The state of my gear: rucksacks

Slideshow (in order): Aether 60, Exos 58, Mariposa Plus, Ohm, Quest, Trek, Ultrahike 60

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Just as I went through an evolutionary process choosing tents, rucksacks have also been a journey of discovery. When I started backpacking again I made the classic mistake of buying a bombproof heavy rucksack, the Lowe Alpine Appalachian. It only took a couple of miles to realise I’d made a dreadful mistake. It was too heavy, unstable and the hip belt was too fat. It got passed on quickly.

The next pack was an Osprey Aether 60. This had a delrin frame and an excellent hip belt. At 1.5kg, it wasn’t heavy, but, equally it wasn’t light. I used it on a couple of short trips and it was fine. Very comfortable, but it wasn’t very water resistant.

Trying to reduce my base weight, I then bought a much lighter pack, the Golite Trek, which I used on my first proper trip, Blair Atholl to Aviemore. Although it was not a bad sack, the back length was not quite right and the hip belt didn’t fit well. I wasn’t very keen on the lack of a frame, either.

Next I tried another Golite pack, the Quest, which was a bit heavier than the Trek. I really liked the design. It had a nice simple frame. However, the shoulder straps were a bit hard. I used this pack on another Cairngorms trip. It could have been a disaster, but I cut up a foam sit mat and put some strips under the shoulder straps secured with shock cord. Hey presto, comfort. Unfortunately, yet again the hip belt didn’t really fit properly. It wasn’t too bad, but just not right. I was beginning to get frustrated.

It was then I came across Gossamer Gear and the Mariposa Plus. Colin Ibbotson used one for a TGOC. It was such a different design that I had to get one. Fortunately, Winwood Outdoor stocked them, so I bought one without the hassle of ordering from the US and custom and handling charges.

The first serious use was a very wet trip to the Lakes. Considering how simple it is, I was blown away by the comfort. The wide shoulder straps spread the load well. The two simples carbon fibre stays give it enough rigidity but also allow some flexibility. I really thought the hip belt might be too flimsy, but it works well. It really shouldn’t as it sits a bit low, below the iliac crest, but it works.

It is surprising how much gear it can hold. It just seems to swallow everything. The mesh pockets on the outside allow quite a lot of storage on the outside, which is handy for snacks, water, waterproofs, hats, gloves and other bits and pieces. The large side pocket is also big enough for a tent like the Scarp.

The Y strap is a neat touch, making storage on top of the pack for a tent or drybag much more secure. I use a two section GG nightlite pad for a back pad, slotted into the two stretch mesh pockets. I have added a small piece of fleece (Vet Bed!) in the bottom pocket, which I find helps with ventilation and avoids a sweaty lower back. The nightlite pad also has a home made mesh sleeve which, again, helps ventilate my back.

I find the carry of the Mariposa Plus the best of any rucksack I’ve used. Because the frame is just two vertical carbon fibre rods, the sack moves with my body much more than other framed sacks.

Like all gear, there are some negatives. Firstly the mesh pockets are not that robust. I’ve made a couple of holes in them, although I’ve made a rough repair with some thread. I’ve also pulled some of the stitching at the top of one shoulder strap. The bar tack is still OK, but I’ve re-stitched a small section. The main pack material is not very water resistant, so using a pack liner is necessary. I also broke a prong on the hip belt buckle, which I’ve now replaced.

Overall I think the Mariposa Plus is the best rucksack I own. Considering the lightweight materials, it has been reasonably robust, despite the odd issue here and there. Some tweaks would improve it. The shoulder straps could be angled where they meet the body. Daisy chain loops on the shoulders straps would be useful. I would prefer a drybag style closure instead of a draw string on the top.

Mariposas are now shipped with a one piece aluminium stay and it would be interesting to see what difference that makes. It can easily handle a 12kg load. In summary, I’ve found myself returning more often to my Mariposa than other sacks and I’d say it’s my favourite option for most of the time.

