Backpack maker Gossamer Gear has been doing a major revamp of their product line this year, part of a continuing trend of using more durable fabrics in order to attract hikers who are switching to lighterweight packs for the first time.
What follows is a review of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla which I’ve been using very extensively for the past few weeks on hikes in Massachusetts, Texas, and New Hampshire. It’s a superlative pack, far better than the 2010 model, which was pretty excellent to begin with and has been my go to pack for over a year.
Up Front Disclosure
Before I dive into the details of the new Gorilla, I want to be completely upfront about my relationship with Gossamer Gear. I am a former Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and tested a lot of confidential gear prototypes for the company including many that died on the vine and never saw the light of day. The 2012 Gorilla incorporates some of the design suggestions that myself and other GG Trail Ambassadors have made which is one of the main reasons I tested (not just review) gear for the company. That said, I wasn’t privy to all of the changes made to the Gorilla and some of the new features threw me for a loop.
(Update: I resigned as a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador on Dec 1, 2014 to spend more time hiking and writing. However, that hasn’t changed my assessment of this backpack in any way.)
If you have read my previous backpack reviews, you know that I don’t pull my punches when it comes to pack critiques and I’ve tried to maintain my objectivity here as well. You be the judge. Here is what I think of the 2012 Gorilla Backpack.
New External Fabric
Late last year, Gossamer Gear started producing backpacks using a new fabric, 140 denier Dyneema, which is far more durable and abrasion resistant than the ripstop nylon or silnylon they’d made their packs with previously. It’s also lighter than the 210 Dyneema used by other ultralight pack manufacturers providing the perfect balance of weight, durability, and cost.
Moving the Gorilla to Dyneema is significant for me because I scrape up my pack something fierce scrambling over the mountains of New England from Vermont and north through Maine. Having a tougher fabric means I’ll be able to use the same pack for longer and not hole it as frequently, something I did a few times a year when Gossamer Gear packs were made out of ripstop.
In addition to the pack body, Gossamer Gear has also replaced the side mesh pockets on the older Gorilla with Dyneema and bottom drain holes. Again a nice durability improvement, although the mesh, which is still used on the large front pocket, is plenty tough and hard to hole in my experience. Both of these pockets are large enough to hold water bottles and extra gear. It’s also easy to reach back and pull the bottle from a pocket while walking, and to put it back securely without breaking stride.
If switching to more durable fabrics wasn’t enough, Gossamer Gear made many functional improvements to the new Gorilla including:
- A wider hip belt, with sewn-on, high capacity hip belt pockets
- Revamped lumbar support system on the hip belt providing better load transfer
- Pre-curved shoulder straps with sewn in foam
- Non-slip fabric on the inside of the shoulder pads and hip belt
- Locking sternum strap system and shoulder strap attachments
- Extra beefy lash points
- Improved aluminum stay holder inside the pack
- Eliminated “head banging” by pre-curving the top of the stay
- The Over the Top pocket and vertical compression system
- Magnetic extension collar closure system
You’re probably thinking, “surely there’s a difference in the weight.” Nope, my 2012 Gorilla weighs 1 ounce less than the older model, even with the new hip belt pockets and pack lid. I’ll go over the weight breakdown at the end of this post. But let’s look at the new features, first.
Hip Belt and Pockets
Most of the hip belt pockets you find on backpacks these days are a joke. They’re either made out of mesh or too small to hold much more than a power bar. Size matters.
I’ve been adding 3rd party to my Gossamer Gear hip belts for years so I can get at the things I need during the day and night without having to dig through my pack. These were a pain to attach to the old style Gossamer Gear style hip belt with it’s funky optional foam inserts. but the new Gorilla comes with its own Dyneema pockets, permanently sewn onto the hip belt . I like.
I don’t have capacity measurements on the size of the new hip belt pockets, but they’re a good size. For example, one is large enough to carry a Black Diamond headlamp, a SPOT Messenger, a Brunton mirrored sighting compass, a 2 oz bottle of DEET and a tin of Dermatone, as shown above. I use the other one to carry my largish Lumix Camera with a filter extender.
