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

Monday, February 27, 2017

GEAR REVIEW: 2017 Gossamer Gear Silverback 50 Backpack

The new Silverback incorporates all of the improvements introduced in the 2016 upgrade of the Gorilla pack. In my review of the 2016 Gorilla I stated “The Gorilla is now a very refined backpack, and still retains Gossamer Gear’s DNA for lightweight and functionality.” The new Silverback gets all of that, so it’s a very refined backpack from the get-go.

By Will Rietveld

The Silverback is new for 2017, and a brand new model for Gossamer Gear. With 50 liters of volume, it fits squarely between the Gorilla (40 liters) and Mariposa (60 liters).

The brand-new Gossamer Gear Silverback 50 Backpack for 2017 (Gossamer Gear photo).

 In the past, many pack buyers had a hard time deciding which Gossamer Gear pack to get: they worried that the Gorilla is too small, so they opted to get the larger Mariposa, which weighs only a few ounces more and is has a similar price tag. The trouble with that rationale is the Mariposa is a big jump in volume and the buyer may not actually need all that volume.

Enter the midsized Silverback 50; how does the Silverback fit in, perform, and compare with its siblings?

Specifications and Features

Gossamer Gear (www.gossamergear.com)
Silverback 50
50 Liters
Mfr spec size Medium complete pack 37.4 ounces, measured weight size Large with Medium hipbelt 38.25 oz for the complete pack
Contoured aluminum frame, 210D Robic Nylon body, 210D Robic/Extreema Grid reinforcements and high wear areas, air mesh harness lining, power mesh pad holder
Large fabric 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.
$260 with hipbelt


The short answer, if you are already familiar with the new 2016 Gorilla pack, is the Silverback is a larger volume version of the Gorilla – the design and feature set are the same, and the two packs differ only in their dimensions and materials used.

The longer version, with a focus on important upgrades and specific differences, is presented below.

There are six main changes in the 2016 Gorilla transferred to the new 2017 Silverback, and all of them are significant:
  1. The contoured tubular aluminum frame connects to the hipbelt
  2. A stiffened hipbelt is more supportive
  3. A fitted, floating, and removable top pocket
  4. Large gusseted hipbelt pockets
  5. New Robic fabrics in the packs’ body and reinforcements; lighter fabrics in the Gorilla and heavier fabrics in the Silverback.
  6. One center hydration tube port
In previous Gossamer Gear packs, the one-piece U-shaped contoured tubular aluminum stay merely resided in sleeves on the backpanel. It served as a pack stiffener, but it was not an integrated internal frame. With the new 2016 Gorilla (and existing Mariposa), the ends of the stay anchored in sleeves on the back of the hipbelt, making it a true internal frame backpack. The same design is used in the new Silverback.

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. Note the stay pockets on the back of the hipbelt. The combination is a very significant upgrade, which I will explain later. (Gossamer Gear photo)

Frontpanel View. With its 9-inch extension collar filled, the Silverback is a tall, voluminous pack. The large gusseted front pocket is durable 210D Robic fabric, while the Gorilla’s is mesh. The bottom of the front pocket, side pockets, and lid are even more durable 210D Robic/Extreema Grid fabric (the Gorilla’s fabrics are 70D and 100D Robic).

What are Robic fabrics, now used in most of Gossamer Gear’s backpacks? Robic, made by Korea’s Hyosung Corporation, is a high-tenacity nylon fabric designed for applications where very high resilience and durability are needed. It surpasses ordinary Nylon 6 in tensile strength, tear strength, puncture resistance, and abrasion resistance. It has physical properties similar to Nylon 66 fabrics used for industrial purposes, at a lower cost. According to the manufacturer, this fabric can easily retain its original exterior even after long periods of use. In comparison, the familiar 210D Dyneema Gridstop contains super strong Spectra fibers in a grid pattern, but the rest of the fabric is ordinary Nylon.

Backpanel View. Again, the extension collar is completely filled in this photo. The new fitted floating top cap has a full width zipper and is removable, reducing the pack’s weight by 3.5 ounces. The pack does not have load levelers or hipbelt stabilizer straps.

Side View: Each side has two compression straps. Because the pack body depth is larger, the side pockets are also larger, wide enough to hold two 1-liter bottles or all of your rain gear in one pocket. The extension collar is full in this photo.

A closer look at the new top cap. It has a full-width zipper on the opposite side. The photo also gives a closer look at Gossamer Gear’s 210D Robic/Extreema Grid fabric that is used in high stress and high abrasion areas. The extension collar is not filled in this photo.

Shoulder Harness. The Silverback has Gossamer Gear’s new narrower, thicker, contoured shoulder straps, which are more female friendly. They are 2.75 inches wide and 5/8-inch thick. The hipbelt is 4.5 inches wide and is interchangeable with the Gorilla and Mariposa. Note the depth of the filled right pocket.

Gossamer Gear’s traditional mesh pad sleeve is a foundation feature; it holds a lightweight corrugated foam pad that serves as a backpanel and is removable for use as a sit pad. A ThinLight Pad or inflatable sleeping pad can be substituted if desired. 

A closer look at the air mesh lining on the shoulder straps and hipbelt.
The hipbelt pockets are significantly larger and deeper than previous ones, expanding out as much as 2.5 inches. The same hipbelt (available in three sizes) is used on the Gorilla, Silverback, and Mariposa.