Having sung the praises of the Mariposa, I did briefly fall out of love with it, when I discovered the stitching issue (which turned out to be mainly cosmetic) and the holes in the mesh pockets. Looking at alternative, the ULA Ohm seemed similar but made out of more robust materials, so I ordered one. I had three packs before I got the right size back and hip belt.

ULA have a reputation for quality and from what I can see it’s well deserved. The quality of the workmanship is superb. It’s also a tough pack, made mainly out of Dyneema Gridstop fabric. The side pockets are capacious but only extend part way up the pack. On the front, there is a stretch mesh pocket. The frame is an inverted U mainly made of carbon fibre. Unlike the Mariposa it is external and follows the edge of the pack. The shoulder straps are nicely contoured.

While I like the Ohm, I’ve not found it as comfortable as the Mariposa. It has to be packed more carefully to ensure that hard objects don’t dig into your back. The back panel of Dyneema Gridstop is a bit sweaty. I’ve also found the hipbelt less comfortable, mainly because the buckles extend slightly beyond the hip belt padding. I’ve cured this using some thin foam loops.

Interestingly, ULA have launched an Ohm 2.0 with a removable hip belt, so you can use belts from the Catayst pack. It also gives some torso adjustment and the frame is located inside the pack, so this may address the issues I’ve outlined. The Ohm is a fine pack and carries well, just not as well as the Mariposa, so I’ve not used it as much.

In addition to the Mariposa and the Ohm, I have an Osprey Exos 58 and a Lightwave Ultrahike 60. In their way, both are good packs but a bit heavier, both weighing about 1.2kg. The more rigid frames and substantial hipbelts make these packs more capable of carrying heavy loads.

Taking the Exos first, in many ways this is a good pack. The trampoline back is very comfortable and gives good ventilation. The downside though is that the load is carried slightly away from your back, so there’s a noticeable feeling of being pulled backwards. After a while it becomes a bit wearing leaning forward to compensate. For me it was a bit of a deal breaker.

The rest of the features are good with a very comfortable harness, good pockets and features. If I was being picky, the fabric could be a bit more water resistant, which is why I bought the Lightwave Ultrahike 60.

The Ultrahike is supposedly almost waterproof, but, amazingly, it’s hardly rained when I’ve been using it. I really like the Ultrahike. I’ve found it very comfortable, although I did have to tweak the hipbelt to achieve perfection. For heavier or bulkier loads, it’s ideal.

The main compartment simply swallows loads. The lid pocket is a good size. It’s a shame it hasn’t got a valuables pocket. The two mesh side pockets are surprisingly capacious and robust. I’ve replaced the cord compression system with shock cord, which is better for lashing a tent or trekking poles.

Of all the “conventional” rucksacks I’ve used, the Ultrahike is the pick. I think for a winter rucksack or for heavier loads on extended trips, it’s hard to beat. It also seems quite robust. Again, if I was being picky, I would like a secure pocket for valuables and daisy chains on the shoulder straps.

I think I’ve arrived at a point where I have two packs, the Mariposa and the Ultrahike, which cover all of my needs. Most of the time, the Mariposa is ideal and I’ve come to miss it when I’m not using it. The Ultrahike is really good, especially for bulkier gear, like a winter sleeping bag. Both sacks are higher volume than many lightweighters would use, but I don’t like cramming gear in and I like the flexibility of a bit of extra volume.

Will anything change in the future? If GG upgrade the Mariposa with the materials they use on the new Murmur, it could become irresistible, especially as my Mariposa doesn’t have the more recent aluminium curved stay. I’ve also toyed with getting a cuben pack from Z-packs, but I like the Mariposa too much.

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15 thoughts on “The state of my gear: rucksacks”

  1. Thanks for this review, and the similar tent review which preceded it.

    I don’t have a comment, only a question. What are the shoulder strap “daisy chains” whose absence you regret?

