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Help! I need a new pack
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Michael Haubert
(SoCalMike) - F

Locale: So Cal
Help! I need a new pack on 12/26/2011 14:28:20 MST Print View

Please help me with some input on my choice of backpack…

I’m looking for a new pack and think I have the decision narrowed down to Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus, SMD Starlite, and the ULA-Equipment Circuit. I’ve been reading some older posts about these packs, their strengths/weaknesses, comparing them, etc. Many of these posts are a little dated, so I’m hoping to hear some updated input.

Here’s my dilemma: I know I’ll be headed for a thru hike (about 7 days) in the Sierras in the next year or so that will require a bear canister, so volume is important as my base weight is approximately 15-16 pounds. I could shave that base weight down, but don’t see my base weight going down significantly, perhaps a pound or so. However, most of my trips are short (1-2 nights) and do not require a bear canister so weight and volume is much less of an issue. I do go to the desert on occasion, which means carrying a lot of water weight.

I’m thinking the Circuit may be overkill for my needs—perhaps it’s perfect for the thru hike I have in mind, but excessive for shorter trips? On the other hand, I will be in the upper limits for pack weight for the Starlite and Mariposa on any longer trips I take.

Any thoughts on these packs—especially for a thru hike carrying around 30-35 lbs v. my usual 1-2 night trips? Any other packs I should consider?

One last thought: I do pay attention to how I load my pack, but since I have limited experience (about 2 years of backpacking under my belt) I prefer a pack that does not need to be packed meticulously. In other words, I want a pack that is a little forgiving in how I pack it up. I don’t mind some fiddle factor, but I’d hate to have to load and reload a pack along the trail if I didn’t nail the packing the first time. In this regard, does the Circuit outshine the Mariposa and/or Starlite?

Thanks for any input!


Re: Help! I need a new pack on 12/26/2011 14:54:57 MST Print View

The starlite is actually enormous compared to the circuit, If you use the huge external pockets too, the starlite would probably hold about 1.5x what a circuit will.

30-35 is pushing practicle limits of comfort for all of them. My experience is the circuit will carry it the best, largely because it has the best hib-belt design. But that really depends on individual body too. It has its own annoyances though, everything is a tradeoff. ULA will do some custom stuff for a circuit for you if you like though, something to consider.

Comfort depends on a lot of things, how you pack it, do you use sleeping pad inside, etc. Some complaints of the shoulder straps on mariposa and starlight being too narrow and rubbing neck on some.

Honestly, order all 3, try them out for yourself, pick the one you like best. It will be best $30 (return shipping for 2 of them) that you ever spend.

Michael Haubert
(SoCalMike) - F

Locale: So Cal
sizes that much different in Circuit v. Starlite? on 12/26/2011 18:00:05 MST Print View

Thanks, Martin.

About sizing...Both the Circuit and Starlite are listed at 4200 cu. in. The Circuit is listed with 2400 for the main body. The Starlite lists 3000 for the main pocket. Do you think this makes a major difference in how the packs carry?

I've read that a bear canister fits easily into either which I think would be key for balancing the weight. I prefer to keep the bear can in the pack and not riding on top.


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Help! I need a new pack on 12/26/2011 18:28:34 MST Print View

Per the ULA website, the Circuit will hold a bear canister vertically.

My Six Moon Designs Comet, discontinued smaller version of the Starlite, will hold a Bearikade Weekender or a large Bear Vault horizontally, just barely. Since the Starlite is bigger, I would think there'd be no trouble holding even the Bearikade Expedition horizontally.

I don't know about the Mariposa Plus. The old discontinued GG Mariposa (replaced by the Gorilla) is certainly not big enough for a large canister, nor will it support the weights you envision. However, the Mariposa Plus is bigger.

I suggest you contact the manufacturers to be sure!

I strongly recommend that you read the series of SOTM articles on framed and frameless packs. It will tell you a lot about volumes and many other characteristics of the packs you are considering. The Circuit is covered in the lightweight framed packs article while the others are covered by the framed packs article.

Frameless backpacks--first of the series:

Lightweight internal frame packs--first of the series:

These articles may provide more possible candidates, but they will also give you more specific data about each.

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/26/2011 18:33:06 MST.

Michael Haubert
(SoCalMike) - F

Locale: So Cal
Thanks, Mary on 12/26/2011 19:17:32 MST Print View

Thank you, Mary. It's been a while since I've looked at those articles. I definitely needed a refresher on the information contained in those. I have much more homework to do, especially with regard to pack volume.

After glancing at the article re: frameless packs, I need to consider my packing style much more when it comes to the Starlite/Mariposa packs.

I use a hammock when I can (my preferred method of shelter) with an underquilt, no sleeping pad, when possible. But I do bring a small CCF pad for my feet. Otherwise I'm in a tent (though I will start experimenting with a tarp set up) and use a POE full length inflatable pad. Those variables will likely shape my decision since the frameless packs with stays (ie. Mariposa/Starlite) really carry the heavy loads best when the stays are used with a properly placed sleeping pad to create a virtual frame.

This is the sort of thing I was thinking about when it comes to "fiddle factor" with a pack. I'm concerned that a newbie like me might struggle with that sort of set up.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: sizes that much different in Circuit v. Starlite? on 12/26/2011 19:29:45 MST Print View

I have both a Starlite and a Circuit, and the Starlite has more capacity. I think I remember reading a BPL review of the Circuit that mentions that it has a smaller capacity than advertised. All I know is that my winter bag fits - barely - in the Circuit, but it drops right into the Starlite no problem.

Neither of these packs is really happy above 30 pounds in my experience. Both of them require somewhat careful packing for best results. Both will handle a bear canister.

Re: sizes that much different in Circuit v. Starlite? on 12/26/2011 19:42:03 MST Print View

You can fit very little in the front pocket on the circuit with a full pack.
You can fit a LOT in the pockets on the starlite with it full.

I tried a starlite extensively before going with a circuit. The reasons were

1) starlite was huge, really too big for me, but that was nice to have the room.But for me didnt keep the wt off my shoulders above about 25-27lbs. This is the belt dropping, not the pack body buckling. Even though I would rarely top 25, I wanted ability to push to 35 or so If I had to carry some kids gear and water for them. The shoulder straps rubbed my neck a bit too.

2) the smaller circuit fit my gear better,(have to use external pockets, but I like that anyway) and has a better belt. The belt on the circuit can tighten the top more than the bottom so it resists slipping down over the hip bone better. Also, I found the circuit could actually carry close to about 45 lbs and still keep the wt from dropping onto my shoulders.

3) the startlite was GREAT at about 20-22lbs, but so darn big it was no where near full at that wt for me. For about 12 lbs at end of a trip, it would be lost in the starlite.

4) the tapered bottom on the circuit, and the top closure, are a PITA., But I live with that. You can also remove the stays depending on how you want to pack and save some more wt. The circuit is a bit lighter than the weights on the website say for small and med packs with smaller belts.

Michael Haubert
(SoCalMike) - F

Locale: So Cal
Circuit capacity on 12/26/2011 20:26:25 MST Print View

@ Ken: I think I read the Circuit's capacity being less than than advertised, but that was for the main pocket. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe BPL measured all of the internal frame packs with the same method. Using this uniform method, the main pocket was less than ULA advertised, but only as to the main pocket. I don't recall if BPL claimed that the overall measurements were off.

@ Martin: I do believe I will be consistently at the 20-22 lbs for 1-2 night trips and closer to 30+ lbs for longer trips. I'm trying to locate a retailer that sells the Circuit so I can check it out with my gear.

Thank you all for the feedback so far. As always, it is greatly appreciated.


Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Help! I need a new pack on 12/26/2011 20:40:16 MST Print View

I give a slight edge to my Mariposa Plus over my Circuit in comfort. But the Circuit carries more weight better. And I think the Mariposa can be finicky about packing, although once you get it, it's no big deal

josling lidwell
(joslinglidwell) - F
i agree on 12/27/2011 00:20:40 MST Print View

i agree with u,it is not big deal

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Re: sizes that much different in Circuit v. Starlite? on 12/27/2011 14:19:33 MST Print View

Two of the drawbacks of the Circuit that Martin mentioned can be ameliorated by asking for custom features. (Politely, of course.) After using a Circuit and an Ohm for about a year, I ordered a new custom Circuit in one of the fashion colors that were available late this fall. Since it was already a custom pack, I asked for two special features -- the stretchy front pocket and the drawstring top closure from the Ohm. The cost was exceptionally reasonable, and the pack is lovely. And it solves the front pocket capacity issue (which I frankly had not seen) and the top closure issue (which bugged the %^&* out of me.)

Note that I knew exactly what I wanted, having used a stock Circuit. Not sure if a custom job would void any return privilege, but of course ULA packs sell very well on these forums.

Michael Haubert
(SoCalMike) - F

Locale: So Cal
Circuit customization/drawstring closure on 01/02/2012 14:03:41 MST Print View

@ Ken: With the customization of the Circuit to use a drawstring instead of roll top, did this change the ability to compress from the top down? Or can you still do that with how you had the top changed? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like the Ohm does not have top compression straps, correct? I was just wondering if your modification changed the fundamental packing capabilities of the Circuit.


Nathan V
(Junk) - MLife

Locale: The Great Lake State
Re: Circuit customization/drawstring closure on 01/02/2012 14:55:32 MST Print View

The Ohm does have a top compression strap, as does the the standard Circuit. I just talked to Chris at ULA a few days ago and ordered a Circuit with the drawstring closure mod. So it will work just like any other pack with a drawstring top closure and top compression strap.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Re: Re: sizes that much different in Circuit v. Starlite? on 01/02/2012 15:01:35 MST Print View

but of course ULA packs sell very well on these forums.

i know that you meant this as the OP is a member who can sell on gear swap ...

but i would just like to caution this for non members ... as they can no longer unload gear that doesnt work on BPL due to the changes in gear swap policy (which i personally dont agree with)

just a quick note for non members

Michael Haubert
(SoCalMike) - F

Locale: So Cal
Circuit modificaiton on 01/02/2012 15:13:39 MST Print View

Thanks, Nathan. I appreciate the input.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Circuit customization/drawstring closure on 01/02/2012 15:21:09 MST Print View

Nathan has the correct answer on the custom top closure - it works fine and has a compression strap.

I can't get the roll top compression of the original Circuit to work very well. Having used a Starlite for 6+ seasons, I'm used to a roll top closure, but the side buckles of the Circuit make it difficult to use. YMMV of course, but if it were me I would have the buckle on the roll top itself, like the Starlite, or every paddling drybag on the planet.

The drawstring top is quick and easy to use.

Michael Haubert
(SoCalMike) - F

Locale: So Cal
Thanks, Ken on 01/02/2012 16:38:18 MST Print View

I'm planning on taking a look at the Circuit this weekend at a local shop that retails them. I completely understand your frustration with the roll top. I have a feeling that using a pack with that style of closure would get to me, too.


circuit on 01/02/2012 18:21:19 MST Print View

The standard circuit top has one side a bit longer than the other so that you can simply just fold it over and buckle MOST of the time, and not worry about rolling it up tight (thats my understanding at least) , and it works OK like that. It would keep rain out in most light rains even without rolling.

The velcro on the starlite, and stiffeners on normal drybags, etc allow them to roll down easily. Circuit has neither, but the top could easily be modded to have velcro and both sides same lenghth if thats what someone wants. Or get a drawstring like the Ohm, but then have to be able to roll it over and hold down with top strap to keep water out in a rain.

Trying to roll the normal circuit collar down is easy IF you dont have any gear in the extension collar. If you have the collar more than half filled, it plainly sucks to try to roll it down while keeping both sides together.

Can be remedied with velcro or such fairly easily it seems, but if you dont put sleeping bag in compression sack( just leave loose) you usually need to compress it down as you roll the rim down, and its somewhat difficult to keep both sides together for a roll or two to do it.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: circuit on 01/02/2012 18:34:46 MST Print View

The original Circuit had a draw cord top. Change is not always for the better. Never expect that my pack is waterproof, so why a roll top.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Help is here at BPL "Articles" on 01/02/2012 19:58:13 MST Print View

Michael, if you are a BPL member you can read Roger Caffin's extensive reviews (there are 4 parts) on "Lightweight Internal Frame Backpacks".

It's THE most complete run down of the best packs in that category I have ever seen.

Heck, pay the $25. to join BPL if need be. IT may save you a lot more money in the long run.