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, July 27, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Klymit Inertia Ozone Sleeping Pad

By Will Rietveld

Klymit’s Inertia series of sleeping pads are characterized by lots of cutouts to reduce weight and act as “Loft Pockets” for your sleeping bag to expand into, increasing warmth. The pads are also thinner, and several models come with an inflation bulb and second fitting on the pad to inflate the pad firmer. This one does not have that feature; it inflates by mouth only.

The Inertia Ozone is a tapered full-length pad with an attached pillow. There are two valves, one to inflate the pad and one to inflate the pillow. Dimensions are 72 inches long x 21.5 inches wide at the head end x 19 inches wide at the foot end x 1.75 inches thick.

Closeup of the pad's cutouts (Loft Pockets) and attached pillow.

Looking at the Inertia Ozone (or any other pad in this series), one can’t help but be a bit skeptical of its comfort. There’s only one way to find out, and that is to put it to some tests.

Specifications and Features

Klymit (www.klymit.com)
Inertia Ozone
Pad, repair kit, stuff sack
30D polyester top, 75D polyester bottom
Measured weight 12.95 oz (pad only, mfr specification 12.2 oz


The comfort of a sleeping pad depends on a person’s sleeping position and the surface she is sleeping on. A belly or back sleeper can find easier comfort on a thinner sleeping pad because her weight is more distributed. However a side sleeper’s weight is concentrated at the hip and shoulder, so pad thickness and firmness matter. The hardness of the underlying surface is important too; a softer surface like vegetation or sand offers some additional cushioning, while a rock-hard surface leaves the cushioning entirely to the pad.

I tested the Inertia Ozone pad on a Colorado River rafting trip through the Grand Canyon for 16 days, and also did some testing at home to further evaluate it in relation to different sleeping positions and surfaces.

At home I slept on the pad overnight in a typical camping fashion on a hard tile floor, on a rug on top of that floor, and in a tent on the grass in my backyard (photo). The first situation is similar to a compacted campsite, the second is similar to softer ground or dry sand, and the third is similar to a vegetated campsite. I am a combination side and belly sleeper (some of both), but I can’t sleep on my back (I stop breathing, which is not good).
My first night on the pad was in the woods outside Flagstaff, AZ sleeping in a tent on hard ground. I inflated the pad as firm as I could by mouth and slept on my side. It was a very uncomfortable night.

The pad did better on my rafting trip where I slept on it several nights on dry sand. Sand is a bit softer than rock-hard ground, which helped, and I also learned that the best sleeping position on this pad is belly sleeping, and I presume back sleeping as well, although I didn’t try it. As mentioned above, belly sleeping spreads my weight out, so the pad cushions me better, and I could actually deflate it a little to make it softer.

The attached pillow works well to support my head, and I could deflate it a bit, if needed, to get it exactly the right height, or put something under the pillow to raise it.

The bottomside of the pad is slip-resistant, so I didn’t have any problems with it sliding around in a tent.

My tests at home agreed with my field testing. On the hard surface, belly sleeping is preferable and side sleeping can be uncomfortable. However, side sleeping works out better with some additional cushioning under the pad (dry sand, softer ground, vegetation); it makes a big difference in terms of overall comfort. For this pad, full inflation seems to be the best, especially for side sleeping. 

Although the pad's "Loft Pockets" may provide some benefit from allowing a sleeping bag expand into them, the feature could work in reverse for someone sleeping under a quilt, i.e. the pockets could be cold spots or  drafty. 


My opinion, after testing the Inertia Ozone with different sleeping positions and surfaces, is that its sufficiently comfortable to get a good night’s sleep while belly sleeping or perhaps back sleeping. However, if you are predominantly a side sleeper, you would probably be better off choosing a solid, thicker pad (no holes). Numerous lightweight pads are available that are 2.5 inches thick and weigh around 12 ounces, the same weight as the Inertia Ozone, sans pillow. However, the attached pillow is a nice convenience and functions well.

The Klymit Inertia Ozone can be a good choice for a belly sleeper. It's full-length, supportive, compact for packing, and the pillow is part of the pad.

Overall, if you’re a belly or back sleeper, you can get along quite well with the Inertia Ozone.

