Ultralight Backpack maker Gossamer Gear overhauled their entire backpack product line this year, including an update of the Mariposa, long considered one of the finest high volume (70 liters) ultralight backpacks made. I bought an earlier version of the Mariposa in 2008 and used it for section hiking Vermont’s 272 mile Long Trail, so I was eager to see how the pack had changed.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa
For those of you already familiar with the Mariposa, the biggest noticeable change is the switch to 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop fabric that Gossamer Gear now uses in all of their overnight backpacks. This new Dyneema fabric is a highly durable and waterproof fabric that is far more abrasion resistant than the silicone and urethane coated nylon that the company used to make packs with. I am very rough on backpacks in rocky New England and haven’t torn this pack up yet even though I’ve used it on many above treeline hikes, bushwhacks, and backpacking trips this year.
Other big changes include:
- Replacing all of the mesh side pockets with solid Dyneema fabric for better durabilty
- Large hip pockets have been added to the hip belt providing more external storage
- Load lifters were added to the suspension: a must-have for higher volume backpacks
- A completely new shoulder pad harness system with pre-curved shoulder pads
- A new top lid system with a large pocket that protects the main compartment from rain
The net result of these changes makes the Mariposa a far more finished and functional backpack, especially for hikers who are upgrading to a lightweight backpack for the first time. Switching to 140 denier Dyneema fabric, completely changed the playing field for the company in terms of enhanced durability and waterproofness, but also let them add many new features to the Mariposa without a significant weight penalty. A size medium Mariposa only weighs 27 ounces, which is still much lighter than most if not all of the other high volume (70 liter) ultralight backpacks available today.
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/purificaton 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 are not totally waterproof because they leak at the seams where a needle has passed thread through the fabric. While you can seam seal a backpack, what matters is that the fabric of the pack be waterproof so it doesn’t absorb water and become heavier to carry when you need to hike in the rain.
Lots of Backpack Pockets
The updated Mariposa has 7 external pockets: a large pocket in the top lid, two medium sized one on the right side, a large/long pocket on the left side, two hip belt pockets, and a large front mesh pocket. 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 carry and secure even more gear.
When I pack the external pockets of a Mariposa, I put my wet water filter in the front mesh pocket so it can drain (drain holes included) along with an extra empty water reservoir, wind shirt, a few snacks, and my tarp stake/cordage bag. If I’m carrying a tent, tarp, or hammock, I pack it in the long external pocket on the left side of the backpack along with a plastic ground sheet so I can set up my shelter in the rain if needed without every opening the main compartment of my pack – so it stays dry. The long pocket is perfectly sized for a 2 person tent or a 1 person backpacking hammock.
As a counterweight, I pack 1 or 2 liters of water in the bottom pocket on the right hand side of the pack along with 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. There’s a huge amount of external storage on the Mariposa and having all this stuff on hand and accessible means that I can maintain a fast pace all day without stopping, which is the key for walking big miles on backpacking trips.
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 sit pad which serves as a ventilated back pad
Though significantly revamped since the last version, the new Mariposa suspension uses the same internal aluminum stay and removable sit pad to add stiffness to the pack and help transfer more pack weight to your hips. And while the shoulder pads remain extra wide, they are now pre-curved for greater comfort to fit people with narrower shoulders and/or breasts. The previous model’s scratchy seams for foam inserts (or socks) have been eliminated, and like the hip belt, the foam is sewn into the shoulder pads at the factory.
One of the most notable improvements to the Mariposa is the addition of 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, because the bulk of the load is farther away from your hips. Load lifters help counter the backwards tilt of a heavy pack, bringing it closer to your back, and shifting more of the weight off of your shoulders and onto your hips.
If you prefer a big backpack or if you are transitioning from a fairly beefy internal frame backpack to an ultralight one, I’d recommend getting yourself a Mariposa. 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 so you can incrementally replace it with lighter components over time.
As someone who has gone through that process, I like the updated Mariposa because it is far more durable than the previous model and because it is so big, enabling me to take much longer backpacking trips into tougher terrain without a resupply. I never would have anticipated tackling such adventures a few years ago when I started using a Mariposa, but I’m excited to hike with the updated version of this celebrated backpack, which already feels like an old friend.
- Load lifters
- Integrated hip belt pockets
- New top lid includes large pocket and provides top compression
- Be nice if the hip belt and top lid pockets had waterproof zippers
- Reduced visibility into the contents of the long side pocket
- Center ice axe loop is difficult to use
Disclosure: Philip Werner is a former Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and received a complementary Mariposa backpack from Gossamer Gear for product testing and review.
Written 2012. Updated 2015.
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