Katmai Right for You?

The Gregory Katmai is an awesome pack for anyone looking to get into backpacking. Although it weighs quite a bit for a backpacking pack, it is great if you don’t quite have all your gear dialed in yet.

The pack has plenty of volume to try different gear setups and can be used as both a travel pack as well as a trekking pack. 

The FreeFloat 360 suspension system is great because it allows you to carry heavier stuff without sacrificing comfort. The way the pack moves on your back also is great to help make a heavy load feel lighter.

The Katmai pack is specifically made for men’s bodies, and Gregory’s Kalmia Backpack is the sister pack built for women.

This pack is not well suited for someone looking for an Ultralight pack. If your gear is mostly lightweight, you will probably find that you have a lot of extra room in this pack and should look to get a smaller, more compact bag in the 2 lbs range. 

Gregory Katmai Features

Backpack Entry Points

Gregory Katmai Top

The Gregory Katmai allows access into the main compartment from three zippered entry points.

It is set up like a typical top-loading pack with a drawstring closure and a lid pocket. This is pretty standard for most backpacking packs. Sometimes this can be frustrating if you’re trying to get to a piece of gear not located at the top of the bag, but that’s where the other entry points come into play (which many other bags don’t offer)!

It has a zippered bottom sleeping bag compartment, which has a removable nylon divider that gives you the option to separate the items at the very bottom from the rest of the pack.

Then there’s a nifty side-access zipper that allows you quick and easy access to the inside of your pack. This is a common feature for camera backpacks so that photographers have access to their gear at a moment’s notice, and it is a great addition to a backpacking bag!

A side entry pocket means you have another method of reaching your gear so you don’t have to completely unload your pack to get to things deeper down or pressed against the sides (I’ve experienced this issue with past backpacks I’ve owned and it’s a total pain)!

External Storage

Gregory Katmai Water Pocket

Next to the side entry pocket there is a stealthy one-hand water bottle holder that can be tucked away when not in use. I touched on this earlier, but one issue I have with this design, although I wanted to love it, was that I often hit my elbow on my water bottle when hiking! I wish it was placed elsewhere so it was more comfortable!

On the bag’s other side is a stretchy mesh pocket great for snacks, poles, a rain jacket, or another water bottle. The front outside of the pack has a stretchy mesh pouch and a small zippered pocket.

On both sides of the pack, there are two adjustable buckled straps to attach things to the side of the pack as well as compress the pack if you are not carrying as bulky of a load.

The bottom of the pack also has buckled compression straps to attach a tent or sleeping pad. There are also two spots on the pack to attach trekking poles or an ice axe for winter adventures. These types of straps are essential to a good backpacking pack! 

The lid pocket consists of 3 different compartments. The smallest one on the top holds very small things like keys, a wallet, and sunglasses. The main pocket in the lid is great for easy access to things like lunch or snacks.

Looking Inside The Pack

Gregory Katmai Inside

When you open the top, you’ll find a pocket on the underside on the lid where Gregory has placed the bag’s rainfly. I opted to actually move this to another place in the bag and use this pocket instead for my small toiletries.

Inside of the bag, there is a sleeve for a hydration bladder with a SpeedClip. Unless you already own one, I typically recommend getting the hydration bladder made by the company of the bag you’re using. In this instance, Gregory’s 3D Hydro 3L Reservoir.

One of my favorite convenience features of this pack is the oversized hip belt pockets. Each side can easily fit regular-sized iPhones and Android phones. The other pocket is perfect for quick snacks or your headlamp.

I love having big hip belt pockets so that I don’t have to take my pack off to get snacks or pull out my phone to take a picture while on the trail.


Gregory Katmai Harness

The harness of a pack is all of the things that touch your body while wearing it. This includes the shoulder straps, the hip belt, the sternum strap, and the back panel.

This is probably the best part of the Katmai. They integrated a FreeFloat 360 system with a suspended mesh back panel and auto-rotating shoulder straps.

The FreeFloat 360 is pretty awesome. Most companies sew their shoulder straps right onto the body of the pack, but Gregory attaches the straps with rivets that allow them to rotate as your body moves side to side.

I’ve carried a lot of packs and was very excited when I had this loaded up for my first hike. It made the pack feel a little lighter and the way it moved with your body made it feel more like an extension of your body as opposed to a static object on your back.

The shoulder straps themselves are thick and well padded. Gregory made them rounded on the sides so they don’t dig into your shoulders. 