GEAR REVIEW: Klymit/Massdrop Static V Ultra Light Sleeping Pad

By Will Rietveld


As the name implies, this lightweight pad is co-branded and sold through Massdrop. Who is Massdrop? – It’s a growing company that negotiates a deal with a manufacturer to sell an amount of product at a reduced price (go to www.massdrop.com for details on how the process works). The manufacturer benefits from getting more product sold (and better known), the customer gets a good deal, and Massdrop gets a piece of the pie. Now, with the Static V UL pad as an example, Massdrop is co-branding products that are expected to be available for an extended time.

The new full-length Static V Ultra Light sleeping pad, co-developed by Klymit and Massdrop, and sold by Massdrop, weighs just 12 ounces. Massdrop will also offer an insulated version of this pad plus a pillow.

So, what is co-branding? Massdrop actually has a specialist who focuses on lightweight outdoor gear, Danny Milks, who got his start as a gear reviewer for Backpackinglight.com. That helps a lot because Danny knows what people want in lightweight, functional outdoor gear. The Static V UL pad is a good example. Klymit already has several versions of the Static V pad, which is a very nice design, but it’s made of bomber materials – 30D polyester top and 75D polyester bottom, and heavy. Danny worked with Klymit to design a truly lightweight version that is as durable as possible by using 20D nylon fabric throughout and trimming the dimensions a bit. Nylon is more durable than polyester. The dimensions of the standard Klymit Static V pad are 23 inches wide x 72 inches long; the Ultra Light version saves weight by reducing the pad to “essential” dimensions of 20 inches wide at the head end tapering to 17 inches wide at the foot end.

The product of this collaboration is a full-sized, lightweight, comfortable, sleeping pad that weighs only 12.05 ounces (my measurement), which is what a typical lightweight backpacker is looking for. The pad was co-developed by Klymit and Massdrop, manufactured by Klymit (in China), and sold by Massdrop.

Specifications and Features

Klymit/Massdrop (www.massdrop.com)
Static V Ultra Light Sleeping Pad
20D Nylon
72” long, 20” wide at head end, 17” wide at foot end, 2.5” thick
Pad, repair kit, stuff sack
12.05 oz pad only, mfr specification 12.9 oz for complete kit
$49.99 shipped
Insulated version weighs 16.9 oz, R = 4.4, $60 shipped; pillow weighs 1.7 oz, $15-20 shipped

Did you see the second to last line in the table? Yep, this pad costs only 50 bucks, including shipping. That’s a screaming deal for a comfortable lightweight sleeping pad.


The Static V UL pad has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s not full of holes (ie., “Loft Pockets”) to reduce weight like the Klymit Inertia line; it’s a solid mat, and its 2.5 inches thick. So, its comfort should be pretty predictable. Read on to get that info.

The comfort of a sleeping pad depends on a person’s sleeping position and the surface she is sleeping on. A belly or back sleeper can find easier comfort on a thinner sleeping pad because her weight is more distributed. However a side sleeper’s weight is concentrated at the hip and shoulder, so pad thickness and firmness matter. The hardness of the underlying surface is important too; a softer surface like vegetation or sand offers some additional cushioning, while a rock-hard surface leaves the cushioning entirely to the pad.

With that in mind, I slept on the pad overnight in a typical camping fashion on a hard tile floor, on a rug on top of that floor, and on the grass in my backyard. The first situation is similar to a compacted campsite, the second is similar to softer ground, and the third is similar to a vegetated campsite. I am a combination side and belly sleeper (some of both), but I can’t sleep on my back (I stop breathing, which is not good).

I tested the Static V UL pad on different surfaces and sleep positions. Here, I slept on the pad in a tent pitched on grass in my back yard. The inflatable pillow weighs just 1.7 ounces and will sell for about $15-20. The "X" pattern allows it to conform to different shapes, namely your head.

On the hard surface, belly sleeping was easy, and the pad pressure can be adjusted to your firmness preference. However, for side sleeping, inflation is more critical. For me, the pad works best when inflated so my hip is just short of bottoming out (not hitting the hard surface). Adding some additional cushioning under the pad (rug, vegetation) made a big difference in terms of overall comfort. The end result in all cases was a good night’s sleep on a very comfortable pad.

One thing that happens is the pad softens as the air cools overnight, so sleeping on a hard surface requires a pressure adjustment. Not so much on softer ground or vegetation.

Massdrop claims the Static V UL will inflate with 8-12 breaths. That’s a bit optimistic; it required 16 for me. It’s easy to adjust the pad pressure: simply turn the valve a bit and pull, and air can easily be released or added. Klymit uses a high quality valve that’s convenient and reliable.

