Gossamer Gear Gorilla + Air Beam

Hello my backpacking friends. Today I bring you a report on the Gossamer Gear (“GG”) Gorilla 2012 model pack. I wanted to give an in-depth look at the pack since it’s been reviewed elsewhere already and you probably have all the specs that you’d ever need. I’ve got one of the new GG-branded Klymit “Air Beam” air frames so I’ll talk about that too. I’m also a user of the previous model Gorilla pack so I can (and will) provide some comparison. So as Jimi said: Let us not talk falsely now the hour is getting late…

First Impressions

The new Gorilla looks great. GG construction has always been good but the fit and finish of the new models look much less “cottage manufacturer” and much more “retail” (in a good way). The new Dyneema material is an obvious difference and will be more familiar to many people than the previously used material. The shoulder straps have a more ergonomic shape, are not quite as wide, and a little further apart than on the previous version. This version also has a hipbelt with pockets. Another obvious difference is the addition of a lid. Normally I’m not one who prefers packs with lids, however the way GG implemented it is actually kind of neat, and with some McGyver ingenuity I was able to expand the usefulness of the lid (more on this later). Good looks aside, I wondered if the new features would justify the ~2 oz heavier weight, but more importantly how the pack would feel and work on the trail. We’ll get to that.

The 2012 Gorilla
The 2012 Gorilla

New Gorilla vs. Old Gorilla

Here’s a side by side comparison of the previous generation vs. the 2012 model.

Side by Side Comparison
2012 Design Previous Design
Main Volume: 2400 in3 (39L) 2400 in3 (39L)
Total Volume: 3000 in3 (49L) 2800 in3 (46L)
Outfitted Weight: 27.0 oz (size large) 24.5 oz (size large)
Removable Stay: Yes Yes
Hydration Pocket & Port: Yes Yes
Top Lid: Yes No
Shoulder Strap Width: 3 1/8 in 3 3/4 in
Torso Fit: 19-22 in (size large) 20-24 in (size large)
Hipbelt Fit: 30-38 in waist (medium) 30-35 in waist (medium)
Hipbelt Style: Removable, with pockets Removable, no pockets
Pockets: 2x Dyneema side, 1x mesh rear, 2x hipbelt, 1x lid 2x Mesh side, 1x mesh rear

Here are a few photos for a visual side by side. Old on the left, new on the right..

Back
Back
Front
Front
Side
Side
A look at the new lid and closure system
A look at the new lid and closure system

From a standpoint of the how the packs carry… pretty much the same. The internal stays and sit-pad pocket (with foam sit pad) provide roughly the same load carrying capability. The new shoulder straps are a bit more comfortable due to their shape and ever so slightly narrower width. This was a good trade off for removable foam padding. The main capacity is close enough to not matter, the hip belt pockets are an exciting addition for me since I like to pack all kinds of goodies into them (namely, my camera accessories). Getting into the back pocket is easier now without the strap coming directly over the middle of it as in the old design. Compression is handled roughly the same (although my old pack is pictured without the shock cord above) with the exception that the redundant compression strap has been removed from the top of the new pack. I liked the lid, although I disliked the new top closure (more on this below). From an standpoint of “should I upgrade from my old Gorilla?”, well, upgrading makes sense for me. The changes to the straps and the addition of hip belt pockets are enough to convince me that I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of the old pack and it’s time to move upwards and onwards.

Field Report

The first real trip I took the (new) Gorilla on was up in the Trinity Alps (Northern California area). This was the sort of trip I’d normally choose to take my (older) Gorilla on – 3 days, temps above freezing, no bear canister. “Why that matters, Jacob?”, you may ask. For some people it might not matter, but here’s why it does to me. On shorter trips I don’t need a ton of food, or many extra clothes (just a spare pare of socks), minimal shelter (think: tarp), lightweight quilt (as opposed to a sleeping bag), a simple alcohol stove, and no bear canister to deal with. I’m lucky to have a summer kit and a winter/shoulder kit which includes a larger backpack to use for carrying the heavier/bulkier cold weather gear. The Gorilla is well suited for carrying a lightweight kit such as this.

Loaded up with the Air Beam
Loaded up with the Air Beam

Ok, where were we… oh yes, Trinity Alps. My pack ended up being around 18 lbs. Carrying anything under 20 lbs in the Gorilla feels great. This is roughly the same experience I have with my older Gorilla pack. In either case I leave the aluminum stays in the pack as dropping 3.5 ounces is not worth giving up that support to me. Everyone has their own personal comfort level though and what works for one may not work for another.

