When you spend five weeks hiking nearly 500 miles through Spain, your gear becomes an important part of who you are. Throw in eight weeks of sightseeing all over Europe in addition to the Camino, and you have the perfect testing ground for what works and what doesn’t in your selection of gear. In an ongoing gear series, I will be talking about some of the items that became indispensable both during our European trip as well as on our current North American road trip.
The first bit of kit I want to talk about is our choice of backpacks. Not only did these packs have to carry our load during the Camino, but they filled in as our suitcases for our entire 13-week journey.
We wanted to keep the costs for this trip as low as possible, and so the first decision we had to make was whether or not to buy new backpacks. We both owned large-capacity (60-70L) backpacks and had to put some serious thought into whether or not they’d suffice for our trip. Cheri had an ArcTeryx Bora 60, and I had a Gregory Baltora 70. Both are quality backpacks, but the downside is that they are heavy (each one weighed in at over 5.5 pounds). I knew some tremendous advances had been made in reducing pack weight, so after spending a lot of time looking at the current crop of lightweight backpacks available, I decided we should try Gossamer Gear’s Mariposa 60 because it is significantly lighter–with Cheri’s coming in at less than 2 lbs and mine at less than 1.5 lbs, we were saving over 3.5 lbs for each pack. Spoiler alert: We loved these packs! Here’s why:
From the first time we put them on, the backpacks were comfortable, an important factor and something we’ve both had trouble with in the past. Even with a full load, Mariposa 60 stayed comfortable throughout the day. Keep in mind that these are ultra-lightweight packs, which means that they are not meant to haul 50-60 lbs, with the manufacturer recommending no more than 35 lbs. With water, Cheri probably topped hers out at 16-18 lbs, and I stayed within 20-25 lbs while carrying water, food, and the laptop. The lighter loads definitely made the bags more comfortable.
Cheri used the hip belt and felt that it added significantly to her comfort. Since not everyone in the ultra-light community uses a hip belt or wants the added weight (6 oz. for the Mariposa 60), the belt is removable. I’ve never been a fan of hip belts and haven’t used them with other packs either, so I left it off, which is why my pack ended up weighing less than Cheri’s, and I still found it comfortable to carry the pack all day without the belt.
Another comfort feature of the Mariposa 60 is the foam pad Gossamer Gear uses to give the bag structure. Instead of using a frame sheet, they use a removable foam sit pad, which makes the pack very comfortable against the back and provides a comfy place to sit when you stop for a break. Gossamer Gear also sells another pad that is a bit longer, about torso length, that you can also use as a sleeping pad. This option is popular with ultra light hikers, but I think I would prefer a full-length pad.
During our weeks of traveling from place to place, we came to realize that we were both carrying too much stuff, and so the day before we started the Camino, we sent two boxes back to the US, mostly clothing and shoes. When we started hiking, we quickly figured out that we should have sent more! But this was a learning experience, and we both realized that we can get by, and even thrive, on less, and packing lighter will be easier in the future.
Even with our overpacking, we both found the bag’s 60-liter volume to be enough for our needs. The only time my pack really got close to being overstuffed was on those days when that we had just restocked our food supply and the weather was too warm to wear any of my outer layers. That meant the bag was crammed with food and clothing. Otherwise, I had adequate room for all my supplies.
The main compartment has a capacity of 36L, or a bit more with some creative packing. The rest of the capacity comes from the excellent pockets. A long pocket runs the length of the torso on one side of the bag. We both used this pocket for our rain jackets, and I kept my toiletries in there as well and still had room to toss a couple of loose items on top.
On the other side of the bag, there are two pockets, one upper and one lower. We both used the lower pocket for water bottles, and it easily held two or more liters of water. This is my preferred method for carrying water, but there is a provision for carrying a water bladder as well. In the upper pocket, we carried items such as hats, beanies, gloves, buffs, and a few snacks. A shallow pocket in the top of the pack lid was great for smaller, relatively flat items. This is where I carried our just-in-case Sawyer water filter (never needed it) and some other miscellaneous items. On the back panel of the bag, there is a large mesh pocket. We used these for wet items, food, and our outer layers if we were taking them on and off frequently. I’m confident that we could find room for a lightweight tent and carry more water if required (at least after we ditched the unnecessary items).
Use and durability
These bags saw over four months of continuous use–five weeks on the Camino as well as two months in Europe and a month spent in the northeastern US before we returned to Texas–and they held up wonderfully! The seams show no sign of wear, and the bags still look great.
Within the first few weeks of our trip, a fork I had packed in the top pocket of the bag rubbed a small hole in the fabric. Since it wasn’t an issue, I left it alone, curious how it would hold up. Over the following three months, the hole did not expand at all! Granted, it might not have formed at all with a heavier fabric, but then the bag would have weighed a lot more as well, so that’s a trade-off I’m willing to accept. A light-weight bag is more important than the chance of sustaining minor damage (and bags will eventually get torn if they’re being used, no matter how durable). What you don’t want is a hole that expands over time, and Gossamer Gear’s choice of material, 100 and 200 denier Robic nylon, prevented this from happening. Overall, I was extremely happy with the durability of the bag.
Some reviewers did complain about the chest strap coming off or getting twisted. The chest straps are removable, since some folks don’t use them, but their removability creates the possibility that the mounting hardware will get twisted or come undone. We each experienced both of these issues, but it wasn’t a big deal. The trick was to monitor the straps and catch them when they first started to come undone. On the Camino, when we were wearing our packs all day, we simply checked the straps once a day or so. Note that I have had other packs with removable straps, and I saw these same issues, so it’s not isolated to Gossamer Gear bags.
The bags also come with hardware to mount an ice axe and trekking poles on the outside of the pack, but we did not use either.
Other Gossamer Gear backpacks
We both loved our backpacks and look forward to getting many more trips out of them. As a matter of fact, I loved mine so much that I purchased two more Gossamer Gear packs–the 40L Gorilla pack and the 26L Summit pack. I am now confident that I could have carried everything needed for the Camino in the smaller Gorilla backpack.
We brought our Gossamer Gear bags with us on our current road trip, and we’re currently using the smaller bags as day packs, whereas our larger bags will be used for longer excursions. As far as the Summit pack goes, I can throw it into a larger bag for when I might need a daypack. On our trip, we found that we frequently wished we had brought a daypack, but we didn’t want the extra weight on the Camino. At just under a pound, the Summit would be convenient to have without adding much weight to our load.
Everyone needs to find what gear works best for them, and there are lots of choices out there. I recommend going to a hiking/backpacking store and trying on lots of bags. There is one problem with that idea though–many of the ultralight manufacturers do not sell their products in retail stores and are only available direct from the manufacturer. This is true of Texas-based Gossamer Gear, as well some of the other players in the ultralight world, such as ULA and Zpacks. But these companies are producing some of the lightest, most innovative products out there, so definitely consider their products before going with a more traditional brand. Gossamer Gear, ULA, and Zpacks all allow you to return the product if you are not satisfied with them, usually within 30 days. For us though, we are extremely happy with our Gossamer Gear bags and would recommend that folks try them out!
*We have no relationship with, nor were we compensated in any way from Gossamer Gear. We purchased these items with our own money and really liked them so we thought we’d share!