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Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack Review

Weekend Backpack:
Philip Werner
Version:
2014
Price:
235.00

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On February 3, 2015
Last modified:August 14, 2016

Summary:

The Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack is designed for backpackers who have already gone through the transition from a heavier gear list to a base weight that is under 15 pounds. I’ve been using this pack for a long time and think this latest design update is the best yet, providing far more durability and comfort for both men and women, than any of the earlier versions of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack
Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack

The Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack is designed for backpackers who have already gone through the transition from a heavier gear list to a base weight that is under 15 pounds (not including food, fuel, and water). While it can be used for shorter overnight backpacking trips, peakbagging, and even day hikes when you need to carry extra layers, the Gorilla Backpack is optimized for thru-hikers who need to carry up to a weeks worth of food and prefer an ultralight style pack that has lots of external storage.

The pack reviewed here is the third generation of the Gorilla Backpack manufactured by Gossamer Gear. If you’re interested in comparing it to previous versions of the pack, see my reviews of the 2012 version and the 2010 version. I’ve been using this pack for a long time and think this latest design update is the best yet, providing far more durability and comfort for both men and women, than any of the earlier versions of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack.

Internal Storage and Organization

The Gorilla is a top loading backpack with a total capacity of 38 liters (including a long extension collar), with 28 liters of space in the main compartment and the rest distributed between the pack’s other  pockets. The main compartment has an internal hydration sleeve with a hang loop and two hydration ports located above the shoulder straps. There’s also enough room to hold a full-sized Garcia Backpacker’s Cache bear canister (vertically) and still have room for your other gear.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - The main compartment has a long extension collar that provides extra storage
The main compartment has a long extension collar that provides extra storage

The top of the main compartment closes with a clip instead of a roll top. Roll top closures, while providing good top compression, are wasteful when it comes to using all of the space in an extension collar. Many ultralight manufacturers prefer making products with them out of convenience, since they’re less expensive to sew.

The Gorilla uses a different method for sealing out rain using a flap that includes a zippered map pocket, much like a top lid, but far more streamlined and lightweight. The zippered pocket can hold quite a lot of gear: I use it to store a headlamp, Aqua Mira drops, maps, compass, hats, gloves, my wallet, keys, you name it.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - The top of the main compartment is covered by a pocket and secured by webbing straps that help pull the load closer to your back for better stability.
The top of the main compartment is covered by a pocket and secured by webbing straps that help pull the load closer to your back for better stability.

The flap is attached to the pack by long webbing straps, an upgrade from the previous model, which used much less durable cordage. The webbing straps are oriented so that they pull the back of the load down and towards the back of your back, providing for better vertical compression and load transfer to your hips.

They can also be used like a floating lid to cinch gear to the top of the backpack under the flap pocket – shown here carrying a bear canister outside the larger Gossamer Gear Mariposa, which has the same top flap closure system.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa - Bare Boxer Contender Snugged under Bear Canister Gossamer Gear Mariposa Over-The-Top Lid
Bare Boxer Contender snuggled under Gossamer Gear Mariposa Over-The-Top Flap Pocket

The Gorilla also has two hip belt pockets permanently attached to the hip belt that close with zippers. The pockets are made with solid fabric for better durability and are large enough to contain several food bars, a GPS, a Delorme Explorer, or a point and shoot camera. They’re far larger than the pockets you find on conventional backpacks and therefore more useful.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - The hip belt has two large side pockets with zippers
The hip belt has two large side pockets with zippers

I think Gossamer Gear’s backpacks have the best hip belt pockets in the industry and I have a hard time adjusting to packs that don’t provide this kind of convenient accessory storage.

External Storage and Compression System

Mesh Pocket

If there’s one attribute that defines an ultralight backpack, it’s having lots of open external storage so that you can store all of the gear, food, and water you need during the day on the outside of your backpack for easy access. This reduces transition times when you de-layer or eat, so that you can maximize your daylight and make more mileage in a day. If it’s raining, it also makes it possible to keep your wet rain gear separate from the dry gear in your pack.

The Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack has a Durable Front Mesh Pocket and Solid Fabric Bottle Pockets for Increased Durability
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack has a front mesh pocket and solid fabric bottle pockets for increased durability

The Gorilla has a very large mesh stretch pocket on the front of the pack that’s a hold-all for almost anything. I mainly use mine to stow layers, like my fleece or rain jacket, so I can put them on or take them off without having to open the main compartment of my backpack and dig around for them.