  2. hi Robin, great summary and thoughts on the latest item of gear on the list. Rucksacks are a funny thing for me, but mostly thats due to a small back problem so I am uber choosy.
    I love GG packs as they are well designed and as you know I still have the early version of the Mariposa (in very lightweight material). I found that it was a little bit fragile but the fit was excellent. i also have a whisper but have not really gotten on with it (rustles like hell!). I used to like the original Jam pack but a lack of hipbelt pockets and slightly uncomfortable shoulder straps meant I was hunting around for that elusive “perfect” multi day pack for a while.
    Its not perfect but the ULA conduit that I recently got second hand has so far been a revelation! For me its a very well designed pack, tough, light and very functional and it is comfy on my finicky back
    wont stop me looking still though…. 🙂

  3. Hey Robin, I skipped straight to the comments here. I don’t want to buy another rucksack. If I read this I probably will. So i’ll read it when I have cash to spare.

    😉

  4. I only have 2 packs myself. An Exos 46 and an Exped Drypack 25l.
    The Exos was/is great but I find it much too spacious now, unless I’m planning a week or more of hiking. It is now my winter pack and I really cant fault it. Ok, at 900g it could be a bit lighter.

    The exped has been a revelation – a 300g dry bag with straps. Very minimal, but again I can’t fault it. Have used it for all day walks last year and even an overnighter.

    I do feel that I need another pack though and also looking myself at Z-packs.

      1. Me, too. On a month-long trip to Europe last summer, I stuffed the Exped 15 into my Exos 37 as a day pack, so I didn’t have to unpack the big pack when I was in town for a day. This is now my preferred system.

        I used a Mariposa in 2010 when I was on the GR5 in France for c. 500km, and it just didn’t work for me. The weight always seemed to drag on my shoulders and feel much heavier than it was. The pack was also hot, as it rested right on my back. The Exos itself is heavier, but more comfortable and cooler than the Mariposa.

      2. Just shows how personal these things are! The Mariposa has worked well for me. Adding a small piece of fleece if or the lower pad holder and a mesh holder for the foam back pad have all but eliminated the sweaty back syndrome.

      3. “Adding a small piece of fleece if or the lower pad holder and a mesh holder for the foam back pad have all but eliminated the sweaty back syndrome.”

        Don’t quite get this description. I have a Mariposa and would like to try your solution. Could you expand on this a little or even post a picture. Many thanks, you have some good stuff in this blog.

  5. Great article Robin. Not too many people know about the Lightwave packs, but I really like them. I have the slightly heavier Wildtrek which has a waterproof bottom compartment. I think the Ultrahike to be the slightly lighter better choice on reflection but I’m not going to swap at this stage! Like you I have it as my winter pack and I love the fact it is totally bombproof. I’ve used it in Wales when it has tipped down solidly for two days and there was a little water ingress from the back at the top – but that was it.

    I’m not quite as Ultralight as your good self for the warmer months, I use the Lowe Alpine Zepton for 3 season use, and it’s my fav piece of kit from last year. It’s 1000g but the comfort is excellent, it’s seriously robust and although I frequently take less than it’s 50 litre capacity, like you I prefer to have room to spare.

    You have intrigued me with the Mariposa though. I do have qualms about durability with some lightweight gear, I much prefer to have something a little heavier that will last a little longer but I may investigate a halfway house like the Golite jam.

    1. As you say, it’s a shame Lightwave don’t have a higher profile. They produce good gear. I had an email exchange with Carol McDermott, Lightwave’s founder a while ago. It’s a tough business when you’re a small operator.

  6. Golly, you do get through a lot of backpacks! I wish I could afford to do that.
    When I started serious backpacking, I bought a Miniposa and I have a Gorilla as well. One weighs a pound, the other an ounce or two more: 450gm and 520gm. Both have survived a month in the Pyrenees with flying colours, the Miniposa the Pennine Way and various other trails too. You do have to look after them.. pick them up by the proper strap, don’t dive headfirst through gorse, that sort of thing.. but so long as you do they will last as long as anything else. Do folks really still use 2Kg rucksacks?!

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