The New Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack

I recently had a chance to try out my new, upgraded version of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack. Typically a pack like this is a little too big (volume-wise) for my short weekend jaunts, but when colder weather rolls around I end up needing a bigger pack (cold-weather hammocking required a LOT of insulation). With expected overnight temps in the mid-twenties, I thought my 3-night hike on the Loyalsock Trail would be a great test for this pack.

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

With a Total Pack Weight (Gear + Consumables) of roughly 25lbs at the beginning of the hike, I initially thought that the Gorilla was very uncomfortable. I tried adjusting the hip belt and shoulder harness, but it never really got better. While taking a break near the end of the second day, I saw the problem: I had installed the aluminum stay backwards. This stay is meant to contour your back and transfer weight to your hips, and installing it backwards created a VERY uncomfortable situation. Once I fixed my mistake, The Gorilla became extremely comfy. The stay and padded hip belt kept the load resting nicely on my hips and off of my shoulders.

The new shoulder harness was much softer and more breathable than in the previous version of the Gorilla (the old shoulder straps used to rub my neck a little). The shoulder straps are also a more ergonomic shape. They were designed specifically with women in mind, as an attempt to create a truly unisex pack. I can’t speak to their success in that endeavor, but they did make the harness more comfortable for me (a burly, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, fat man). My only complaint as a “wide” individual is that there wasn’t enough slack in the harness to give me a great range of adjustment options. I was plenty comfortable, but I had to keep the straps at nearly their maximum length. This made it impossible for me to utilize the rib strap, which was a disappointment because I love using the rib straps on my other GG packs. I did get a chance to briefly discuss this with Gossamer Gear, and it seemed like they were aware of the issue and planning to fix it in future production runs. Even though I was a little disappointed, this was not a deal breaker. I’m an odd shape for a backpacker, and I’ve become used to the fact that 99% of gear isn’t designed for a person of my body type.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basic dimensions and shape of the pack remain similar to the previous versions, a few other things have changed for the better. The old shock cord compression system was replaced with adjustable compression straps, which (in my opinion) are much more functional. The cord and LineLoc buckles, which used to secure the Over-The-Top lid, were also replaced with webbing straps. The straps make the pack closure just a tiny bit simpler to adjust.

The new Robic Nylon fabric is a nice improvement over the old Dyneema Gridstop. Not only is the Robic nylon much prettier to look at, but it is also very tough and seemed to be fairly water resistant.

The new Gorilla also features trekking pole holders, which make it easy to secure your poles to the pack when you’re not using them. I used this feature a lot because I don’t use my poles that much. The system keeps the poles very secure while hiking, but you have to be careful when you set the pack down on the ground because the tips of the poles can get pushed out of the holders.

All-in-all, the upgraded Gossamer Gear Gorilla is a fine pack, and I plan on using it through the winter. If you liked the previous version of the Gorilla, you will love this one. It is a much more polished product, which I find to be more comfortable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. If you get a chance, check it out!

Disclaimer: As a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, I received this pack free of charge. I was not obligated in any way to write this review, and all thoughts and opinions contained herein are my own. Gossamer Gear had no editorial input into the writing of this review.

Small Business Saturday

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! With Holiday Shopping Season fast approaching, I just wanted to remind everyone to support small businesses this year. There are tons of them in the outdoors industry, and they need and deserve your support! Here are a few of my favorites:

Gossamer Gear – Ultralight Backpacks, Trekking Poles, and Shelters

TurboPUP – Complete Meal Bars for your furry hiking companion

Warbonnet Outdoors – Hammocks and Hammock Accessories

Dutchware – Titanium hammock hardware and other odds and ends

East Ridge Outfitters – My favorite local gear shop, located in Blandon, PA

ZPacks – Cuben Fiber Packs, Shelters, and Accessories

Hikertrash – Apparel for the fashion forward hiker

Ground bird Gear – Custom backpacks for your trail dog

Remember to shop small this holiday season!