On the trip I also used the Gorilla as a day pack. It compresses down enough to carry minimal stuffs. Are there lighter day packs out there? Yes (in fact GG makes a couple). Did I want to pack an extra pack? No. The Gorilla is a pretty small pack, despite its name and served the purpose for day hiking just fine.

The next trip was to the Cathedral Range (Yosemite / Tuolumne Meadows area) which was also three days, but with colder weather and requirement to carry a bear canister. The only canister I own is a BV500 which has enough space for a longer solo trip for me, or for short-moderate trips with Sandra D and I together. It’s not the smallest lightest canister out there… by a long shot. So here I am gawking at this thing, thinking about the time I tried to lash it to the top of my old Gorilla (using the Y-strap that comes over the top and down the back of the pack) and remembering how that didn’t work out so great. Then it occurred to me that I could use the lid of the new pack to secure it… hmm would it work? I packed everything up and seemed to have enough space on top so I gave it a go and here’s what I ended up with:

Bear Vault Config
Bear Vault Config

This actually worked out surprisingly well. Only once did the canister start to feel loose, maybe something inside shifted around, I’m not sure. After that I tied the pull cords on the lid to each other so they wouldn’t loosen, and they never did. So maybe there is an argument for packs with lids after all. Truth be told, I would prefer to put the canister inside the pack, just for peace of mind, so some combination or smaller canister and/or larger pack would be ideal, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do this again.

On the downside, I was carrying a pack that was around 27 lbs. This was bordering on uncomfortable at times. GG recommends 30 lbs max for the Gorilla but they say it will handle 35 lbs; I can’t really imagine carrying that much in it. I think 30 lbs would definitely be tops for me, and I hope that a few pounds of that would be beer which I would consume on the first night out 🙂 I’m a pretty thin dood, so to be fair, someone with a buff set of trap muscles might be perfectly comfy with those heavier loads. Also worth mentioning, I measured the strap spacing on the new Gorilla at about 1 7/8 inches, whereas my old Gorilla has a spacing of about 1 3/8 inches. The wider spacing and slightly narrower straps worked great for me despite carrying a heavy~ish load.

Other than the heavier load, no complaints. The trip was mostly cross country and involved quite a bit of scrambling, jumping down, over trees, etc… I rubbed on enough granite that I thought I’d have some granite rash on the bottom of the pack, but all looks well. Moving through dense wooded areas I had few, if any snags. The Dyneema side pockets are much better than mesh in that respect. All in all I was very happy with the pack.

Air Beam Frame

This is a brand new addition to the GG lineup and, at time of writing this article, has not yet made it to the market. These inflatable frames have been emerging in several cottage manufacturer’s pack designs. As far as I know Klymitt is manufacturing all of them. The idea is simple: when firmly inflated, the baffles of the “frame” provide light-weight rigidity for otherwise frameless packs. It’s worth mentioning that the Air Beam requires its own proprietary hand pump (squeeze bulb thingy) which adds 0.8 oz to the 3.0 ounces of the Air Beam (pre-production figures). Now, the Gorilla is a semi-framed pack (for lack of a better term); it utilizes aluminum stays to provide rigidity in addition to foam the SitLight Pad (~1.9 oz) which ships with the pack. By gaining ~2 oz, and spending an as-of-yet undetermined amount of dollars more, we should get better rigidity.

Using the Air Beam
Using the Air Beam

SitLight Pad vs. Air Beam
SitLight Pad vs. Air Beam

In the real world, I think the Air Beam does make a difference in a good way, how much of a difference is hard to quantify. I talked this over with Grant Sible of Gossamer Gear and learned that the main purpose of the Air Beam is to supplement the truly frameless GG packs (Kumo, Murmur Hyperlite), while with the Gorilla it could be more of a swap out item to replace both the aluminum stays and the SitLight pad, which would actually be a weight savings of about 1.5 ounces. Worth it or not? I will have to gather some more experience before I can give a definitive conclusion. When I used the pack I used it with the air frame AND the aluminum stays so I can only comment on that config, which felt good, but I would probably opt to stick with the SitLight. I dunno, hard call. I will have to revisit this.

A Few Issues

I’ll start with my more minor gripe – the shock cord to draw the opening of the pack closed. It’s not enclosed in a channel so it tends to get in the way when putting things into the pack or taking them out. I talked with Grant about this also and learned that the cord was once sewn into a channel at the top, then the design was changed to allow the cord to be removed. The design is being modified again; this time the shock cord is being replaced by a simple clip closure. Sounds like an excellent solution.

