Rating: 3 / 5
My Mariposa Plus has been on 24 miles of the Florida Trail, through numerous hikes in the Coast Range of Alaska, on some fishing trips and day hikes around Juneau, through 35 miles of the Wonderland Trail, to Redwood NP, to the Rattlesnake Wilderness with the Montana Conservation Corps for four days of trail work, and it has carried all of my gear for traveling between those places. I've strapped firewood to the top of it and carried 40lbs in it throughout downtown Seattle (my camera gear and clothing and so forth, no firewood :D). I have practically lived out of this thing for the last 5 months and I have actually lived out of it for the last 1.5 months. It has been my travel pack and my hiking pack. So, I've got a few things to say.
First of all, I am VERY surprised by how durable this thing is. I've managed to put a hole or two in it, I think from campfire and/or abrasion, and I left some chocolate in one of the mesh pockets and mice chewed through it. Other than that and some dirt scuffs, it is in good condition. Secondly, this pack can hold a lot- far more than I need for even a 3 or 4 day trip in cold and rainy conditions. And as we all know, the Mari Plus is quite light. All my friends are amazed. On a weekend 30 mile ridgeline traverse in Juneau, my two buds were afflicted with sore knees, whereas I, the weakest one, had no problems at all due largely I imagine to the very small weight I had on my back. This pattern popped up all summer on our hikes. I don't imagine I could have done 35 miles of the Wonderland in 2.5 days in my condition with any load heavier than what I had (which was about 22lbs according to the Ranger Station scale. That's a 6lb base,12lb food(intended for the whole 93mi.), and 4lb water). I really like the bladder pocket and use it a lot in conjunction with my Platy bladder. The side pockets are accessible with the pack on (yes, even the tall one if what you need is on top and you're flexible/lazy) and the top compression strap does a decent enough job of holding a bear canister, drybag, camera bag, or probably whatever container you feel like sticking up there. Every pack should have the V-shaped compression strap of the Mari Plus. I use the top and bottom loops to haul the thing around, and I keep a bracelet I bought while on acid on the bottom one, for good luck I guess. The pack fabric is decently water-resistant. Also, the curved stay does a fantastic job of keeping the pack very steady and close to the back, when it is positioned properly (see below).
The curved stay is intended to be removable, and so they slide in to channels and are held at the top by velcro. Having seen a video of this it seemed fine. But when I received my pack I noticed the velcro straps were much smaller on my pack than on the one in the video-and I mean TINY. I felt that they wouldn't be strong enough. My suspicions were validated when I noticed that the straps consistently came undone when I put any weight at all in the pack. This caused the stay to slide upwards effectively negating its positive effect on weight distribution and stabilization. This was very annoying. I hadn't fixed this problem by the time I did my Wonderland hike and the pack struggled HARD to carry my 22lbs comfortably, which it didn't do at all actually. I was really disheartened by that. It's my own fault it took me so long to fix it, which I did simply by sewing the straps together. The stay no longer moves, but now I can't remove it without cutting the retainers off. I think this is a CRUCIAL detail as the curved stay is rather the selling point of this pack, in my opinion. I'm very surprised Gossamer Gear let a product out the door with a problem like this. Keith also points out the linkage between the belt and frame and I second his opinion there.
I'm giving this pack a 3/5, it's lowest rating yet largely due to the humongous oversight regarding the stay. But, even with that I thought about giving it a 4 until I thought, "Gee, even with all the fun I've had with this thing, I wouldn't hesitate to chuck it right out and buy a pack that carried weight a little better." That's saying something from a guy who gets pretty connected to his gear. The Mari Plus has been a workhorse for me, but somehow I just haven't felt a good connection with it. I think that the Mari Plus gets the job done, but doesn't shine in any particular way. That being said, if those subjective things don't really matter to you, go ahead and up it to a solid 4/5.