Hike Prep: The Loyalsock Trail

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

Sixteen months after my epically embarrassing bail five miles into the Loyalsock Trail, I’m ready to give it another go. There aren’t any stomach bugs floating around my house this year, and I’m in much better shape. I’m very confident that I’ll be able to finish this hike strongly.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

For those who aren’t aware, the Loyalsock Trail is a 59.2-mile-long backpacking trail in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region. It starts north of Montoursville, PA along PA-87 and ends north of Laporte, PA at US-202, and it’s traditionally hiked Eastbound. Following the trail is very easy as it travels through the Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park. Yellow plastic discs are emblazoned with a red “LT” and affixed to trees at very regular intervals along the trail. Signs are also available at many road crossings and some trail intersections.

My companions from Berks-Lehigh Hiking & Backpacking and I will be hiking this trail “backwards” (Westbound), with estimated mileage splits of 9/22/17/11. We’re aiming to camp with my fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Brian Horst at Mile 11. This will be my group’s final night on the Loyalsock Trail and the first night of Brian’s Eastbound hike with his group from DC UL Meetup.

My Gear Selection

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a test run of my winter kit on this trip. It’s still a little too far out for the forecast to be reliable, but I’d say that overnight temps could end up being anywhere from 25-45F. These temperatures won’t push my gear to the limit, but they will give be a good idea of what things I need to tweak before winter arrives.

For those who are interested in the raw numbers, you can view my complete Gear and Food ListUPDATED 11/5/14 – Added a backup battery for my phone and an extra fleece layer. 11.6lb Base Pack Weight… yikes!

My primary addition for winter will be the Gossamer Gear Thinlight (59″ x 39″ x 1/4″, 9.6oz) pad. This unassuming piece of gear will play a pivotal role in keeping me warm in my hammock.  When slid between the two layers of my Warbonnet Traveler hammock, it will help insulate me against convective heat loss (heat taken away by the air moving beneath you). I plan on using this in tandem with my Warbonnet Yeti and am hoping to be able to push the combination down to at least 10 degrees. to keep me warm on top, I’ll be using my 10-degree Enlightened Equipment top-quilt.

Instead of using my beloved Aquamira to treat water on this trip, I’ve picked up a Sawyer Mini filter. This filter is made to screw onto the top of a flexible reservoir. Once the reservoir is filled, you screw the filter on, then squeeze the reservoir to force water through. Since this fits my 2L Platy Bottle (which I take on every trip anyway), I’m going to leave the Sawyer reservoir at home. To maintain the filter, you just fill the supplied plunger-style syringe with clean water and force it through the filter in the reverse direction of normal flow (called “backflushing”). The filter and syringe combine for a total weight of 2.6oz.

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Sawyer Mini filter with cleaning plunger.

Because we’ll be getting a late start on Day 1, we’re going to have to hike nearly 9 miles in the dark. Even though I love my 1-ounce Petzl e+Lite headlamp, it isn’t bright enough for any kind of real night hiking. That’s why I’ll be carrying my Petzl MYO RXP headlamp. I picked this lamp up a few years ago (for use on night hikes), and it is VERY bright. It does a great job of lighting up the trail, but it is also VERY heavy, weighing in at 6.2oz. I’d never carry this lamp unless I absolutely needed it.

Since I’ll be carrying heavier, bulkier gear and 4 days worth of food(10.4lb Base Pack Weight, 19.6lbs BPW+Consumables), I’ll need a bigger pack to put everything in! That’s where my brand new Gossamer Gear Gorilla comes into play. This pack has 10 liters more volume than my usual pack (the previous model of the Gossamer Gear Murmur), and it also has an aluminum stay to help transfer the weight of the pack to my hips. The Gorilla was completely redesigned this year, and I’m excited to finally get it out on the trail.

