G4s on the Continental Divide Trail

nd so it begins...we had 5 days of food and 5 liters of water heading out from the start

And so it begins…we had 5 days of food and 5 liters of water heading out from the start

“Is that a homemade pack?”

Quite possibly the most frequently asked question as my husband, Matt, and I traversed the 3,000 mile CDT this past summer was if we made our own packs. While neither of us could claim seamstress abilities, we were always ready with our answer, “Nope, these are Gossamer Gear G4s, and we love them.”

Gear is inevitably a common topic out on the trail, especially packs. With so many options out there and just as many opinions to sway the purchase, sifting through all the information is daunting. Luckily I’m a spreadsheet-loving gear geek who jumped on the chance to compare packs before making a purchase, and I was always eager to discuss gear with anyone who showed an interest.

Heading down to water on the portion north of Monarch Pass

Heading down to water on the portion north of Monarch Pass

When it came time to compare packs, the field narrowed greatly once I took into account weight, functionality, and price. The G4 came out on top because it had a high weight and storage capacity considering how light it was, weighing in at just 16.5 ounces with a 30 pound capacity. Lastly, the price was very budget friendly. I also wanted my 3 foot sleeping pad to do double duty and act as my back pad. We each had a ten pound base weight, so twenty pounds of wiggle room to account for food and water seemed very forgiving, knowing we’d test the weight capacity a few times on the CDT because of extremely dry stretches or long resupplies between towns.

Beautiful views in Colorado

Beautiful views in Colorado

The CDT was remote, rugged, and wild, and I was a little worried about the durability of the G4 when I first got it. Its featherweight category, the thin material, and the mesh pockets seemed like a recipe for disaster on a trail that included bushwhacking, but the mighty G4s held up. Our sleeping bags were able to spread out in the “flares” at the bottom, the material held up to our laziness in slinging the packs on the ground, and the outside pockets were great for quick access items like water, snacks, water purification, and maps.

Though the mesh pockets made the pack appear bigger and heavier than it was, we loved their functionality in drying damp gear in the back pocket and we used the small loops to dry socks. We also went stoveless, rehydrating foods like refried beans and noodles in a peanut butter jar, so we often let our food “cook” in the outside pockets. Both of us used the removable hip belts without pockets, though the tiny Velcro pockets were useful for small things like energy bars and trail mix.

Our own personal geyser tour heading into Old Faithful. Pack was around 12 pounds here

Our own personal geyser tour heading into Old Faithful. Pack was around 12 pounds here

From a female perspective, the pack isn’t pretty, but function wins over fashion in any outdoor endeavor, though I’ll admit a part of me secretly wants a pink pack. Both my husband and I found the fit of the straps, the sternum strap, and the hip belt to be very comfortable. The pack became an extension of our backs, sitting so snugly at times that we were able to run the flats and the down hills on the days into town, the days we carried the least amount of food and therefore less weight.

While the packs won’t be seeing many more 3,000 mile treks in the mountains, mine certainly has plenty of miles left on it. Its battle scars include some holes in the side mesh pockets, practically unavoidable in some of the poorly maintained sections of trail, and some tears in Matt’s material from when he was a little rough in stuffing contents into it, so he’ll either need a new one or a repaired one. We really tested the weight limits on the packs, at one point carrying 7 liters and 5 days of food in New Mexico, and while the packs were more uncomfortable (is that much weight ever comfortable?) we got away with it without compromising the integrity of the packs.

Matching shirts and packs here in northern Wyoming

Matching shirts and packs here in northern Wyoming

The G4 was our first piece of Gossamer Gear and certainly won’t be our last and we’re looking forward to many future adventures with other Gossamer Gear products.

This post was written by Julie ‘Stopwatch’ Urbanski, a Triple Crowner who has traveled through much of the U.S., whether on foot, via bicycle, or in a car. She has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Colorado Trail (2007, 2011, 2013, 2012), and bicycled down the Pacific coast from Portland, Oregon to the border of Mexico. Author of two books, The Trail Life: How I Loved it, Hated it, and Learned from it and Between a Rock and a White Blaze: Searching for Significance on the Appalachian Trail, co-written with her husband Matt. You can follow more of her adventures at http://urbyville.com/.

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11 Responses to G4s on the Continental Divide Trail

  1. John McDermott January 15, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Are you able to include a gear list (including weights, if possible) of what you were able to get into your G4s? Just got one myself & I’m curious. Thanks!