One downside of the Static V UL pad is potential punctures. 20D nylon has high tear strength, but it will puncture easier than thicker fabric. So the user needs to use extra care to select a campsite free of sharp objects. This precaution is normal for any lightweight gear; saving weight requires more care to prevent damage.

Another downside is the pad’s smooth nylon surface allows it to slide on a tent floor. While many pads have a slip-resistant fabric or printed overlay on the bottomside, this one doesn’t. That is easily remedied by applying some diluted silicone strips to the bottom, similar to seam-sealing a tent. Simply dilute some McNett’s SilNet with paint thinner to the consistency of pancake syrup and paint some stripes on the bottom of the pad with a brush. This reminds me of the old Kooka Bay pads; they were made of thinner material to make them really lightweight, but the user needed to add the slip resistance.

The pad's thin 20D nylon fabric has high tear strength, but its vulnerable to punctures. Its smooth surface, top and bottom, means that the pad will slide on a tent floor. That issue is easily fixed by adding some sliicone stripes to the bottom of the pad.


The Klymit/Massdrop Static V UL sleeping pad is on target for what a lightweight backpacker (or any camper) is looking for. It’s well-designed and sized, easy to inflate, comfortable, and value priced. The drawbacks are its thin fabric is subject to puncture, and bottom of the pad has no slip-resistance.

For comparison the Thermarest NeoAir XLite Regular has very similar dimensions and weight, is constructed of 30D nylon, and has an R-Value of 3.2, but it costs a whopping $160. You can get three of the Massdrop pads for that amount! Also, the Massdrop does not have the “crinkley sound” of the XLite that some hikers complain of.

Overall, I found little to dislike about the Static V UL pad, and lots to like. Besides being truly lightweight enough to take backpacking, the same pad is a good choice for any type of camping or for use in a chair kit. When I want to take an especially comfortable full-length sleeping pad on a trip where space and weight matter, this is the one I would grab.

How to Purchase the Klymit/Massdrop Static V UL Pad

Here’s how the process works. When Massdrop announces the “Drop”, buyers add their name to the purchase list. When the quota is reached (typically 7-10 days, according to their website), Massdrop places the order with the manufacturer, buyers are charged, and the product is shipped, either from the manufacturer or Massdrop. Thus, the purchase process takes a little more time; it’s not the same as buying on Amazon.

The Static V UL will only be available from Massdrop; the best way to purchase it is from the Massdrop website (use this link:  http://dro.ps/md-klymit-3). It will be shown on the Klymit website, but clicking on it will redirect you to the Massdrop website. At this point I don’t know if there will be multiple “Drops” for the Klymit Static V UL pad, but it’s very likely if demand is strong.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Topo HydroVenture Trail Running Shoe

By Will Rietveld

This review is focused on using the new Topo HydroVenture shoe as footwear for ultralight backpacking. When you carry a lightweight backpack, trail running shoes suffice for footwear. And we are constantly looking for the lightest trail runners that provide for our needs.

The new Topo HydroVenture waterproof/breathable trail running shoe for spring 2016 features a new eVent DVdry LT membrane and construction.

 What do I look for in a trail runner for backpacking? The shoes most likely to meet my needs are in the stability/support category, meaning they need to be more than house slippers – they need to provide good support, rock protection, traction, cushioning, and have a wide toebox for foot expansion. Most ultralight backpackers prefer well-ventilated trail runners, which are cooler for the feet and dry out quickly, and they generally avoid waterproof shoes which have a reputation for holding in moisture once they get wet inside.

Three key elements make Topo shoes unique: light weight, wide toebox, and low drop.  Topo shoes have a foot-shaped toebox wide enough to allow your foot to expand, in combination with a narrow heel cup to fit your heel and keep it from slipping. This combination allows your feet to swell naturally and receive proper circulation. Topo also designs their soles with a low or neutral drop (3mm in the case of the Hydroventure) to help you maintain a more neutral position. Finally, Topo shoes have no-sew construction, utilizing adhesives, rather than stitching, to reduce weight and add durability. More on these features later.

Topo shoes are foot shaped -- what a unique concept (ya think?) What is amazing is how many shoes out there that are not shaped like feet.

