The folks at Gossamer Gear are always innovating and optimizing the design of their ultralight backpacks and shelters to meet the demands of their customers. This past year, they significantly increased the load carrying capacity of the Mariposa 60 Lightweight Backpack, long considered one of the finest high volume 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 for long-term use.
New for 2016: Internal Frame Suspension
Gossamer Gear increased the load carrying capacity of the Mariposa by changing the way in which the packs’ aluminum frame connects to the hip belt. In the past, the hip belt was attached to the pack using a simple velcro patch, an indirect connection that would squeak and buckle when put under a heavy load of 30 pounds or more.
This was more common than not because many traditional backpackers use the Mariposa as a transitional backpack when converting from a heavier Osprey or Gregory backpack to an ultralight mindset, and tried to carry their old loads in the high volume Mariposa. While the Mariposa is large enough to fit a “traditional” load, heavier ones would overwhelm the pack’s carrying capacity.
Gossamer Gear experimented with a number of alternative suspension systems before they decided to modify the existing aluminum tube frame so that it slides directly into heavy fabric slots sewn on the back of the the hip belt (transforming the Mariposa into an internal frame pack). They also added plastic inserts to the hip belt to eliminate pressure points where the frame terminates and to distribute the load across a greater surface area.
The nice thing about this solution is that it preserves the use of the Mariposa sit pad, a multi-functional element that is one of the signature characteristics of the Gossamer Gear product line. The Mariposa hip belt also remains replaceable, so you can choose a size that fits you independent of the torso length that you buy, another huge benefit unavailable with most other manufacturer’s backpacks.
The Mariposa’s new internal frame system is a huge improvement over the 2015 model if you need to carry 30, 35, up to 40 pound loads. The hip belt is noticeably stiffer and there’s a better transfer of kinetic energy from your hips to the pack so you have to work less when scrambling or hiking on rough trails. The hip belt pockets are also noticeably larger in the 2016 model and the hip belt padding also has more give to it so it wraps around your hips better. Gossamer Gear has downplayed these changes, but I think it’s a vast improvement that preserves all of the old advantages of the Mariposa backpack!
If there is a downside to the new frame system, it’s that the 2016 Mariposa weighs 4 ounces more (size large torso/medium hip belt) than the 2015 model bringing the pack’s total weight up to 33 ounces. While that is a significant weight increase, it aligns the Mariposa’s capacity much better with the loads that most transitional hikers want to carry. If you want a lighter weight pack and can get by with less volume, I recommend you look at the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40, which is also an exceptional lightweight backpack.
Mariposa Design Walk-Through
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
The new 2016 Mariposa suspension uses the same internal aluminum tubing as the 2015 model to add stiffness to the pack and help transfer more pack weight to your hips. While it is optional and can be removed to save weight, 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 Mariposa are pre-curved for greater comfort to fit women and people with narrower shoulders and/or breasts. Softer padding has been added to the inside of the shoulder pads and hip belt providing a cushier feel than previously.
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 Camp Seat.
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 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 33 ounce Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Lightweight Backpack. Switching from a 4+ pound backpack to one that weights just over 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 has a much more robust internal frame to handle heavier loads as you gradually reduce your gear weight. This change increases the appeal of the Mariposa for a wider range of backpackers, who will benefit from switching to such a well thought out and time-tested lightweight backpack design.
- Unisex shoulder pads and hip belt
- Solid, reinforced side bottle pockets instead of mesh
- 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 sample Mariposa backpack from Gossamer Gear for product testing and review but has no business relationship with the company.
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