Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to acquire the new 2012 Gossamer Gear Murmur backpack, which is the first non cuben fiber backpack I have bought in many years, because by the numbers the Murmur is one amazingly impressive backpack! The numbers were so impressive that it pretty much forced me into buying it (giggle) just to see it and put it on and take it for a hike.
As most of my blog and video followers are aware I have been using a multitude of cuben fiber backpacks for the last few years, with the ZPacks Blast 26 (now called the Blast 30) and the ZPacks Zero (X-Small) as my primary two backpacks, the latter of which is all I used in the 2011 hiking season, for a bit over 750 combined miles. Somewhere along the way I had a HMG WindRider as well but in the end it proved to be overbuilt and too heavy for my requirements (25 ounces is more than 1/3rd of my Base Pack Weight at this point.) Before I made to move to cuben fiber backpacks I was a big time ULA owner, having owned all of them from the catalyst down to the smallest ohm – but I moved away from ULA when I got into the mid-level UL range and have never looked back due to their larger capacity.
The Gossamer Gear Murmur is my first backpack from Gossamer Gear. Going away from cuben fiber was something I thought I would never do. None the less a backpack that is sub-10 ounces (283 grams) deserves the attention of anybody – especially when it is a fully featured backpack!
In traditional style (with the exception of my one article about the zpacks waterproof breathable cuben fiber rain jacket unboxing) I have tried very hard to never write a review, or do a video, about a piece of gear that was totally untested. It just seems wrong to write an article or do a video on something I have never even used. So, even though I did not have a trip planned for this weekend, when the backpack showed up and I took a seriously hard look at it to see if it would be worth spending a few days on the trail with it, it did not take me long to stop looking and just go dump the gear out of my other backpack and throw it into the Murmur and jump in my truck – and that is exactly what I did.
Being a SUL/XUL hiker, in true tradition, I went without a camera and video recorder, so for those of you interested in what this backpack looks like check out the official Gossamer Gear Murmur website and the following other reviewers (which all helped me make the decision to buy one) Brian Green, Philip Werner, JERMM, and Jhaura Wachsman.
My Weekend Trip Stats:
Over the last three days I did a total of 57 miles (91.7 kilometers) – which granted is not very far for an initial review on a backpack, but it was all I could pull together for such a short planned three-day trip. The backpack felt very nice and performed beyond what I was expecting it too, reminding me of the days of having a ULA backpack on my back (I have always considered the ULA Backpacks to be the most comfortable backpacks out there – but that comes at the price of being way to heavy for my style of hiking these days).
When I started the hike I had a Total Pack Weight (total pack weight = all gear + all food + all liquids) of 4176 grams (147 ounces / 9.20 pounds).
That works out as:
BPW: 1803 grams / 63.60 ounces / 3.97 pounds (this included the new backpack, shelter, umbrella, stove, clothing and random small items)
Food: 1580 grams / 55.73 ounces / 3.48 pounds (I typically have 1.4 through 1.8 pounds of food per day)
Water: 647 grams / 22.82 ounces / 1.426 pounds (I only have to carry a half-liter of water this time of year, as there is a lot of water in the redwood canopy)
Random: 91 grams of fuel (six esbit tables), 45 grams of TP, and 10-odd grams for my bleach/bag (used for washing cloths each day)
The Gossamer Gear Murmur website states the following regarding the recommended TPW for this backpack:
This pack is for EXTREMELY low weights and volumes and, for comfort, we recommend total loads of 15lbs or less.
So at 9.2 pounds I was not near the top level of comfort for this backpack, I would guess. All in all the backpack performed without any issues and felt very nice. A few times on the first day I could feel a bit of stress on the top of the arm pits, which was mostly a result of not using the hip strap and the shoulder straps being a bit too close together for my large neck. A few minutes after clipping the waist strap around my hips the stress went away and I never had any further issues. Let me just be clear that I have never had any backpack that was really able to provide me stress free shoulder-only carry at the 10 pound mark. Anything much above 7 pounds and I just find I needed the extra bit of assistance from a hip belt. Thankfully the Gossamer Gear Murmur has one and as I said, it totally resolved the shoulder stress before I even had time to think about it still hurting or not. The 3/4″ webbing was more than enough — I know some out there think that one-inch webbing should be used for all hipbelts, but like my other backpacks with 3/4 webbing, the Murmur has proven yet again that you really do not need a 1″ webbing for a hipbelt when are you in the UL/SUL level of hiking – and none at all as a XUL hiker.