I wish the pocket zippers were waterproof, but they’re not. I also wish the pockets were seam-sealed or taped for better water resistance and strength, but that’s a mod I can make to themselves myself. Still, they are awesome pockets and I’m very happy to have them included on the pack, especially because it saves me about $30 to buy a new set.
The new Gorilla also has a new hip belt that comes fully sealed with interior foam from the factory. The hip belt is tapered but about 1/2 inch wider than the old Gorilla at its widest point, where it emerges from the back of the pack. Not only is it more comfortable, but it stays in place without sliding down, much better than previously because there is more of it. This is a big deal for us older guys with a little more jelly around the hips and less pronounced hip bones. The fabric on the inside of the hip belt and shoulder straps has also been changed and has ridges woven into that prevent further slippage.
The new hip belt also has sewn-in padding located over the lumbar shelf of your hips, just below the small of your back. This is a change from the previous model where there was no padding, just fabric and a velrco attachment. The extra padding significantly improves load to hip weight transfer, particularly with heavier loads above 20 pounds. Another like.
As with most Gossamer Gear packs, the Gorilla hip belt is replaceable independent of the torso size, so you can order a medium torso length and a large sized hip belt. No extra charge.
Pre-curved shoulder straps
The Gorilla’s shoulder pads have been improved and come with pre-curved padding 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.
Of all the changes to the Gorilla, I was probably the most concerned that the new shoulder harness would ruin the feel of the Gorilla and Mariposa Plus. In fact, I’ve always considered the wide, 3 inch shoulder straps on Gossamer Gear packs to be one of their signature features, and a key reason that you can hike all day without any shoulder pain. Thankfully, Gossamer Gear retained the width of the shoulder pads when they revamped the harness system, and it is still as comfortable as ever. Phew! I was on the verge of stockpiling the older model packs so I’d have them for years to come.
Gossamer Gear also strengthened the connection between the shoulder straps and the back of the pack, using 1680 denies Ballistic Cordura fabric. Bomber. You need to be a Samsonsite Gorilla to rip these shoulder straps off!
The pack also comes with a new sternum strap using a three tiered strap system with locking clips that snap into place. The jury is still out on this, but it works fine so far and hasn’t given me any problems.
The clips are sewn all the way through the shoulder straps, underneath webbing daisy chains. The previous Gorilla did not have daisy chains here so this is a net improvement in my opinion, particularly the inclusion of O-rings at the top of the daisy chains which can be used to attach 1/2 liter drinking bottles to the shoulder straps. I plan to experiment more with these in the coming months.
Extra Beefy Lashpoints
I have torn lash points out of Gossamer Gear packs. It’s really annoying because they are such an integral part of the latent carrying capacity on the Gorilla and the larger Mariposa Plus. I use them all the time to lash snowshoes, fishing rods, crampons, trekking poles, extra water reservoirs, tents, etc. to the side of my pack or when I need carry extra gear or supplies.
The lash out points have been substantially reinforced on the Gorilla with fabric triangles (above) that anchor them to the seams of the pack. Apparently, other people liked to rip them out too! Plus 1.
All Gossamer Gear packs come with a length of elastic lash cord so you can rig up all kinds of different systems as needed. I should probably write a post about the common patterns used to lash gear to the outside of a Gossamer Gear pack sometime.
New Aluminum Stay Holder
Gossamer Gear rates the max load of the Gorilla at 30-35 pounds, which I think is accurate. Up to 20 pounds, you can easily get by with using a sitlight pad or foam pad of your choosing as the framesheet, and slips into the back pad pocket on all Gossamer Gear packs including the Gorilla. If you’ve never seen anything like this, it’s one of the signatures of a Gossamer Gear pack and reflects the ultralight backpacking, multi-use mantra (sit pad as a back frame) of the company’s origins.
For heavier loads, I use the optional aluminum stay which comes with the pack. This is a U-shaped piece of aluminum tubing which slides down two reinforced channels on the back of the pack, behind the interior hydration pocket, and helps prevent the frame from collapsing and subtly shortening with heavier loads. It also helps to transfer more of the pack weight off of your shoulders and onto the hip belt.
On the previous version of the Gorilla, the stay was held in place by two small velcro tabs which prevented it from sliding up out of the channel – that was the theory anyway. They didn’t really work well as noted in Martin Rye’s review of the previous model of the Gorilla last year and have been replaced with an elastic flap which keeps the stay correctly positioned and locked in place.
