My Osprey Ariel had served me well on numerous shorter adventures, so when my hiking partner and I decided to do a 75 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, of course that would be my pack. I didn’t even question it. And I continued to not question it…until the end of day two, when I decided to check out what was happening under my right hip belt pocket that was causing the rubbing/burning sensation. I expected a little redness, but what I saw looked more like the kind of quarter-sized blister you’d see on the foot of someone with horribly fitting boots, surrounded by stripes of welts where the waistband of my pants was cutting in, as well as a little shadow of a rugburn-like abrasion, pink and moist and raw. I duct taped it and finished just fine, but it was very gruesome looking, took a long time to heal, and left a scar on my hipbone. I had also rolled up my gloves and stuffed them under my shoulder straps to keep them off my collarbones which were puffy and abraded. Great trip otherwise, but something had to be done about the pack and the pack weight.
So the first thing I stared doing when we got back was researching ultralight packs. That PCT trip was meant in part to be a trial run for our John Muir Trail trip the following month (which, long story short, turned into a Wonderland Trail trip, but more on that elsewhere). We wanted to get some decent miles under our feet and find what works and what doesn’t, dial in food amounts and choices, and take note of the things we brought and didn’t use as well as the things we didn’t bring and wished we had. My three main areas to improve upon were food (brought way too much), clothing (just bring one piece of each layer, not multiple tank tops or t shirts), and overall pack weight/pack comfort.
I started reading voraciously about ultralight backpacking, and began thinking in ounces and looking to eke out even .01 from anywhere I could. So when I learned that my Osprey weighed 4.1 lbs, and there were many packs out there that weighed half that and less, it was a no brainer to start there. I could shave off two whole pounds in one fell swoop! And it was the time and distance spent with that much weight on my back that created my hip and collarbone issues, so down the rabbit hole of ultralight backpack shopping I went.
After watching many videos and comparing specs and reading reviews much like this one, I narrowed it down to the ULA Catalyst and the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. Both very popular with thru-hikers of long trails like the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, they were so neck-in-neck I thought I was going to have to flip a coin to decide. The Mariposa eventually won out. And here’s why:
The Mariposa has a larger load capacity and weighs less than many similar packs in its class, plus the design and placement of its pockets makes packing and accessing items super convenient. And it feels really good on, even at 30+ pounds. It’s hard to find a pack that is this lightweight, this comfortable, and still capable of carrying large loads. The Mariposa sits beautifully, whether packed to the gills on the first day of a hundred miler or nearly empty on the last day. The varying-sized side and hip pockets are made to carry everything from water bottles to tent to stove, while the big stretchy front mesh pocket is great for those items you want easy access to (snacks, jacket, gloves) or for damp clothing you’re trying to dry out. The top flap zipper pocket is perfect for smaller flatter items like a paper map, ID, permits, band aids, a Buff. The hip belt pockets are roomy enough for even the largest smartphones, snacks to have while walking, sunscreen, chapstick, more. It comes with a small sit pad that doubles as additional support and padding, tucked into a sleeve against your back. Ice ax loop, trekking pole loops, plenty of places to attach a carabiner if you’d like to clip a hat or microspikes or whatnot to the outside. Its use of both 100D Robic High tensile strength nylon and 70D ripstop nylon make it incredibly durable and water-resistant. All this for 30 ounces? Hard to believe but true: the Mariposa weighs less than half of my Osprey.
