There are a few items that all backpackers will have, and one of them is a pack. It is important to get one that is functional, comfortable, and looking nice always helps too! There are also a few things that makes a gear an important part of your arsenal, and that is the company. While hiking the AT, a strap on my shoulder pad started tearing (through the extreme wet and cold, the constant freezing and thawing finally got to the strap I would use to swing it over my shoulder). Since I wasn't able to stop hiking and send in my pack for repair, I explained my situation to the Gregory customer service team, and they promptly shipped me a new pack to the next town I would be in. I sent in my old pack when I got the new one, and that solidified my love of Gregory. But enough about the company... time to get into the pack.
There are a lot of great features about this pack, and while debatable by many, one of my favorites is the sleeping bag compartment. I tried to have as little hanging from the outside as possible, so the 'sleeping bag' compartment was actually used for my tent. Since it sectioned off the rest of the bag, it could get dirty without getting the other stuff dirty, and also allowed me to just stuff the tent in -- no additional bag required and it made setup/breakdown a synch. The side pockets were good for the little things, and in a pickle the front pocket had my gloves, hat, and rain pants/cover. However, by far my favorite part was the front access panel. The entire front zips down so you see the innards without pulling stuff out. It makes unpacking great. I would open it up, and grab what I needed in the order I needed it rather than dumping everything out. The hip belt pockets were very convenient, and the top panel held any important things such as my phone, wallet, etc.
The suspension is incredibly comfortable. The padded belt and straps made for a comfortable load distribution even when we were holding food for 6 days in the Smokies. At my heaviest of 40lbs, I wouldn't get sore shoulders or an aching back. There were plenty of compression straps which would slim down the otherwise full pack, and make it more streamline. I never had any problems with any buckles or tearing (other than the one strap that began to come undone), and the numerous pockets kept everything nice and organized. There was also a nice stow and go water-bottle holder which was at an angle for easy retrieval/storing while hiking. It was Nalgene sized, so with a regular bottle it was a little difficult. However, there was a bungee cord that would go over the neck to keep it in place. Along with a side mesh pocket, gear loops (trekking poles) and a moveable sternum strap, the Baltoro was a great choice for me. Weighing in at just over 5.5 lbs, it wasn't a lightweight piece, but to be honest, those packs that only weigh a couple pounds have no padding and aren't comfortable to wear. I could go all day with this baby on (and I did... for 4 months) and feel fine.
There were only a few issues I had with this guy. One was purely aesthetics; when the top panel was synched down, it would fold the sides in an awkward way and just didn't have a streamline look (like I said, has nothing to do with functionality). The other issue I had was the feeling that it wasn't against my back. While some may like the more floating feeling, I prefer a back that I can feel tight against me. I can spin in circles without it moving around, and I knew exactly where it would be when I moved. No matter how tight I pulled the straps, it would feel a little distant. When I was planning for the trip I originally started with the z-55, and that felt great. However, I felt it was a little small at the time (I now know it would have been fine) and the z-65 hadn't come out yet, so I switched to the Baltoro. In no ways am I unhappy, and I love all the pockets and ESPECIALLY the bottom compartment, but the form fitting feel of the z serious was one thing I missed.
All in all, I would rate this pack a 4 out of 5. I am a Gregory customer for life because I know I can trust the quality, durability, and help they provide. I threw that pack around and have not a single tear, rip, or even fraying piece of thread to show for it!