Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter

GoLite Dawn Backpack REVIEW

The GoLite Dawn provides a compact, stable carry for small dense loads. Although billed as a day pack, the accomplished ultralight backpacker will find plenty of room for several nights on the trail. At less than a pound, the GoLite Dawn is a very attractive option for ultralight hiking with small volume loads.


by Ryan Jordan | 2004-06-26 03:00:00-06

GoLite Dawn Backpack REVIEW


The GoLite Dawn is a frameless backpack with a small hipbelt that is most appropriate for loads less than 20 pounds. The GoLite Dawn is a smaller volume pack - at only 2,200 cubic inches (41 liters) (volume of main compartment, size M). GoLite positions it primarily for peak bagging and day hiking. For the ultralight hiker, however, it offers plenty of room for backpacking.’s Publisher, Ryan Jordan, used a Dawn in his 235-mile roadless circumnavigation of Montana’s Beartooth Range, where he carried a sub-5-pound base weight with 9 days of food (total pack weight less than 20 pounds).


  • Backpack Style - Frameless Rucksack
  • Fabric Description - SilLite HG body (3.0 oz/yd2 40 d nylon with hybrid silicone- and polyurethane-impregnated coating); waterproof to 100 psi/7000 mm; 12 lb tear strength
  • Sizes - M (16-19"), L (19-22"); size L reviewed
  • Volume - M (main packbag 2200 ci, pockets 300 ci), L (main packbag 2400 ci, pockets 300 ci); no extension collar
  • Weight - 15.3 oz as measured, size L (manufacturer’s specifications indicate 14 oz size M, 15 oz size L)
  • Volume-to-Weight Ratio - 163 ci/oz size M, 176 ci/oz size L (based on 2500 ci, size M, 2700 ci size L and a measured weight of 15.3 oz)
  • Load Carrying Capacity - Manufacturer-reported at 20 lbs; we agree, as long as the pack is not underloaded and is packed with some degree of rigidity; the limiting factor in load carrying capacity is harness collapse and resulting strain on the shoulder straps, which are not able to bear much weight. We estimate that the GoLite Dawn’s upper limit will be somewhere between 15 to 20 pounds depending on user skill and level of tolerance for discomfort.
  • Carry Load to Pack Weight Performance Ratio - 20.9 (based on 20 lbs and a measured weight of 15.3 oz)
  • MSRP - $79.00


Frame and Suspension - 2.0

The GoLite Dawn is a frameless pack that offers minimal suspension features: the highly compressible padding in the shoulder straps, the 1-inch hipbelt with too small side fins and side release buckle, and lack of structure in the main packbag all work together to limit its load carrying capacity. The Dawn offers no significant adjustability, which helps it maintain its spot as second lightest pack in our review. A virtual frame created by an internally-rolled sleeping pad is vital if you are going to push the Dawn to its 20-lb load carrying capacity.

Usability - 3.5

The GoLite Dawn includes some minor features that greatly improve its usability over simpler packs. A large, flat rear mesh pocket provides storage for gear that needs to be easily accessed on the trail, and a rear bungee system offers some strapping options for temporary stowage of trekking poles and raingear. Mesh side pockets are large enough for 1-liter water bottles, but sit too high on the pack to access them while the pack is worn. No top lid means that a storage option is taken away, but access to the main compartment is simple - just unbuckle the top compression strap and loosen the drawcord on the minimal extension collar. Mountaineers will appreciate a single ice axe loop and shaft holder.

Load Volume Flexibility - 2.0

The bungee cord on the back is the only means of adjusting load volume, and it does a poor job at it - certainly not achieving the level of effectiveness of compression straps. The bungee isn’t designed for load compression, however. With a pack as light and minimalist as this one, the user needs to pay careful attention to ensuring an even load distribution that fills up the packbag volume. This is critical for effective shoulder-to-hip load transfer.

Field Performance

Pack Load Carrying - 2.0 / 4.0

We give two grades to the GoLite Dawn’s load carrying effectiveness. The low grade is given to an underloaded Dawn, where the weight of the load droops to the bottom of the pack. At day hiking loads of less than 10 pounds, this wasn’t much of an issue, but when the pack was loaded with small volume loads of 15 pounds or more, the Dawn carried the load miserably, and the hipbelt was ineffective at transferring load off of the shoulder straps. However, when the Dawn was packed properly and optimally, e.g., the load packed into the interior of a rolled Ridge Rest cylinder, it performed well. In particular, if the width of the foam pad was at least as long as the distance from the shoulder strap crest to the hipbelt, load transfer was quite effective, considering the minimal shoulder strap padding and thin hipbelt.

The GoLites Dawn’s main disadvantage is its shape. Load carrying could have been improved (especially with under packed loads) with a slightly thinner and taller packbag that was more resistant to collapsing.

Durability - 3.0

The GoLite Dawn uses a surprisingly tough fabric, considering it has a finished weight of only 3.0 oz/yd2. Our review sample, which has been used for several hundred miles, shows only dirt and minor abrasion wear. We didn’t take special care with the Dawn, tossing it around camp, sitting on it, and bushwhacking with it. Don’t expect it to survive the rigors of sharp granite, but for most off-trail use, the Dawn seems durable enough.

Value - 4.5

At $79, the Dawn is one of the cheapest high-end 30-40 liter packs on the market. Considering its features and light weight, for which it has little competition, the pack is a steal.

Recommendations for Improvement

We would decrease the packbag width by an inch and bring back the volume in height. A circumference compression strap near the bottom of the back panel, combined with two compression straps on the upper side panels, would dramatically improve its load stability for small volume loads. To increase the Dawn's load carrying capacity we would replace the ineffective open cell foam padding in the shoulder straps with more resilient foam and replace the hipbelt with a 1.5-inch hipbelt with larger hip fins. Finally, lower side pockets that were accessible while wearing the pack would improve its usability. Adding only four ounces of features that are focused on improving the load carrying stability and suspension would dramatically improve the GoLite Dawn and make it one of the best small volume packs on the market.


"GoLite Dawn Backpack REVIEW," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2004-06-26 03:00:00-06.