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Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? [crickets chirping]
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Mika Eloranta
(melo) - F
ULA Circuit works for me on 08/20/2013 13:55:38 MDT Print View

Got a Circuit in 2009. On the first couple of trips it felt amazing when I compared it to a traditional-style ten year old cheap workhorse backpack that I used mainly traveling (non-wilderness) around the world. Functional, comfortable and light.

After a couple of more short trips the Circuit felt too big, unreliable and too complex with all the hundred long straps. The carbon fiber stay broke (don't know how or when exactly), both of the sewn-in cord loops that held the side pocket cord-locks came off, a stitched seam started unraveling somewhere...

Took off the hip-belt, back panels and the carbon loop, fixed the stitching, cut all of the extra webbing. Result: Awesome! Really nice for shorter trips. Started liking the pack again.

Attached hip-belt and the back panels back on. Packed two weeks worth of food, fishing equipment, etc. Max pack weight maybe 18 kg (40 lb). Worked perfectly the entire trip WITHOUT the silly carbon fiber stay (20+ mile days). Really liked the pack ever since that trip.

Now, after some 500+ miles with this pack, my opinions:

* I trust the pack, although there were non-catastrophic MINOR issues with it. I've checked it all over and feel confident that there will be no serious issues with anything coming off.
* The materials are just right for me. Robust enough but lightweight.
* The design, all the pockets, layout, etc. is good and usable. Could perhaps optimize away a strap or two.
* The hip-belt is really good and comfortable. The pockets are the best I've ever seen on any pack.
* I can carry up to two weeks worth of food and gear with it comfortably. The first couple of days it is FULL.
* The pack scales down well on the trip from 10 kg+ food to zero food carried.
* The carbon fiber stay is silly, unnecessary and the pockets the ends go into are too shallow: one of the ends came out from its pocket once.
* The long straps are a non-issue: just cut them to the length that suits your use.
* Hip-belt: having a total of four webbing ends dangling from the belt is actually a good feature as they are half the length compared to the traditional belt design, so they stay out of the way better.
* The belt being separately adjustable for the top and bottom part is nonsense: it is a single piece of webbing going freely thru the buckle and connecting to triglides at each end. It makes no difference which end you tighten, it will even out at the buckle. However, it would be trivial make it separately adjustable by sewing the webbing to itself around the buckle!
* (edit) Correction to above: tested the hip belt a bit and the separate top vs. down adjustment may actually work if the belt is not allowed to slide up or down and is tightened properly (quite tight) along the natural shape of the hip.

What could be better:

* More of an annoyance, but the vertical compression straps could perhaps be something simpler. Maybe just a dry-bag style rolltop closure. They do, however, make a difference when the pack is extremely loaded by stabilizing the whole thing.
* Aluminum hoop stay instead of the carbon fiber nonsense.
* There's something not quite right with the shoulder strap webbing just below the load-lifters. The webbing tends to sometimes slip off the shoulder straps.

Haven't checked the options out there quite recently, but sometime ago there really wasn't anything out there on the market that I'd consider as a possible replacement for 10+ day self-supported trips.

I've also used Six Moon Designs Swift, which is a fairly nice pack. The hip belt is not very comfortable and the materials are not robust enough for me. Had a near-catastrophic failure with its alu hoop stay pocket digging a small hole into the back panel. The lateral pull from the hip belt caused the hole to expand into a long tear in the back panel, which I was able to mend and resume the journey. I like the simplistic design. A version with stronger materials would be nice.

I also have tried an old Gossamer Gear Gorilla that I got cheap off ebay. Completely rubbish. The design is all wrong and the materials don't feel right. Shoulder straps are angled wrong, which is probably the biggest issue. Velcro loops on the inside of the shoulder straps digs into your neck (why they have pockets in the first place is beyond me). The long vertical compression strap is difficult to use. Does not feel comfortable on my back even with light loads. I assume the current GGG, which is a completely different design, would probably work better for me.

YMMV. I mainly hike 1-3 week long unassisted off-trail trips in the Scandinavian Lapland, so I value robustness and light weight for longer trips. A long thru-hike with a light pack and supply depots every few days is a different game that I know nothing about (yet!).


Edited by melo on 08/20/2013 15:12:55 MDT.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Arc Blast is vertical? on 08/20/2013 16:09:15 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?"

Worst design I have seen in awhile.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
External frame vertical? on 08/20/2013 16:56:42 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."

My old external frames were not completely vertical. They had a "S" curve to them. I just went out to the garage and checked to make sure I wasn't getting senile! Yup, my old REI external frame has a shallow but definite "S" curve, more accentuated at the bottom than at the top.