The actual back panel is a suspended mesh panel on an aluminum frame with fiberglass horizontal stays. I like mesh back panels because they conform to your back perfectly as opposed to a traditional pack that sits stiff right up against your back. It also allows air to flow between the bag and your back, helping keep you cool and less sweaty.

Gregory calls the hip belt their 3D Comfort Cradle. The back panel extends down into the hip belt making a seamless mesh panel that hugs you all the way around your hips. It is padded and sits really nicely on your hips.

For backpacking, this style of hip belt is amazing. It feels secure around your body and does a good job of taking weight off of your shoulders. Since it is one mesh panel all the way down the back there is no place where the pack can pinch you. 

The design of the hip belt makes it so you can’t remove it. This can be problematic when taking a pack like this on airplanes, because it doesn’t tuck out of the way. I have tried to put an Osprey Atmos (similar hip belt design) into an overhead storage bin for a few minutes before I had to give up and gate-check the bag. 

The last piece of the harness is the chest strap. It moves up and down to get the strap in the right place and has an integrated whistle in case of emergency. 


Gregory Katmai Pockets

For me, one of the most fun aspects of backpacking is tetrising all of your gear into your pack. The pockets on any pack are one of the most important things to consider when buying a backpacking bag. 

The Katmai has seven external pockets—well, seven and a half, if you count the tuck-away water bottle holder.

The lid of the pack has two outside pockets. The smaller one on top is for items like keys, wallet, and permits. The main lid pocket is nice and roomy, although the rain cover stored in the pocket under the lid kind of eats into this space. 

They put a zippered pocket on the very outside of the pack with a mesh sleeve inside. I like this pocket because it’s very accessible and big—I ended up putting my camp shoes in this pocket.

On top of that pocket, Gregory put a small stretchy mesh pouch. I love this type of pocket because they are so convenient to put whatever you want in it and the stretchy mesh holds everything in.

I already touched on the two hip belt pockets but I will say again these things are great! They are so big you can fit all kinds of nicknacks in them. 


The Katmai is a big pack, making organization all that more important. Gregory does a good job with all of the different pockets on the outside of the pack that help you keep important items out of the clutter of the main compartment.

The bottom access for the sleeping bag is great and the zippered side access also helps to not have to dump the contents of your pack out.

I live in bear country and many of my favorite places to go backpacking require me to carry a bear canister. As much as I hate trying to fit it into my pack (they are heavy and bulky) the Katmai can fit one of the big size canisters easily. You can store it in the main compartment or fit it under the lid pocket and secure it down.

Gregory Katmai Review

Materials: What’s It Made Of?

Gregory Katmai Materials

The Gregory Katmai is not made from typical backpacking backpack materials. The materials used in the Katmai are a nod to Gregory’s commitment to sustainability.

The main pack body is made of a combination of 210D nylon and 420D nylon. Of the 210D nylon, 40 percent is recycled nylon. The 410D nylon is 45 percent recycled. The lining of the pack is a 135D polyester that is 45 percent post-consumer recycled as well.

The frame is made from aluminum with horizontal fiberglass that stays for anti-barreling. 

The back panel and the straps are made with Polygien Stay Fresh Technology, an odor control air mesh treatment that inhibits the growth of odor causing bacteria. Although the mesh helps to keep you back less sweaty while backpacking, your back still does sweat and this is amazing to keep the back panel of your pack stink-free. 

Gregory topped it all off with a PFC-free DWR coating. With time, the DWR (durable water repellent) coating wears off your bag. Traditional DWR finishes are petroleum-based, and when they rub off due to rain, they get into the watersheds and can harm plants and animals. 

However, the PCF-free coating used on the Katmai don’t contain environmentally harmful chemicals! 

Comfort: Is It Easy To Wear?

The Katmai is a very comfortable pack to wear. The suspended mesh back panel conforms to the shape of your back, and the auto-rotating shoulder straps keep the pack balanced on your back and help stabilize you while walking. The hip belt hugs your hips making it feel like an extension of your body. 

I have been carrying Ultralight packs like the ULA Circut for the last few years and I forgot what it was like to carry a fully padded full-suspension backpacking pack! I really enjoyed it.


The Gregory Katmai is a solid pack in terms of workmanship. Gregory used high-quality materials for everything on the pack.

The buckles, the straps, and the zippers all seem very sturdy. Gregory paid attention to the little details and put the thicker fabrics at high-stress points on the pack.

Overall I feel like this pack will last me a long time!

Style & Aesthetics

Gregory Katmai Aesthetics

The review wouldn’t be complete without talking about the aesthetics of the pack.