Food Selection

Dinner on night one will be an Italian hoagie. It’s heavy to schlep into the woods, but it will be delicious and well worth carrying. The other two nights, I will be enjoying a high-class meal consisting of instant mashed potatoes and Spam prepared and served in a freezer bag.

For simplicity’s sake, I will be eating the same thing from breakfast and lunch every day: a tortilla with Justin’s Almond Butter and Bacon Jerky. This may seem like an odd combination, but it has become one of my favorite trail foods this year. It is easy to prepare, and there is no cleanup at all. To me, those are both trademarks of the perfect hiking meal. Just squeeze the almond butter out of the packet, slap on some bacon jerky, wrap it up, and eat while you hike!

My snacks will include an entire bag of Fritos, a block of cheddar cheese, chocolate covered coconut chips and chia bars. I’ll also be bringing along some of the dietary supplements I use during my gym training (Whey Protein Isolate, BCAA’s, and a Sleep/recovery aid).

My Hammock System (Version 1.1)

As a relatively new “hanger”, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the joys of camping in a hammock, but I know that I’ve still got a lot to learn. With only a few trips’ worth of hammocking experience under my belt, I’m not quite ready to dump money into a whole lot of flashy upgrades. However, I have found a few economically priced tweaks that could make my current system more functional and easier to use.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my set-up, here is a quick list of the major components:

My hammock setup

My Hammock Setup (Version 1.0)

New Tarp Guys and Hardware

In true gram weenie style, I had immediately dismissed the need for any tensioning hardware in my original set-up. I also chucked the “heavy” cord that came with the tarp and replaced it with the much thinner, lighter ZPacks Z-Line cord that I already had at home. I learned a few fancy new knots and figured that I was good to go. I was wrong. Trying to tie knots in skinny cord with cold fingers turned out to be really hard. Things got even more difficult when it was windy and that skinny, light line blew all over the place. I had officially gone “stupid light”.

As I was perusing tons of hammock websites, looking for insulation ideas for the approaching winter, I discovered a simple solution to my problem: The Continuous Ridgeline. Instead of a separate cord at each end of the tarp, the CRL is a single piece of cord that runs between both trees. The tarp is then affixed to that cord via hardware or shorter cords using prusik knots. This setup makes it much simpler to center the tarp over the hammock because you can just slide it along the ridgeline, instead of having to untie/re-tie knots.

Being a generally lazy person, I opted to purchase a CRL kit from DutchWare (which, as it turns out, is located just one county over). The DutchWare Continuous Ridge Line kit is comprised of a 30-foot section of 1.75mm urethane-coated Dyneema cord (DutchWare calls it Lash-It or Zing-It depending on color) with a “Dutch Hook” connector spliced on one end and a “Tarp Wasp” near the other end. Two “Soft Shackles” (made of the same 1.75mm cord) act like prusiks to adjust the position of the tarp on the ridge line. Weighing 0.7oz, this kit is only 0.2oz heavier than my “Version 1.0″ guy lines. That tiny weight penalty is well forth it for all the hassle I’d be saving myself.

New Hammock Suspension

While browsing the DutchWare site, I came across something else interesting to tweak my hang. I currently use the stock whoopie sling suspension on my Warbonnet Traveler. The whoopie slings are girth hitched to the ends of the hammock. You clip the whoopies to the tree straps with carabiners, tension them, and you’re done. This system works well, but in an attempt to perfect my hang, I ordered something new.

DutchWare’s Whoopie Hook Suspension is only subtly different. Their slings come with a small titanium hook spliced onto the adjustable end. After removing the old suspension (just a matter of untying a few girth hitches), you girth hitch small loops of Amsteel to the ends of the hammock and knot the fixed end of the whoopie slings each to one end of a tree hugger strap. You wrap the straps  around the trees and then use the Whoopie Hooks to connect the whoopies to the Amsteel loops on the hammock. Tension, and you’re done!