 The new Topo HydroVenture shoe adds a new element to the design equation, a new eVent footwear technology called DVdry LT membrane and construction. It utilizes an upper construction that consists only of a three-layer waterproof laminate---the typical internal waterproof bootie has been completely eliminated in this new technology. eVent’s DVdry LT construction method reduces the amount of material and number of steps in constructing the shoe, which will increase manufacturing efficiency. The membrane on top is durable, flexible, and highly breathable (a 40% increase), and is protected by a TPU overlay which also provides extra support.

The eVent DVdry LT 3-layer laminate is the shoe's upper, no bootie.

Specifications and Features

Topo Athletic (www.topoathletic.com)
9.7 oz/shoe (men’s 9); 11.4 oz/shoe (men’s 12 tested
No-sew construction, wide toebox, fitted heel cup, eVent DVdry LT waterproof/breathable membrane, 3mm heel to toe drop, flexible TPU rock plate, supportive TPU overlay protects laminate, high-traction outsole, EVA midsole

Field Testing

I wore the HydroVenture on 15 outings over 4 months, which included day hiking, trail running, and backpacking. I wore them hiking and running on dusty, muddy, and watery trails; glissading on snowfields, scree skiing, and backpacking through lots of off-camber sliderock. Hiking off-trail is hard on shoes, especially when crossing and descending sliderock slopes and scree-skiing in loose gravel and dirt where edging is required.

The highlight of my testing was a 6-day, mostly off-trail, backpacking trip through the Weminuche Wilderness in Southwest Colorado. We traveled 60 miles, mostly above 12,000 feet elevation, and climbed a total of 20,000 feet over very rough and steep terrain.

We walked in snow a lot on our 60 mile traverse of the Weminuche Wilderness in Southwest Colorado. I wore gaiters over the shoes and my feet stayed dry.

Hiking in mud and water was no problem for the HydroVenture. A tight fitting gaiter is important to keep dirt, grit, mud, snow, and water from entering the top of the shoes.

I wore the HydroVenture while hiking through miles and miles of rough terrain like this.


The washed HydroVenture after 15 outings, including a rough 60-mile off-trail wilderness traverse.

Waterproofness – I found the shoes to be waterproof as claimed. While day hiking and backpacking I wore lightweight gaiters over the top of the shoes, which were very effective in keeping dust, grit, snow, and water out of the shoes. With some tight gaiters over them, I could quick-foot it through shallow water without getting much water in the shoes.

On hotter days I did get some dampness in my socks from sweat, and some snow and water did manage to get in at times. However the new eVent membrane vented the moisture out fairly quickly to maintain comfort, much more so that Gore-Tex shoes I have tested.

Breathability – I have always been a fan of eVent, and once again its superior performance came through. Even in hotter weather my feet were comfortable, akin to wearing a mesh shoe.

Traction – The HydroVenture has a 4.5mm rubber outsole with multidirectional lug traction, forefoot flex grooves and a mud-release design. It gripped well on a variety of surfaces.

Fit – My Brannock-measured shoe size is 12-E. I need a lot of room in the toebox, so I favor shoes with a wide toebox. For me, the HydroVenture is a good fit, as long as I wear thinner socks. Throughout my testing I did not have any problems with crowding in the toebox area. The shoes are true to size and fit me very well.

Comfort – I did not have any foot problems with these shoes; they were comfortable to wear during the entire test period. Cushioning is good, and the rock plate is very effective. Simply tightening the laces over my instep is sufficient to prevent toe jamming on steep descents.

Stability/Support – For me, the HydroVenture provided all the support I needed. However, that’s a very individual and subjective assessment. I have strong ankles and high arches, so they work well for me. Other hikers may need the additional support of a mid- or full-height shoe or boot.

Durability – The short answer is – better than most. Here the no-sew construction and TPU overlay really make a difference. Many other shoes I have tested have a sewn seam in the lateral metatarsal head area, which is very vulnerable to abrasion when the shoes are used for off-trail hiking. The stitching wears through, then the seam opens up. The HydroVenture does not have any stitching in that area, so no problems

Footbox area after 4 months and 15 outings of use. Note that the outsole is loosening where it wraps the toe, otherwise there are very few signs of wear to the TPU overlay or fabric panels.

The TPU toe bumper and overlays also performed well to protect the shoe’s panels of breathable fabric. After many trips of abusive wear there is very little evidence of damage.

The only issues I had with the HydroVenture were 1) the outsole is coming loose where it wraps up around the toe of the shoe, and 2) the thin insoles tended to shift to the rear, bunching under my heel. Once the insoles started to shift rearward, it was a repetitive problem; I had to take off the shoes and move the insole to its proper place. The problem can probably be fixed with a few drops of silicone under the footbeds.


