2012 Gorilla UL Backpack | Updating a Classic
It's hard to improve something when you hit a homerun on your first attempt, and as impossible as it sounds, that was exactly the goal that the guys at Gossamer Gear set for themselves; update and improve the award-winning Gorilla ultralight backpack while staying true (as much as possible) to the original.
The Gorilla ultralight backpack has been my personal 'go-to' pack for a long time now. It has just about every feature that I need and none that I don't. It's simple, lightweight, easy to use, and comfortable to wear - so if it's not broke, why change it you might be asking?
The most obvious reason to update a product is to stay competitive in the market place, but for a company like Gossamer Gear it's also an opportunity to take advantage of newer materials and manufacturing processes to innovate and improve. GG has recently introduced some new packs to their line up like the Kumo, Minimalist, and the BigBag. They've also already updated some of the old favorites like the Murmor Hyperlight, so tackling the highly popular Gorilla ultralight pack was the logical next step.
Old vs. New
For the purpose of this review I'm going to compare my old, well-used 2010 Gorilla backpack to it's sucessor the 2012 version. My torso size is 20 inches, which puts me at the top end of the size chart for the 'medium' size Gorilla pack (medium = 16" - 20" torso) and both the old and new packs are mediums. However, before I jump right into the side-by-side comparison, let's take a look at what's changed in the 2012 version:
What's New on the 2012 Gorilla
- Materials: 140 denier Dyneema GGridstop coated ripstop nylon for the main body. Select use of 1680, 210, 30 denier ripstop nylon. XTC fabric for harness lining, and power mesh fabric for large back pocket and pad holder
- An entirely new more ergonomical harness with multiple attachment points
- OTT™ (Over-the-top) lid closure system with magnetic fastener
- Top lid zippered pocket
- More comfortable (taller) hip belt system with built-in pockets
- Side shock-cord compression system that also allows for lashing items on top
- Reinforced ripstop panels on bottom of large front mesh pocket
- Side GGridstop pockets
- Updated aluminum internal stay system
Features That Stayed Mostly the Same
- Simple design
- Signature rear sit-pad holder
- Internal hydration bladder pocket with dual side tube ports
- Heavy duty top haul loop
- Side shock-cord compression and storage system
- Central lashing loop/ice axe holder
What Has Gone
- Draw string main closure system
- Top Y-strap closure, useful for attaching items like bear canisters
- Mesh side pockets
- Webbing side compression straps
- Removable shoulder (harness) and hip padding
Closer Look at the 2012 Gorilla
The new 2012 Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack is still a durable, ultralight, mid-sized backpack capable of carrying loads of up to 35 lbs (30lbs comfortably) and just like the original the updated version is a dream to carry. Below are some product specs for quick comparison purposes. You'll see that not very much has changed on the surface, slightly increased storage and a tiny bump up in weight, but otherwise very true to the original.
New OTT Lid Closure
Probably the most noticeable change on the 2012 Gorilla after the new material is the entirely new Over-the-Top (OTT) closure system. I first saw this on the Murmur prototype that I tested last year and liked the way it had been designed to make the corners each cinch down the lid.
The new Gorilla has a vastly improved version of the OTT lid from the one I saw on the Murmur. Firstly it comes with a new zippered lid pocket that is perfect for storing small items that need to be easily accessible, like maps or even first aid items. The pocket opening is 8 inches wide, making it plenty wide enough to store maps and comfortably get your hand in and out.
Staying on the topic of the lid, the next noticeable difference from the original Gorilla is the enormous (loose) opening that the new version has. I'm so use to the draw string version on the original Gorilla that this seems slightly bizarre to me. I used the term 'loose' because the new pack does not have the draw string closure to support the top edge of the pack, so it just seems to flap around all over the place.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the original Gorilla backpack, below are two photos that will hopefully illustrate what I am talking about. Here is the old draw string closure...
...and below is the old Y-strap, perfect for holding a bear canister or sleeping bag, that the original Gorilla had but which is no longer a part of the new OTT design.
Replacing the old draw string and Y-strap system is a clever magnetic clasp and two corner cord tensioning buckles. After using the new Gorilla on a recent short trip, I noticed that I had to remember to tuck each of the sides of the top lid in neatly toward the center before cinching down the top.
When I didn't tuck the sides in, there would be a mass of lid material hanging out the sides. If you've ever learned to properly tuck in the corners of a non-fitted bed sheet (hospital corners) you'll know exactly what I am talking about.
The small black magnetic clasps help keep the lid firmly 'snapped' shut. I can only assume from their small size that these are using the very strong rare earth (neodymium) magnets because they work very well. Note to self: Do not carry my baseplate compass in the zippered lid pocket, right next to those powerful magnetic clasps!
The final detail of the new lid that I want to point out are the two corner cord tensioners. Each corner of the lid has a snap buckle for cinching it down tight. I first saw this type of side-release buckle used on the Murmur last year. They look like your typical side-release buckle upper, married with line lock lower and Gossamer Gear's own EZC high-viz cord.