The bottom of the mesh pocket is protected with heavy-duty 200 denier Robic fabric, to prevent abrasion when you set it down on the ground, and it has two drain ports, so you can store wet gear in it. For example, when I carry a Sawyer water filter, I stuff it at the bottom of the mesh pocket to segregate it from the dry gear in my pack and so that any residual water in it can drain out.

Gossamer Gear further upgraded the durability of the mesh used for the front pocket in this latest round of pack updates, so that it’s much harder to snag or tear on overhanging vegetation. The new mesh can withstand the punishment of off trail travel in New England without being ripped to shreds, which is pretty remarkable.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - Two tiers of side compression Straps and solid fabric over the bottle pockets for better durability
Two tiers of side compression straps and solid fabric over the bottle pockets for better durability

Water Bottle Pockets

The Gossamer Gear Gorilla has two side water bottle pockets, each large enough to hold a one liter Nalgene (shown here with insulated water bottle cozies for cold weather hiking). The pockets are also made out of 200 denier Robic high tenacity nylon instead of mesh for better durability, since this is one of the areas of a backpack that takes the most abuse.

Both water bottle pockets are accessible while wearing the pack, so you can reach in and grab a water bottle and put it back in the pocket single-handedly, without having to stop walking. There aren’t many backpacks out there that can boast this level of convenience.

External Attachment Points

If you ever find yourself needing to carry bulky items that won’t fit into the main compartment, the Gorilla has 16 tiny webbing loops scattered along the sides and back of the pack that let you rig up custom attachment points using accessory line and a few cordlocks.

Every pack that Gossamer Gear ships comes with a length of accessory cord and cordlocks for just this purpose. You can see an example of this below, where I’ve attached snowshoes to the outside of my Gorilla pack for a winter hiking trip.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - External lash points make it possible to easily secure gear to the outside of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack
External lash points make it possible to easily secure gear to the outside of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack

Gossamer Gear also makes it easy to add accessory pockets and electronic gizmos to the shoulder straps of the Gorilla, which include D-rings and horizontal keeper straps. The attention to detail here is really great.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - Both shoulder straps include D-rings and horizontal accessory straps fopr attaching extra pockets or electronic gizmos.
Both shoulder straps include D-rings and horizontal accessory straps for attaching extra pockets or electronic gizmos.

Compression Straps

The Gorilla has two tiers of side compression webbing to compress your load and make it easier to carry. The side compression webbing can also be used to secure gear to the side of your pack. Top compression is available by drawing down on the webbing that tightens the top flap over the main compartment, as discussed above.

Trekking Pole Holders and Ice Axe Loop

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - Plastic trekking pole holders and off-center ice axe loop
Plastic trekking pole holders and off-center ice axe loop

Gossamer Gear has included a pair of trekking pole holders on the new Gorilla that make it convenient to stow your poles when you want to keep your hands free. The tips of your poles slide into two plastic loops at the base of the pack, while the tops can be lashed to the side of your pack using the upper compression strap or a cord lock attached to one of the Gorilla’s external lash points. The same holds for securing an ice axe to the pack using the off-center ice axe loop.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - When using the trekking pole holders, slip the tops of your poles under the upper compression strap to hold them in place.
When using the trekking pole holders, slip the tops of your poles under the upper compression strap to hold them in place. Alternatively, you can tie a cord lock around one of the tie-out points distributed along the seams of the pack and create your own attachment point to secure the tops of your poles.

Suspension

While the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack is technically frameless, it carries as well as more conventional internal packs due to its size, dimensions, and the use of an ultralight aluminum stay that provides all of the benefits of an internal frame, without the extra weight.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - includes a removable frame stay which stiffens the pack and helps transfer more of the load onto your hips.
The Gorilla include a removable frame stay which stiffens the pack and helps transfer more of the load onto your hips.

Aluminum Stay

The Gorilla comes with an optional aluminum stay that makes the pack stiffer under heavy loads and helps transfer more weight to the bigger muscles of the hips. Mind you, it’s difficult to make a smaller 38 liter pack that heavy, still Gossamer Gear sets the upper maximum recommended load for the Gorilla at a hefty 30 pounds.

Weighing just 3.4 ounces, the stay slides into two narrow fabric tubes on either side of the hydration pocket and is secured in place with a velcro strap as shown below.  While you can remove the stay to save weight, most people leave it in because it’s so lightweight.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - The Frame stay slides into two reinforced pockets located on the outside the the internal hydration pocket. A velcro tab locks the stay in place.
The Frame stay slides into two reinforced tube pockets located on the outside the internal hydration pocket. A velcro tab locks the stay in place above the top of the internal hydration pocket.

