By Barry Kauler
Page updated: March 12, 2016
Pushing minimalist hiking to the extreme, I evaluated
overnight hiking with only a waist-pack:
Lots of fun! However, it is pushing the limit to add a tent,
especially a "proper" tent (dual-skin, dome), so I
investigated the next-step up, ultra-light backpacks.
If you go into any camping store, backpacks on display are
mostly 1.5kg or more. I searched the Internet for packs that
are close to 0.5kg ...yes, they do exist.
I have a particular requirement, and most of the ultra-light
backpacks will fail here. The backpack must have hip straps
and be of adequate design to carry all of the weight
on the hips, not hanging off the shoulders.
This requirement narrows the field considerably.
In the range 350gm to 700gm weight, they are all frameless
at the lower end, and some with frames at around 600 -
I intend to do comparative reviews of what I consider to be
the pick of the bunch. For now, I have only acquired one of
them, the Gossamer Gear Pilgrim 36:
This is a frameless pack, and having only used framed packs
before, both internal and external, I had doubts whether I
could pack it rigidly enough so that all the weight is
carried on the hips.
I was not encouraged by online user reports, as nearly all
photos showed the pack (and similar packs) hanging off the
shoulders. These are experienced guys, yet they are carrying
this pack primarily on the shoulders.
OK, it is a small pack, actually only holds about 28 litres
in the main compartment (about another 8 in the external
pockets), so it won't be carrying much weight. So these big
tough guys have no problem slinging this off the shoulders.
Me, on the other hand, I have a "bad back" and must carry
all, or nearly all, the weight on the hips.
I must also state that a hike is a more pleasant experience
when little or no weight is carried on the shoulders,
regardless of your physical condition.
I have another consideration: I would like to take the pack
as "carry on" luggage when flying. Qantas states that a
carry-on bag must weigh no more than 7kg and be no bigger
than 48cm long x 34cm high x 23cm deep.
Framed packs have a problem with that length, whereas
frameless packs can fit, or be squeezed to fit. ...with some
caveats, as I will explain.
Anyway, here is where I bought it, and links to reviews:
Well, it isn't really 20 inches, as I now have it and can
measure it. It is at least 48cm (18.9 inches), up to 49cm
(19.3 inches) if the top of the pack at the shoulder-strap
anchor-point is very tightly packed. Still OK for me.
The main thing is that I want the anchor-point of the
shoulder strap to be nearly level with the shoulders, not
pulling up nor pulling down. There is no tensioner.
Actual weight, including the foam back insert, is 563gm.
Packing the pack
One very nice thing about the Gossamer Gear backpacks is the
removable corrugated mat, that provides breathing space
between back and pack, and can double as a seat or
minimalist sleeping mat.
So, the pack already has some structure, but it needs
something else to hold it upright and rigid. To improve
rigidity, I decided to insert a cut-down closed-cell-foam
mat, like this:
|I purchased a
closed-cell foam mat from Kmart, in the Sports
Section, for AU$4.
Its dimensions are given on the label as 150 x 50
cm, however at home I measured the width as 51.1cm.
Thickness is 6mm.
i cut off a length, 717mm long at the top, 732mm
long at the bottom, and the offcut weighs 61gm.
The idea is that it will just fit inside, with no
I debated using 10mm thick mat, however, the space
inside is very small and I want to be able to,
hopefully, lay my sleeping bag flat, so as to keep
the rectangular shape of the pack interior.
I was able to, just, insert my Sea to Summit Micro II
sleeping bag flat on the bottom of the pack. I packed the
rest of the space and achieved fairly good rigidity.
However, I won't detail the exact list of items packed, nor
how, as that is variable depending on the type of excursion
-- look at the bottom of this page for links to field trips,
that do have the exact packing details.
I would like to comment on the hip belt of the Pilgrim, as I
feel that Gossamer Gear could have done a better job. Two
photos to illustrate my complaint:
The flaps on the sides of the Pilgrim are OK. Thin, but
that's OK. However, the strap is only 26mm (1 inch) wide,
which I feel is a bit too narrow, given that it has to strap
fairly tightly across the stomach.
I have included a snapshot of the Mountainsmith Daylight
waist-pack for comparison. Notice the very thin mesh flap,
that light shines through -- oh so breathable, and quite
The Pilgrim has a pocket over most of the outside of the
flap, so can't really have the same degree of breathability.
But, notice the strap width on the Daylight, it is 36mm
(1.42 inches). Oh so much better.
I will give it a go as-is, but after an overnighter will
consider whether I need to replace that strap with a wider
one. If so, I will need to find someone who can do that for
A pack with fixed height, from bottom of hip-belt to
shoulder-strap anchor point (or to tensioner, if there is
one), is only going to suit a person with closely-matched
torso length. That is, unless you are one of those tough
guys who don't mind a pack hanging off the shoulders.
Gossamer Gear make the Pilgrim in three sizes, Small, Medium
and Large. As I was given incorrect length for the Medium
size, if you enquire about the other two, politely request
that they go and actually measure it.
My only other concern is the width of the hip straps. This
is a big issue for me as I have setup this pack to carry all
of the weight on the hips. So, it has to be a comfortable
Maybe for others this might not be such an issue. The other
reviewers didn't mention it, so obviously it was not an
issue for them.
The "proof of the pudding is in the eating". So, actual
testing on the trail is required: