Gregory Paragon 48 Backpack Review

Gregory Paragon 48 First Thoughts

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been out in the backcountry to go backpacking. Life, careers, and kiddos got us comfortable with the car camping routine. The Gregory Paragon 48 came when everything had been shut down due to Covid. Our plans to go to SW Colorado were derailed, but as the Summer of 2021 got underway, things started looking up. We got reservations and tickets for the train that runs from Durango to Silverton. The Needleton stop (literally, in the middle of no where) is meant for the backpacking crowd. I packed and repacked my Gregory Paragon at home to get familiar with all of its functions. Ultimately, it didn’t become real until we finally hit the road. At that point, we did a final check of what was needed to see how it would all fit.

Sizing Decisions

I went with the 48 liter size thinking it would be lighter and nimble. The thought process was that my wife could use it when she goes on her adventures. In hindsight, I think I misjudged the sizing a little. The 58 or even the 68 would probably have served me better. I ended up having to pack and attach numerous items on the outside that may have been able to go inside.

We borrowed one of the larger bear vault canister which took up a ton of room. I stuffed it full of food which turned out to be quite heavy aside from taking up so much space.

Taking The Paragon Out On The Trail

As a bit of background here, I feel like my legs and body are in fairly decent shape, and can handle most endurance adventures that come my way. I certainly felt that I was ready for backpacking with a solid base of biking, running, and hiking. My shoulders on the other hand were in for quite the shock when this pack, gradual elevation gain, and hard push to a campsite was introduced. It had been quite a while since my last heavy load like this. Hence, the shock to the trapezoids was pretty immediate. I suppose all I could do was to stop whining, and to soldier on as they say.

On our way to the historic train in Durango.

On top of that, figuring out exactly what to bring also played a role. We did have a small, light, and efficient 2 person tent, as well as minimal and sufficient cookware. The MSR hydration filter and bladder is great, plus smaller sleeping pads. We also planned for rain, cold nights, and mountaineering clothing to wear based on the forecast. With a 2 night / 3 day trip on the books, I think we also nailed the correct amount of food which played in our favor. The sleeping bags and bear vault were our big, bulky, and heavier items. All in all, not too bad, as we ventured into the Chicago Basin to look for a suitable campsite.
A mentioned before, the cool part is that you catch the historic train in Durango, Colorado, and after a two hour ride it drops you off in Needleton. That’s a stop along a river with a bridge and not much else. Only the backpackers get on or off here. The six mile journey begins and takes you through this amazing old growth forest that felt like we were in a tropical lush jungle.

With the monsoon rain season in full effect, it felt like we were in the pacific Northwest.

It is monsoon season and recent rains created this surreal effect for what is generally a drier area. With nature doing it’s thing, Winter and Spring storms had done an incredible job of dropping a lot of trees on the trail. I mention this, because I lost count after 100 downed trees. This caused quite a bit of scrambling up, over, and around pines and aspens which is definitely more challenging with a large pack. It’s also not ideal as the off shoot trails start to form with detours. I’m hoping someone with a chain saw and a few days will come along soon for the sake of preserving this area by keeping people on the beaten path.

Finally, we arrived in the Chicago basin valley. The towering mountains on both sides were grand, the open space spots perfect for camping, and the river added a dynamic backdrop.

The good thing is that once you get to Chicago basin, there are some amazing camp sites near the river and in the woods. Once a home is established, one can venture on to Twin Lakes and/or the four 14-ers that surround the far end of the basin. The Gregory Paragon pack is not needed at that point as a smaller and lighter day pack will suffice.

This buckle and strapping system is your go to for everything else. Pack it, stuff it, fold it, and squeeze it in. I was short of space on the inside, or I would have wet clothing, and it would all go back there.

The Gregory Paragon Pack Itself

The Gregory Paragon is certainly a good fit for a shorter backpacking trip. With my 48 liter size pack, I managed fine for a solid three days out there in the backcountry. With a little more food planning and preparation, I could certainly extend that by several more days.

The back bottom straps is where the tent, sleeping pad, or sleeping bag would go. I tried various iterations, but the tent seemed to work best for my scenario as it is slightly heavier and would work well around the waist line.

Access points on top, the bottom, and on both sides made it real easy to add or remove things on the go. Plenty of straps on the top and bottoms to attach sleeping bags, tents, tarps, etc.  Also, the webbing or straps on the bag were great for stuffing in added accessories like rain coats or additional layers.
The waist strap buckled and adjusted nicely, and included a couple of zipped pockets for the basic essentials to be close at hand. Phone, chap-stick, and sunscreen were easily accessible as needed. I also tucked one of those $3 rain ponchos in that fold up to the size of a wallet. The pack comes with a rain cover, and definitely came in handy. It slips right on and over the bulk of the pack with elastic banding.
The carriage systems have come a long way. My wife had a pack that is a good twenty years old, and weight, comfort, and positioning have certainly improved.
You can definitely tell that the design thinking is heavily focused on comfort and getting the pack away from the body to allow for breath ability. I will say that it really didn’t do the job it was intended for! We pushed fairly hard to secure a camp site before the afternoon storms moved in, and before long, I was sweating profusely.
I figured that would happen, but my back with pack contact certainly also became a victim. Honestly, I don’t think you can avoid that, so it’s not a knock on this pack necessarily. It’s the nature of the beast so to speak. On future trips, I’ll try to figure out if I can get a slight separation for some additional or better airflow. Backpacking isn’t meant as luxury travel, so it’s all good. I wanted to at least give this some attention if someone was looking for the perfect dry scenario. Plus, we had high humidity and high heart rates. A more leisurely approach would certainly avoid any of the aforementioned issues.
The top pocket is also super handy for stuffing in small excess items on the go.

Making sure you catch the once daily train put some pressure on our hike out, but we made it in plenty of time for a quick nap.

Final Thoughts On The Gregory Paragon 48 Backpack

The price of the Paragon is $199 which I think is a pretty good value. It takes time to acquire all the right stuff, but you learn as you go. This pack is reasonably priced, and will certainly work for a 1-4 day trip. It has plenty of storage options for the large and smaller items.

For the entire Gregory backpack line and more details on the Paragon please visit

The journey home and packing the rail cart full of dirty and wet packs. Not too mention some smelly campers.

Niels Oomkes: I am a multi-sport endurance athlete, and love to get out into the great outdoors to push the body to its limit. Most of my weekend expeditions, adventures, trips, or vacations are planned around running, biking, snowshoeing, camping, or anything else that will allow me to enjoy nature's exquisite beauty.
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