At first glance, I saw two advantages of this system. First, the DutchWare Whoopie Hook is significantly lighter than a carabiner, so this suspension saves me 1.4oz over my old one. Second, the position of the hook creates a “break” in the suspension, where rainwater will drip off instead of running down into your hammock. I had my doubts as to the strength of these little hooks (supposedly rated to 1000lbs), but a huge amount of positive feedback online convinced me to give them a try.

Whoopie Hook Instruction Card

Whoopie Hook Instruction Card

Final Verdict

The new components worked very well. The Continuous Ridge Line was a revelation. I can’t believe I didn’t stumble on this earlier. I did make a small mistake using the Dutch Wasp in the field, but it didn’t cause any problems and was cleared up when I got home and looked at the instruction card. The ease of use alone makes the CRL a great upgrade. It only took seconds to center the tarp over the hammock. When I used separate guy lines and tied knots, the process took much longer.

The Whoopie Hook suspension worked as advertised, but that was more a weight savings move than anything. I like it, but it didn’t WOW me. It’s basically the same suspension I had before but laid out backwards and with different hardware.

I should have another hammock post up in a few weeks, as I attempt to transition my hammock kit into colder weather. Keep your eyes peeled to find out if I get a case of Frozen Butt Syndrome!

Dog Gear: Groundbird Gear Trekking Pack

Staring at a rock

A few weeks ago, Marie (AKA Bobwhite) over at Groundbird Gear asked if Pickle and I would take a look at the custom dog packs she’s been making. I’m always on the lookout for new and potentially better dog gear, so I agreed immediately.

Since the Groundbird Gear pack harnesses are custom made to fit your dog, I had to submit a series of measurements so that Marie could start building Pickle’s pack. This process was explained quite well on the GBG website, and went painlessly (except for getting Pickle to sit still for two minutes). You then have several choices for the harness color. At the time of publishing, 5 colors were available for the harnesses.

For the pack itself (which is removable from the harness), you have the choice between two different models: the roll-top Trekking Pack and the zippered Weekend Pack. Because I had never seen a roll-top dog pack before, I opted for the Trekking Pack. I was given the option to choose between Regular (8″x 9″x 3.5″) and Large (9″ x 11″ x 4″) bags. Customers are able to choose their own color combinations (up to 3 colors per pack), or pick from a series of pre-selected combinations. Since hunting season was approaching, I chose “The Dreamsicle”, which is a mostly blaze orange pack with white accents.

Since these packs are made to order, there was a bit of a wait (2 weeks) for the pack. Lead times like this are the norm for most cottage industry gear makers, so this didn’t take me by surprise and definitely shouldn’t deter you from ordering from small companies like this. The lead times are also posted on the GBG website, so you can’t say you weren’t warned!

When the pack arrived, I was pretty excited. I immediately cornered Pickle and put the harness on him. Instead of the harness just having straps that go around the body, the GBG harness has fabric both above and below the dog. I liked that right away because Pickle is prone to chafing under his pack straps. This also meant that there were no loose webbing ends that could work their way loose and end up dangling under the dog. The fit was pretty much perfect. The adjustments on the four straps that connected the top and bottom of the harness were right in the middle, leaving just enough room for moderate weight gain/loss. The straps on either side of his neck also fit, but had to tightened down all the way. Since Marie nailed the rest of the sizing, I’m going to assume that Pickle wiggled when I measured him and threw things off.

One day, Pickle and I had some free time, so we headed to our local stretch of the AT near Hamburg, PA. I filled Pickle’s new GBG pack with his typical 2-day backpacking gear and food. We hiked 8.7 miles to the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock vistas. Pickle seemed comfortable in the pack, and there was no sign of chafing after the hike. The pack did show a few minor scratches, but  otherwise it held up very well to Pickle’s rough-and-tumble hiking style.

We got another chance to test the Trekking Pack the following week. Pickle and I headed out to the Allegheny Front Trail in central PA for a 2-day, 42-mile hike. Pickle carried the same load listed above. The pack performed well for us again. It earned a few more superficial battle scars, but nothing serious. It’s still too early to seriously comment on the durability of this pack, but it seems good so far. After two long days, Pickle still seemed comfortable in the pack and suffered no chafing.