Next up – slipping shoulder straps. I didn’t have a major problem with this but I did notice a little readjustment was required when I carried a heavier load. I understand others have had a more troublesome experience here, and I can certainly understand your angst. I am told that this problem is being corrected by changing the shoulder strap webbing to a more traditional material which isn’t so slick.

Finally, hip belt slippage. Right away I noticed that the female buckle just refused to grab the webbing of the hip belt. It seems this is also related to the hip belt material choice (it’s slick) but mostly only shows up when the tolerances of the buckle are out of whack. I had to resort to tying a knot in the belt on that side. It turns out that the webbing material is being changed to a less slick alternative which should remedy the problem.

I also asked Grant about the issue some people have brought up regarding shoulder strap spacing (where they’re sewn to the top of the pack). Apparently there has been some variation in the spacing between the Gorilla and Mariposa packs, and even between Gorilla packs of the same generation. Grant has told me that GG is making some major changes internally to ensure that this is corrected and the strap spacing is standard.

At the end of the day Gossamer Gear is a cottage industry, which can come with positive and some negative. I see GG listening and reacting to feedback they’re receiving which isn’t something the “big” retail manufacturers do in the middle of a product run. Given Gossamer Gear’s reputation, I firmly believe things will be made right.

Attacked by a Marmot

No, I wasn’t. Just wanted to see if you’re still reading. No varmints (or Jacobs) were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Bottom Line

I think the new Gorilla is an improvement over the previous design. I do like the lid, the new straps, the dyneema side pockets, and the hipbelt pockets. To me, these are all usable features and I don’t mind giving up a couple of ounces to have them. I realize there are those of you out there who scrutinize things to the gram-level to see where the fat can be trimmed; I think taken for what it is, a fully featured backpack, the Gorilla presents very little if any excess to trim. There are other more minimal packs around that might fit the bill for those who feel the Gorilla is, or has become too much pack (GG offers the Kumo and Murmur for starters). On the other side of the coin, there are certainly other fully featured packs aimed towards lightweight hikers that have a lot more hanging off them than the Gorilla does. When it’s all said and done, the 2012 Gorilla strikes a good balance between features, weight, and load carrying capacity making it a nice follow up to its earlier design. Hike It. Like It.

Updates

2013/07: Gossamer Gear repaired the pack to correct the issue with the straps slipping. They actually replaced all the straps (webbing) with a slightly different material and replaced one buckle on the waist belt. I have been told by Grant that they’ve standardized on this webbing so slipping straps should not be an issue moving forward. It’s good service from Gossamer Gear and I’m still very happy with the pack for trips where I have a baseweight of 20 lbs or less. The airbeam has held up although I’ve held off on using it as a sit pad, thus puncturing it and killing the frame of my pack… so I tend to favor the aluminum stays and sit pad combo.

Jacob D Written by:

Jacob is the head honcho, wearer of many hats, and modern day berserker here at Hike It. Like It. When he's not out hiking or running the trails you'll find him operating in full capacity as a Super Dad and chipping away at a degree in Kinesiology. This guy likes to stay busy. Follow on Strava

5 Comments

  1. Mike Conlon
    December 1, 2012
    Reply

    The air frame is a great idea for when the pack is transported, as normal aluminum stays can and do get damaged. I’d like to take a big motorcycle trip at some point, and have been wondering what pack to take. An inflatable frame for a GG pack would make my decision much easier, and the pack would be more pack-able and less prone to damage when shoved into a small aluminum pannier on a motorcycle. Also less likely to be damaged when being moved by the airlines. Neat idea! Great gear review too, thanks for posting.

  2. Diane
    November 30, 2012
    Reply

    I tested the air frame, too. I liked it. I thought it made the pack comfortable. I was able to use it under my hip bone or as a pillow when I slept, too. I found it was useful. But mine got a puncture. I’m not sure how.

    • Jacob D
      November 30, 2012
      Reply

      Hi Diane. Yes, the air frame is pretty comfortable. Were you able to repair the puncture? If so, what did you use and how’s it holding up?

  3. Ken T
    November 24, 2012
    Reply

    Great job as usual. I saw prototype air frames in Feb. Really amazed as to how rigid you could get them. Also, so glad to see top pockets making a comeback. It’s like the top pocket slid off and became the mesh pocket for all the catch all items. Now making a return to the top of the pack. I wonder if we will see the removal or at least removable mesh pockets on future packs.

    • Jacob D
      November 24, 2012
      Reply

      Thanks Ken. Yeah, the air frames are pretty interesting. I used to stuff my DAM back there and puff it up one or two breaths, which sorta worked (ok, not really). This is on a whole other level.

      Not sure about removable pockets coming, it is nice to be able to strip things down when not needed.

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