Side pocket closer look. Because they are wider on the Silverback, the side pockets will hold a lot, like two water bottles, or a 2-liter flask, or a rainsuit. With heavier weight they hang down below the bottom of the pack.

With the top lid removed the pack's extension collar becomes a drawcord/rolltop closure at shoulder strap height with two cross straps. The straps are not long enough to cross over a filled extension collar. This mode reduces the pack's volume, cuts 3.5 ounces of weight, and lowers pack height for ducking under branches.


During late fall and winter months I was able to test the Silverback on one 4-day southern Utah canyon country backpacking trip (left), one 6-day ski-in hut trip (right), and four day hikes carrying different loads. In the left photo I am carrying 2 gallons of water, so the pack is very heavy. On the right I carried about 25 pounds on an 11-mile ski trip to the cabin.

As with the updated Gorilla, the frame anchored to the back of a stiffened hipbelt effectively transfers weight to the hips and comfortably carries a heavier load. On my Utah backpacking trip I carried 2 gallons of water at times for trail use and dry camping, which bumped pack weight up to 30 pounds or more. The pack handled the weight well, although (for me) it was still a lot of weight.

My pack load testing on dayhikes corroborated my backpacking experience. 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 larger 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.

The top pocket fits well and is a very functional component of the pack. The net weight increase is small compared to the Over the Top Flap previously used on Gossamer Gear backpacks, but it provides a lot more useful volume in the right place. The top pocket is perfect for stowing a jacket or rainwear. If it’s not needed it can easily be removed to save weight, or it can be used as a daypack, using a light cord or strap around the waist to carry it.

When the extension collar is filled, the Silverback gains a lot more volume and it is a tall pack, as shown in the Description section, about level with the top of my head. That results in frequent brushes when ducking under tree branches. It's much less of an issue when the pack is filled to the bottom of the extension collar, which is shoulder height.


With the addition of a floating top pocket, the Gorilla and Silverback move one step closer to a “conventional” top-loader backpack. That’s not a bad thing; that feature set is hard to improve on. However, Gossamer Gear’s DNA is still intact with its signature large front pocket and backpanel pad sleeve containing a removable sit pad. The very lightweight U-shaped contoured aluminum frame is another mainstay, so to speak.

The new Silverback incorporates all of the improvements introduced in the 2016 upgrade of the Gorilla pack. In my review of the 2016 Gorilla I stated “The Gorilla is now a very refined backpack, and still retains Gossamer Gear’s DNA for lightweight and functionality.” The new Silverback gets all of that, so it’s a very refined backpack from the get-go.

Very few manufactures have successfully incorporated so many lightweight functional features into a fully-featured workhorse backpack that weighs less then 2.5 pounds, and Gossamer Gear arguably does it the best. The Silverback is durable, full-featured, very functional, adjustable in volume, and comfortably carries a reasonable load.

Another way of saying this is that Gossamer Gear’s packs are targeted to those people who have successfully reduced the weight and volume of their gear kit, and can now reduce the weight and volume of their backpack as well. And their packs are also a good choice for anyone who intends to reduce the weight of their gear kit. Although the packs will handle a load of 30 pounds or more, they are at their best with 20-25 pounds of weight, which is where any enlightened backpacker will be.

The Silverback has a ton of volume. I had a hard time utilizing all the space. However the pack’s four side compression straps allow easy volume adjustment for smaller loads, or to use it as a daypack from camp. This is much more than I can say for Gossamer Gear’s Mariposa 60 backpack, which does not have any side compression straps.

This brings up the FAQ of which pack to get. Previously many buyers opted for the larger Mariposa pack because they feared the Gorilla was too small. However the Mariposa has the aforementioned drawback, so it is not a perfect solution. The Mariposa works best when it is fully expanded, and doesn’t have any volume reduction capability.

Even though the Silverback is 10 liters larger than the Gorilla, and utilizes heavier fabrics, the weight is just 2.65 ounces more (38.25 ounces versus 35.6 ounces, respectively, based on a size Large pack and size Medium hipbelt for both packs). Thus, for a person who carries a widely varying gear kit for different trips, or simply wants to make sure the pack is big enough, the Silverback is the perfect choice; it will easily adjust to the load size. It should meet the needs of any lightweight backpacker, or carry any higher volume/lighter weight load.

However, if you have a fairly standard gear kit that you consistently use, I recommend that you  measure the actual volume of your gear kit, add about 25% for consumables (food, water, and fuel), and match your pack choice to that volume. No sense carrying any more pack weight than you really need.

Overall, the Silverback fills the gap between the Gorilla and Mariposa, and is every bit as capable as the Gorilla while providing more volume. It handily answers the question of which pack to get because it has plenty of volume at the top end, and easily adjusts for smaller loads.


  1. Do you have any info on whether it can carry bear canisters and whether they can be carried vertically or horizontally or both?

  2. I don't have a bear canister since they are not used where I live. I believe it will, but best to ask Gossamer Gear at info@gossamergear.com

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  4. Do you have any insight on how hot the corrugated back panel is against your back in the spring and summer months. I am debating between this and zpacks arc blast.