The bottom of the stay is flush with the bottom of the hip belt, helping transfer the load directly to your hip bones and lumbar area. The curvature of stay can be changed by bending it to conform to the curve of your back, but it fits most people as is, without any modification.

The Gossamer Gear SitLight Sit Pad is easy to pull out and use as a sit pad.
The Gossamer Gear SitLight Sit Pad is easy to pull out and use as a sit pad.

Sit Pad

The back of the Gorilla, where it touches your back, is padded with a removable sit pad that you can use to insulate your bum and keep it dry during  rest stops and food breaks. The sit pad is easy to pull out when needed and is one of the signature multi-use features of Gossamer Gear backpacks. If you don’t use a sit pad much today, you’ll be surprised by the difference that having convenient access to one will make.

Hip Belt

Unlike many conventional packs, the Gorilla hip belt is available in different sizes, independent of the torso length of the pack. This means that you can get a great fit, even if you’re a tall woman with a skinny waist or a short tubby guy. Simply specify the size hip belt you want when you purchase the pack.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla -No-slip foam mesh on hip belt
No-slip foam mesh on hip belt

The Gorilla hip belt is attached to the pack by sliding it into a hip belt sleeve at the base of the pack and pressing firmly to lock it in place with velcro. The bottom of the sit pad overlaps the hip belt, creating a slight lumbar shelf, which also helps with load to hip transfer.

The wings of the hip belt are finished with an air mesh fabric that resists sliding down smooth nylon clothing while providing excellent comfort. The belt cinches close with a single buckle, which can be easily replaced if broken. There’s no need for a more complex hip belt apparatus with multiple straps and a mechanical assist because the hip belt conforms easily to your body shape and the webbing doesn’t slip through the buckle like it does on many other packs.

The Gorilla hip belt is also interchangeable with the higher capacity Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack so you can switch them between packs or share a pack between two people, even if they have different hip belt sizes.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla - Unisex Shoulder Pad Harness
Unisex Shoulder Pad Harness

Shoulder Harness

One of the biggest areas of improvement in this new version of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla are the shoulder pads, which are now designed for unisex use. The new shoulder straps are narrower than before, so they don’t rub against the necks of people with narrower shoulders. The lower half of each strap also has a much more pronounced curve to accommodate both men and women. Like the Gorilla hip belt, the straps are also lined with air mesh, giving them a much softer feel that conforms to different body shapes.

Recommendation

The latest improvements to the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack are an outstanding upgrade to an already fabulous backpack. In this latest iteration (released at the end of 2014), the majority of improvements that Gossamer Gear introduced were along three key dimensions:

  • Durability, by adding even more durable mesh to packets to the pack, reinforcing high wear areas and switching to a heavier duty nylon fabric called Robic, a high tenacity nylon that is more abrasion resistant, puncture resistent, and retains its original exterior finish longer than the fabric used in the previous version of the Gorilla.
  • Fit, particularly for women, by replacing the old shoulder straps and hip belt with unisex components that are somewhat narrower, better padded, and pre-curved, and introducing an X-small hip belt that can be used by thin men, women or young adults.
  • Function, by adding side compression straps and trekking pole holders.

The effect of these improvements make an already great ultralight backpack even better, and one that will last in good condition for years to come.

Likes

  • Great body hugging shape rides comfortably on hips
  • Hip belt doesn’t slip, even when wearing slick outer garments
  • Unisex shoulder pads and air mesh backing are super comfortable
  • External mesh is super durable
  • Solid, reinforced side water bottle pockets instead of mesh (which tears easily)
  • Too many to list…

Dislikes

  • No ice axe shaft holder

Manufacturer Specs

  • Weight
    • Small : 24.7 oz ( 701 g )
    • Medium : 26 oz ( 737 g )
    • Large: 28 oz   ( 793 g )
  • Capacity (Size Medium)
    • 2,354 c.i. (38.57 l.) total
    • 1,760 c.i. (28.84 l.) in main pack body/extension collar
    • 30 lb maximum carry capacity
  • Torso Sizes
    • Medium (16″ – 19″ torso) (41 – 48 cm.) Generally fits people 5’4″ to 5’9″
    • Large (19″ – 22″ torso) (48 – 56 cm.) Generally fits people 5’9″ to 6’2″
    • Small (13″ – 16″ torso) (33 – 41 cm.) Generally fits people 4′ 11″ to 5′ 4″
  • Hip Belt Size
    • X-Small hip belt (22″ – 28″ waist (55.88 – 71.12 cm.) (No pockets)
    • Small hip belt (25″ – 32″ waist) (64 – 81 cm.)
    • Medium hip belt (32″ – 38″ waist) (76 – 96.5 cm.)
    • Large hip belt (38″ – 44″ waist) (91.4 – 112 cm.)
    • X-Large hip belt  (44″-60″) (107 – 152 cm.)

