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Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? [crickets chirping]
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Ian B.

Locale: PNW
ULA on 08/19/2013 13:33:57 MDT Print View

My daughter and I both use the ULA Ohm 2.0. Weight transfer to the hips is nothing short of outstanding. The carbon fiber stays seem to be < 1/4" too long (top part doesn't seat into the pack 100% right) so I'm going to contact Chris to see what my options are but I don't notice it when I'm wearing the pack.

I don't own the Circuit but based on what I've read from the OP, I suspect he'll need a larger torso size than what he tried on.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
a few things on 08/19/2013 13:36:19 MDT Print View

Having recently made some backpacks, one somewhat but not totally modeled on parts of the ohm, it's worth noting a few things re your comments as OP. I have no personal interest in ULA packs, either way, positive or negative, though I have studied their designs to get some ideas. It is good to re-examine companies however, particularly after key people involved have left them, that is a fact.

1. If you are putting enough stuff into the pack to make the rolltop uncloseable, you bought the wrong size pack, period. The last roughly 1.5 or 2 inches of the rolltop should in no case be considered as 'extra space', it's the closing mechanism. I don't know what ula uses since I've never seen one, but when I decide how tall to make the rolltop part of the pack, I figure it this way: with a pack body thickness of 6", the top needs 3" to close, then x inches will form the actual height of the rolltop extension. I use 1/2 hem on the top of the rolltop, so I roll it in 1/2" intervals, roughly, and consider 3 rolls or so to be a nice safe closing, so that's about 2". Say you have 6" extension, plus 3" to close it back to front, and 2", that's 11" total, but that doesn't mean you have an 11" extension, it means you have a 6". the last 5 inches don't count as height. So you have to take that into account when you get the size you need. ULA cannot be criticized for this in my opinion, it looks like you simply bought the wrong size or have too much stuff for this type of pack, or something.

2. As Peter stated, accurately, stays should not be prebent if it's a form fitting bend, because the person has to do that bending. I had lowe alpine internal frame packs that came with clear directions on how to do the bends, since they were bomber, you didn't need to do the fine tuning Peter talks about, you just bent them to your back, the aluminum stays were very thick, and held it under weight. I'm sure lighter packs use lighter stays, and so you have to be more careful when adjusting them. ULA is to be commended for not prebending, not criticized, if you prebend, then you have to unbend, then bend again, not good. So that's not a real issue.

3. When you compare packs, you must compare them by weight, you cannot compare some REI pack that weighs maybe 1 pound more to another ULA or any other pack that weighs x ounces less, it has to be apples to apples. So it's useless to say, oh, this osprey/deuter/northface pack does x or y and a ula does a or b, you can do stuff when you get more weight in that you can't do with less weight, so make sure to compare only apples to apples.

4. Specific to older ULA packs, that highly slanted pocket, very shallow in front, what were they thinking? That to me was a major error, but they fixed it.

5. Re front pocket depth: I don't know what true depth ULA packs have, but I made my first pack with a 2" depth, and regretted it immediately, so I made my most recent one with 3.5" depth, and that was awesome, perfect, enough to hold stuff. I don't like elastic mesh at all, I prefer the solid mesh, with about 1/8" holes, so I won't say more, but elastic wears out, and solid non elastic does not.

6. Re side pockets, when comparing packs, what capacity does a pocket have, ie, can you fit 2 quart bottles (I just missed that on my measurements, so it only holes two narrow quarts, not two standard sized). Most commercial packs seem to have relatively small side pockets, a big side pocket doesn't 'look sleek and well designed', because it is actually big enough to hold 2 quarts, or close to that.

7. Re feeling like a board, if there is no extra padding on the pack, which is likely if it's a light or UL pack, then that is a fact, but I had no difficulty with this type of system, I believe my main pack is similar to an ohm, ie, side carbon fiber tubes to prevent body collapse, a delrin connection between top of tubes across pack to support the shoulder straps. I agree on the weight distribution you note, I can't get much better than about 50-60% onto my hips, but at max 25 pounds, that's fine. I use wide shoulder straps, it's not an issue, I didn't feel the pack on its first trip, and it didn't bug me, so I would say that type of experience suggests it works. I use a thin 1/8" pad as a back/frame as well, it's in a pocket, inside the pack. I'm unclear on any real benefit from carrying it against your back outside since I don't see how that would stiffen anything.

With this said, some time ago, I bought the last real pack that Lowe Alpine made, prior to their getting bought out, sad, the Zepton Hyperlight series, excellent pack, 'well designed', has features no cottage type gear maker can ever achieve because these big companies can source specific parts in large volumes from suppliers nobody else has access to from what I can see. Very good 'design', in terms of looks. Excellent weight for what it was, also had a very good curved steel stay that is VERY strong, but very light, pack weight without top is 2 pounds.