These are an amazing, lightweight solution to the old webbing tensioners. They unsnap quickly just like any other buckle, but instead of using flat nylon webbing they use narrow cord. Not only do they work great, I love the tiny splash of orange that they introduce to the otherwise gray and black pack.
After the radically new OTT lid, the next most noticeable new feature would be the updated materials that Gossamer Gear have used. The new Gorilla is constructed almost entirely using a gray 140 denier Dyneema GGridstop material. I have to admit that I've never personally been a fan of Dyneema gridstop, mostly because the 210 denier version that other manufacturers use always seemed way too stiff and over the top for an ultralight pack.
However, the new 140d Dyneema 'GGridstop' that Gossamer Gear has had made to order is almost as flexible as Silnylon, but much more durable. It also looks pretty darn cool, if aesthetics are a consideration for you?
Power Mesh Rear Pocket
The large rear single pocket is made using a lightweight, highly snag-resistant 'power' mesh. This is a huge improvement over the original Gorilla pack that used, what looked like, a very similar mesh but which snagged on just about everything it touched. This new mesh has no problems with leaves, branches, or the tall dry grass that we have a lot of in North Carolina.
You can see in the photo above that a much more significant portion of the bottom of the mesh pocket is now reinforced using a more durable urethane-coated double-rip ripstop nylon.
The GG signature back 'pad holder' is also constructed using the newer power mesh material. The new Gorilla came with Gossamer Gear's SitLight sit pad installed, whereas on my original Gorilla I tend to carry my full Thinlight sleeping pad folded up.
New Shoulder Harness
If you saw my earlier post about the modified harness on my GG Gorilla backpack, then you'd know that Gossamer Gear has heard, loud and clear, that the straps on their packs needed to be improved. The Murmur was the first of their backpack line up to get the new harness and it's very comfortable.
The shoulder straps have a much more ergonomic contoured form that wrap smoothly around the shoulders and narrow slightly as they go under your arms. I've had issues in the past with the straps on my original Gorilla rubbing the inside of my arms and have heard from other GG backpack owners that have experienced similar issues.
The photo above shows my original Gorilla (left) and the new 2012 Gorilla. I should point out that this is probably a bit misleading, because my 'original' Gorilla backpack is a one of a kind. Last year Grant at GG offered to use my Gorilla pack as a guinea pig for their new prototype shoulder harness. As you can see, and for those of you familiar with the old Gorilla pack, the new harness is much more contoured than the original.
The 2012 Gorilla has an updated and improved version of the new harness that you'll be seeing introduced to other Gossamer Gear packs as they upgrade their line up. Below is a photo of the original shoulder straps on my old Gorilla pack, before the one-off upgrade. See those 4-inch wide shoulder straps!
Getting back to the 2012 Gorilla, you'll see that there are a lot more lashing and attachment options on the new shoulder straps. Each strap has a horizontal hydration hose retainer, a small plastic D-ring, and a short length of daisy-chain webbing with three sets of loops.
The daisy-chain webbing cleverly hides Gossamer Gear's new detachable and adjustable EZClip sternum strap system. It consists of a series of small vertical plastic clips that attach to the corresponding clip on either end of the sternum strap, providing three fixed-height adjustment options.
The chain webbing itself is stitched very taught making it lay flat against the EZClip attachments underneath. This can make attaching items to the webbing loops a little more tricky.
The EZClips work by sliding up and off of the 'rail' section that is permanently attached to the shoulder strap. There is a very pleasing and firm 'click' when the clip has been slid completely back into place. These are not going anywhere.
More Comfortable Hip Belt
The new Gorilla comes with a removable hip belt system, just like the original, but this one has some cool new features. Unlike most mainstream commercial packs, the Gorilla offers three different size hip belt options allowing the wearer to choose the best size hip belt for their build, independently of their torso size. The hip belt size options available are: Small (25" - 30" waist), medium (30" - 36" waist), large (36" - 50" waist). I take a medium hip belt and medium pack size.
Just like the original Gorilla, the hip belt slides in behind the bottom of the sit pad mesh pocket and attaches to a square of Velcro in the center to stop it from moving.
The new hip belt is also a little taller and better padded than the original. The extra height definitely improves the transfer of weight to the hips. My old Gorilla was a dream to carry (my average pack weight being 20-22lbs), but this updated hip belt is significantly more comfortable and supportive.
The extra padding on the sides is also useful to stop any items being stored in the new hip pockets from constantly banging into your sides as you hike. There are two new zippered hip belt pockets, one on each side and up front for easy access to your small stuff while moving. Gossamer Gear says these pockets are easy to open and close one-handed and I've found that to be true with a little practice. The curved ends of the zipper can be a little tricky to pull open at first, but I found that if I gave a slightly stronger yank on the zipper pull it worked okay. Two hands just makes it so much easier if you have both free.