Simply put, the Topo HydroVenture is one of the best hiking shoes I have tested. Their wide toebox is what allows me to wear them in the first place, and all of their features add up to near perfect shoe for ultralight backpacking and day hiking. For their weight, their fit and performance are amazing.

One question that arises among people who use trail runners for hiking regards the pros and cons of hiking in a zero drop shoe. I have heard arguments both ways, but I personally don’t see any clear advantage of a zero drop shoe for hiking. By my reasoning, they would strain the Achilles on steep slopes. Some people report foot problems when switching to zero drop, but it’s not a clear cause and effect relationship. And some people recommend a gradual transition to adjust to zero drop. In response to this issue, some shoe manufacturers have added back 3 to 4 mm of heel rise to their trail running shoes (the HydroVenture has 3mm of heel rise). That solution works good for me; I once developed a case of Plantar fasciitis from testing some zero drop shoes from another manufacturer (which could have been caused by the lack of a TPU rock plate), but I have not had any problems at all from shoes with a minimal 3-4mm of heel rise. Note that a “standard” hiking shoe has about 10mm of heel rise.

The eVent DVdry LT membrane and construction method makes the choice to get a waterproof/breathable shoe closer to a no-brainer. If you hike in the mountains it’s an easy choice. But not so much so if you hike in the desert. The shoes were not hot on my feet and dissipated moisture from sweat and an occasional water intrusion very well.

Topo’s no-sew construction, meaning the shoe’s components are assembled using adhesives rather than stitching, is a big plus. I have tested many, many shoes and boots with stitching in the lateral metatarsal head area, and that’s where the shoes failed. The stitching wore through and the seam came apart. To avoid that, a prominent rand around the shoe helps a lot (but that adds weight), or the user can apply some McNett SeamGrip (liquid polyurethane) to the stitching to resist wear.

Fit is a very individual thing when it comes to shoes, so it’s hard to claim Topo shoes as the “best fit”. However, their design makes a lot of sense; as we run or hike, our feet swell and expand, so it’s only logical that shoes provide room for that, rather than squeeze your toes together.

Even though the wide toebox/snug heelcup design makes perfect sense, it is surprising how few brands use it. People with narrow feet probably don’t like it, or need it. However hikers as a group favor that type of shoe because their feet “pancake out” from years of hiking. Mine certainly have. I remember Montrail’s “IntegralFit” design with a wide toebox/snug heelcup, and my feet were happy in their shoes. That is, until Montrail changed their last, then I couldn’t wear them.

Overall, Topo’s three main design elements (light weight, wide toebox, and low drop) are a winning combination, and when you add in their grip, support, durability, and new eVent membrane they raise the bar to a new level of performance.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

REVIEW: GaiaGPS, a Smartphone-Based Mapping GPS for the Backcountry

By Tom Galbraith

GaiaGPS is the single best App I’ve ever purchased, and that’s coming from a parsimonious Scots miser who hasn’t purchased more than a dozen App’s for his smartphone, and those few all under $3.

Let’s just get the price issue out of the way at the onset: it costs $19 from the App Store for iOS devices and at Google Play for Android devices. If the cost puts you off from trying this invaluable backcountry App, then find someone who’s using it and get a first-hand demonstration, or visit the GaiaGPS website to view a demo.

GaiaGPS has extended my hiking and backpacking experiences many-fold since I first saw another hiker using it on the trail. He was following a track someone had given him, recording his own track with all the real time stats, all the while viewing his current location on a clearly visible fully-zoomed USGS topo.

The ease of use, features, and clarity of GaiaGPS rivals any dedicated mapping GPS on the market. Maps and routes are easily loaded. On this screen I have loaded four routes and GaiaGPS shows them at the same time in different colors. With Gaia, my phone serves as a GPS, camera, notepad, and reader.

Questions immediately came to mind: What does it cost? How much are the topos? How large is the app? How do you get other people’s tracks? Does it eat up your smartphone battery and what was that name again? (It’s GaiaGPS).

I’ll have to admit I had to look up “gaia” on the internet; its The ancient Greek goddess of the earth, mother of the Titans, in case you’re clueless as well.

I’ll also admit more than once I’ve been “off track” when hiking and backpacking. Now with GaiaGPS on my smartphone it happens less often, or more to the point, for not as long.  Having a real-time GPS cursor following my footsteps is a pretty amazing feature to have in my pocket. 

