The Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 is a great lightweight pack designed for long-distance backpacking when keeping weight to a minimum is key. It has a well-thought-out design that is somewhat modular so that you can easily take off some weight, but that comes at the cost of structure.
- Well-thought-out design
- Very little ventilation
- Flip lid
Instead of dipping my toe into lightweight backpacking, I jumped headlong into it.
A dozen years ago or so, I decided to complete three 50-mile backpacking trips centered around the small mountain town of Stanley, Idaho. These trails had been promoted by the local Boy Scout Council where I grew up.
It included trips into the Sawtooth Wilderness, the White Cloud Mountains, and the Frank Church Wilderness area. I planned to hike all three consecutively in one week averaging 25 miles per day.
My setup was more traditional, weighing around 35 to 40 pounds. After a ton of research and dropping some serious money, I was down to about 20 pounds. That seemed like a more reasonable amount of weight to haul around the mountains.
The Scouts, despite claiming to be trustworthy, lied to me. Instead of 150 miles, it turned out to be around 136 miles and I completed it in 6 days. It was a crash course in long days with a light kit.
The one thing that I learned is that lightweight backpacking is not for everyone, but if you are interested in taking the leap with me, a light backpack is a great place to start.
Read More: Best Ultralight Backpacks Buyer’s Guide
Full Review of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50
The Gorilla has a total of 50 liters of capacity. The main pack contains 32 liters with the remainder of the capacity distributed between a large back pocket, two side pockets, and two pockets on the hip belt. This is the perfect size for my trips for up to six days in moderate conditions.
The Gorilla is comfortable when carrying loads up to 25 pounds and becomes increasingly less comfortable as the weight goes up and tops out at about 30 pounds. This pack is not for you if you routinely carry loads over 30 pounds.
It weighs 1.9 pounds, making it one of the lighter packs I have tested. The Gregory Focal, for example, comes in at 2.54 pounds but has a different feature set.
The Gossamer Gear pack is also designed to shed weight if desired. I did not use the pack this way, but by getting rid of the frame, back pad, and hip belt, you can get the pack down to just over a pound.
The pack is dark grey with light grey and gold accents. I liked the color scheme and found that it did not look dirty even after trekking through the burned-out forests of central Idaho.
I prefer a smaller pack because it helps me make better decisions about what to bring. But if you need more or less volume, Gossamer Gear makes a variety of packs, including the Mariposa 60 and the G4-20 ultralight 42, which accommodate a wider breadth of users.
I am 5’ 10” and weigh a bit over 170 pounds and the medium fits me perfectly.
Outdoor Empire Score: 4.5/5
The pack’s main body is made with 70 denier Robic nylon with some sections reinforced with 100 denier Robic nylon. This construction gives it a good balance and, overall, the pack has a lightweight feel without feeling like it will fall apart if you throw it down too hard.
During my testing, I had no problems with durability and found no frayed seams or broken straps.
The pack has no waterproofing and will require an insert, like a trash compactor bag or a pack cover, if it looks like it’s going to rain.
The Gorilla, despite being lightweight, is well made and the construction is mostly well thought out. This is expected from a company like Gossamer Gear, who specializes in lightweight equipment.
The main pack is basically a giant sack with no dividers and only one access through the top. Zippered access panels on other bags add weight and possible failure points. Not having dividers makes organizing gear a little tricky but with practice and forethought, it can be done.
The top has an extended tube and is closed by folding it over and buckling it into the main pack. By folding the top over, you can provide a certain amount of vertical compression, but not as much as packs with a roll-down top like the Hyperlite Junction 2400.
I hadn’t used a pack with a fold-over top since using my dad’s old Boy Scout knapsack when I was a kid and I was not sure how I would like it. After testing it, I am still not sure; I don’t love it, but I also don’t hate it. In the end, I prefer a roll-down lid or a pack with a pocket on top. But this may be more a matter of personal preference.
To further help regulate the volume of the pack, it uses a series of compression straps on the side of the pack. These do a fine job of regulating the volume and helping keep vertical loads like fishing poles in place on the side of the pack.
However, I am not a fan of the buckles they used. They feel a little weak and I can see them failing if you try to tighten them too much.
The Gorilla 50 does not have a top pocket, but it does have a fairly large pocket sewn into the flap. The pocket was big enough to hold my keys, headlamp, and other odds and ends that I ended up putting there. The pocket worked fine while the flap was buckled down.
However, when the pocket was full and I was trying to get into the main pack all that weight in the flap made it awkward to open as the flap wanted to fall over and not open all the way. I was not the only one to notice. My friend who also used this pack noticed it as well and complained about it.
Side and Back Pockets
The Gorilla 50 has two large side pockets and a large back pocket. The side pockets are made out of the same nylon that you find on the main pack and the back pocket is made of a stretchy mesh reinforced at the bottom by nylon.
I like having the back pocket made of mesh so that I can use it to dry out my wet stuff, like a tent fly, during the day.
I am a big fan of the back pockets on packs and the one on the Gorilla 50 is well made. It is large enough to stuff in my whole rainfly with extra room for toilet paper. It’s also easy to access without undoing a bunch of buckles.
