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 latest generation of the Gorilla Backpack manufactured by Gossamer Gear. I’ve been using this pack for a long time (since 2010) and think this latest design update is the best yet, providing far more durability and comfort for both men and women.
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.
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, Aquamira drops, maps, compass, hats, gloves, my wallet, keys, you name it.
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 60, which has the same top flap closure system.
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 Garmin inReach, or a point and shoot camera. They’re far larger than the pockets you find on conventional backpacks and therefore more useful.
I think Gossamer Gear’s backpacks have some of 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
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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 that terminate in the hip belt (for optimum load transfer) 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.
The curvature of stay can be changed by bending it to conform to the curve of your back, but it is pre-bent to fit most people as is, without any modification.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The latest improvements to the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack are an outstanding upgrade to an already fabulous backpack. 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 resistant, 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.
Disclaimer: The author received a sample pack for this review.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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