Homer's Travels: Back ... To The Pack

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back ... To The Pack

 Less than a year from now (Sept-Oct 2013) I will be heading out on my second Camino de Santiago so it's time to start getting ready.  Along with the exercise regimen that I've restarted, and I will post about soon, I need to update some of my gear.

Besides shoes and socks, the most important piece of gear is probably the backpack.  The pack I used last time was a GoLite Lite-Speed.  The pack served me well but a couple things have happened that are prompting me to buy a new pack.  The first was a failure of the belt buckle.  The buckle is a standard, two prong affair.  About a day or two before I arrived in Santiago the buckle decided to stop  buckling.  The lower of the two prongs had, over 30-some days warped (bent inward) to the point that it would no longer latch.  I ended up tying the loose belt ends over the bucket to help secure the pack - not an optimum solution but it got me and my pack to Fisterra.

The rest of the pack is in pretty good shape and I would just replace the buckle if it weren't for the second issue I had: the pack is heavy.  Heavy is a relative term of course but when you are carrying all your possessions over five hundred miles every ounce becomes important.  That is why I have started shopping for a lighter pack.

I narrowed my choices down to two: the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 2012 and the GoLite Jam 35L.  Both packs weigh in around 1 lb 11 oz (765 g).  My Lite-Speed is 3 lb 5 oz (1,500 g) so either pack would be about half the weight and save me roughly 1 lb 10 oz (735 g).  That's a huge savings over five hundred miles.

When I compared these two packs I looked at several criteria:

  • Price.  The Gorilla is $225.  The Jam is $99 (Reduced from $200 due to a change from retail stores to direct to customer selling by GoLite).
  • Size.  The Gorilla is 39 liters.  The Jam is 35 liter.  I was concerned that 35 l would be too small but, after looking at my 35 l dry sack that I used last time, I realized that it was almost always less that two thirds full.  Either size should be plenty.
  • Belt.  Last Camino as I walked my waist line shrank.  Near the end I couldn't quite get my belt tight enough.  This is important as a properly adjusted pack lets the weight of the pack rest on the belt/waist.  If the belt doesn't fit properly then more weight will be improperly carried by the shoulders.  Gassamer Gear uses detachable belts thus you can order a large pack (my torso is a large) with a medium belt (my waist is a medium/regular).  GoLite confirmed to me in an email their belts do not detach so if you buy a large pack for a large torso you get a large belt.  The smallest size for the large belt is 33 inches - my current pant size.  If my waste shrinks I may have issues similar to what I had last Camino.
In the end I thought belt length and comfort were more important than price so I purchased the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 2012.  Delivery was lightning quick (five days).  I was amazed with how small the box was and how light it felt.  I opened it up, put it together (attached the belt and back foam padding), put it on, and realized right away that I had to return it.  Don't get me wrong, I love the pack.  I like how it's configured.  I like the fit of the belt.  The pack had a lot of potential but there was, for me, a fatal flaw: the arm straps.

When I put the pack on the straps rubbed either side of my neck.  To make it worse, the seams of the arm straps ran along the inside of the straps so, as I moved, the rough seam rubbed back and forth on my neck.  I had visions of bloody scratches on both sides of my neck or worse, decapitation.  The issue was how the straps attached to the top of the pack.  The straps leave straight out from the top (See Figure 1).  My Lite-Speed straps are attached at an angle which takes the straps away from the neck (See Figure 2).
Figure 1
Attachment of arm straps on top of Gossamer Gear Gorilla 2012.
Figure 2
Attachment of arm straps on top of GoLite Lite-Speed.
In addition, GoLite covers the arm strap seam with a bead that provides a smooth surface along the side of the neck.  Figure 3 is the Gossamer Gear arm strap and Figure 4 is the GoLite Lite-Speed arm strap.
Figure 3
Gossamer Gear Gorilla 2012 arm strap seam.
Figure 4
GoLite Lite-Speed arm strap seam.
I did try the Gorilla on with an eleven pound load and I compared the feel with the Lite-Speed.  With a load the Gorilla felt better as the weight forced the arm straps out a little bit but you could still feel the seam digging in a bit even through the collar of my shirt.  The lite-speed felt fine just like it did the entire length of the Camino.

So I sent the Gossamer Gear pack back yesterday.  They have a thirty day money back guarantee so all I'm out is shipping.  I'm hoping that the GoLite Jam arm straps are the same as the Lite-Speeds.  Unfortunately I won't know until November as the Jam is out of stock until them.


  1. NO decapitation!!! NO! NYET! I'm glad that you're not going to be sawed into by your gear. Hopefully the new pack is great!