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UL BAckpacks
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Jeff Rodman
( - F
UL BAckpacks on 09/26/2009 21:40:04 MDT Print View

I am new to the UL world of backpacking and am looking for some advice on backpacks. A friend of mine has a ULA Catalyst, which I thought was an impressive backpack. However, while perusing the internet i came across Six moon "Starlite" at 25 oz. I am looking for some input on either of these packs. Also, i am hoping to take my son on a trip with me and am looking at either the Zpack "Blast" of cuben fiber, wieght of 4.3 oz...4.3!!! Holy Cow! or the Fanatic Fringe "Thompson" at 9.5 oz. Any input on these two would also be greatly appreciated!

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
... on 09/26/2009 22:22:22 MDT Print View

What is the weight a volume of all your other stuff?

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
UL BAckpacks on 09/26/2009 22:30:58 MDT Print View

Catalyst is giant compared to those other packs, you should use the Circuit or Conduit for a comparison. And look at Gossamer Gear.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 01:59:15 MDT Print View

We really need to know the weight and volume of the rest of your gear (plus food and water for however long you expect to go out) before recommending a backpack. You should buy the pack after buying the rest of your gear to get the right size pack.

I really like the Six Moon Designs packs (I have the discontinued Comet), but I would definitely get the "optional" stays. They are mandatory, IMHO, if your total pack weight is over 20 lbs.

Jeff Antig

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 03:51:03 MDT Print View

Yes, I can say from experience that the backpack is the last thing you should buy. Don't be like me and end up having like 4 packs that just collect dust

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 06:57:01 MDT Print View

Jeff (Rodman),
The packs you have identified are all goods packs. The others to look at are Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) and Gossamer Gear. But as it has been pointed out without more info we can not determine if any of these are great packs for you. Here are some things you need to consider.

1 - What kind of suspension system do you need? All packs listed are frameless. This means your base weight and total pack weight need to be in an appropriate range to use such a pack and you need to know how to pack it correctly so that your gear forms a ridged structure. I would not look at a frameless pack unless your base weight is below 12 lbs and the more below the better.

2 - How much volume do you need? will 2400 cu inches be enough or need 3600+? Amount of gear, gear density, length of trip (consumables) will drive this. Synthetic sleeping bags and polarfleece gear will require much more volume as will 7 days worth of food versus 2 days.

3 - What kind of features do you want? These range from side pockets, back pockets, lids, hydration tube holes/sleeves, hip belts, sternum straps, pad pockets, etc...

4 - How durable do you want your pack? The materials in UL packs are extremely different. Dyneema is very durable middle price but is heavier, silnlyon is light, less durable but is inexpensive, Cuben is the lightest, somewhat durable, but is most expensive.

5 - What much do you want to spend? typical price for UL packs run from $50 to $200.

6 - How fast do you want to get this pack? Some of the cottage guys can take as long as 2 months to hand craft a pack for you. Joe from Zpacks is currently thru-hiking and won't be back until December. So no Zpacks until probably next year.

I've purchased 5 packs in the last 2 years, but have finally dialed mine down to exactly what I want. I use a MLD's Prophet which is made from dyneema. It is bomb proof, weighs 10.5 oz (after removing bungee, waist belt, and sternum strap), and allows me access to my water bottle without stopping. But my gear weight ranges from 4.5lbs to 6.5lbs pounds and I only carry 2-3 days of food at most.


Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 08:06:55 MDT Print View

If you're going to buy 2 packs some time soon, it may be worth getting a membership and looking at the backpack articles/reviews. They actually did a Z-packs review aswell as a SOM for UL packs not too long ago - take a look at some of the articles.

Of course, lots of good stuff on the forums aswell.

Love my Z-Pack blast!

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
packing for others on 09/27/2009 08:38:10 MDT Print View

not sure of the age of your son, but be sure to factor in if your going to be carrying additional gear besides your own

I don't know who the quote is attributable to, but goes something along the lines "that the perfect pack size is big enough to carry your needs, but not any more"

of course it might be better to err a little on the too big size (than vice versa) :)

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Re: UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 08:46:53 MDT Print View

The Z-packs are, so far as I recall, not available while their creators are out on a long hike.

For that perfect balance of toughness and carrying capacity, you can't beat the Mariposa Plus from Gossamer Gear. It's in a somewhat heavier weight class than the others you mention, however.

