Review: Gossamer Gear's Ranger 35 and Silverback 55 Meet Rugged Arizona Landscapes
The Ranger 35 and the Silverback 55 have become my go-to Gossamer Gear packs. I do a variety of outdoor activities–backpacking, canyoneering, day hiking, and photography–and have been using these two packs for the last ten months.
Field Testing the Ranger 35 and Silverback 55 on Arizona Trails
First, let's start with the kind of conditions I'm working with living in the Sonoran Desert in Tucson and recreating across Arizona. Despite what you may think about Arizona always being hot, we have a wide range of elevations and, therefore, temperatures. In southern Arizona, the Sky Island mountain ranges rise to over 9,000 feet with low valleys in between, and much of northern Arizona is on plateaus, which are 7,000 feet elevation or higher. I also had the Ranger 35 among the saguaro cacti in the snow on the first week of this year!
I am outdoors year-round in temperatures down into the 20s at night in winter, and as hot as 109 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Currently, I am researching and writing a book about day hikes on the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which will be released by Wilderness Press in Spring 2020. Though it is a day hiking book, I have been backpacking several of the hikes so I have time to do photography (and because sleeping under the stars is awesome)!
It's also important to note that I have Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. It affects my upper back, neck, and shoulders, which makes it essential for me to be able to keep as much weight off my shoulders as possible and transfer the load to my hips. It also means that I'll never join the brotherhood of the beltless pack, but I'm ok with it.
Day Hiking and Canyoneering with the Ranger 35
The Ranger 35 that I use for day hiking and canyoneering has a 35-liter capacity and weighs 33.9 ounces. It has a removable internal polycarbonate frame for stability, lots of pockets, and a front-loading panel that can be opened wide. Adventures in Arizona often mean carrying a lot of heavy water, plus I add photography gear, plenty of snacks, and layers for the swing in temperatures. For canyoneering, add rope, a helmet, and sometimes a wetsuit. The Ranger really carries the weight comfortably and things are easy to access due to the panel opening and ample pockets.
There's a large mesh pocket on the panel that fits my climbing helmet, a zipper pocket on the outside where I keep things I want to easily access during the hike, a zipper pocket inside for things I want to keep secure like my keys and wallet, and a hydration sleeve with a hydration port for the tube. Two water bottle pockets with compression straps on the sides also help to hold in my camera tripod or umbrella. There are trekking pole loops, which I've used, and an ice axe loop, which I have not. Because frankly, if I'm going to need an ice axe for conditions on the hike I've got planned, I'm heading somewhere else with better weather.
The back of the pack is padded and has an integrated hipbelt with even more pockets. This pack makes me feel like everything has a secure place. The Robic material is tough and withstands the spiny plants and rough rocks of the desert well. I've carried 25 pounds in the pack comfortably and it's recommended for no more than thirty. Load-lifter straps on the shoulders can be adjusted to shift the weight.
Backpacking with the Silverback 55
For backpacking trips, the Silverback 55 has a lot of the same features that I like about the Ranger. Sturdy frame, ample pockets, and even more rugged material. I do a lot of bushwhacking through thorny brush, and this pack has the classic Gossamer Gear rear pocket, but without mesh. The fabric is custom 70 X 200 denier Robic Extreema and the pack weighs 43.4 oz in a medium.
The Silverback 55 is unique in that it has multiple configurations. The pack can be worn as a roll-top that clips to itself or the side compression straps, and there is a pack lid, or "brain," that can either be attached at the top, used as a stuff sack inside the pack, or left at home, depending on the situation.
The lid of the pack is for items I don't want compressed. I do a lot of nighttime photography and light painting and my tools–light wands, glow sticks, and photo accessories–are safe in the lid.
Desert dry camping, which sometimes requires carrying up to 9 liters of water, works really well with this pack. The Silverback is rated to carry 35 pounds comfortably, but can handle up to 40, which I carried during a trip this spring where there was no water on my route. The roll-top allows for a lot of room for expansion and is easy to compress during the trip when there is less food or water.
It's got trekking pole and ice axe loops, load-lifting straps, a hydration sleeve and tube port, and a removable belt with spacious pockets. The back is cushioned by an Airflow Sitlight pad that is easy to take out, use for a seat cushion, and put back into the backpack during breaks.
I use one of the side pockets for a water bottle and tripod and the other to store my LT5 trekking poles and umbrella. The big back pocket fits my first aid kit, toiletries, and camp shoes, or is a good place to store a wet tent.
The Ranger 35 and Silverback 55 are Packs for All Terrains
I enjoy using the Ranger 35 and the Silverback 55 on my desert journeys, but the rugged features would also work well on brushy or overgrown trails, off-trail travel, or areas with long distances between resupply or water sources.