The Gossamer Gear Murmur backpack that I received (which I should mention, I bought on discount as a “second”) is listed on my scale to be 249 grams (8.78 ounces / 0.548 pounds) which is mighty impressive for a backpack that has all of the features that this backpack has.
It also came with a SitLight Sit Pad which on my scales is 58 grams (2.045 ounces / 0.127 pounds) which falls within the weights of what they estimate on their website.
How Well It Packs:
I was amazed at how well this backpack fit all of my gear. Granted I have been using a backpack that is 1,000 cubic inches (16.4 liters) for a rather long time so this was significantly larger than what I needed, but what percentage of it I did stuff did so very well. I think, for my style and level of hiking, where this backpack would come in very well is if I needed to be out there for in excess of 5 days – it would give me the necessary room to extend my 1000ci backpack beyond the limit of three days of food that it can carry. With this backpack I could easily fit all of my gear plus five days of food into it – and that makes me very happy, as more and more long distance trails that I am doing are having resupply stations further and further apart (take the PCT for example, which except for a few sections, you can be in a town every three or four days). A trail I plan to hike later this year will have an eight day section without resupplies – and that is if I do not get delayed due to overgrowth, which is a very good chance of having happen. I think for that one section I will probably have to buy another backpack that can hold my standard three pounds of gear, plus 9 or 10 days worth of food.
How Well It Carried:
For me this is really the key to a backpack. More than anything, even at the base weight that I am, I do not want a backpack where I am constantly thinking about the backpack as I am hiking. Some of you know what I mean. I have had a few backpacks over the years that because it carried the load so poorly, all I was doing on the entire hike was messing around with trying to get the backpack comfortable – and that just sucks. The Gossamer Gear Murmur carried the 9 pounds I had in it very well, as I mentioned above. On the last day of the hike I started off at 2516 grams (88 ounces / 5.5 pounds) and ended the hike at 1919 grams (67 ounces / 4.23 pounds) give or take 10 grams. When the backpack hit around the 5.2 pound mark I have to say, it truly started to shine. It carried my gear amazingly well the entire time, but it was somewhere just above the five pound mark when this backpack took on a whole new level of amazement. The rest of you guys out there with one of these, I would love to know where the “happy spot” for yours is at. I expected the ‘happy spot’ to be somewhere in the 8 pound range so I was a bit surprised when it came about at the 5 – 6 pound range. This is not to say it did poorly at the 8 or 9 pound range, but wow, when I hit the sweet spot for this specific pack it truly felt amazing.
The SitLight Pad:
I was unsure about this aspect of the backpack, just to be honest. I have never in my life owned a backpack with the ability to tuck a pad into the back area. For the last few years I have just rolled up a Gossamer Gear Thinlight Insulation Pad 1/8″ pad – which to be totally honest, is pretty much worthless for providing any comfort, I pretty much only carry it to protect my sleeping bag and give my backpack some structural support. But I went ahead and pulled out my 1/8th pad and put the SitLight Sit pad into the back of the straps and gave it a go. For the first few miles I noticed I kept reaching around unconsciously thinking there was something back there that was not suppose to be back there. After about an hour that went away as my body got use to it. It did seem to cause me to sweat on my back, something that I do not remember the last time having that happen. The temps outside all three days were in the mid 50’s (f) so it was not hot by any means, just a typical May hiking condition for the Redwoods. Not really sure I would take it with me again. My 1/8th pad can be folded up and it fits in there rather well. I might also pick up one of the Gossamer Gear Nightlight Sleeping Pads (Torso length) which is just a weebit more weight than the SitLight and provides a bit more length for using it at night. Last thing I need is another sleeping pad, but could be worth the 30 bucks to discover how it compares – and given the fact that I do not need a pad for structural support with this backpack, one less (of two) reasons for using the 1/8th pad. All that said, as a sit pad, the little SitLight Sit pad is very awesome. I usually just carry a square yard of cuben fiber to sit on when I am stopping – it provides protection from the always-wet canopy and doubles as a camp table mat to prep my food on. But having that extra little bit of comfort from the SiteLight pad was kind of nice, grin. Beyond easy to pull out when you have stopped. Makes taking your shoes off for a few minutes all the much nicer for some reason (you guys/gals do stop and take your shoes off every hour or two, right!) All in all I think the SiteLight is a nice addition to the Gossamer Gear Murmur.
I am rather hesitant to get into great details on the features of this backpack, as the bloggers I have referenced above have already done an amazing job at doing that. So I think in stead what I will do is talk about the features that I very much liked and the features that made me go “huh?” and the features I did not really care for much.