The side pockets were large and I could easily stow longer items like tent poles and my Tenkara rod without any problems. They are also big enough to carry a liter bottle of water on each side. This is my preferred method of carrying water.
The pocket is cut at an angle so that as it gets closer to my back, it gets lower. This allows easy access to my water bottles while hiking without taking off my pack or dislocating my shoulder. It’s not as good as the side pockets of the Gregory Focal, the best side pockets ever made, but they are better than the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Junction.
I found the pockets secure, and I never lost anything out of them, even when scrambling over downed and burned-out trees.
The pack mercifully has a pocket on each side of the hip belt. I like to use these to keep snacks and my phone within easy reach so I don’t have to take off my pack whenever I want to take a photo or eat a treat.
By contrast, the Osprey Levity got rid of these in an attempt to save weight and I missed them.
Suspension and Weight Distribution
Outdoor Empire Score: 4/5
The suspension system of a backpack is how the pack supports the load and helps distribute the weight between the shoulders and hips. Suspension systems can range from complex and heavy to simple and light. The Gossamer Gear Gorilla has a suspension system that is minimalist and lightweight, yet effective.
The Gorilla 50 has a U-shaped frame made of lightweight aluminum tubing inserts. These are inverted from the top with the two prongs coming to rest in the hip belt.
The frame does a decent job of giving the pack structure, but for the most part, the structure comes from how you pack it. It can be removed to save a little weight if wanted. I never took it out so I can’t say how it worked without it.
The back panel of the Gorilla 50 is made up of a removable foam pad that sits right against the back. This allows very little ventilation and results in a sweaty back. After a long day on the trail, my friend commented how sweaty his back was. The pad can be removed to save weight.
The hip belt can be removed from the pack and replaced with one that is a different size. In general, I find that packs with integrated waist belts do a better job of distributing weight. However, with the stays from the frame going into the waistbelt, this pack acts more like one with an integrated waistbelt, which was a good thing.
The suspension on this pack does a decent job distributing the pack’s weight between my shoulders and hips. Of course, as the pack becomes heavier, more and more of the weight is carried by the shoulders and becomes less comfortable.
Outdoor Empire Score: 4/5
Comfort is subjective but I found this to be a comfortable pack with the biggest downside being a sweaty back on hot days.
Keep in mind that to get the most comfort out of a lightweight pack like this, it needs to be under 30 pounds and packed right.
While testing this pack, I took a trip to the Soldier Lakes in the Frank Church Wilderness Area of Central Idaho. The trail should have been easy and well maintained, but a fire had recently burned through the area, leaving dead and fallen trees in its wake. Instead of an easy trail, we had to work our way over and around the burned-out trees.
These conditions simulated off-trail travel and the Gorilla 50 did great. There was little-to-no pack swing as I stepped over and crawled under logs. I never worried about the pack throwing me off balance while crossing snowy slopes.
Versatility and Accessories
Outdoor Empire Score: 4/5
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla is made for hiking long distances with as little weight as possible in your pack. It provides some versatility because you can remove some of the features to make it lighter.
Gossamer Gear makes a wide range of accessories that can be added on, including water bottle holders, shoulder pouches, and lightweight stuff sacks.
The shoulder straps are well set up to attach different accessories. I could easily attach my large camera to the front of the pack. It did not sway or bounce.
The Gorilla 50 retails for $250, which is average for this category. That works out to $5 per liter of capacity.
Outdoor Empire Score: 4.1/5
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 is not fancy. It’s not the pack you bring to impress your friends and show them all the fancy things it does. Instead, it’s more like your favorite pair of cargo shorts. Not fancy, but it is what you grab day in and day out because it is comfortable and does exactly what it is intended to do.
The Gorilla 50 is not a pack for the casual backpacker or beginners. It is for the person that wants a pack stripped of everything that is not essential and the ability to strip it down even further of things that most traditional backpackers would consider crucial.
This pack is for people who count grams, weigh every piece of gear, and cut off the spoon’s handle to keep the base weight down. The Gorilla 50 is for people doing long days in the 25 to 35-mile range with a base weight of 7 to 11 pounds and a total weight of 20 to 30 pounds.
If you want a lightweight pack that feels and looks more traditional, consider the Gregory Focal 48. Or the Osprey Levity 45 if you want a pack that still looks like what you would see at REI but is as light as you can go.
For the more casual backpacker doing shorter miles and who wants all the comforts of home with you, like a toothbrush with its full handle, there are plenty of packs out there for you. I have used the Arc’Teryx Bora 60-liter pack, which is an excellent pack for large loads.
|Gorilla 50||Recommended For||Not Ideal For|
|Flexibility||Prefer specialized gear||Prefer versatility|
|Trip Length||2-6 days||>6 days without resupply|
|Base Weight||7 to 12 pounds||>15 pounds|
|Total Weight||20 to 30 pounds||>30 pounds|
|Miles per day||25 to 35 miles per day||>30 miles <15 miles per day|
|Type of trail||All types||Jogging paths in downtown|