I can't say enough good things about these packs. You should know I abused the weight guidelines for the Gorilla. Usually, I carried the recommended load -- no more than 35 pounds. Coming out of Muir Trail Ranch, however, the pack handled 42 pounds. The weight stayed at 42 pounds for two and half days while the girls and I went through the food I carried in my Ursack (which I carried in my arms), then we finally got to the food secured in my canister (which was in my backpack). I had gear repair items with me just in case the pack ripped or tore...but there was never an issue. Gossamer Gear's website is adamant that you not abuse the weight guidelines, so please don't quote me on saying the pack can always handle more than what the company promises. However, rest assured that it will indeed handle your up-to-35-pound load just fine, for weeks at a time.
I packed our three-person tent in one of the side pockets and one blow-up sleeping pad in the other side pocket. In the main compartment of the pack, I carried my rain gear, clothes, hiking towel, sleeping bag, hat, gloves, fleece, and bear canister. In the mesh out layer, I carried wet wipes, toiletries, maps, a journal, the ripped-out pages of my guidebook, a full roll of duct tape, first aid materials, and line/rope. I used a small stuff sack to carry toilet paper, and I hung that from the outside of the pack. I tied my Crocs to the outside of the mesh. Sometimes, I hung water bottles from clips to the outside of the pack.
Here's my pack, fully loaded. Again, I overpacked the Gorilla -- Gossamer Gear says NOT to do this...however, FWIW, my pack held up just fine. I was impressed.
The girls used Quiksaks. Each Quicksak held a sleeping bag, a foam sleeping pad, all hiking and sleeping clothes, rain gear, fleece, hat, gloves, water bags, water filters, headlamps, snacks, a pack cover, a camera, and a journal. The girls tied their Crocs to the outside of their packs. Each Quicksak, fully loaded and with water, weighed between eight and nine pounds. As with the Gorilla, I began the trip worried one of the packs might eventually tear. I brought gear repair materials...but I needn't have been so concerned. The girls' packs held up perfectly for the entire trip.
I was so impressed with our packs that, unless we're bushwhacking, I'll never use another backpack again. I LOVE my Gorilla. It's lightweight, tough, and it carried everything I needed for the JMT -- including a Bearikade Expedition (see below) and our three-person tent. In short, these Gossamer Gear products are pure, 100% Awesome.
BEAR CANISTER: The Bearikade Expedition
|Image copied from Wild Idea's website -- http://www.wild-ideas.net/the-expedition/|
I loved this canister. I usually carried enough food for three people for three days...but from Muir Trail Ranch to our resupply at Charlotte Lake, I carried enough food for three people for five days. That's far more than what the Expedition is supposed to handle. I got close to 50,000 calories in that thing -- butter toffee almonds, peanut M&Ms, peanut butter, Nutella, flat tortillas, Snickers, sunflower seeds, etc. I had to pour some things into the canister unpackaged to make it all fit, but hey, the girls and I made it to our Charlotte Lake resupply rendezvous with a day's food to spare.
This is the lightest brand of canister on the market, and it's sturdy. I dropped it half a dozen times, I saw a marmot crawl over it, chipmunks jumped on it, etc. Nothing got in, and our food stayed secure. In addition, it makes a perfect camp stool. Oh yeah, one more thing -- in spite of it being the largest canister Wild Ideas has to offer, the Expedition fit just fine (vertically) inside my Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack. In short -- excellent product. A+
We used a hodgepodge of what we already had. We are not partial to any one brand of clothing. The important thing to remember is that you need layers. Your wicking base layer must be breathable and comfy. NO COTTON -- EVER! Your insulating layer, which you put on over your base layer when you need extra warmth, can be a fleece sweater or light fleece jacket. Your outer layer needs to be waterproof (jacket AND pants). Bring a wool hat, a balaclava, and waterproof gloves. No bulky clothing needed -- everything we carried was thin and lightweight. The combination of your layers + movement will keep you warm on the coldest mornings. The combo of layers + sleeping bag will keep you warm on the coldest nights. Here's a nifty webpage from REI with some more information and tips about layering . Note - it is unfortunate that the woman in the video is making coffee right next to her tent...don't do that on the JMT!
I read some accounts of people swearing they did not need waterproof jackets/pants on the JMT because the Sierra is usually dry. Personally, I think that attitude is insane. Yes, the Sierra is usually dry. However, sometimes it isn't...and when it isn't, and when your clothing becomes soaked because you didn't wear anything waterproof...and then you need to stay warm somehow as the temperatures plummet during the night....well, you can find yourself in trouble quickly. Don't risk your life. Bring the waterproof clothing. It doesn't weigh much, and you can also use those layers to stay warm above treeline when it's windy (rainproof usually equals windproof).