The Gregory Katmai comes in 2 colors: Volcano Black and Blaze Blue. The blue is a brighter, fun option, while the black is sleeker and blends in a little more. 

The Katmai looks clean yet rugged. The compression straps and the trekking pole and ice axe loops make it look like a backpacking pack.

I had the Volcano Black color for this review, and I really like the red interior! It kind of made the bag pop a little more when the pockets were opened up.

Gregory Katmai Accessories

There are a few accessories that you might want to buy alongside the Katmai. I always recommend getting accessories from the same brand as your pack if possible, so here are my top picks from Gregory!

Gregory Hydro Reservoir

Gregory 3D Hydro 3L Reservoir

The Katmai comes with a SpeedClip and a compartment for a water bladder. This Gregory branded bladder fits perfectly into the pack but also comes with Gregory’s quick connection method. If you are going to be using a water bladder while backpacking, the Gergory branded ones will give you the best fit in the Gregory pack.

Gregory Nano

Gregory Nano 14

The Katmai comes equipped with NANO connect, a system of interior toggles that allows you to attach the Gregory Nano 14 to the inside of the pack.

The Gregory Nano is a small simple drawstring closure pack that is perfect as a small day pack. Whether you’re walking around a new city or bagging a quick peak from your campsite, it is always nice to have a smaller bag so you don’t have to carry your 55L pack around for a shorter adventure. 

Gregory Katmai Alternatives

Here are a few product options that are similar to the Gregory Katmai 55L, and how they shape up in comparison.

Mountain Hardware PCT 55L Backpack

Mountain Hardware PCT 55L

This heavy duty backpacking bag is another great 55L pack. Roughly the same weight and size, this pack serves similar functions to the Gregory Katmai, but offers a bit different organization.

I love that this backpack has two large identical side pockets that are perfect for water bottles. They have a top and side access option, which is extremely convenient for sliding out your water bottle.

A full trampoline backpanel provides support and ventilation, and the hip belt gives extra stabilization to your pack.

This pack has a really unique front compartment that is almost like a mini pack on top of the backpack. I like this idea because you can put all of the things you need during the day in this front compartment so you don’t have to root around the main compartment to find those essentials.

It also has a bottom access point and sleeping bag storage area, but does not have a side access point like the Katmai does, which is a bummer.

Overall this is a pretty similar alternative to the Katmai with some design differences that are up to preference!

Deuter Aircontact Core 50 + 10 SL Pack

Deuter Aircontact 50L

The Deuter Aircontact (men’s and women’s) is a sleek yet functional bag that offers a lot of great features for a backpacking bag.

This is a base 50L bag that can go up to 60L with its expandable collar on the main compartment. It has several external straps to attach gear like trekking poles and a sleeping pad, and features elastic mesh side pockets for water bottles.

A front stretch pocket and top zip pocket provide additional organization for your items, however this one does provide overall less pockets and organization than the Katmai or PCT packs.

All of the straps are adjustable and made from comfortable padded materials, and over 50% of the pack’s material is recycled!

Overall this is a great beginner bag while figuring out your favorite gear, as you can expand it to fit more if you need and attach things to the outside of the bag.

Gregory Katmai FAQ

What Kind of Warranty Does Gregory Offer?

Gregory offers what they call the Gregory Lifetime Guarantee. It covers everything except for normal wear and tear, unreasonable or abusive use, and improper cleaning or storage.

It’s a good, not great warranty. It essentially covers you if the workmanship or the materials are defective when you get your pack. Compared to the All-Mighty guarantee (they will replace or repair and pack for any reason from any era) that Osprey offers on their packs, this is not a great warranty.

Does Gregory Ship Internationally?

Gregory ships to everywhere in the United States, Alaska and Hawaii included, as well as to Puerto Rico and Guam. At this time Gregory does not ship internationally. However, many retailers carry Gregory both online and in brick-and-mortar stores.

Gregory Katmai Review Summary: Final Thoughts

The Gregory Katmai was a very pleasant surprise. The pack is well thought out and perfect if you’re looking for a pack that you could just as easily take on a backcountry trip as they could on a tour of Europe.

The FreeFloat 360 is the real best part for me. The comfort on the back and the way it moves with your body are awesome and I loved hiking with it!

If you are looking for an Ultralight pack or something to take on a thru-hike, I would look elsewhere. The Katmai is just a little too heavy—but it’s great for shorter backpacking trips.

Overall I liked this pack. The Katmai is a great option for people just starting on their backpacking and traveling journeys. So have fun, and remember to always leave it better than you found it!

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