Seams: not so great, not bad, but mine are better, I've seen consistent unraveling of them but I don't use the pack anymore so I can't tell you how long they would last, I'd guess about 45 to 60 days max before you started getting structural failures, but it looks nice, good design. I would bet ULA's stitching is quite good if you look at the actual construction, when you care you can do more stitching, that's just how it goes. As Mchale has noted, he 'uses a lot of thread', which if you start sewing your own packs starts taking on real meaning, using a lot of thread means taking a lot of sewing time, far more than you would expect most commerical corporate stuff to do. The Zepton had no real side pockets, just these annoying flat elastic things that you can barely squeeze a quart, if that, into. No adjustments possible, ie, it's elastic topped, so when that goes, your pocket is gone. No front pocket at all, that's a major annoyance. Excellent, and I mean really excellent, suspension, because they have access to tooling and components that nobody in the cottage gear sector has, but even with that, a lot of oversights, no daisy chains, no hip belt clips to attach stuff, and I am suspicious of the durability of the shoulder strap connections. The sternum strap elastic basically died after 1 trip, or died since then from sitting in my closet, I don't know which it was. Doubled heavy duty elastic fixes this. Because most of the 'corporate' packs now use the custom made sternum strap sliders, when you lose functionality it's either hard or impossible to fix the strap, with a more 'home made' style, you just take it off and resew it, it takes about 5 minutes.

I wouldn't be so quick to assume that just because they (the corporate stuff you see at REI) have nice curves on their cuts and a few other things that these commercial packs are all that great, it's a case by case basis, who is sewing it, how stressed are they for time, how are the materials actually handled, ie, are they compromising pack body/features for minimizing nylon wastage?

With carbon stays, however, it's kind of obvious that the problem is that cottage people simply cannot charge what it would cost to have custom made carbon fiber frames made, so they have to use standard materials, like carbon tubes, aluminum slats, or aluminum tubing. Tubing, by the way, is very hard to bend.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? [crickets chirping] on 08/19/2013 13:45:03 MDT Print View

I love my ohm. It's the only pack that just melts into my back and I forget it's there. It's the perfect size longer trips or shorter trips in colder weather. It's amazing how much weight carrying capability they put into such a light pack.
I do fold my z-rest up as additional padding which seems to help a lot.

ULA on 08/19/2013 15:42:06 MDT Print View

To the OP:

1) if you dont shape the Al stay to match your back, you are causing your own discomfort, not the packs fault. I have owned 3 circuits and an Ohm, its a must-do, not a maybe. If you cannot shape a stay to your back, you need a heavy pack. This is true no matter what lightweight pack you choose. Having the pack conform to your back keeps it there with minimum belt tension.

2) the carbon fiber stays ride outside your back and you will never feel them. they are also behind the back padding on the circuit. They are not why the pack feels stiff to you.

3) The ends of the carbon fiber on the original ohm had a reputation for wearing holes in the bottom of thier slots. Had a cap on them which some didnt replace when removed the stay. Cheap, easy fix to add one. They dont include anymore since adding the Al rod enc. The old Ohm has a cordura like sleeve, Im not familiar with that they put inside the pack on the 2.0 for it.

4) My ohm is original, and it squeaks. They always have.

5) The ULA belt is the best lightweight belt around specifically because of the dual buckle arrangement. It lets you tighten the top of the belt more than the bottom, to keep from sliding down over the hips under load.

6) Any of my packs can ride 100% on my hipbelt by loosening the shoulder straps. You probably were wearing a pack way too small for you. On a UL pack , the strap attachment should be at the shoulder, not wrap around and go below it. Maybe less than an inch is OK, any more and the pack is too small.

Edited by livingontheroad on 08/19/2013 15:52:08 MDT.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? on 08/19/2013 17:33:14 MDT Print View

I have yet to come across any product whatsoever that works for everybody or even a clear majority.
So ,of course, even brands or products that get rave reviews will still disappoint or simply don't work for others.
The Circuit and in fact even the Amp work for me for their intended use.
So the Amp up to about 15lbs and the Circuit to about 30lbs (comfortably...)
The Circuit works as it is for me (I have had two, swapped the original for a newer version because I could...) but others may need to adjust the stay, not unique to ULA. (Google :how to adjust backpack fit)
The first Circuit had the draw string closure, the second has the roll top.I prefer the roll top.
Any pack with a roll top will not work if overfilled.
When BPL tested packs it settled on two turns of the top to determine the real capacity, I do the same...
(manufacturers suggest three turns)
With both Circuits I can and do get the full weight onto my hips, obviously others can too but again I would not expect everybody to get the same result.
To me a $225 ,40oz ,30lbs plus carrying pack that is comfortable (for me...) is a pretty good product but for three times that dollar value I would also expect (but not need) something better ...
For the record I prefer to use another brand (Aarn)because I like the balance on that better however it is heavier and more expensive.