Disclaimer: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a sample Gorilla backpack from Gossamer Gear for this review. 

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37 comments

  1. Philip, can you comment on the quality of the workmanship, ie, stitching?

    • The quality is absolutely fantastic. Gossamer gear switched their sewer two years ago and there has been a huge improvement in durability and consistency. You can’t really consider Gossamer Gear a cottage manufacturer anymore. They always have available inventory and they don’t have any order backlogs anymore.

      So yes. The stitching quality is excellent and very robust, not like the old days when it was often hit or miss.

  2. A very extensive and well done review! Already reaping the benefits of extra writing time after dropping sponsorships perhaps?

  3. Seems like a great pack, I know they make some of the best ultralight packs available right now. You mention it has a lot of external storage and is meant to be used that way. How well do you find this works for you when bushwhacking? I know I don’t like to store things externally if I can help it, as stuff tends to snag and catch on branches a lot. May not be a problem with winter hiking, since I always strap my snowshoes to the exterior anyway.

    • While the mesh on the Gorilla is durable enough to bushwhack and I’ve done it (my friend Eric Schlimmer – one of the most accomplished off trail hikers in the US – uses his exclusively for Adirondack bushwhacking), I recommend you use Gossamer Gear packs mainly for trail hiking. Open storage can be a real problem on bushwhacks because of snagging issues, no matter how careful you are.

  4. Philip, can you comment about volume and down gear? I find it hard to use a 40L pack for anything other than short trips because down sleeping gear occupies a big amount of available interior volume, and a big food bag seems to end up not quite fitting. Thoughts? I’ll take my answer off the air. Thanks!

  5. I have the 2nd version ( bought in 2013). I believe it was advertized as total capacity of 46L. Has the overall pack volume gone down in this latest version?

  6. I ordered one recently and I agree with pretty much everything you’ve covered. Great pack. Just one thing I wanted to point out to anyone considering getting one who also uses the nightlight torso pad–if you have a medium or large torso, the sitlight pad that comes with the pack will be the right length for the pack, but the nightlight torso pad, if you use one instead of the sitlight, will feel awkwardly short, since it seems to be made to fit all torso sizes (which means it’s a bit short for the larger sizes). I can feel the edge of mine around my shoulder blades if I push it down, or digging into my lower back if it’s all the way up. Can’t seem to get it to be comfortable. Just a heads up if you use the torso length pad.

  7. One of my disappointments with the pack is that is suffers the same design flaw of other packs. It provides side pockets normally designed for water bottles. A one liter/quart bottle of water will weigh minimally about 2.5 pounds, container weight dependent. Therefore, you are swinging 2.5 pounds of weight with every step you take based on the bio-mechanical motion of the body. Water is normally the sole or one of the heaviest items carried. Water should be stored along the center of the human spine where the horizontal pendulum motion of the body is at a minimum. You’re expending unnecessary energy thrusting the weight forward and back, reducing your endurance, speed and comfort. Such a design eventually slows your speed down to the extent that you don’t perform with any degree of hiking efficiency.

  8. Phil, Any problems with heavier loads due to no load levelers?

    • None at all. But. I also don’t think you need load lifters on a pack of this capacity. If you do, there’s something fundamentally flawed in the design…like the pack is too deep. In other words, The Gorilla is tall and narrow to offset the need for load lifters.

  9. Is the capacity of the new Gorilla smaller than the previous model? The old one is listed at 3000 cubic inches (46 liters) with the new one at 2354 cubic inches (38.6 liters). They look the same size to me.

  10. Philip, I trust that you aware that lexan containers and other semi and rigid plastic water containers exist and capable of surviving a fall, as I have had experience in that regard. True, the refill issue would take longer, but not significantly. I use a hose connection to my bottle with a bite valve. I don’t have to remove my pack to drink, nor strain to grab the bottle out of it’s pocket and attempt with difficulty to return it to a pocket. It’s so frustrating that you’re forced to remove the pack to return the bottle to the pocket.

