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Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight Backpack REVIEW

Minimal features and prone-to-abrasion-damage spinnaker fabric make this the lightest 2000-cubic inch backpack on the market.

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by Carol Crooker | 2005-12-20 03:00:00-07

Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight Backpack REVIEW

Introduction

The 2000-cubic inch Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight backpack is sized to accommodate ultralight overnight or multi-day SuperUltraLight loads. It is the lightest weight 33-liter pack commercially available. It beats out its nearest competitor, the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 30, by a fraction of an ounce by eliminating all "luxuries" except for one - a front bellows pocket.

What's Good

  • Extremely light weight
  • Volume right for a multi-day ultralight trip
  • Wide shoulder straps distribute load when carrying extra weight
  • Front pocket big enough for a wet tarp, TorsoLite, or 2-liter Platypus bladder
  • Eight grosgrain loops provide external attachment points

What's Not So Good

  • Spinnaker fabric needs some babying
  • Oxford nylon doesn't cover the whole bottom (rather part of the bottom and part of the back) so extra care needs to be taken when setting the pack down
  • Pack can slide up onto your head when bending over since there is no hipbelt to hold it in place
  • Water is not accessible on-the-go unless using a hydration bladder and hose
  • Shoulder strap webbing adjustment buckles are sized too narrow for the shoulder strap webbing, making adjustment difficult
  • Spinnaker fabric on backpanel encourages a sweat soaked back

Specifications

  Manufacturer

Gossamer Gear

  Year/Model

2005 Whisper Uberlight

  Style

Frameless, top loading, roll-top closure

  Volume

2000 ci (33 L)

  Size

One size, fits 18 - 22 in (46 - 56 cm) torso

  Weight

3.5 oz (99 g) measured weight (3.9 oz/111 g with shoulder pads inserted); manufacturer’s specification 3.7 oz (105 g), foam shoulder strap pads add 0.2 oz (6 g) each

  Fabrics

0.96 oz/yd2 (33 g/m2) spinnaker ripstop nylon, limited use of 210d 4 oz/yd2 (136 g/m2) urethane-coated nylon double ripstop

  Features

Front bellowed spinnaker fabric pocket, shoulder straps can accept unused clothing for padding, removable foam inserts for shoulder straps, roll-top closure secured by hook-and-loop tabs, four grosgrain loops along each backpanel/side seam

  Volume To Weight Ratio

571 ci/oz (based on 2000 ci and a measured weight of 3.5 oz without shoulder strap pads)

  Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity

15 lb (6.8 kg) estimated maximum comfortable load an average person can carry all day in this pack. Manufacturer specifies maximum load carrying capacity of 15 lb (6.8 kg)

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

68.6 (based on 15 lb and Backpacking Light measured weight of 0.219 lb)

  MSRP

$99.99

Performance

The Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight pack is designed to provide enough volume for lightweight overnight or multi-day SuperUltraLight trips (or day hikes from a base camp) at a minimum of weight. The Whisper Uberlight is the lightest weight pack for the volume you can buy, beating out the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 30 by a few tenths of an ounce. Gossamer Gear succeeds by using very light spinnaker fabric and leaving out most features. The pack is very simple, consisting of a packbag with roll top closure, shoulder straps that can have foam pads or unused clothing inserted, and a single front pocket. It doesn't have a hipbelt or haul loop, but it does have eight grosgrain loops sewn into the seams where the backpanel and sides are joined. A bungee or cord can be threaded through the loops to attach something to the front or sides of the pack (like a Gossamer Gear Thinlight pad, see photo below), or to compress the pack. I didn't miss the hipbelt most of the time - at recommended maximum loads of 15 pounds I didn't need one. In fact, it was freeing to be able to slip the pack on and off without unbuckling anything, and my waist didn't get sweaty as it usually does under a hipbelt. A hipbelt would have been nice when I was carrying extra water (bringing total pack weight up to 18 pounds), and when I was scrambling down a rock and deadfall choked canyon and the pack slid up onto my head when I bent double to maneuver through a tight spot.

gossamer gear whisper uberlight pack damage
I also tested a Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight pack modified with mesh side pockets on the Black Forest Trail in Pennsylvania. Note the small pieces of duct tape marking abrasion damage from a rough plane ride inside an old duffel bag.

The wide shoulder straps are the Whisper's best feature. The shoulder straps distribute weight over a large area and make a big difference in comfort on the occasions when extra weight (e.g. water) is carried. We rated the comfortable load carrying capacity of the Uberlight at 15 pounds as compared to the 12 pound rating we gave both the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 25 and the Fanatic Fringe Alpine Trail. The Whisper Uberlight shoulder straps are 3.5 inches wide as compared to about 2 inches for the Mountain Laurel Designs and Alpine Trail packs. Of course "comfortable" is very subjective and many people will have a higher tolerance for carrying weight in these small packs.