mik matra
(mikmik) - M

Locale: Allways on the move
Response to MB on 08/19/2013 18:19:33 MDT Print View

In particular this point;

"5) The ULA belt is the best lightweight belt around specifically because of the dual buckle arrangement. It lets you tighten the top of the belt more than the bottom, to keep from sliding down over the hips under load."

This is not correct.

The adjustment buckles (upper and lower) are attached to the hip-belt and they loop through the connecting buckle (at the end of the hipbelt). The belt slides through the connecting buckle so in other words it doesn't matter which adjustment buckles you pull on (upper or lower) it will equal out after a few steps.

belt on 08/19/2013 18:34:49 MDT Print View

"In particular this point;

"5) The ULA belt is the best lightweight belt around specifically because of the dual buckle arrangement. It lets you tighten the top of the belt more than the bottom, to keep from sliding down over the hips under load."

This is not correct.

The adjustment buckles (upper and lower) are attached to the hip-belt and they loop through the connecting buckle (at the end of the hipbelt). The belt slides through the connecting buckle so in other words it doesn't matter which adjustment buckles you pull on (upper or lower) it will equal out after a few steps"

Im quite familiar that its one strap.
But no, it does not really equalize out while under tension on me.
It takes a bit of effort to move it back the other way, even when not under tension.

Edited by livingontheroad on 08/19/2013 18:37:28 MDT.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Clearing some things up on 08/19/2013 20:11:42 MDT Print View

First of all, I appreciate all the helpful comments this post has received so far, but at this point I feel I need to clear a few things up:

1. "The pack is too small for you" theory

My torso size is 18", which is quite small for my height (5'10"). I am nearly always right on the verge between a small and a medium size in almost every pack I've ever tried on, and the same was true for the ULA packs. I either needed the small with the hipbelt adjusted as far down as possible, or the medium with the hipbelt moved vertically up a bit. I like to have the flexibility of a larger pack bag and I've also found that packs that are slightly too large are MUCH better than packs that are slightly too small (but YMMV), hence my choice of a medium pack.

I know I might have seemed slightly naive in my first post, but I was just trying to be humble. I know how to size a pack. I have sized packs for myself and for others for well over a decade. I am not getting my sizes wrong. Not sure what else to say about this.

2. The "You probably don't like the ULA packs because they don't have all the do-dads and extra junk found on most packs at REI" theory

I like a pack that is functional and well-designed. If there is something extra on a pack that is unnecessary then I generally prefer to take it off as long as that is possible without too much trouble. I am most certainly not attracted to packs that have a ton of extraneous feature that I don't want, don't need, and only add to the weight. In short, I think this line of reasoning does not apply to me, so you can rest assured that it is not coloring my opinion of the ULA packs.

With that said, I will gladly accept a weight penalty for a pack that has really nice suspension, but that's just me. If you want to nail me on anything, this is it. When a pack gets over 15 pound, then I immediately want 80% of the pack weight on my hips. That's just me, and I realize that I'm probably in the minority when it comes to this.

3. The "Packs stays should never, ever be shaped by the manufacturer because everyone's back is different" opinion

I see the reasoning in this argument, and I simply respectfully disagree. It is true that everyone's back is different, but they are not THAT different. Therefore, manufacturers, in my opinion, should go ahead and modestly shape suspension stays whenever possible to GENERALLY fit most backs, without doing anything too severe. This allows each user to tweak the stays if need be to suit his/her needs, but doesn't necessitate that they start from scratch. Look at all Osprey, Gregory, etc... ("big brand packs") and you will find that nearly all of their stays are pre-shaped. Some of you may hate this, and turn to ULA instead. I get it. But my argument is that for the vast majority of people (including myself), a moderate amount of pre-shaping goes a long way in making a pack much more comfortable right from the get go without a whole lot of fuss.

This is just a difference of viewpoints though, so to each his own. The point I was trying to make is that the fact that ULA does not pre-shape their suspension stays even the slightest bit is a big downside for me personally. YMMV.

4. "You can't get a very accurate assessment of a pack just by carrying it around the store for 2 hours"

Of course, this is correct. But I still stand by the idea that you can get a pretty good rough estimation of how a pack will or won't fit you, and my point was that I would most likely choose another pack over a ULA based on my in-store experience. I do not, and will never claim to be an expert on ULA packs without actually giving them a long-term try.

