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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear Kumo Superlight Backpack

By Will Rietveld

I recently had the opportunity to test the new Gossamer Gear Kumo Superlight backpack. The Kumo is a smaller volume frameless backpack suitable for ultralight backpacking. Although it has a different name, the Kumo is exactly the same basic design, dimensions, and volume as their Murmur Hyperlight backpack. The difference is the Kumo is more ruggedly built and has more features, and consequently can comfortably carry heavier loads and is more durable.

 The Kumo at work on a recent backpacking trip. Its available in two sizes (Medium and Large), weighs 14.3 ounces (size Medium), has 2200 cubic inches of volume, and costs $165.

Since the Kumo is the same size (dimensions and volume) as the Murmur, the choice boils down to extra durability and features (Kumo) versus minimum weight and features (Murmur). The specific differences are as follows (Kumo versus Murmur):
  • Shoulder straps have more padding (almost twice as thick)
  • Fabric is all 140 denier Dyneema (except the backpanel and bottom)
  • Pack bottom, lower front pocket, and upper shoulder strap fabric is 210 denier ripstop
  • The hipbelt is wider (1.5” versus 0.75”)
  • Internal hydration sleeve
  • The top cover has a zippered pocket
  • Stronger and longer ice axe loop and haul loop
  • Wider sternum strap (0.75” versus 0.5”)
  • Recommended maximum carry weight is 25 pounds (versus 15 pounds)
  • Cost is $165 versus $140
  • The Kumo weighs 5.2 ounces more than the Murmur, based on Gossamer Gear data for size Medium
This should help clarify the differences between the two packs, but it will be a difficult purchase decision because both packs have a lot of appeal. The following photo gallery highlights the features of the Kumo.

 Frontpanel. The Kumo has a large mesh front pocket with an angled top for easier entry. The mesh is lightweight but quite durable, and the lower part of the pocket is made of durable 210 denier double ripstop mylon. The pack comes with a lightweight elastic cord compression/attachment system (not shown)

Backpanel. The backpanel has Gossamer Gear’s traditional sleeping pad sleeve that allows a closed cell foam sleeping pad to be inserted for backpanel padding, and used as a sit pad during rest stops. A SitLight pad (shown) is included.

 Side. The sides of the Kumo are all Dyneema Gridstop versus silnylon on the Murmur. Both packs have Dyneema side pockets. A water bottle in a side pocket is reachable and replacable with the pack on.

Top. The new “Over the Top” closure system has a zippered pocket, which is a handy place for a map or guidebook. It’s held down by two cordlock buckles.

 Shoulder Straps. By my measurement, the shoulder straps are 3.25 inches wide and 0.25 inches thick, with the padding sewn in – no more socks in the shoulder straps for padding.

 Front Pocket. The front pocket is made of a lightweight yet durable mesh. The lower part of the pocket is 210 denier ripstop nylon.

 Hipbelt. The hipbelt on the Kumo is a substantial 1.5 inches wide and is removable. Two hipbelt lengths are included.

Field Testing
I carried the Kumo on seven trips with loads ranging from 13.5 to 25.5 pounds, which represents typical ultralight backpacking loads for trips ranging from 2 to 8 days. As expected, the Kumo is most comfortable with lighter loads, but it handled heavier loads surprisingly well. For carrying a 25.5 pound load I tightened the hipbelt snugly over the top of my hips and found the Kumo transferred weight to my hips quite well. With the sternum strap disconnected, the pack stuck to my back. Nevertheless, 25 pounds should be considered a maximum weight for this pack, and it should be the occasional heavier load rather than a common occurrence. Normally a framed pack or one with removable stays (like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla) should be used for loads over 20 pounds.

Whether you choose the Kumo or the Murmur depends on how much weight you carry and what you value most. The Kumo’s stronger construction, extra durability, and extra features are functional for the most part.

  • Most importantly, the Kumo’s wider hipbelt and thicker shoulder straps allows it to carry heavier loads more comfortably than the Murmur.
  • The mesh in the front pocket and pad sleeve is durable and stretchy, just the right balance of lightweight and durability.
  • The zippered pocket on the top flap is very handy for storing a map or small clothing items.
  • The internal hydration sleeve is useful as a sleeping pad sleeve (I prefer to put a hydration flask in a side pocket for easier access and easier monitoring of the fluid level.
  • I really like Gossamer Gear’s new Over the Top cover. It easily adjusts to pack volume and helps a lot to shed rain.
 Pack Compression. Instead of using the included bungee system for pack compression I opted for a zig-zag drawcord and cordlock system.

All of Gossamer Gear’s backpacks have an external bungie system for pack compression, i.e. to reduce pack volume for smaller loads, and also to attach items to the outside of the pack (like a jacket). It’s handy for the latter, and it does effectively reduce pack volume if you compress the pack before loading it. However, my personal preference is for three lightweight webbing compression straps on each side of the pack for simple and effective pack volume adjustment. A bungie system should be an accessory for attaching things to the outside of the pack, rather than relying on it for pack compression. I don’t consider the Kumo’s bungie compression system to be a major flaw because it can easily be replaced with a drawcord compression as shown in the photos above.

An option I would like to see in the Kumo is Gossamer Gear’s removable stay. It only adds 3.4 ounces, and users of this pack are more likely to use it when carrying loads in the 20-25 pound range. Actually, from pack testing I have done, I found that its beneficial to use the stay for loads over 15 pounds. It helps to maintain the pack torso length, contours the backpanel to the user’s back, and helps to transfer weight to the hips.

Overall, for hikers who want a frameless backpack with more durability and features, the Kumo is right on target; it’s a perfect balance and still keeps weight down to 14 ounces.
If you want a smaller volume pack for ultralight backpacking, and carry heavier loads (more than 20 pounds) fairly often, the Kumo is a good choice. It’s built to last.

1 comment:

  1. Only just come across your writing. Very interesting reviews. Thanks, i will endeavour to keep up to date with my reading from now on.