Disclaimer: as a trail ambassador I got this for free.
I’ve been impressed with the Gossamer Gear Gorilla. One of the foremost reasons I got involved with Gossamer Gear is that their packs didn’t mesh well with my previous ideas of what a backcountry pack ought to be. Thankfully my hopes have been rewarded and in the dozen or so days I’ve used the Gorilla I’ve learned quite a bit.
The first reason the Gorilla works is because it fits. My size large, as can be seen above, has a properly long torso length. It measures 22 inches from the bottom of the backpanel to the middle of the shoulder strap attachment point. Most large packs have torso lengths 2 inches shorter. Simple, vital, effective.
Making a functional, ultralight (which might be arbitrarily but meaningfully defined as less than 2 pounds) pack is an exercise in perfecting details. Functional means durable fabrics, a frame, comfortable harness, and a certain number of features, all of which demand a certain number of ounces be put towards them. The way to cut weight is to minimize the amount of webbing, buckles, and layers of fabric.
The second reason the Gorilla works it because the hipbelt and lumbar interface economize material beautifully. The hipbelt is removable (allowing users to get a proper fit via one of the four sizes offered), and attaches to the pack with velcro on the non-user side. On it’s own this doesn’t seem especially strong, and it doesn’t have to be. The belt is primarily held in place by the sitlight foam pad, inserted between the belt and the user and held in place by an underwear-like piece of stretch mesh. When the pack is put on and the belt is cinched, the end of the sitlight, which is made of fairly squishy foam, is compressed into the lumbar. This both pads out anatomical irregularities (like protruding verterbrae) and makes for a very sticky lumbar adhesion, which is one of the most important factors in effective weight transfer. It also provides for a true wraparound hipbelt, which contours to the user the whole way around. Too many ultralight packs have hipbelt wings sewn into the side seams, or lumbar pads which are too broad for the majority of humans. The Gorilla no side cinch straps, no full-length fabric pad sleeves, no permanent foam lumbar supports. The backpanel is a single layer of 200 denier fabric, with nylon sleeves sewn inside from the stays. Otherwise it’s just the hipbelt, mesh, and sitlight. I’m already wondering if a similar arrangement, with beefed up components, might win similar results with much heavier loads.
The third reason the Gorilla works is that the belt is a proper one. It’s wide, wraps well around the hips (because you can pick the right size), and the foam is thin and flexible enough to not create hotspots, yet dense enough to hold it’s shape. On our packbike trip I had around 45 pounds on board the first day, and the hipbelt was not a limiting factor.
These three reasons are why the Gorilla works so well. The 3 inch wide shoulder straps have the same firm, thin padding as the belt, but they’re not an essential part of the equation. First because with proper torso sizing and belt and lumbar construction, shoulder straps shouldn’t be asked to do too much. Second because they’re not quite right for me. I’d prefer them a bit narrower. Wide is good for hiking, but restricts movement while scrambling, mountain biking, and other more athletic endeavors. They’re also sewn on straight across, which isn’t ideal. There’s a bit of slack between the foam and seam which allows them to rotate and form to my shoulders, but an angled seam with no slack would be better.
Features are a mixed bag, though understandably tailored to the Gorilla’s original roots as a Jardine/PCT/thruhiking pack. The side pockets hold a liter bottle securely and can be easily used with the pack on. They’re keepers. The mesh back pocket is enormous, as shown above it easily holds a full foam PFD. The mesh doesn’t hold up well to bushwacking, but that’s beyond the original spec so no huge fault. The Gorilla does not have proper compression straps, just loops for cord in the upper regions of the side panels. These kind of rigs are fine for holding things in place, but don’t provide substantive volume compression. Cord doesn’t have enough holding power, and the Gorilla has no provision for cord in the lower reaches anyway. For a backpacking load in a relatively shallow pack like the Gorilla this isn’t a huge deal.
Lastly, I’ve been impressed with the 140 denier gridstop fabric used for most of the pack. The weave is very tight, and the PU coating inside and DWR outside much better than any other gridstop I’ve seen or used. These are the sorts of things which just don’t translate from specs to field use. Two fabrics of equivalent weights can be very different in quality. Nonetheless, PU fabrics have expectable limits when it comes to waterproofing, and I still prefer (but do not always require) the bomber waterproofing of Dimension Polyant laminates and the like.
My hope and intention is to work with Gossamer Gear to make a good pack even better.