I simply wanted to relay my initial impression that I wasn't very impressed by the packs, simply because this kind of dialogue seemed to be almost completely absent from BPL until my thread post, and I wanted to get a healthy conversation going that wasn't just the same old party line of "ULA packs are the best thing since sliced bread" that we've all been hearing up until this point.

I have no doubt that ULA packs are quite excellent for some people... and for all the people that don't like them, they can take solace in this thread! :)

Edited by dmusashe on 08/19/2013 20:19:33 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Personal on 08/19/2013 20:25:19 MDT Print View

Other than shoes packs are the most personal fit items youll buy

What works for one sucks for another

The ONLY way to tell is to walk around for hours with weight inside

Some people on BPL give that caveat ... Others just cheerlead the latest cottage pack

There have been enough stories of BPLers not having this or that pack working for them despite all the online hype


Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Squeaky pack fix on 08/19/2013 20:29:37 MDT Print View

By the way,
For those of you who complained of the Ohm (or any other hoop framed pack) being squeaky, you might try wrapping the suspension hoop with a thin layer of tape. This is assuming that the squeakiness, in your case, is being caused by the hoop and the surrounding fabric sleeve rubbing together and not the hoop rotating at a joint (which is a harder fix I think, maybe lubrication would work?)

Anyway, I use Tyvek tape, but I'm sure electrical tape, leukotape, athletic tape, or just about anything else might help with the problem. This has at least worked for me in my one hoop-framed pack that I've tried it on, so maybe it will work for you too. Certainly doesn't hurt to try, as you can always just peel the tape off later.

Edited by dmusashe on 08/20/2013 00:48:52 MDT.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

ULA on 08/19/2013 20:55:51 MDT Print View

"The point I was trying to make is that the fact that ULA does not pre-shape their suspension stays even the slightest bit is a big downside for me personally."

Are you sure this is true for the Catalyst you tried? My Catalyst (2013) arrived from ULA with significantly shaped stays:


Edited by dandydan on 08/20/2013 16:52:49 MDT.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Personal on 08/19/2013 21:01:49 MDT Print View

What Eric said. Just because a ton of people find a given pack perfect doesn't mean that someone can't find it, and legitimately so, a terrible match for them. On the other hand, the inverse is also more than true, something the OP should also think about.

I also agree with Eric you can't be %100 sure until you have used a pack on a longish trip. That said, you often CAN tell if it is the WRONG pack without too much work.

I'm kind of with the OP on at least having pre-bent stays, to get you in the ball park. The Kalais stays were pre-bent and the were pretty damn close to my fit right from the start. Since I bought my P2 more than a decade ago I don't have experience with the new ones, but seem like people are saying they ARE slightly pre-bent. If that is the case is it possible the store got a shipment of packs with straight stays? Either way, bending them is the only way to get a perfect fit, and it is well worth the effort IMO. It only take a heavy table and some patience to get the the contour perfect.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Too small? on 08/19/2013 21:19:09 MDT Print View

"FWIW, and I apologize for the topic movement, I just received my new McHale pack - which totally blows away any other pack I've seen. Amazingly versatile, with brilliant yet simple innovations to make the hike more enjoyable! The man is a genius! The McHale pack does indeed make my ULA look like a pack from a different century!"

Steven, can you maybe post some pics or something in a new thread. I feel like I need to know myself in some deep philosophical way before I can deserve such a pack - let alone be able to order one correctly, and not appear like an idiot or a jerk. I need either have a satori moment of a near-death experience...or something. Right now I just have to live vicariously thought other people until I build up the nerve. ;-)

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: ULA on 08/20/2013 00:35:03 MDT Print View

"Are you sure this is true for the Catalyst you tried? My Catalyst (2013) arrived from ULA with significantly non-linear stays"

That's interesting. The short answer is that I'm not 100% sure for the Catalyst that I tried on since I didn't actually take the stays out of the backpack. What I can say is that they sure felt like they were flat, but maybe they just had a really mild (at least in my opinion) curve like what you have shown.

I can say with relative certainty that the Circuit carbon fiber hoop struts were straight as an arrow since the curvature (or lack thereof) of those are pretty easy to assess visually from the outside of the pack. Still, can't say for certain if there was a prebend or not on the middle aluminum stay of the Circuit-- but if there is, then it was also very, very slight IMO.

Either way, I guess the bottom line is that the stays were too flat for me, even if they might have technically had a slight prebend to them that I wasn't seeeing. If the stays were pre-bent, then I certainly couldn't tell.