Gossamer Gear sells separate hip belt pockets, of varying sizes, that you could attach if desired. They were are additional cost, but the new Gorilla has them as standard. Side note: the old GG detachable hip belt pockets are one of my favorite little ditty bags for carrying gear and I use them on other packs not just the Gorilla, I might have to snag some more if they ever announce that they are going to stop producing them - I wish I could learn to make these myself.
The old side webbing compression straps have been removed from the new Gorilla. Replacing them on the new version is an updated shock cord compression system. There are half as many shock cord attachment points (3 instead of 6) on each side of the new Gorilla.
What would have been the fourth attachment point on each side is actually missing and the cord continues around to the back of the pack to a point where both sides meet in the middle via a small black plastic clip (see photo below). The extended section of shock cord that stretches around to the back provides a new top lashing option for strapping a pad or jacket to the top of the pack and holding it securely.
The new Gorilla came with the side compression shock cord threaded from the top down, ending with the cord lock and excess cord being at the bottom, close to the side pockets. That seems a very odd way to thread the sides, so I'm going to remove it and thread it back starting from the bottom and ending up with the cord lock and extra cordage at the top where it does not interfere with the side pockets.
New Side Pockets
The side pockets have had a makeover too. The old, black mesh pockets are gone and a matching pair of 140d Dyneema GGridstop pockets have been added. Particular attention has been given to improving the accessibility of the pockets without the need to remove the pack. Each pocket is cut at a steep angle, lower toward the front and higher at the back.
This makes it much easier and far more natural to reach backward and put you hand into the pocket or grab something out of them. Something as simple as an angular cut pocket can vastly improve usability. The change of material also provides a more rugged set of side pockets. As deep as ever, I have no problem carrying a water bottle on either side with no risk of it 'popping' out.
The combination of large elasticated pockets and side compression shock cord provide numerous lashing and strapping options for gear on the sides of the pack. Each pocket has a small drainage hole at the bottom, reinforced with a metal grommet.
Redesigned Internal Frame Stay
Lastly I'd like to mention the changes GG have made to the internal stay system. I happen to like the added structure and support that the internal aluminum stay provides and for the extra weight of 3.4oz I'm happy to leave it in all the time. For those of you that want to remove it you still can, in fact it's easier than ever.
The original Gorilla had an almost identical internal frame stay, but the way it was help in place was quite different. I know several people (Martin Rye mentioned this in his review of the Gorilla pack) that had asked Gossamer Gear to change the way the old stay was help in place with a series of small Velcro loops - and now they have.
The frame stay is now held in place using an elasticated top cover that retains the entire top edge of the stay. To remove it simply pull the cover over and pull out the aluminum stay - one quick and easy move.
In addition to the improvements in the stay holding system, the shape of the stay has been slightly modified too. It's not easy to see in the photo above, but the top edge of the stay has been bent backward away from the carrier's neck to improve comfort. I had never had an issue with this on my old Gorilla pack, but can see how this would make it better for anyone that had a problem.
When I hold the two aluminum stays next to one another you can see the difference. The top stay is the new 2012 version with the visibly different bent top section. The overall shape of the lower two legs of the sta are pretty much the same as the original as far as I could tell and conforms to the shape of the lower back nicely.
It's hard to believe that Gossamer Gear could improve on such a well designed and manufactured ultralight pack as the original Gorilla, but they have. Some of the changes, like the new OTT lid and updated materials, are drastically different than the old version. Some of the features have been tweaked, updated, or improved based on years of feedback from owners I'm sure.
Gossamer Gear has also managed to stay true to the spirit of the original Gorilla while upgrading almost every aspect of the design. As an owner and self-proclaimed 'fanboy' of the orignal Gorilla, I really like that they kept the feel of the original.
Personally, I'm not entirely sold on the new OTT lid system just yet. That may simply be because I liked the old Gorilla draw string and Y-strap just fine, or that I'm a bit of a luddite who hates change. The new lid is not bad by any means, it's just a new way of doing things. As someone who preaches familiarity and practicing with your gear, the new lid means I'll need to spend a little extra time seeing how best to use it. The powerful magnetic clasps do worry me though, making that nice big lid pocket less than ideal for carrying a compass - but then again the hip belt pockets are probably much better and more accessible for that anyway.
I have many, many more miles to put on the new Gorilla backpack before I'll be completely comfortable with it to the extent that I am with the original, but I find myself looking forward to the challenge. My son Jack (soon to be eight years old) has had his eye on my old Gorilla pack for some time now even though it's probably a little too big for him. Maybe I'll tighten up all the compression options and let him try it on for size, unless Gossamer Gear is planning on making some serious ultralight backpacks for kids any time soon?
Disclosure: The author is a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and received a sample of the new Gorilla ultralight backpack from Gossamer Gear for testing and review purposes The author owns the original Gorilla pack and paid for it using his own funds.