All I ask is that all of you reading this remember that it has been a very long time since I have owned a “traditional” backpack. The backpack that I have used for the last 1,000+ miles is nothing but a 1,000 cubic inch tube with two shoulder straps on it. No side pockets, no front pocket, no nothing… just a cylindrical tube of cuben fiber with a couple of should straps. Those of you who are SUL/XUL hikers like I am understand the “whys” of using such a backpack, so no need for me to explain that, but please, keep that in mind when I mention my likes and dislikes of the Murmur – my opinions (and that is all that they are) are based on using a much much different style of backpack for a rather long time.
Onto The Actual Review:
Without a doubt the thing that I like the most about this backpack was the feel. By that I mean the material itself. It is just so lovely and soft – compared to the cuben fiber I am so use too. It is like putting on silk baselayers and crawling into your sleeping bag after a long hard day of hiking. It just has that “aaaahhhh” feeling. And I like that :-D
Ok, on a serious note: there is no doubt that this is the most refined backpack I think I have ever owned. Yeah, ULA has some pretty cleanly manufactored backpacks, but when it comes down to it, this Gossamer Gear Murmur is unquestionably the most refinedly engineered backpack I have ever owned.
The shoulder straps are pretty sweet too. They are a j-style (sort of a modified j-style) strap which is becoming the norm these days. I still prefer the s-style straps and would gladly have paid more for the option of having a s-style strap (and the ladies out there would be grateful too). As they are, they are still very nice. I have been trying to figure out what padding they are using inside of them, it almost feels like they are using their own 1/8th padding inside of the straps (anybody confirm/deny this?). The curve of the j-style strap does curve a bit lower than I would have expected and when it does it is a pretty aggressive curve. Given the fact that so many hikers are pencil sticks (compared to the few SUL/XUL hikers like myself with some actual meat (and fat lol) between the shoulders) it is not surprising of how it is designed however. My only real complaint about the shoulder straps is that they are too close together for me. Being a broad shoulder guy with a fairly round neck (and with some first-of-the-season-extra-fat) both of the shoulder straps pretty much are right up against my neck. I realize in the world of SUL/XUL hikers I am one of the few on the larger size so I am not being critical here, it is just a fact that I have to deal with – much like the fact that I have to buy “long and wide” sleeping bags. A Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador who got early access to one of these backpacks made the point about the shoulder strap attaching point being at a 90-degree angle and thinking it would be nice to have them changed. Most UL/SUL backpacks that I have seen are are a straight 90-degree and I have never owned one that was not. However, I can understand how this could make a huge difference, especially with the use of a j-style strap. Perhaps for the 2013 edition Gossamer Gear can push out a s-style should strap option and have the shoulder straps further apart – those would be two of my three biggest requests for a future update.
wow has it been a long time since I have had a backpack with side pockets. Late in the previous hiking season (2011) I began to think to myself that it would be nice to move away from using shoulder-pouches to hold my water bottles. I began to question the wisdom of having the 20 through 40 ounces of water on your shoulder straps. It was this same reasoning that lead me away from using a chest-pouch. The rules have always been simple: keep the weight on your hips and your shoulders – with the latter being a way to distribute the weight to your hips. So by having all of that weight on the chest shoulder straps (by using water bottles attached to the shoulder straps) it pretty much threw that age-old knowledge right out the window. It was worth trying for the season, but in the end it just proved to be putting weight in the wrong spot – both for weight distribution and center of gravity. So mini-rant out of the way, with the knowledge that I was going to try moving away from carrying water on my shoulder straps, it forced me to make a decision on how I was going to carry water in my backpack that I have been using (remember it does not have any external pockets). Having now spent the last three days and night with a backpack that has side pockets, I think doing away with them for the sake of saving 22 grams (0.8 ounces) was a foolish decision. I have started to carry the Platy Soft Bottle with me rather than SmartWater bottles, so having the two pouches allowed me to have a half-liter in two different platy bottles and have even weight distribution. (btw, I have started to carry three of those containers, I bought one that is grey, one that is blue, and one that is tangerine. The grey one is 100% devoted to ‘dirty’ water that needs to be filter, the blue one is ‘clean’ water from the filter, and the tangerine bag I use for my water that has Emergen-C Joint Health (Tangerine) in it. each one is 27 grams dry on my scale and I always have at least two of them with water in them) Back to the side pockets again: I really like them. A lot. Like, possible the best side pockets I have had on any backpack – in fact, I think they are the best side pockets I have ever had on any backpack. yeah, I think I will just declare that they are the best side pockets I have had on a backpack. Perfect height, perfect shape at the top. Oh, also, I pretty much always carry a GoLite Chrome Umbrella with me (and have for a couple of years) and it fits into the side pockets but you will need to use the included bungee cord and locks to secure it at the top, using the little loops that are up there (thank you GG for including those little itty-bitty loops by default – love them!!)