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The pack and harness work together flawlessly. It’s lightweight, seems comfortable (Pickle didn’t complain!), and easy to use. Even though it worked well in the field, I feel that the zipper wasn’t really necessary to augment the roll-top. The roll-top would have functioned well without it, and would have been a fraction of an ounce lighter. The leash attachment point on the harness was a bit big and clunky. It did work perfectly well, but something smaller and lighter would be better.

As with most dog packs, it is important to keep the weight balanced on each side, but it seems that the volume of the items is also important with the GBG pack’s roll top. Tightening the roll top to different degrees on the two saddlebags can pull the pack down unevenly to one side. Even though it looked off-kilter, I don’t think that it had any bearing on the dog’s comfort.

Overall, I like the Groundbird Gear Trekking pack a lot, and think that the roll-top closure has a lot of potential. I’ll report back here if any issues arise, but so-far-so-good. I think it is going to become Pickle’s new go-to pack!

Disclaimer: I received this pack from the manufacturer for the purposes of testing at no cost to me. Groundbird Gear had no editorial input over this review, and all opinions stated here are my own.

Trip Report: 2 Days on the Allegheny Front Trail

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The Ox crosses Benner Run on a foot bridge.

The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) is one of Pennsylvania’s many backpacking trails. For 42 miles, it wanders through the Moshannon State Forest while circumnavigating the Black Moshannon State Park. The AFT follows diverse, but mostly gentle, terrain as it follows streams, plunges into hollows, sneaks through red pine plantations, and boardwalks through swamps. I had done this trail twice previously as a 3-day trip, but this time I’d attempt to do it in two.

As usual, my trusty dog Pickle came along for the hike. We met Aaron (AKA “The Ox”), whom I hadn’t hiked with since our Presidential Traverse in June, at the eastern trailhead on Route 504 just after 9AM. I’d always hiked the AFT clockwise from here, so Aaron agreed to indulge me and hike counter-clockwise this time.

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Pickle hikes on a bed of freshly fallen leaves.

It was 9:30 when I finally had my gear out of the car, and we stepped onto the trail. We ambled along discussing everything from our favorite craft brews to my utter disdain for DIY home improvement projects. The gentle terrain lent itself quite well to conversation. We took a lunch break just afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had already covered almost 10 miles of trail.

Soon after lunch, we made a short, but steep climb up to a Forest road, passing a trail register about three-quarters of the way up. After passing a hunting camp and a DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) job site, we had our first wildlife sighting of the day: a fat porcupine lumbering down the trail. The Ox held Pickle so I could make sure it was safe to bring the dog through. With Pickle on his leash, we made our way around Porky, who had retreated up a tree. I kept the dog leashed for a while afterwards, just to be safe.

Upon reaching the end of the grassy road (the highest point on the AFT), we started descending directly to the trail’s low point on the shores of the Moshannon Creek (AKA the “Red Mo”). The Red Mo’s water has a distinctive rust color, which comes from the acid runoff of an old coal mining incident. Every rock touched by the creek is now stained orange. This water is, of course, unsuitable for drinking.

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The Red Mo stains this boulder a rusty red.

After following the Red Mo for a few miles, we climbed up over a steep spit of land and then descended to one of the Red Mo’s tributaries: Six Mile Run.

Six Mile Run is a nice little trout stream, with several nice campsites along the way. The Ox and I decided to press on a bit further and cross Rt. 504 before camping along the run. This would get us exactly to the halfway point of our hike. About a mile after the road crossing, we found our spot and settled in.

I was toasty warm in my hammock, and slept far better than normal. When I woke up and poked my eyes out from under my quilt, I was shocked to see that it was already bright and sunny. It was 7:30 and much later than I planned being up. I rushed through breakfast and packed up in a hurry.

