Long distance hikers have strong opinions, especially about their gear. How could we not? We carry the things we need to survive on our backs day after day for hundreds, hopefully thousands, of miles. Each item has a specific place where it lives in our pack. We can find what we are looking for in the dark. Each item becomes well-worn, well-loved, well-repaired. Today I’m going to gush about my favorite piece of gear, my backpack.
I almost didn’t get a new backpack. My Osprey Ariel was less than two years old and actually very comfortable, so, why spend the extra money? But as my other ultralight gear started rolling in, I began to realize just how heavy 4.5 lbs. of pack weight feels. So, why not spend the extra money to further ensure myself of a comfortable hike?
Because I’m a small person- 5′ 1″, short waisted, and close to 130 lbs when I set off on my hike- I scoured the Internet for gear reviews, paying close attention to packs used by petite women. I easily settled on the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 liter lightweight backpack ($255 when I bought mine). I ordered a small pack body and a small hip belt.
The company sent me the wrong size backpack, but made it incredibly easy and quick to exchange into the correct size. In full disclosure, when I sent the incorrect pack back I was accidentally refunded the full amount I had paid. When I brought this to their attention, they said “I will take this as a sign that you deserve a free pack for your honesty and that you will have an amazing hike!” Turns out I didn’t need to worry about the extra money after all! What an amazing surprise!
I can assure you, the freeness of my pack had nothing to do with what I am about to say. I LOVE my pack! Out of all of my gear, my backpack was the shining superstar. I came to regard my backpack almost as a friend or favorite pet, though I never went as far as naming it or assigning gender. My backpack never let me down.
A little about the pack:
It is basically a tube, with a lightweight aluminum stay and a foam egg crate back panel, which is removable/replaceable. It has comfortable, but not overly fancy shoulder straps. The hip belt is comfortable, as long as you don’t load your pack with more than about 35 lbs.
Now for my favorite part: the giant mesh pockets! On one side of the pack is a long mesh pocket that runs the whole length of the pack. On the other side, are two mesh pockets, one below and one above. Taking up the entire front of the pack is one giant mesh pocket to hold all kinds of goodies. A zippered hip belt pocket on each hip with enough room for iPod, snacks, what-have-you. There is a brain, but it is tiny and difficult to access while the pack is closed. I wound up just keeping things like my spare prescription and other flat odds and ends that I didn’t need often. All of this weighs in at about 23 oz.!
– Super lightweight!
– Plenty of room
– Amazing giant pockets!
– Decently-sized hip belt pockets
– Pack body and hip belt are separate pieces*
– Stand-in best friend/pet
I had to search long and hard for a couple of cons.
– I wish the hip belt was tightened by pulling inward on the straps instead of outward.
– The foam back pad is squeaky as a Yorkie when it’s wet.
Some things to consider:
This is a lightweight backpack meant to be used with other lightweight gear. My base pack weight (everything except food, water and fuel) was around 14 lbs, which is still a couple lbs more than I’d like it to be. Most of the time, my pack was not much over 30 lbs, if that. However, once I reached the Sierras and added bear canister, snow gear and longer food carries to my pack weight, I was pushing 40 lbs, which was too much for my pack and became uncomfortable. This pack doesn’t have the hearty suspension system of the more commercially popular packs like Osprey and Gregory, which is why it’s lighter, after all. If you’re considering making the switch to lighter gear, I would start first with your sleep system and shelter, then shed the unnecessaries, and then look into a lightweight backpack.
*The pack body and hip belt being separate pieces is a huge advantage in long-distance hiking in particular. I met several people who had single piece systems that were too big for them only a couple hundred miles into their hike. Not all companies are very accommodating with an issue like this.
A little about how I used my pack:
Every hiker packs up a little differently. This is how I liked to pack my backpack and make use of the pockets.
Inside: I line the tube with a trash compactor bag. Inside this bag goes my sleeping bag, uncompressed. Yep, I just stuff the whole bag down into the bottom of the pack, making sure to fill out all of the corners so that my pack sits upright like a good dog. After that, my folded-up sleeping pad, clothing sack, food sack and pot/fuel. Then the trash compactor bag is rolled up and the tent stuffed in all around the top. My ditty bags are on the very top because I find too often that I need some item during the day.
In my giant front mesh pocket: My rolled up tyvek ground sheet/sit cloth, water filter and water bladders, toilet kit, Opsak with my food for the day. I also stuff my shed clothing layers in here as the day goes on. I never could get used to starting my day colder than necessary.
In the long side mesh pocket: My hiking umbrella, raincoat, tent stakes, pack cover, extra water, sometimes my stove and pot, and my microspikes when I’m carrying them.
In my two smaller big mesh pockets: The bottom one always held my water bottles. I find it holds two 1 liter Smart Water bottles exactly perfectly. In the top, I carry lots of odds and ends: gloves, buff, hat, glasses/sunglasses, head lamp, small note pad and pen, book (when I carried one).
I replaced one of my original hip belt pockets with a giant after-market pocket, because I melted chocolate all over the inside of the original. What seemed like a really stupid mistake actually worked in my favor. I ended up carrying all of my snacks in the giant pocket. In the other pocket, I carried all of the odds and ends I wanted easily accessible during the day: knife, earphones, toothbrush/toothpaste, sunscreen.
This set-up works perfectly for me, although I continue to constantly adjust as needs and preferences change. The thing I love most about my pack is the ability to carry everything I need during the day on the outside of my pack in the mesh pockets. If I plan right, I almost never have to open the body of my pack during the day.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa turned out to be the perfect pack for me. Now that I’m not hiking every day, I miss my little companion! I would recommend it to anyone, but especially petite women looking for a good, comfy pack.
Update: my knees are much better. Better and better all the time. I can now squat down unassisted and with only a little bit of pain. I still have to hold onto something to get up, though.
I have realized that none of you got the responses to all of the sweet comments you left on the blog posts. I responded to almost all of them, and I loved and appreciated every single one! I want you to know how much it meant to know you were all there with me. Thank you!!!