Really, when was the last time you saw a reviewer talk about a Haul Loop? Well, I am. This is going to be my first “blah/meh/wth” part of this review. Simply put, its too freaking small. I can hardly get one finger into it. Granted, with a 3 pound BPW one does not need to use more than one finger, but when you have three or four days of food in there, using one finger to pick up 10 pounds is not smart. No way I can even begin to get two fingers into the Haul Loop. Not sure if this is a result of my backpack being a “second” or if its just the way that they are, but wowzer is this a small haul loop.
Very happy with the Sternum Strap on the Murmur. Very happy indeed. Hardware that it uses is going to hold up very well for the long haul, but is not so heavy duty that it is heavy. Perfection.
For sake of simplicity, I am just going to use the term “the lid”. GossamerGear calls the lid on this backpack an “Over the Top™ closure system.” Please note that the trademark is on their part, I did not add that in. Here is what they say about it on their website: “This is a very light but secure closure which is easy to use and also protects and controls your gear.” To all the guys at GG… you know I love you… and marketing is marketing and all that, I get that, but really, I am just not “getting” this lid. A buddy and I spent a good two hours while hiking talking about the lid on this backpack and in the end, we just kept on walking shaking our heads trying to figure out what in the world the lid and closure system on this backpack is all about. First is the cover flap itself. It is nice, it really is. But beyond being a flap, it is totally worthless. There is no pouch to hold a map – if you are going to add the weight of having a lid (verses just having a pull cord to pull it closed and calling it good) than at least make it useful and add a secondary piece of material in there to throw a map or some-such into it. Perhaps I have just been spoiled by the simple draw string closure of my last three or four backpacks. Perhaps I have forgotten the lid/brain/OtT closure systems that are out there. But I just do not get this design. It is not just the flap over lid, it is the whole lid. There is this draw string inside that only goes about a third of the way around the opening. Huh?? Sorry, but this has proven to be totally useless for me. I even loaded the backpack all the way to the top (after I got back from the hike) just to see at what point of stuffing this backpack does the little 1/3rd draw cord serve a purpose… and I just do not get it. At no point at all did that draw cord provide any viable solution to any problem/situation that I can see. I am sure it is there for some reason, to solve some problem that hikers along the way have encounter, but this hiker is just not getting it. I also do not get the need for a double strap lid. This is a backpack that is marketed for TPW’s of under 15 pounds. In what situation that could possible exist would a backpack rated for 15 pounds need a double-strap to keep its lid secure? Again, I just do not get it. Now, all that said, I freaking looooove the method of ditching heavy webbing and using spectra cord – now that is freaking awesome. If you are not going to have a single pull cord loop at the top, this is without a doubt the coolest method I have seen to save some serious weight. Oh, I also think they could have saved a few grams of weight by not having a dedicated attachment point, and instead just attach the spetracord grommets right into the side pockets. I am going to guess that somewhere along the way of R&D and T&E they did this and moved away from it – it would be interesting to hear why they did not do so. All in all, I am rather unhappy with the whole lid/closure system of the backpack. I suspect what is going to happen, should I decide to keep using this backpack (and the only reason I can see that I would not keep using this backpack is this whole lid/closure system) is that I will just be cutting off the entire lid and than running some spectracord through a loop sewn into the top. Heck, I might even have that spectracord loop go down to one of the dedicated tie-offs for the existing system – because the more I use that, the more I realize how much nicer it is than the other methods out there. Maybe one of these days (hopefully not to far into the future) I can wrap my head around the dynamics of this lid system, but right now I am just not getting it.
I have to be honest and say I never used it. It has been at least four years since I have used a front pocket. What little gear I carry I value way to much to put into a non-enclosed pocket. Being a SUL/XUL hiker there is no “backup gear”. If you loose something, especially as a XUL hiker, your hike is pretty much over. So I have not ordered any of my backpacks with a front pocket for a long time. As I have not used one for so long I did not use it over the last three days of hiking. What I do recall from my last backpack with a front pocket, the one on the Murmur seems pretty sweet. I prefer my weight to be as close to my body as possible – and I would rather have weight go higher, and not deeper (further from your spinal cord) so if there was an option to buy one without the front pocket I would.