The shoulder strap webbing adjustment buckles are sized too narrow for the shoulder strap webbing, making adjustment difficult. I "solved" this problem by rarely readjusting the straps after the initial fitting. Ryan Jordan solved this problem easily enough by replacing the buckles with slightly larger ones, a modification that requires no sewing and only a trip to your local Fastex supplier.

A minimum of features and very lightweight (0.96 oz/yd2) fabric keep the weight of the Whisper Uberlight under 4 ounces. The spinnaker fabric is surprisingly resistant to puncture, but prone to abrasion and is weaker where it is sewn. After testing, my sample pack has just a tiny scuff in the spinnaker fabric on the bottom, and three small spots where the fabric is ripping away from where it is sewn. One spot is where the Oxford nylon at the top of the pack is sewn to the spinnaker, but more troubling, the fabric is starting to rip away from the bar tacks on both shoulder straps. The bar tacks finish the tops of the hook-and-loop strips used to open the shoulder straps for pad insertion. A close inspection reveals that the bar tack stitches are too closely spaced and cut into the fabric. A looser grouping of stitches and/or some added fabric for reinforcement should help. (Click here for suggestions on how to increase the durability of the Uberlight where it is stitched.) Another sample pack that was modified by Gossamer Gear with side pockets is in worse shape. The rips above the bar tacking are much more pronounced. Additionally, the pack developed numerous abrasion-caused holes after I inserted the fully loaded pack into a duffel bag and carried it onto an airplane rather than checking it - all to protect it. The interior seams on the duffel are rough and rubbed through the Uberlight in various spots - see above photo

The Whisper is at the extreme low end of industry durability for packs and requires the attention and careful gear handling habits that come with experience and practice. Ryan Jordan has used the same Whisper pack for more than 120 days in the backcountry of Montana and Wyoming. He is confident that he could do a typical through hike with a Whisper, but qualifies it: ‘If you can deal with the minimal abrasion resistance of the fabric, you also need to understand the load carrying capacity of this pack and not exceed it – seam failure due to over packing will be your enemy.’

The spinnaker fabric backpanel left the back of my hiking shirt soaked with sweat, more so than a backpanel of some absorbent - and heavier - material would have. I'm not suggesting that Gossamer Gear change the fabric of the backpanel, just noting a trade off inherent in the extreme light weight of this backpack.

gossamer gear whisper uberlight pack backpanel
Uberlight pack floating in West Clear Creek, Arizona during pack liner/dry bag testing. Note the wide shoulder straps and Oxford cloth partially covering the bottom and back of the pack.

The Whisper Uberlight volume (2000 ci/33 L) is just right for ultralight and SuperUltraLight overnight or multi-day trips. It contains all the needed gear - except possibly an extra sleeping pad that can be strapped to the outside. The pack is relatively wide with a shallow depth (12" x 5.25" as compared to the more square shape of the Fanatic Fringe Alpine Trail, which is 9.5" x 8.5"). The pack doesn't extend far from your back and is narrow enough to make it fairly easy to slip between rocks and horizontal, vertical, and slanted uprooted trees during descents down debris choked canyons. The pack shape keeps gear close to your back.

I missed a side water bottle pocket - a half-height pocket that a water bladder can be plucked out of without removing the pack. If Gossamer Gear adds a half-height pocket, it is likely that another pocket will be needed on the other side to balance the load. That would bring pack weight up and probably cause the Whisper Uberlight to be de-throned as lightest 33-liter pack. Is the added weight worth it? It depends on whether you think the convenience of on-the-move hydrating is worth the weight penalty.

What's Unique

The Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight is the lightest 2000-cubic inch/33-liter pack on the market. It is also the only SuperUltraLight pack with wide shoulder straps, which enable it to carry heavier loads more comfortably than SUL packs with narrow shoulder straps.

Recommendations for Improvement

This pack is stripped to the bare essentials and, other than replacing the shoulder strap webbing adjustment buckles with larger ones and making changes to the bar tacks on the shoulder straps, the only improvement I can think of that won't affect weight, may not be possible... yet. Replace the spinnaker fabric with a fabric that is just as light but more abrasion and slip resistant, and is stronger when sewn. My other recommendations will increase the weight of the pack and I'd recommend offering them as options. Add a half-height side pocket, replace the spinnaker backpanel with an absorbent material, and offer a version constructed of more robust material.


Citation

"Gossamer Gear Whisper Uberlight Backpack REVIEW," by Carol Crooker. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/gossamer_gear_whisper_uberlight_pack_review.html, 2005-12-20 03:00:00-07.

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