    • Stuart, the pack does have an internal hydration sleeve and hydration ports on each side. I’m sure you can’t put anything you like int he side pockets, or cut them off.

      How do you refill your bottle quickly without taking everything else out?

      • Philip, regarding how do you refill your bottle quickly without taking everything else out? You place your gear around the bottle creating an opening for its’ return. The gear provides thermal insulation for all seasons.

  11. I contacted GG about the capacity questions re: the Gorilla (old one lists as 46L, new one lists as 38.6L.) They said that they changed the way it’s measured to not include the extended extension collar. So, if you include an extended extension collar it would be closer to the “old” size of 46L.
    Nice review BTW. I just received my new Gorilla last week. It’s my first “light” pack. I’m looking forward to trying it out in the spring.

  12. Matt:

    Thanks for clearing up the confusion about the capacity. You made a good choice getting the Gorilla. It’s my go to pack for the trips I usually take, 4 days and 3 nights. Anything longer and I reach for my ULA Circuit. I like the Gorilla more that the Circuit, but I can get more stuff in the Circuit. I like the Circuit more than the Mariposa, however (I bought both and returned the Mariposa).

    One of the reasons I think the Gorilla rides so well is that it is narrow, only around 11 inches wide. This makes it somewhat difficult to load, but the pack rides very comfortably in the middle of my back. The best way I found to pack it is reverse the extension tube over the pack body, insert a liner (GG sells liners that are sized for their packs, I find the typical compactor bag to be too wide) and pack half the pack. Pull up the collar and pack the rest of your gear and your done.

    Good hiking!

  13. First time I have ever replied to anything! I have a 2005 vintage Mariposa. What do you feel are the most significant changes that would make me get a Gorilla?

    • Durability. Their packs aren’t cottage anymore – easy to rip up. I had a 2007 Mariposa and destroyed it within 6 months – mostly the mesh. The new mariposa is super tough and its very hard to tear the mesh. Plus the side pockets are solid fabric with reinforced bottoms – not like those old mesh pockets on your pack.

      I also like the new lid which blocks out rain. Your 2005 probably only has the draw string closure and no rain flap.

  14. Does Gossamer Gear sew their own gear or is it made out of country?

  15. Nice review, Philip. I’d be curious if any readers have experience with both the ’14 Gorilla and the ULA 2.0 and can compare how the two packs carry.

  16. what kind of shoulder strap pocket do you have attached in these pictures?

  17. With the latest updates to the Gorilla, do you think this would be a better option compared to the ULA Ohm? I think they are similar in size although the Ohm may be a little larger. Comfort would be a big factor for me.

    • I couldn’t say. I’ve never tried an Ohm and I don’t know where you’re hiking (conditions). The side compression on that Ohm looks pretty nice, but I personally like the GG hipbelts a lot more (less fussy).

      • Thanks for the quick response. I hike the White Mountains quite a bit and also Western Maine. I currently have an Osprey Atmos AG 50 that I’m not really in love with. The load is quite far from my back and it just seems to throw me around quite a bit. I didn’t realize how bad until I took my Osprey Kestrel 38 out for a 2 day hike in the White Mountains and realized how much more fun it was. I got my base weight to about 12 pounds and I thought the Gossamer Gorilla would be a good choice for hiking up to 3 or 4 days at a time. I’m getting a little older (64) and my knees bother me some, so I’m trying to lighten up a little to make hiking more enjoyable. I really enjoy your site a lot. Thanks!

  18. I’m wondering how does the capacity of the hipbelt pockets compare to the pockets on ULA packs?

  19. I’m very grateful for your website and your reviews. I was in the process of finding a lightweight bag for new lightweight base and used your site extensively. I had ordered 7 bags from every manufacturer possible! I was always reading people say “you shouldn’t feel the load” and I thought it was impossible. I always felt the load, had shoulder and back pain even with other light bags like Granite Gear (I loaded them a the same and took them all on the same test hike). I got my Gorilla and I now know what it feels like to “not feel the load.” Thank you for being such an integral part of my research. This bag is beyond incredible.

  20. I’m a bigger guy, 6’1 about 230lbs, and broad in the shoulders and chest. I’ve been looking at the gorilla for awhile now, however I’ve yet to see a reviewer or any comments from a similarly shaped person to give me any insight as to whether this pack is a good fit for some larger folks.
    My main questions are does the shoulder straps have enough width to accommodate wider necks and shoulders? Any other insight will greatly aid in my decision, thanks.

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