As I mentioned earlier, I have never had a backpack with a back pocket to put a pad into. So this is all new for me. It is made of the same material that the front pocket is made of. It looks like super tough material. It held the SitLight pad very well without moving at all. I suspect it could even bit a bit shorter and not cause problems. When I put my 1/8th pad in there, having it be an inch or so shorter on each side (top/bottom) would have actually been nice, as it was rather hard to cram it into there with it being so tall. All in all I am happy with it – being I have never used one before I have nothing else to compare it too.
The very first thing I do when I get a backpack – even before I put it on – is to turn it inside out. If you really want to know how good of quality and construction a backpack is, turn it inside out. I have seen photos of some of the backpacks out there that a few UL and SUL hikers have recently bought and the construction on them becomes really apparent when you turn them inside out – and some of them have been downright scary. As for the Gossamer Gear Murmur… a single word comes to mind: Impeccable. There is zero over trim of material. There is zero mis-stitching. There is zero material where it does not need to be. There is zero overlapping of material were it does not need to be. This is the finest backpack I have ever encountered on a construction quality level.
I did mention I have only used this for three days covering 57 miles right? Enough said.
One hike is not enough for me to declare this “my new backpack” by any means. It is for this very reason I hate doing reviews of gear that I have not used and used and used and used (take for example my 380+ days and 1,250+ miles before I wrote my review on the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants). None the less I have had at least a dozen people email me over the weekend while I was out on the hike asking me what I thought about this backpack… so this is for all of you… a rather premature review, but a review none the less based on just three days of using it. As I mentioned in the title of this article it is a “first hike review”. I could very easily come to fall in love with this backpack (and I mean that!), or the lid could become such a stumbling point that I just sell it out of frustration, or I might send it off to somebody with a sewing machine and a pair of scissors and have them whack the lid off and put in a single cord strap closure – at this point I am not sure what I will do. I will probably ponder on it this week and see what kind of feedback this review generates and what others with this backpack have to say about this issue. As I said above, it has been so long since I used a traditional backpack this could all just be user stupidity on my part.
What I do know is that I am amazingly happy enough with this backpack to take it out with me on my next hike. Even though it is 50+% bigger than the backpack I have used for the last year. Even though it is 5+ ounces heavier (and for a SUL/XUL hiker, that is a lot) than the backpack that I have used for the last year. I am happy with it – and it is worth giving it another go on the trail. 57 miles and three days is not long enough to really tell if a backpack is a viable replacement for your existing backpack.
When you take into account the fact it is 65% heavier than my existing backpack and when you take into account it is 50+% bigger than my existing backpack – it makes me wonder why I would take it out again – it really does. All I know is I have had enough backpacks sitting around in my house that I really do not need another backpack… so the very fact that given its weight and size factor (compared to my existing backpack that is 64 grams / 2.2 oz), the Gossamer Gear Murmur getting onto my back for my next hike is saying something – and something really really impressive – about this backpack. So much so I might just have to take next Friday off so I can get out on another hike and put some more miles onto this backpack!!
At this point what I can say is that the Gossamer Gear Murmur is proving itself to be a viable UL and SUL backpack. At 8oz it would be illogical to use this on a XUL hike when there are options 80% lighter out there with half has much cubic inches of space – you just do not need a backpack this big as a XUL hiker – but if you are at the low end of the UL range or anywhere at all in the SUL range and are looking for a new backpack to try, even with only three days and 50-odd miles of use, I am going to outright say that this is a backpack worth checking out. Others with a lot more experience in this style of backpack are giving this backpack some serious praise (I linked to them above) and as somebody that has tried to move away from XUL back into the SUL world (because XUL sucks when it comes down to it… its ok for an overnight, or maybe a weekend hike, but beyond that, it is just no fun – and I am mostly a long distance hiker). Again, if you are a UL/SUL hiker looking for a new backpack with all of the features, and you do not want to go with cuben fiber, I think at this point in time the Gossamer Gear Murmur is going to be the backpack of recommendation. I shall know more in a week or two, at which point I will report back on further usage thoughts!
In accordance of Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that the disseminated content within the review of this product(s) is free of endorsement(s) between myself and the manufacturer(s) of any product(s) disclosed herein and meets all FTC 16 CFR.255 compliance requirements.