    • Julie Urbanski January 16, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

      Hi John,
      Sorry for the delay; you can see our gear list on urbyville.com under Stories…Hiking…CDT…CDT Gear Review (the most recent story in the Continental Divide Trail category). Best of luck in your future adventures with the G4!
      ~Julie

  2. John McDermott January 15, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    Also, did you use any compression straps or cords (besides the top strap) on the packs?

  3. Julie Urbanski January 15, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    Hi John, no extra compression straps or cords on the top; let me get the gear list on google drive and I’ll share that next.

  4. Julie Urbanski January 15, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    Hi John, here’s our gear list; keep in mind we shared some weight between the two of us; Matt usually carried the tent so I carried most of the small essentials to even out the weight. Even with 5 days of food and 7 liters of water, the packs were full but never pushing the limit of the top strap. The outside pockets really help with distributing weight and space. I also must credit much of my gear research and spreadsheet building to Andrew Skurka and his gear guide, which I read twice in preparation for the CDT. Thank you Skurka! https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AthQkwz9U6JPdFhVWjJld2hNRHdwdWRFbFQyY3RBaXc&usp=sharing

    • John McDermott January 17, 2014 at 8:13 am #

      Thanks for the info; it’s most helpful!

  5. Frank Deland January 17, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Wow, 3000 miles! What a wonderful journey. Greta report, too. A G4…Groan. I made one of those once. The thing hung way too low over my butt, made another one and the shoulder straps ripped off. I sent 6 pounds of first aid gear home (I was a walking field hospital), bought some sort of a Northface which was not much better because it had velcro fastenings for the main pack adjustment that did not hold much better than my homemade straps. Luckily, I was only out for five days, but I returned that pack fast. So, I forgot about homemade packs, but I started making tarps and sleeping bags and cut way down on weight. I switched to a Golite Breeze and then one of their bigger packs, but I used a “Bearskin” for the JMT. It was great for hauling the bearcan, but after 14 days, I was really missing something that would lift the weight off my hips to get some variety. Late one afternoon, a women hiked by me like I was standing still, she was using a Granite Gear Vapor trail. That is now my goto pack. No more frameless packs for me. Great for a week-end jaunt, but for a longer haul ( I can’t wait to get back to the Sierras), not for me. But, take note, I just spent my first week of being 70, it is really not much different than 69 so far. Another frameless that works for me is a z-pack. It has plenty of room and carries very nicely. When empty it almost fits into a pocket. BTW A Gossemer shelter worked great in the Sierras. When my daughter joined me I used the Star and then I use the Siltarp when alone. I have been section hiking the Sierra High Route. Put that one on your bucket list. You could hop onto it as it parallel the PCT on your next thru-hike!

    • Frank Deland January 17, 2014 at 9:43 am #

      Apologies, how can I return to a post to edit? I meant Gossamer Gear and I think it is the SpinnTwin I have and I no longer see the Star?? on the website, but it is a spacious tarp for two. The z-pack is cuben fiber.

    • Julie Urbanski January 17, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      Hi Frank, you are brave for making your own pack. While I like to think of myself as the Jack of all trades, sewing is not one of them! We used the Vapor Trail on the AT and the CT and while we liked its simplicity, we switched to the G4s because the Vapor Trails weighs 37 ounces vs. the G4’s 19.5 ounces (medium size) and both have a carrying capacity of 30 pounds or less. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity of cutting 21 ounces of pack weight and luckily the G4s were comfortable for us. We also saw some z-pack users out on the trail.
      Good to know about the GG shelters; so much gear to try and so many places to try it! It sounds like you’ve done your fair share of backpacking, with many more plans in the future, so congrats on still getting out there with so much passion.
      Thank you for reading my G4 story and for sharing yours, Julie

      • Julie Urbanski January 18, 2014 at 1:29 am #

        Oh man, too many calculations for me today…the G4 is 16.5 ounces (medium), not 19.5 ounces, as I said in my reply above. Sorry for the misstep there.

  6. Alva Malone February 7, 2014 at 4:43 am #

    I bought a couple of these packs for my boys who are cub scouts. Ample room for day hiking supplies and great water bottle holder pockets on the outside. They find them very comfortable. They typically carry a load of supplies including first aid kit, poncho, mess kit, fire starting supplies, extra clothes, etc. and they have plenty of room. Great day pack for kids.

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