For those of you that need to carry bear canisters, a Garcia Backpacker’s Cache will fit into the Gorilla positioned vertically, but not horizontally. I can’t say regarding other bear canister models. I always use the stay when carrying my canister.
I run into an amazing number of people on the trail who wear Gossamer Gear packs and if there’s one universal I’ve observed is that they don’t like to bend the aluminum stay, even if it’s uncomfortable, out of fear of ruining the pack.
One common complaint, that I myself experienced with the older Gorilla, was that my head would bump against the top of the stay. I fixed this fixed by putting the stay over my leg and bending the top slightly backward out of the way, but a better fix is to pre-curve the top of the stay away from the back of people’s heads, out-of the-box, as shown above. This change is now provided in the new Gorilla.
Over the Top Pocket System and Lid
At last we come to the Over The Top lid which includes a sewn in pocket and provides much needed vertical compression for the Gorilla that was lacking in the earlier version of the pack, and all Gossamer Gear packs, for that matter. In the past, Gossamer Gear packs closed with a drawstring closure which left an opening at the top of the pack that was vulnerable to rain. Vertical compression was provided by a Y strap that ran up the middle of the packs’ front and looped over the top. It provided a marginally usable top attachment point and some vertical compression, but was often awkward to use and blocked access to the front mesh pocket.
The new Over the Top lid folds over the opening at the top of the pack and has a zippered pocket, which is large enough to store a fair number of odds and ends including your wallet, keys, map, glasses. It’s really quite convenient. It’s loosely patterned after a floating lid including an extension collar, and can be used to sandwich gear between the top of the pack and the lid, provided that longer (orange) strings are used to anchor it to the front of the pack. Even if it’s not used in that fashion, it still provides much needed vertical compression to the contents of the pack and eliminates the vulnerability to rain that was present in the old design.
In addition to the outer pocket, the opening at the top of the pack closes using magnets positioned on either side of the opening. They are, thankfully, not strong enough to wipe your electronics. They snap together and hold the fabric together, enabling it to be folded over without exposing the contents to precipitation.
Although I was somewhat taken aback my the new lid/pocket when I first saw it, it has grown on me with use as I’ve experimented using it with different loads: there’s no denying the utility of the vertical compression and waterproofing it provides. It does have some minor limitations in that the pocket becomes more difficult to use when the pack becomes increasingly stuffed, but on the whole I think it’s a net improvement over the original drawstring system, and certainly the roll top closures used by most other ultralight backpack manufacturers.
As I mentioned earlier, my new 2012 Gorilla weighs 1 ounce less than my 2010 Gorilla in a size medium with a large sided hip belt. That’s including the new wider hip belt, hip belt pockets, top lid/pocket, and Dyneema construction.
The minimal weight, including a 2.0 ounce sitlight pad is 21.1 ounces or 1 pound 5.1 ounces. The stay adds 3.4 ounces, bringing the total to 24.5 ounces (1 pound 8.5 ounces. )The weight of my old Gorilla with a sitlight is 22.1 ounces or an ounce heavier than the new Gorilla, and 25.5 ounces with the aluminum stay (1 pound 9.5 ounces.)
That seals the deal for me. You get a lot more features and a much better backpack with the new Gorilla.
I never expected the new Gorilla Backpack to be such a vast improvement over its predecessor. I think it got that way in part due to the ingenuity of the Glen van Peski and Grant Sible, but also because this pack incorporated so much feedback from the Gossamer Gear Ambassadors who fed their own experience back to the company and tested early versions of it. The new Gorilla goes way beyond being an evolution of the old design and for all practical purposes has changed so much that it’s essentially a new backpack. A rather excellent one too.
My old Gorilla is now officially for sale!
- Dyneema fabric for better durability
- Hip belt pockets
- Wider hip belt
- Narrow backpack, provides excellent control
- Over the top lid, pocket, and vertical compression system
- External last points
- Too numerous to list
- Be nice if the hip belt and top lid pockets had waterproof zippers.
- That’s about it.
Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) is a former Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and received a complimentary Gorilla backpack.
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