Backpack maker Gossamer Gear overhauled their entire backpack product line this year (2015), including an update of the Mariposa Lightweight Backpack, long considered one of the finest high volume (57 liters) ultralight backpacks made. All of Gossamer Gear’s backpacks are very popular with long distance hikers who demand lightweight gear that’s highly functional and durable.
This latest set of Mariposa design improvements include:
- New unisex shoulder straps and a padded hip belt that provide women (as well as men) with better fit and comfort
- Switch to more a durable fabric called Robic, a fourth generation high tenacity nylon, that’s more abrasion resistant than the thin Dyneema Grid that the company used previously
- Even tougher rear mesh fabric that’s more tear and puncture resistant
- Addition of color accents and webbing straps to the top pocket
- Trekking pole holders
- Heavier duty stitching in the interior of the pack that substantially improves durability
- New XS size for women and young adults with shorter torso sizes (already very popular!)
The net result of these changes makes the Mariposa (29 ounces) a far more comfortable, durable, finished, and functional backpack, especially for hikers who are upgrading to a lightweight backpack for the first time.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa
If this the first time you’ve considered buying a Mariposa Backpack, here’s a walk-through of the things that set the Mariposa apart from other lightweight backpacks.
Hip belt is available in multiple sizes
The Mariposa’s hip belt is available in multiple sizes so you can get a near custom fit, regardless if you’re skinny or have a few extra pounds around the middle. The hip belt also has two large sewn-on pockets which are invaluable for storing small essentials that you access frequently during the day. When you order a Mariposa, just select the hip belt size you need.
Lots of External Backpack Pockets
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa Backpack has 7 external pockets:
- a zippered pocket in the top lid sized for maps and small items like a headlamp or your wallet/keys
- two medium-sized pockets on the right side, large enough for storing 2 x 1 liter water bottles or a small cook pot
- a large/long pocket on the left side, that I call a “quiver” pocket, suitable for storing a tent, tarp or hammock
- a large front mesh pocket that’s good for storing damp gear or extra layers
- two zippered hip belt pockets for storing DEET, sun tan lotion, or snack bars
On top of that, there are gear loops running up and down the sides, front, and top of the pack so you can rig up custom shock cord or webbing to secure even more gear to the outside of the pack, from solar panels to bulky sleeping pads.
When I pack the external pockets of a Mariposa, I put my wet water filter in the big front mesh pocket so it can drain (drain holes included) along with an extra empty water reservoir, rain jacket and pants, and a few snacks. If I’m carrying a tent, tarp, or hammock, I pack it in the long “quiver” pocket on the left side of the backpack so I can set up my shelter in the rain without ever opening the main compartment of my pack.
To counterbalance a shelter, I pack 1 or 2 liters of water in the bottom pocket on the right hand side of the pack and put my cook pot/stove/gas canister in the upper pocket on the right side. My maps and compass go into the top pocket on the backpack lid, along with extra hats and gloves, while my camera, SPOT, headlamp, sun tan lotion and other sundries go into the hip belt pockets. Having all this stuff on hand and accessible means that I can maintain a fast pace all day, which is the key for walking big miles on backpacking trips.
Backpack Frame and Suspension System
The most important element of a backpack is the suspension system because more than anything else, it determines whether the loads you carry will be comfortable or not. The suspension system on the Mariposa consists of six components including:
- Shoulder Straps
- Hip Belt
- Inner Aluminum Stay
- Sternum Strap
- Load Lifters
- Removable egg-shell sit pad which serves as a multi-purpose, back pad
Revamped since the last version, the new Mariposa suspension uses the same internal aluminum stay to add stiffness to the pack and help transfer more pack weight to your hips. The frame stay is optional and can be removed to save weight, but it only weighs a few ounces and most hikers keep it in the pack. If necessary, it can be easily bent to fit your back better and adapt to your posture.
The shoulder pads on the 2015 Mariposa are now pre-curved for greater comfort to fit women and people with narrower shoulders and/or breasts. Extra padding has been added to the inside of the shoulder pads and hip belt providing a cushier feel than previously, but it’s non-absorbent and won’t retain any noticeable moisture in rain.
You can achieve an even cushier fit by replacing the closed cell foam pad that slides into the sit pad pocket on the back of the Mariposa with an Air Beam Pack Frame, also sold by Gossamer Gear, or replace it with a third party pad. However, the closed cell foam sit pad that comes with Mariposa has many uses – see the Gossamer Gear SitLight Sit Pad. for examples.
The Mariposa also includes load lifters which I consider a must-have on higher volume backpacks. Without load lifters, a heavily loaded backpack has the tendency to pull you backwards and off-balance. Load lifters help counter the backwards tilt of a heavy pack, bringing it closer to your back, and shifting more of the weight onto your hips.
How to Pack a Mariposa
If you use a regular internal frame pack today, but have been considering a switch to a lighter weight or frameless backpack, here are some tips on how to pack them. Most ultralight and lightweight backpackers put all of the gear, food, water, and water filter/purification supplies that they need for the day in the outside pockets of their backpack for easy access to it without having to take a long break.
Items that are not needed or items that need to stay dry are carried inside the backpack’s main compartment, customarily wrapped in a plastic compactor garbage bag and additional waterproof stuff sacks as needed. Despite using waterproof fabric, most backpacks (including ones made of cuben fiber) are not totally waterproof because they leak at the seams where a needle has passed thread through the fabric. With an extra waterproof coating, the Robic fabric on the new Mariposa sheds water well in rain, eliminating the need to carry a pack cover.
If you prefer a big backpack or if you are transitioning from a fairly beefy internal frame backpack to a lightweight one, I’d recommend getting yourself a 29 ounce Gossamer Gear Mariposa Lightweight Backpack. Switching from a 4+ pound backpack to one that weights under 2 pounds is a revelation if you haven’t tried it, but it doesn’t mean you have to downsize or replace all of your gear at the same time. The Mariposa is large enough in that respect to accommodate all of your existing gear today.
As someone who has gone through that process, I like the updated Mariposa because it is far more durable than the previous model and much more female-friendly with the new unisex designed shoulder pads and hip belt. These changes will increase the appeal of the Mariposa for more backpackers, who would benefit from switching to such a well thought out and time-tested backpack design.
Please note, the internal capacity of earlier version of the Mariposa is the same as the 2015 model, which is 57 liters. Gossamer Gear changed the way they compute backpack volume in 2015, which is why it looks smaller, leaving out the volume of the extension collar which was included previously.
- Female friendly unisex shoulder pads and hip belt
- Solid, reinforced side bottle pockets instead of mesh (which tears easily)
- Side bottle pocket is reachable when wearing the backpack
- Internal hydration sleeve and drinking tube keeper loops on both shoulder straps
- Hip belt is available in multiple sizes so you can get a near custom fit
- Top lid pocket includes large pocket and provides top compression
- Great body hugging fit
- Too many to list….
- Be nice if the hip belt and top lid pockets had waterproof zippers
- Not as much ventilation as mesh-backed packs in hot and humid weather
Disclosure: Philip Werner received a complementary Mariposa backpack from Gossamer Gear for product testing and review. He recently hiked 250 miles with it on an Appalachian Trail section hike.
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