Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Thursday, July 19, 2012

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear 2012 Gorilla Backpack

By Will Rietveld

Gossamer Gorilla pack on a 6-day mostly off-trail backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness in southwest Colorado.

I was very impressed with the original Gorilla pack when I reviewed it for Backpacking Light Magazine in 2009, and it earned a Highly Recommended rating. Very few pieces of gear merit the coveted Highly Recommended rating. So how does the updated 2012 Gorilla compare with the original, and does it still deserve an outstanding rating?

At 3000 cubic inches (49 L), the Gorilla is sized for the lightweight backpacker who carries loads in the 20-30 pound range, or an ultralight backpacker for a longer trip without resupply. The Gorilla is the answer to the question: “If I were to buy just one backpack, which one should I get?” Its volume and features allow this one pack to be used for both ultralight and lightweight backpacking.

However, if you are consistently an ultralight backpacker, with a base weight under 10 pounds and total pack weight under 20 pounds, you should be looking at Gossamer Gear’s Murmur or Kumo packs for the appropriate volume needed and lower pack weight.

Gossamer Gear now uses its proprietary 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop fabric throughout its backpack line. This fabric is ideal for a lightweight backpack because it’s the perfect balance of light weight, durability, and longevity. Some other pack fabrics are lighter – like silnylon and Cuben Fiber – but they don’t have a lot of durability and longevity, and Cuben Fiber is expensive. Actually the proprietary 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop is expensive too, almost as much as Cuben Fiber, but Gossamer Gear uses it because it’s the ideal pack fabric.

The following photo gallery shows the design and features of the 2012 Gorilla pack.
Frontpanel View. The updated 2012 Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack has 3000 cubic inches of volume, weighs 25 ounces (size Medium), and costs $225. The pack comes complete with removable hipbelt (4 sizes available) with two attached pockets, a bungie compression system, removable contoured stay, backpanel pad, and removable sternum strap. The large stretch nylon front pocket expands to hold a lot of gear.

Backpanel View. The backpanel has Gossamer Gear’s traditional sleeping pad sleeve which will hold a closed cell foam pad or slightly aired inflatable pad. A SitLight pad is included (not shown), which can be easily removed to use as a sit pad on breaks. The hipbelt is about 1 inch wider than the previous Gorilla and now has attached pockets which are very roomy and open across the top and part way down the buckle side for easy access. The shoulder straps are a fully-padded and 3.75 inches wide. Another nice feature is the new EZClip™ sternum strap attachment, which makes the height adjustment very easy.

Top Cover. The Gorilla is a top loader. The old drawcord and top strap design is replaced by a new OTT™ (Over-The-Top) closure system that is held down with two lightweight drawcord buckles. The top flap sheds rain and also has an integrated zippered top pocket.

Removable stay. A U-shaped contoured tubular aluminum stay slides into sleeves on the inside of the pack’s backpanel. The final production pack has a 1.5-inch wide Velcro hold-down patch at the center of the stay. The stay can be bent to match the curvature of the user’s back.

Testing Results
I tested the Gorilla on two backpacking trips and four day hikes with loads ranging from 16 to 31 pounds. From a previous load testing project, I found that a removable stay is beneficial for loads greater than 15 pounds, so I left the stay in during all of my testing of the Gorilla.

As expected, I found the Gorilla very comfortable to carry with loads in the 16 to 22 pound range. Above that, the pack has increasing torso collapse, so it does not completely transfer weight to the hips. At 31 pounds (the heaviest load I tested), I estimate that 25% of the weight was on my shoulders. This is not unusual since a removable stay is merely a pack stiffener and not a structural frame.  For carrying heavier loads, the Gorilla’s wide hipbelt and especially wide shoulder straps really help for distributing the weight.

One modification I made to the Gorilla is the addition of lightweight drawcord compression straps in place of the pack’s bungee compression system. While some hikers like an external bungee system for attaching things (like a jacket) to the outside of a pack, I prefer conventional compression straps, ideally three on each side. A bungee system does not compress the pack as well for smaller loads, and can block access to the front pocket. My preference is for three compression straps per side for effective pack volume reduction, and offering a bungee system as an accessory.