By the way, nothing you buy in terms of clothing needs to be expensive. My rain pants were from Walmart and cost me about $15.00. The girls' hiking pants came from Marshalls and were about $8.00 each. The important thing is type of fabric, not brand.
We each brought two base layer shirts (one short-sleeve and one long-sleeve), two base layer pants (one shorts and one long), one fleece sweater, rain pants, rain jacket, bathing suits, hat, gloves, and balaclava.
Stuff we actually used -- three-quarter sized foam sleeping mats, one blow-up sleeping mat, hiking towels, extra shoelaces, unscented sunscreen, Tenacious Tape, duct tape, Vaseline, journals, bird ID book, pencils, pens, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, compasses, maps (Tom Harrison, JMT plus Mono Divide High Country), ripped-out pages from our guidebook (Elizabeth Wenk), toilet paper, Ziploc bags, unscented lotion, unscented chapstick, hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, travel-sized toothpaste, quarter for opening bear canister, ID and debit/credit card in a plastic bag, iPhone for picture-taking (me), lightweight digital cameras for picture-taking (Alex and Sage), pocketknife (mailed to Tuolumne from home, mailed back from Lone Pine after hike), comb, bandannas, long cord/rope for hanging clothes (wasn't necessary, could have used tree limbs).
Stuff we brought but did not use -- dental floss + needle (for gear repair -- glad we brought it anyway since you never know), bug repellent (never needed it), compact makeup (leave the make-up at home, no one cares what you look like).
SHOES: Me -- Saucony Virrata. Alex -- Salomon Kids' XT Wings K, Sage -- New Balance Minimus 1010 (discontinued)
Grades: A for Virrata and Minimus, B for Salomon XT Wings.
The girls and I prefer trial runners to boots. For the Sierra, we looked for lightweight shoes with excellent grip. We bought the shoes in June and used them for two months in the White Mountains before taking them on the JMT. We bought these particular brands because they met our requirements of a) lightweight and b) great grip..and because they were on sale at Marshalls. During the very few times our shoes became wet, they dried quickly in the sun. We had extra socks with us in case our feet became cold (we never needed the extra socks).
The Salomon gets a B instead of an A because the tie/fasteners broke during the first couple of days on the JMT. We brought extra shoelaces, so we were able to fix the issue...but those fasteners should not have broken so quickly.
SLEEPING BAGS: Western Mountaineering's Highlite Long (35 degrees, 16 ounces) and
Grades: A for the Highlite, A+ for the ZPack
Both bags are super-light, super-smushable, and they do their advertised jobs well. We had two ZPacks and one Highlite. The plan was to have Alex use the Highlite, since she sleeps warm, but she ended using a ZPack. That was no fault of the Highlite's -- it was simply colder than we'd anticipated at night in the Sierras, so a 20 degree bag was more suitable than a 35 degree bag.
The ZPack doesn't come with a hood (unless you special-order one), but the girls were able to snuggle down into the bag to stay warm. We have no complaints or suggested improvements for this item -- we loved the ZPack bags, and we're glad we brought them. A+
|Zzzzzz in the ZPacks|
The Highlite comes with a hood that can cinch around your head. This feature kept me warm on the chillier nights, though I would have slept better with a 20 degree bag. Again, that's no fault of the Highlite's -- it's rated for 35 degrees, not 20. The bag is well-made, light, and I'm glad I bought it. I will use it on future hikes, though if we do the Sierras again, we'll only bring bags rated for 20 degrees. My only slight problem with the Highlite is the hood's drawstring cord and zipper. When you have the hood cinched, the zipper and cord are close to your face and can rest on your cheek or ear. That can be annoying in the middle of the night. Hence the A rating instead of the A+.
|Image copied from Western Mountaineering's website --|
Both bags have water-repellent fabric which was extremely helpful when we had condensation . We'd wake with our bags damp/wet on the outside, we'd stuff those bags as-is into their sacks, hike for a few hours, check on the bags, and voila! The bags would be completely dry without any direct sunlight needed. I found that remarkable -- and EXTREMELY HELPFUL. We never went to bed with a bag that was still damp from the morning's condensation.
SOCKS (blister prevention):
Anything that's not cotton. Some folks use multiple sock layers to prevent blisters (lightweight wicking layer underneath wool socks) -- we don't. The girls almost never get blisters, they just wear anything that's not cotton and they're fine. I do get blisters if I don't follow a specific routine --
To avoid blisters, I put Vaseline on my feet every morning before I put on my (not cotton) hiking socks. That's it. No blisters with this method. The Vaseline seeps into your feet and into the fibers of the sock throughout the day. I do not wash the socks at night -- I beat them against a rock to knock out dust and soil. I then go to sleep in a sleeping-only pair of warm, clean socks. The next day, I put Vaseline on my feet, put the hiking socks back on. Eventually, those hiking socks feel like silky, supple gloves. The socks never end up stinking with this method (though they do start to look rather interesting), and my feet remain blister-free.