For toughness, capacity, and low weight, my go-to packs are both from Fanatic Fringe. The Alpine Trail is good for shorter hikes of less than a week. The Thompson Peak could take you wherever you want to go, and as long as you want to go. Both are much tougher than the cuben models, and they have more than adequate capacity, especially if you're BPing via the low-volume, UL route.

Two provisos:

1. Line them with garbage bags. They are tough to fold over at the top to water-seal. It can be done, however. I loop the top drawstring though the lifting loop and back up to the a caribeener attached to the "tightener" at the top. (Sorry, don't remember the technical term. I also line the packs with a thin garbage bag and roll it up at the top.

2. The main complaint about the FF packs is that the shoulder pads are too narrow. The first time I used my Thompson Peak, I got a bit of shoulder fatigue after the first mile.

I realized, though, that in my case at least, the rap on the shoulder straps was not causing the problem. The straps were slipping too far toward my arms, causing me to tighten the muscles and produce shoulder soreness.

I bought the sternum straps available from Gossamer Gear, sewed them on, and the fatigue problem magically disappeared from both packs. At .3 oz, the weight penalty was minimal. (It brought my Alpine Ridge to a still fantastic 6.3 oz.)

I can't say enough about the FF packs. Light-weight. Durability. High Capacity.

What more can we ask?


P.S. Comments on the Thompson Peak

Edited by nerdboy52 on 09/27/2009 08:52:44 MDT.

Jeff Rodman
( - F
ul backpack on 09/27/2009 08:48:28 MDT Print View

Thanks for the responses so far.

I'll use my last trip (13 days in the Wind River Range) as a starting point for the gear that i currently use/have: Please note that i tend to go on trips that last 7-14 days, tend to go in the fall (late August - early Sept,. which risks backpacking in snow, consequently means i need warmer clothing)

While it didn't snow while i was there (this year), it snowed the week prior and the day prior.

Current pack is a North Face Pivotal 75 (4600 cu in, 108 oz.) It weighed, fully packed 42 lbs, INCLUDING 15 lbs of food for my Wind River trip. I came out with (5) dried prunes, (1) energy bar, and a handful of trail mix. So my food amount is pretty bare minimum.

Current tent is Mountain Hardwear PCT, 57 oz. But am seriously looking at the Tarptent Moment, 28 oz

Current sleeping bag: North Face Snowshoe 57 oz. Have looked at other bags, but haven't found much lighter for a 0 degree bag. I hate being cold!

Current Pad is a Thermarest prolite 3, 12 oz.

These items at weigh 8.5 lbs.,plus my food (15 lbs.) was 23.5 lbs. The balance of my pack was 18.5 lbs.: and included the following. I don't know what the individual weight of each item is, as the idea of countign ounces is a new thought process for me. "*" indicates stuff i need for cold weather.

a) spare pair of smartwool socks and liners
b) spare pair of underwear
c*) wool hat
d*) Outdoor Research gloves
e*) Patagonia Baselayer Merino Wool bottom and top
g) REI rain pants and top (i use the wool baselayer and rain gear as, wind breaker/comfort clothing at night when it gets cooler)...these are heavy, and need to be replaced!
g) pair of sandals, used to cross streams / waterways. A friend on the Wind River trip had trail shoes that were wet for days, he had to wear then all the time, while i was able to air my shoes at the end of the hike, while wearing my sandals.
h) small Buck jack-knife, to cut meat / clean fish,
i) flyrod, flies, pliers
j) spare nalgene bottle
k) beercan stove (3 oz) with fuel tablets
l) carry plastic spoon, use containers of Mountain House for cooking and eating
m) firstaid kit
n) Etrex GPS / maps
o) small bottle of soap / detergent / shampoo combination.
p) iodine tablets

i have to find a scale that i can use to weight each individual item. I would love to eliminate 10 lbs. from my load.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 09:03:59 MDT Print View

Jeff, Based on a quick review of your response you need volume, structure, and durability. I would recommend you take a look at the ULA catalyst.

ULA Catalyst

It looks like your current pack weighs 6.75 lbs. This would shave almost 4lbs off your back. If you are going to make radical changes in gear then you might be able to get into something lighter.

To lower weight the move to a tarptent would be a great start. I am a bit confused by the 0 degree bag but no puffy insulative layer, this seems like a mismatch. Do you take a down or synthetic jacket? The only time I don't take a puffy jacket is in 45 plus weather.