GaiaGPS on a smartphone doesn’t use or need cell tower availability or coverage, rather it uses the phone’s internal GPS chip.  It works anywhere in the world, unless you’re in a deep dark canyon with walls that obscure most of the sky.  My GaiaGPS recorded tracks seem to do just fine in dense forests and wooded areas but will jump diagonally off track when it’s bouncing off steep walls and cliffs, righting itself once it can “see” more sky.

The phone stays in my pocket (or hip belt) until I’ve sensed I’m off track, have an intersection choice to make, or just am curious how far we’ve gone.  But GaiaGPS can tell you much more if you choose: such as knowing the distance, altitude, moving time versus your total time, average speed, and stopped time, to name a few.

What really pleases me is that I now have all those GPS features combined with a camera and phone.  I’ve eliminated my Garmin Trek’s 5.1 ounces (that I rarely used) along with 4.75 ounces for my point-and-shoot camera and consolidated those functions into my iPhone. The 9.85 ounce savings allows other gear, or better yet cutting my base weight down closer to that elusive 10-pound number.

And just as preparing for an adventure is enjoyable and rewarding, checking out my tracks and stats after the hike has added to my overall joy of backpacking. Sharing the track is fun as well.  You can export the track via email or text message as well as import it into Google Earth or other mapping applications like Garmin Base Camp.  I often take a screen shot of the imported Google Earth track and place it in my blog to give folks a sense of where I’ve been hiking.

Just buying the app can be a little intimidating and even frustrating if you don’t know how to use it to its full potential.  GaiaGPS offers you all the USGS topos for the United States for free, as long as you are online (connected to WiFi).  You must select an area (draw a box around and Save) the region you’d like to have on your phone while you’re still online. 

The features and operation are very straight forward, but it takes a little exploring to figure that out without someone showing you or watching the numerous very short how-to videos offered in the Help Section of their website.

You can certainly Record a Track without a single bit of help and download the map tiles after-the-fact, but if you’re actually trying to navigate with a topo offline you need to have those USGS (or other versions of the many maps provided) loaded beforehand.  Users new to the app complain of “blurry” topos when in reality they haven’t downloaded the actual map tiles and are just seeing the default low resolution overview map.

There is a long list of features provided with the basic version, but the overall beauty of the app is having a super clear, zoom-able topo of where you are traveling and the GPS cursor arrow marking your current location.  If you’ve started recording your track, the line of travel is shown in a contrasting color telling you where you’ve been and possibly how far off track you might be. 

I especially like loading up someone else’s track for a hike or ride, and using that to show me the route I’m planning to travel.  That feature is as easy as emailing yourself the previous track (from a friend or off the internet), tapping the attachment and selecting Import to GaiaGPS. It loads in your GaiaGPS Folders section and you can “Show on Map” with the press of a button.

After using GaiaGPS and collecting numerous tracks, I really appreciate the easy way I can organize the various tracks into Folders, making finding and utilizing previous tracks far easier.

This app could be something you didn’t know you needed, but it soon will be something you can’t live without.  Especially if it helps get your pack weight down by eliminating an extra device.  As mentioned earlier, GaiaGPS has numerous short and to-the-point video tutorials (https://help.gaiagps.com/hc/en-us/categories/202519108-iOS), in the Help section of their website online, for each feature.  Check it out; you’ll like it.

About the Author: Tom Galbraith has a long and varied outdoor history, including living on a sailboat, mountain biking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, ultralight backpacking in remote beautiful places, rafting western rivers, spending winters in Thailand, trekking in Switzerland, and hiking the Colorado Trail. You can read about his adventures at http://www.tgsgblog.com/

Friday, July 1, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: 2016 Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack

By Will Rietveld

With some very significant improvements for 2016, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla is an outstanding backpack for lightweight backpacking, and it weighs just 2 1/4 pounds.

Author’s Note: Some readers may be confused because I published an earlier review of the 2016 Gorilla Backpack with a top flap rather than its present floating top pocket. The latter and other changes were implemented because of a decision to move production to a different factory. New features planned for 2017 were incorporated as the new factory set up to manufacture the Gorilla. In response, I have re-written this review for the real 2016 Gorilla Backpack.