We each brought three pairs of socks on the JMT. Two pairs for hiking, one for sleeping. I only used two pair the entire trip (my sleeping pair and one hiking pair).
TENT: Rainshadow 2 Tarptent
The girls and I had been using the same two-person tent since 2010...for the John Muir Trail, I knew we'd have to upgrade. The girls are older, taller, and less willing to sleep like sardines. A new, three-person tent was a must.
With more space comes more weight. Or, not -- the Rainshadow 2 weighs only 42 ounces, which is 16 ounces less than our old, two-person tent! It's also sturdy, easy to set up, and packs down small enough to strap to the outside of your pack (see the Gossamer Gear photos above). Also, you don't need a groundcloth with this tent. Click here for specifications and a video on setup.
|Above Upper Palisade Lake on the JMT|
Before we left for California, Sage and I seam-sealed the Rainshadow 2 (the need to seam-seal might be seen as a negative by those who want their products ready-to-go) and left it outside on a dark and stormy night. The tent was battered by heavy rain for hours. After the skies had cleared, we looked inside the tent -- it was dry. Excellent.
On the John Muir Trail, the Rainshadow 2 held up under the few days of hail we received. It also protected us from most of the wind on one particularly crazy night at Guitar Lake.
Also -- this tent is roomy! It held me, the girls, our backpacks, our shoes, and a bunch of other miscellaneous (nonfood) items. This tent has a TON of space.
There's only one design feature I didn't care for -- the rain flap at the front does not come all the way down to the ground. This doesn't matter in terms of precipitation; if you've pitched the tent correctly (which is easy to do), then you won't get wet. The potential problem is temperature. A lot of air gets under the front rain flap...which, I understand, helps prevent condensation...so if it's a cold night, you'd better have a warm sleeping bag. I know the flap was designed this way for a reason -- to allow air circulation for the prevention of condensation. There's no flaw here. It's simply a matter of preference on my part...I like the option of having a rain flap go all the way down to the ground, to help keep me toasty in the evening.
In sum, the Rainshadow 2 was reliable, lightweight, sturdy, and protective against hail and rain. I'm glad I bought it. Grade: A.
WATER FILTER: Sawyer Squeeze
|Image copied from|
The filter is easy to use. Fill the bag with water, screw on the filter, and either drink directly from the filter or squeeze the water through the filter into another container. The filter rate isn't quick, but it's not slow, either -- the girls and I each carried our own filters, so we never had to wait to drink. If we had only carried one filter, then the timing would have become a problem. It's no fun waiting for someone else to finally filter all their water before having a chance to drink/filter your own.
The size and light weight of the filter, combined with its ease of use, prompt me to give it an A rating in spite of its less-than-quick rate of flow. This filter will also supposedly last your entire lifetime.
The bags break easily. We each carried three, and at first, I thought that was overkill..but then most of our bags broke. They lasted a week and a half before tearing. We had tears and leaks near the mouths of the bag and along the creases at the bottom. We carried our bags in our side pouches -- they did not swing at our sides and they were not scraped against trees or rocks. They all broke within two weeks of normal usage. We got by because, thankfully, our Tenacious Tape stopped the leaks. Also, a kind hiker gave us his extra Platypus bag. If it hadn't been for Tenacious Tape and that Platypus bag, then we would not have had water carriers for the last third of our JMT hike.
So, the filter is decent, but the bags are not.
Overall grade: C
URSACK S29 AllWhite
|Image copied from Ursack's website:|
The Ursack S29 is a bear-proof food container. Note: You MUST bring a bear canister on the JMT...you can only use the Ursack in the very few sections where canisters are strongly recommended but not required. Therefore, it won't make legal sense for most of you to bring an Ursack on the JMT since you'll already have your required canister. However, if, after you resupply at Muir Trail Ranch, you find yourself hauling six+ days of food for three people, then the Ursack might come in handy. I used it to secure some food, our toiletries, and trash from time to time after leaving MTR...we went back to canister-only storage once we had eaten our way through some of our huge resupply. I never witnessed bear activity, but I did see a marmot try to chew through our Ursack. The Ursack held strong...afterward, I couldn't see where the critter had tried to sink its teeth.
I recommend the Ursack in places where you do not, by law, need a canister. It's lightweight, tough, and, from what I can tell so far, effective. From now on, I will use this on all my overnights wherever canisters are not required.
If you have a gear-related question that isn't addressed by the above, then feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to help if I'm able.