Edited by jshortt on 09/27/2009 09:16:55 MDT.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 09:19:36 MDT Print View

I have to take back what I said, for 7-13 day trips when you might have snow, the Catalyst wouldn't be that huge. Especially if you'renot resupplying somewhere. But the ULA guys are out thru hiking until December too. Or should I say, out doing "market research"?

Jeff Rodman
( - F
UL Backpack on 09/27/2009 09:58:08 MDT Print View

I'm not in any rush to get a pack, I'm thinking ahead / planning for next fall's trips.

I hope to hike the Teton's Crest Trail (7 days including time to summit Static Peak, and hike into Avalanche Divide)Then spend another 7 + days in the Winds goofing around. I was seriously considering the Catalyst (47 oz., 4600 cu, rated for 20-40 lbs...$325) but the Six Moons Starlite is 25 oz., 4200 cu, rated for 35 lbs and is $165...I was thinking i could use the "savings" of $160 towards other items that need to be replaced to reach my goal of eliminating 10 lbs.... By changing my tent and by using the Starlite pack, i would shave off 7 lbs, so i think the Starlight is realistic.

I'm concerned with not using a Framed pack. Which is the only type I have ever used. And not knowing how to properly pack it. On the other hand, it probably isn't as hard as rocket scientry (my day job).

I also have a North Face "Cats meow" Bag (rated to 15 degrees, 42 oz., this would eliminate another 15 oz). So i would be eliminatig 8 lbs.

I would then concentrate on my clothing. trying to eliminate 2-2.5 lbs.

As you pointed out, i do not have a puffy jacket. I use the combination of my thermals and my rain gear.

i think the Fanatic Fringe and Zpack is probably more geared towards either shorter trips, or long trips with resupply situations.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 10:28:45 MDT Print View

Jeff, Not sure if this helps much but the Catalyst is $235 not $335... so the difference is only $60. You might also want to compare the Starlight to the Circuit ($180) or Ohm ($130) from ULA. Both the ULA and Six Moon packs get excellent reviews and probably the better direction for you to go as you drop weight than the silnylon or cuben frameless packs. I don't think you can go wrong with either of them.

Just testing the bag a bit...I can't imagine waking up to a 20 degree morning without an insulated jacket. Hiking with thermals and WPB jacket in 20's is fine but being around camp at 20 degrees with only that would freeze me. So I'm guessing you are not getting below that cold at night.

In 20 degree plus weather I am doing well with a 30 degree bag and a puffy jacket. This combo can weigh about 32 oz for both (i.e. Marmot Hydrogen + Montbell Down Inner). But this does add a lot of cost.


Aaron Lastname
(Cloudveil9) - F
Catalyst on 09/27/2009 10:42:13 MDT Print View

Just in case you want a Catalyst before December, I have one for sale in the Gear Swap Forum. Just FYI.

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
... on 09/27/2009 13:42:50 MDT Print View

You'd be lucky to get all that stuff in a Catalyst. In your case, the pack should be the last thing you buy.

From your original post, you seem to be shopping packs based solely on weight, which is a recipe for pain.

Edited by TwoFortyJeff on 09/27/2009 13:43:47 MDT.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 14:05:59 MDT Print View

And the Catalyst isn't a frameless pack.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
UL BAckpacks on 09/27/2009 15:02:05 MDT Print View

Now that we know what you're carrying:

The Six Moons Starlight--with the load you have, you most definitely do need the added aluminum stays, which bumps the weight up to 30 oz. With the stays you could carry 35 lbs. but I wouldn't go over 35 (which I believe is what Ron of Six Moon Designs recommends as the maximum capacity). I have carried up to 37 lbs. in their Comet (discontinued, smaller pack). It was NOT fun, although my knees and feet were screaming so loudly that I never noticed what was going on with the pack itself!

As just mentioned, please don't buy a pack on weight alone--it will be VERY painful. If you're going out for those long periods without re-supply, a frameless pack is definitely not for you--you need something with structure. Frameless packs are for those whose total pack weight is less than 20 lbs. Nearly all the pack manufacturers list the recommended maximum weight on their websites.

One place you can definitely lighten up is by switching to a high quality down sleeping bag such as those made by Western Mountaineering or Feathered Friends. Of course the good ones are pricey, so you may have to save up for the future. I have a TNF Cats Meow bag (now used only for car-camping) and there's no way I'd be warm at 15 degrees. I consider mine a 30* bag. A Western Mountaineering Versalite (10 degrees and it will take you quite a bit lower) weighs exactly 2 lbs.

You don't mention your son's age. I have been beating my head against the wall looking for packs for my grandkids (ages 7 and 9). I tried the UL route and it was no go; with an 8-10 lb. total pack weight there was way too much pressure on the kid's shoulders even with the hip belt extra tight. "Normal" kids' packs weigh close to 3 lbs, because they're made from bombproof fabric with lots of unnecessary gewgaws. I've found that such a pack is necessary to provide the structure a child needs to carry a load of more than 3-4 lbs. If I were good at sewing (I'm not!), I'd buy an REI kids' Comet, cut the pack off completely, and sew a simple Dyneema pack bag to attach to the frame, which would probably bring the weight down to 1.5 lbs. As it is, I whacked as much as I could (lid, unnecessary zippers and all the gewgaws) off the REI Comet and got it down to 2 lbs. The 9-year-old with a 9 lb. total pack weight (Gossamer Gear Mariposa in small) was hideously uncomfortable from the pressure of the shoulder straps, while his younger sister with almost 2 lbs. more was quite happy with the butchered REI Comet. The load lifters on the latter made a LOT of difference. How much can your son comfortably carry in a daypack without hipbelt? That's what he'll have if you get him a Z-Pack.

If you're going to the Tetons, you'll have to take a bear canister, so one of the factors you need to consider is how well the canister will fit into whatever pack you choose.

Look for a digital postage scale that weighs up to 5 lbs. to the nearest 0.1 ounce. (You shouldn't have any gear item that weighs more than 5 lbs.!) You can find them at places like Office Depot for less than $30. Set up a spreadsheet on your computer (lots of gear lists on this site for a model) and weigh every single item in your pack. The spreadsheet is also extremely useful as a checklist--I print mine out before every trip. For my last trip (also to the Wind Rivers) I got almost hysterical when I found that my pack weighed over a pound less than what the spreadsheet said--I was worried that I'd missed something! I hadn't, though--I finally figured out it was the food (I'd used a per-day average on the spreadsheet).

Good luck on lightening your load! There are lots of articles on this site on how to do it--I've found the subscription worthwhile just to be able to read the archives. And some of those articles (such as "Lightweight Backpacking 101") are free. But please don't pick a pack on weight alone, unless you really enjoy being hideously uncomfortable!

Did you hike the entire Fremont/Highline Trail in the Wind Rivers? IMHO, the Wind Rivers are probably the most beautiful place on this planet!

Jeff Rodman
( - F
Response to MAry D on 09/27/2009 19:21:16 MDT Print View;f=623107219;t=9991127191

Mary, above is the link for the Trail Report for the trip. It is on Backpacking magazine's website. We went in at Sweetwater Gap and came out at Green Lakes. Oringal plan was NOT to hike the Highline Trail at all, but due to some weather issues and snowfields, we ended up on it for some time. I have hiked it before, pretty easy trail....even with my NON-UL gear!

Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
Lightening your load on 09/27/2009 19:21:51 MDT Print View

Hi Jeff, I'm curious about your camping/sleeping habits. I agree with Jamie; I like having a puffy jacket with me unless temps will be pretty mild. These can also add quite a bit to your sleeping bag's comfort range. I use a down hoody and synthetic insulated pants to take my Marmot Hydrogen (30*F) to mid-teens safely. This also allows me a nice warm layer for camp, and since I'm wearing them in the bag, I can wake up and break camp in relative comfort.

If you're shopping for next year, I'd wait until after Christmas to buy anything. You can pick up pretty nice bags from the likes of Marmot or Montbell for a nice discount. Combined with say a Montbell UL down parka, you could have a warm sleeping system, add the comforts of a really warm layer, and still save a pound. Also check after Christmas for raingear, I suspect at least a pound could be saved here. Combined with the switch to the Moment tent, that's almost four pounds total savings. If you got a Catalyst, that saves nearly four pounds. All together that's around 7.5 lbs savings.

Agreed Mary on the Winds; I love the high passes around Peak Lake and the divides above Titcomb. What a gorgeous place! The Winds are where I learned that an angry moose is the most terrifying sight in creation!