The final version of the 2016 Gorilla adds a floating top pocket that is removable. Other important improvements include anchoring the frame to a stiffened hipbelt, lighter fabrics, and larger hipbelt pockets. (Gossamer Gear photo)


Since its introduction in 2009, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack is now at gen 4. I have consistently given this pack an outstanding rating, so how can Gossamer Gear make it even better? Once more, the changes are both significant and functional, but the pack gains a little weight. How does that additional weight relate to performance?

At 40 liters the Gorilla is a medium size backpack ideal for lightweight backpacking, or ultralight backpacking with larger volume loads or longer trips. In either case it’s designed to comfortably carry up to 25 pounds; 30 pounds max. More on that later.

Interestingly, the Gorilla was previously rated at 46 liters, but the present version is specified at 40 liters. Has the pack been downsized? More on that later as well.

Specifications and Features

Gossamer Gear (www.gossamergear.com)
Gorilla 40 Ultralight Backpack
70 denier Robic ripstop nylon body, 100 denier Robic nylon in high abrasion areas, Air Mesh shoulder strap and hipbelt lining, Power Mesh fabric in sleeping pad sleeve, stretch mesh front pocket, tubular aluminum frame
Measured weight (size Large) 35.6 oz with stay and hipbelt; manufacturer specification 35.7 oz
Large mesh front pocket, 2 durable fabric side pockets, fitted floating detachable top pocket, 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 4 side compression straps, hydration sleeve with 1 center hose port, 9-inch extension collar, drawcord top closure, trekking pole holders, removable corrugated Sitlight pad backpanel, sternum strap, ice axe loop, haul loop.
$245 with hipbelt

What’s New

There are six main changes in the new 2016 version of the Gorilla, and all of them are significant:
  1. The contoured tubular aluminum frame now connects to the hipbelt
  2. The hipbelt has been stiffened to make it more supportive
  3. The top flap has been replaced with a fitted and floating top pocket
  4. The hipbelt pockets are larger and gusseted
  5. Lighter weight Robic fabrics are used in the pack’s body and reinforcements
  6. One center hydration tube port replaces two corner ports, and there are three reservoir hang loops rather than one


In previous versions of the Gorilla, the one-piece U-shaped tubular aluminum stay merely resided in sleeves on the backpanel. It served as a pack stiffener, but it was not an integrated internal frame. The 2016 Gorilla is finally a true internal frame backpack, with the ends of the stay anchored in sleeves on the back of the hipbelt.

 A layer of semi-stiff plastic has been added to the hipbelt to make it stiffer, so it now works in concert with the connected stays to improve weight transfer and carry comfort.

The former Over-The-Top closure system (a top flap with a shallow zippered pocket) has been replaced with a floating top pocket that is removable. This adds some additional volume.

The hipbelt pockets are a big improvement over the old ones. While the previous pockets were two dimensional, the new ones are three dimensional with a 1.5-inch gusset. The overall dimensions are significantly larger.

Lighter weight Robic fabrics are used to partially offset the weight added by the top pocket; 70 denier in the pack body (previously 100 denier), and 100 denier for reinforcements and high abrasion areas (previously 200 denier).

Eliminating one hydration tube port also saves a smidgen of weight.

Overall, these are very significant improvements. The previous versions of the Gorilla were really good, now it is outstanding. The Gorilla is now a very refined backpack, and still retains Gossamer Gear’s DNA for lightweight and functionality.

However, adding features and design improvements adds weight. While the original Gorilla weighed just 24.2 ounces, the gen 3 (2014) upgrade added about 4 ounces, now the gen 4 improvements add another 7.4 ounces and bump the weight up to 2 pounds 3.6 ounces (for size Large). That’s acceptable, if the increased weight translates to improved performance. Read on.

Photo Tour

Frontpanel View: With its new top pocket the new Gorilla is a bit taller; I measured it at 32 inches with the extension collar full. Note the large capacity mesh front pocket,and durable fabric side pockets.

Backpanel View: The backpanel retains the signature egg crate patterned Gossamer Gear SitLight pad in a stretch nylon sleeve. The pad is easily removable for sitting on during breaks as well as camp use. The shoulder straps are contoured to fit both men and women and are lined with Air Mesh for ventilation. Note the much larger capacity hipbelt pockets.
Side View: This view again shows the size of the front mesh pocket and side pockets, as well as a good look at the new top pocket. Each side has two compression straps that provide excellent pack volume adjustment.

Top Pocket: The top pocket is floating, meaning it's height can be adjusted depending on how full the pack is. It is also removable when it is not needed. In that case the top straps are connected in an X-pattern. The pocket has a full width zipper for easy access. It adds some significant volume to the pack in a very convenient location.

The side pockets are large enough to hold two water bottles, and have an elastic binding to help keep them from sliding out when you bend over. The photo also shows the size of the hipbelt pockets when fully expanded.


I tested the Gorilla on 14 trips, carrying loads ranging from 15 to 30 pounds. (Photo by Tom Galbraith)

From my testing, I can say unequivocally that the upgrades (1 and 2 above) in the new Gorilla’s frame and suspension system result in a very noticeable improvement in the pack’s load transfer and carry comfort. With loads under 25 pounds, the pack will transfer all of the weight to my hips and carry it very comfortably. At 30 pounds the pack puts about one-fourth of the weight on my shoulders, which is still comfortable, but I can feel the weight more. The sweet spot is 20 to 25 pounds.

The new hipbelt pockets are wonderful compared to the old ones. I could barely get my compact camera in the old ones, but the new pockets have loads of room.

And the new top pocket is golden. The net weight increase is small, but it adds some very useful volume in the right place. The top pocket is perfect for stowing a jacket or rainwear.

Another less obvious benefit of the new floating top pocket is it actually increases the usable volume of the pack (see the frontpanel photo above). While the previous Over The Top flap shielded the top of the pack well, it was also part of the closure system which included the upper part of the extension collar. The new floating top pocket and drawcord closure allows the extension collar to be completely filled, and the top cap sits on top of that. In summary, the floating top pocket plus the additional usable volume in the extension collar contribute significantly to the Gorilla's volume, and it's space not apparent in the pack's 40 liter volume specification.

I don’t mind the switch to lighter fabrics. Robic fabric is extremely strong; see my description here. Frankly, its hard to tell the difference from the previous Gorilla.


This latest version (2016) of the Gorilla really rocks. I was impressed with most of the previous versions (except gen 2 which eliminated the side compression straps), but this latest version simply gets everything right. It’s clearly more comfortable to carry and transfers weight better. The previous top flap, which kept water from entering the pack, was an improvement, but the zippered pocket in the lid was not all that useful because it’s flat and tight. The floating top pocket is the right solution, and it adds some needed volume.

One quandary is the volume of the pack. As I mentioned, the previous Gorilla was claimed to have 46 liters and the latest version is specified at 40 liters. I checked the volume of the main compartment compared to the Gen 3 Gorilla to verify that the pack has not been downsized (actually I found it to be 2 liters larger). So what gives? Much of the confusion, I believe, resides in applying the ASTM F2153 standard, which specifies that an internal frame pack’s volume is based on the volume of the main compartment; the volume of attached pockets (which is variable) is not included.

However, it’s common practice for manufacturers of ultralight gear to detail the volume of the main compartment and all pockets, so a potential buyer can determine if her gear kit will fit in the pack and where specific items might go. I believe Gossamer Gear should stick with that practice to help buyers with the pack selection process.

But the volume conundrum begs more clarification. As specified, the Gorilla at 40 liters is only 4 liters larger than the Murmur, but it is clearly a larger pack. In practice, the Murmur is right-sized for ultralight backpacking, and the Gorilla (in my opinion) is right-sized for lightweight backpacking. However, the 40 liter specification gives the impression that it is smaller than it actually is. We at least need more complete information on the actual volumes of the main pack body and all pockets.

The Gorilla is just right for a summertime backpacking trip with lightweight gear and shorter trips. I should disclose, however, that there were occasions with the previous Gen 3 Gorilla where I came up short on volume when packing bulkier loads. That should be less of an issue with the roomier Gen 4 2016 Gorilla. One technique to free up interior space is to attach tall gear bags to the sides of the pack, under the side compression straps. That technique will allow the Gorilla to suffice for most lightweight backpacking trips.

Some buyers will opt for the larger Mariposa pack to ensure they have enough pack volume. The Mariposa, 60 liters and 34.8 ounces, actually weighs one ounce less than the Gorilla and costs only $10 more, which makes it very tempting. However, a partially full pack does not carry as well as a fully expanded pack, and the Mariposa does not have side compression straps to adjust it for smaller loads, so I caution against getting the Mariposa “just to make sure I have enough volume”. Better to determine the actual volume of your gear kit, add 25-30% for food, water, and fuel, and then purchase a pack with that volume.