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Snug as a bug in a… hammock.

The first few morning miles went a little slow. We lingered in a red pine plantation (planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps after the area had been clear cut by loggers) to take care of our morning “business” because our camp had been a bit too close to water. The trees in this region were replanted in perfectly straight rows, giving it a very unnatural feel.

After wrapping up our business, the miles went quickly for me. I felt good, so I started cruising along at over 3mph, stopping once an hour to let The Ox catch up. He was never too far behind.

As we entered Black Moshannon State Park, the trail became very swampy. We had almost no choice but to suck it up and power through the wet muddy mess. Once our feet were good and wet, we reached a long stretch of boardwalk, which traversed the swampiest sections of trail. After 3.5 miles, we left the park as unceremoniously as we had entered it.

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Pickle standing guard over my Gossamer Gear LT4 poles.

Before too long, we were crossing Underwood Road. With less than 4 miles to go in our hike, we were FINALLY making the gentle climb up to the Allegheny Front, an east-facing escarpment in the Allegheny Mountains that forms the border between the Piedmont and Ridge-and-Valley regions. The AFT, which had previously been smooth and pleasant, suddenly became rocky and angry.

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All the rocks came out to play during the last 4 miles.

Sliding around on the loose rocks was no fun, and this area also had the only challenging climbs of the whole trail. The combination of the two factors slowed our pace. On top of that, my feet started sprouting blisters like it was going out if style. The Ox took off ahead of me for the first time in 2 days. The AFT had a few small vistas in this area, but not enough to make up for the pain in my feet.

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“Ralph’s Pretty Good View”

We eventually emerged at our cars. In standard fashion, I stripped naked by the side of the road and changed into a clean set of “driving clothes”. The Ox and I shook hands and parted ways.

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Less than a half-mile to go!

Hike Prep: Two Days on the Allegheny Front Trail

The Allegheny Front Trail is a 42-mile loop in Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest and Black Moshannon State Park. This trail crosses varied terrain, such as swamp, rocks, hollows, meadows, and forest roads. The trail follows many streams (Black Moshannon Creek, Moshannon Creek, Six-Mile Run, Brenner Run, and Rock Run), so water is readily available. I’d normally post this on Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking as a 3-day trip. This time I have a bit of a time constraint, so we’ll be doing it in 2 days.

Since my gear for this trip isn’t much different much different than some of my other recent hike and I’ll be posting a separate post about my hammock system, I’ll keep this short and mainly focus on my food selections.

My Complete Gear List

For the first time since April, I’m going to be carrying a stove on this trip. My Esbit Wing Stove and Zelph Fosters Beer Can Pot are perfect for boiling small amounts of water (2 cups or less) for coffee, dehydrated backpacking meals, and ramen. Including a homemade windscreen, the system only weighs about 2.2oz. This is extremely light and suits my style of hiking perfectly.

Breakfast

For my breakfast, I’ll be eating 2 tortillas with peanut butter, bacon jerky, and dried cranberries. I accidentally invented this on the Black Forest Trail and loved it immediately. Not only is this breakfast delicious, but it packs over 1200 calories and requires no cooking. There is also very little cleanup. I just lick my spoon clean, and I’m done. I’ll also pack a packet of Starbucks VIA Caffe Mocha for my caffeine fix.

Snacks

I don’t eat lunch on the trail. Instead, I pack lots of snacks and just shove them into my face every hour or so. Since I’m very health conscious (sarcasm!), I’ll be carrying almost an entire bag of fritos and a stash of dark chocolate-covered coconut. Two Chia Bars (Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter) and the leftover bacon jerky will round out my snack list.

Dinner

Dinner will be comprised of pre-packaged Thai spring onion noodles and a pouch of tuna packed in olive oil. I typically like to keep dinner simple, leaning towards one-pot meals or freezer bag cooking.

I still have to pack my gear, so I’m off! If you have any questions about my gear list, feel free to post them here. Thanks for reading!