- Small 17.25” (11.5″ – 15.5″ torso) generally fits people 5’6″ and under
- Medium 20.25” (15.5″ – 19.5″ torso) generally fits people 5’5″ to 6’0″
- Large 23.25” (19.5″ – 23.5″ torso) generally fits people 6’0″ and up
- Pack body 18.4 oz / 521 g
- Pack frame 3.0 oz / 85 g
- Sitlight pad 2.1 oz / 60 g
- Total with no belt 20.5 oz / 581 g
- Total with small hip belt 29.8 oz / 844 g
- Total with medium hip belt 30.5 oz / 865 g
- Total with large hip belt 31.2 oz / 884 g
- Total capacity: 60 L
- In main pack, body to extension collar seam: 36 L
- Spread across 7 exterior pockets: 24 L
- Max carry capacity: 35 lbs
- For comfort: 30 lbs
- Height: 22” / 55.9 cm to the extension collar only
- Width: 11” / 27.9 cm
- Depth: 7″ / 18 cm
- Extension collar adds another 11.5″ / 29.2 cm of height
Aside from the obvious (lightweight), my favorite things about this pack are the side pockets, hip belt, and the back sit pad sleeve. These were the things that tipped the scales for me, pun intended, when I was making my decision:
- Side Pockets: The Mariposa has two medium sized pockets (one upper, one lower) on one side and one long pocket on the other side. Each pocket has elastic around its opening for added security without the hassle of a zipper. The upper medium pocket held my MSR Windbreaker stove, a small towel, spork, and matches/lighter. The kitchen as it were. The bottom medium pocket held my water filter, pack raincover, and backup iodine tablets. The long pocket on the other side held my half of our shared tent, the poles and spikes and rain fly. Mentally, logistically, functionally — in all ways these pockets were so much better than having those things loose in the body of the pack, or in separate little stuff sacks. I felt like it kept my packing/unpacking routine more focused, organized, and efficient, saving time and stress, with everything having a specific and consistent place. I didn’t have to unpack/dig around/yard sale myself on breaks, and I didn’t lose anything or ever have to dump out my pack looking for something. This left the body of the pack needing to contain only my sleeping bag, parka, alternate layers, food in a Ursack, and a small pouch with tiny odds and ends like toiletries, headlamp, and battery pack. This kind of order enabled me to be present for the bigger parts of the trip, like all the sights and smells and camaraderie and the actual hiking.
- Hip Belt: First, it sat a little higher than the Osprey’s and didn’t feel like it was cutting in to my flesh or putting undue weight on my delicate little pelvis (ha). Second, its pockets are huge! Snacks, SPF, sunglasses, phone, beanie, hair ties, electrolytes, Gu packets, salt tablets, a small ziplock baggie for snack trash, and I still had room. My phone is smallish but it would still get stuck in the Osprey pockets; not in these? I had everything I wanted handy, with room to spare! And at the end of each day, not even a hint of redness. The whole belt is situated just a tad higher and the pads are bigger and softer, and for someone with very prominent hipbones who learned the hard way, I can’t stress how important a comfy hip belt is. Also (I haven’t had the need to do this yet but) the hip belt is removable for those who prefer to go without.
- Sit Pad Sleeve: Out comes the sit pad, in goes my Thermarest Z Lite sleeping pad. After watching a YouTube video on such a bold move, I cut my fourteen panel pad in two, and folded the six panels I would sleep on into thirds, and slid it into the sit pad sleeve. It fit like a glove, and I didn’t have any weird bulky thing folded up and bungeed to the top or bottom of my pack. This might not work for everyone, but I’m not a picky sleeper and find any padding better than no padding, so when looking to trim weight and streamline my pack, this option appealed to me. If you have a bad back it probably sounds like torture but it worked for me, and I recommend it if you feel it could work for you as well.
Ultimately I wound up with a new favorite item, and a pack that will be joining me on anything over about 20 lbs or 50 miles. This review is so focused on function and features that I almost forgot to mention: it’s also good-looking, with a unique shape and muted colors that appeal to me visually. There is honestly nothing I don’t love about this lightweight, comfortable, durable, user-friendly, and high-capacity pack. Gossamer Gear really went the extra mile with the Mariposa — equipping you with the best pack to do the same.
Wendy Harrington is a California native who has lived in a small town at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state since 2001. Her love of trail running and peakbagging has led her to summit all five Washington volcanoes, climb to the high points of three states, and put nearly a thousand miles a year on her boots. Her loves include ridgelines, saddles, granite, one-day pushes on big mountains, anything volcanic, long solo days, and objectives that push limits and test endurance.