Edited by dmusashe on 08/20/2013 00:35:35 MDT.


Locale: Outdoors -MN
HYPE- words have meaning on 08/20/2013 00:42:20 MDT Print View

Use of the term "HYPE" by the OP suggests that ULA's well earned reputation is undeserved.

"I tried it. It didn't work for me." is entirely different than, "All those people are nuts because it really does not deserve the praise it gets"

- Just an observation

Edited by OCDave on 08/20/2013 00:43:28 MDT.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Hype on 08/20/2013 02:16:31 MDT Print View

Hype can have either a neutral or a negative connotation when describing something that is intensively publicized or promoted. I meant it in the neutral sense.

Sorry if there was ambiguity about this.

If you read my previous posts carefully, it will be immediately clear that I am not trying to bash ULA here, but rather sharing my own experience/impressions trying out a few of their packs that ultimately didn't end up suiting me.

Edited by dmusashe on 08/20/2013 02:18:52 MDT.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? [crickets chirping] on 08/20/2013 08:52:36 MDT Print View

"I can say with relative certainty that the Circuit carbon fiber hoop struts were straight as an arrow"

They are supposed to be. A.) as a function of carbon fibre, it gains its strength vertically and B.) the upper portion is intended to flex with the load lifters and shape to your upper back, which is really where most people require it.

External pack frames, which one can argue are the best for transferring weight to the hips have completely vertical frames. Completely vertical.

Your issue is clearly that you tried on a pack that was too small in torso length. Not sure if you are aware but the belt on the Circuit and Catalyst is adjustable in height by as much as 3" so you can effectively lengthen or shorten the torso size. Even with the Ohm, I can get 90 percent of the load on my hips.

The second thing you should be concerned with is frame stiffness and for lightweight packs, both have very stiff frames.

I believe you may want to read some of the articles here on BPL on pack design and functionality and as well, email Chris at ULA to ask him some questions about fit so as to not come to conclusions about the packs that you would not otherwise come to with full information on how to fit a ULA pack.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? [crickets chirping] on 08/20/2013 09:29:51 MDT Print View

For the record, I'll need to take the Ohm 2.0 on several more trips before I would feel comfortable giving it a full review. Consider anything I say here to be my initial impressions of this pack. I have a little under 100 miles with it so far.

I don't expect for ULA to be the perfect pack for all people. I only own the Ohm 2.0 and have no experience with the two packs you tried on. I only know one person locally who has even heard of ULA so I was sol to try and see one before I ordered it.

I assume that the carbon fiber stays for the Ohm are similar to the ones on the Circuit. With the Ohm 2.0, when I cinch down the load lifters and tighten the chingaderas near the hips, the pack is perfectly spot welded to my back.

My daughter has the Ohm 2.0 as well. She just turned 13 and carries total pack weights up to 15lbs. I don't go much above 22lbs. We both agree that with this pack, you almost forget that it's there. The weight transfer to the hips is nearly perfect.

My daughter ended up turning her ankle on the Wonderland and I transferred 90% of her gear to my pack including her Kelty Down Cosmic Cloud sleeping bag which is bulky compared to higher quality down sleeping bags. I had a ton of room to spare and the increase in weight was barely noticeable.

When I transferred all of her gear over to my pack, I still didn't need to utilize the expanding capabilities of the draw cord top. My rain shell is strapped to the top so that's why it looks taller than it should.

.ohm packs

No disrespect to the OP but if someone has filled a Circuit to capacity, there's a problem with the gear list not the pack imo.

I appreciate that you shared your initial impression of this pack. If it's not for you then it's not for you. I'm certainly one of the people who are willing to give his ULA pack some hype because with my limited experiences with it, the praises are well deserved.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
ULA CDT works well for me on 08/20/2013 09:43:06 MDT Print View

I used a CDT on my last thru-hike. Best pack I've ever owned. Comfortable, distributed the load well, held up great.

There can be a bit of a learning curve with a pack, even for experts, little tricks on how to load and adjust the pack that make all the difference.

On long straps: I've made many wildland firefighter packs. One thing you learn is to make the straps "way too long." What's "way too long" for some people is barely long enough for others. Much depends on the size of the person and the load. A few inches too long isn't a big deal. A few inches short can be. The user can always cut off extra strap if they want, something I do only after carrying the pack many miles with the biggest load I'll be carrying.

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Arc Blast is vertical? on 08/20/2013 13:43:35 MDT Print View

Re: "External pack frames, which one can argue are the best for transferring weight to the hips have completely vertical frames. Completely vertical." Even the Zpacks Arc Blast?