Overall Impressions
On the plus side I really like the 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop fabric, wider shoulder straps, Over the Top cover with zippered pocket, wider hipbelt with pockets, contoured stay, easy sternum strap adjustment (or removal), and easier hipbelt removal. These are some substantial improvements, while adding only about 1 ounce of additional weight (by my measurement).

On the minus side I have one main issue: as discussed under the last photo, I personally prefer three webbing compression straps on each side of the pack for more effective pack volume adjustment. A bungie attachment system can be a nice accessory for attaching things to the outside of the pack, but I don’t particularly like a bungee system for pack compression. This is a issue of personal preference, and Gossamer Gear apparently likes bungee systems. Pack owners who want compression straps can easily remove the bungee system and replace it with three compression drawcords on each side (as shown above), or by zig-zagging a single cord on each side and securing it with a single cordlock at the top.

Finally, it is time to go a step further and design a removable stay system that transfers that better transfers weight to the hipbelt. In the present design the stay simply floats in sleeves attached to the backpanel and acts as a pack stiffener, not a frame. Since many lightweight backpackers nowadays use a lightweight inflatable pad instead of a closed cell foam pad, they don’t have the CCF pad to assist with weight transfer in the current pack design. The stay developed by Gossamer Gear is an excellent design, but it would transfer weight much better if it were more solidly anchored to the shoulder straps at the top and to the hipbelt at the bottom. Such a design can be kept lightweight, transfer weight more effectively, and retain the benefits of a removable stay.

Overall, the 2012 Gorilla is a superb pack for carrying lightweight moderate volume loads in the 15 to 25 pound range, and occasionally higher. It is truly a single lightweight backpack that can do it all, eliminating the need to own multiple packs. The 2012 upgrade incorporates some substantial improvements over the original, with only a minimal increase in weight, which is remarkable. The issues discussed above also apply to the original Gorilla, but overall the new Gorilla is better than ever and still merits an outstanding rating.


  1. Excellent review! Do you have any specific thoughts on how a consumer could better beef up the the stay system to transfer weight tot he hipbelt?

    1. Hi jed, the bottom ends of the stays could slip into pockets on the back of the hipbelt, which would improve weight transfer. That would require some beefing of the hipbelt and possibly some stiffening, which adds weight but it could be kept minimal for a light duty pack. Best, Will

  2. I'm a long-time BPL member, and just happened to stumble across your new blog. Thanks for keeping up the strong work.

    I've been using a ULA circuit for a few years and have been reasonably happy with it, but I seem to be in-between sizes and for most trips its overkill for me. I'm looking for something a bit smaller, and a bit lighter. Your reviews of both the 2012 Gorilla and the Elemental Horizons Kalais were glowing, and as a result I've taken a close look at both packs. If you had to choose just one as a go-to pack, which would you select? I realize fit is a primary concern which I won't be able to discern until they are actually loaded up and on my back, but I'm curious how you'ed stack them up head-to-head. Also, i'm skinny, 6,0" and my torso is 18.5 inches. My waist is 31". I generally prefer to err on the long-side when i buy packs, particularly if there aren't load-lifers. Any advice regarding sizing?



    1. Hi Matt, I would choose the EH Kalais because it has a better suspension system. However, it is a bit heavier because of built-in backpanel padding,etc. Its always important to match the pack volume to the volume of your gear kit; a partially full pack does not carry as well as a full one. With an 18.5 inch torso, it certainly sounds like you are a solid Medium. The Kalais has load lifters (the Gorilla doesn't), which will give some adjustment. That said, I prefer to size up too, but you can overdo it. Best, Will

  3. Hi Matt,

    I have been looking at getting the Gorilla very seriously -- one question I have not seen answered well is can a bearvault 500 be laid horizontally in the bag? I going into the North Cascades where a bear can is strongly recommended.