Are you thinking of the new "external" frames with a couple of carbon wands stuck on the outside of the bag as being external frames which are "best for transferring weight to the hips"? I'm not sure I'd categorically agree with you, but I bet if the manufacturers of those packs would make those carbon wands curved in a second if they could do it without incurring major costs! Why? Because it works better and is more comfortable!

I can remember carrying an old trapper framed pack - the external frame was made from 1x wood, with absolutely no curve to it. Very painful! Dug into my hips (I rounded off the end of the frame piece, but it didn't help much) and hung off my shoulders despite a belt - no padding, just an old leather belt! Heavy as well. But for awhile, it was the height of backpack (rucksack) technology.

Enough reminiscing! ULAs are great packs, and light years away form the old trappers!

pack on 08/20/2013 18:05:55 MDT Print View

"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."

Yeah, already covered. The carbon fiber hoop keeps the pack up and gives load lifters something to pull against. It is outside of your back, doesnt contact it, you wont feel it.

The aluminum stay is pre-curved, I guarantee it. You just didnt pull it out to look at it, and it must be bent to match your lower back for a good fit.

The Circuit is best always with the belt in the lowest position. Raising a belt is not the same as shortening a pack, it really makes it less comfortable, and leaves it hanging too far below the waiste where it digs into your butt.

Any pack that only comes in 3 sizes, is not going to fit everyone well either, and that is true of any manufacturer.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: External frame vertical? on 08/20/2013 18:13:51 MDT Print View

Stephen, my old Kelty is completely vertical. I believe the Camp Trails were as well.

Of course, the best heavy hauling frame available is from Mystery Ranch and is an external and is vertical....

REI is sort of the Walmart in gear offering and I was speaking specifically to better products. I would live to see a picture of an external with a curved spine similar to even what Dan posted above.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? [crickets chirping] on 08/20/2013 20:01:43 MDT Print View

Off-the-shelf pack solutions are just like buying shoes. Different experiences for different people. Almost all UL packs are off-the-shelf (sized S, M, L, etc.) other than customization with accessories. Very few companies will build a back to fit you EXACTLY. I actually only know of one (McHale), although Zimmer might.

I have owned an Ohm v1 and a Circuit (no frame). They didn't work for me, but they are both popular packs. So I won't degrade them. They were just inconvenient to live out of, given my style of trail life. I also own a Mariposa Plus with a hoop frame.

Internal frame packs need to have adjustable stays and the owner needs to know HOW to adjust them; and most of the UL stays are going to compress with much of a load. Hoop stays are almost impossible to adjust equally on each side while keeping the top part aligned.

I wonder if people are truly comfortable when they need to carry stuff for extended trips, or if they talk themselves into believing so. When you approach 30 lbs, no UL pack has worked for me.

I have a large curved back. So my heavier quality McHale stays are adjusted with the guidance of Dan and do not compress under a load.

McHale Stays

McHale stays from my LBP 36. The stays in my Bump are identical in length and shape.

Regarding externals. Sorry - good ones had "S" curvature.

Kelty Frames

Above: Red pack is a Kelty Serac with the mountaineer frame. I purchased it in 1973. Bottom pack is a Kelty D-4 with the standard frame. I purchased it in 1971. I also have a B and C model from the 60's with the standard frame. Same identical frame as the D-4.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: Anyone else slightly underwhelmed by ULA packs? [crickets chirping] on 08/20/2013 20:10:56 MDT Print View

Every third post on packs by Nick is a Mchale reference. LOL, just kidding. I can't reference 1973 as I wasn't born yet. Tee, hee. But have a look at Mystery Ranch for a modern external. If you are referencing that little bend at the top of an external frame which is much taller than one's shoulders, that hardly constitutes the "s" curve of a stay which is curved in a general sense to the shape of a human's spine. That bend at the top is to make the load lifters functional on an external.

Would you call this an "s" curve?


Edited by FamilyGuy on 08/20/2013 20:52:09 MDT.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Straight Frame on 08/20/2013 20:38:59 MDT Print View

Yes, I would call it 'a shallow but definite "S" curve, more accentuated at the bottom than at the top'. And yes, the Mystery Ranch frame is very minimally curved at the top. But it's still an "S" curve. Try laying a straight edge along it and see how many points on the frame will contact the straight edge at one time - a lot less than "all".

And Nick's internal stay bends the same directions as the external frame - just more so at the top, and in a wider arc at the bottom - like the REI and Kelty frames when he and I were beginners at backpacking.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Straight Frame on 08/20/2013 20:46:54 MDT Print View

"And yes, the Mystery Ranch frame is very minimally curved at the top. But it's still an "S" curve"



Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Re: Straight Frame on 08/20/2013 22:07:34 MDT Print View

Sorry, I can't see the actual frame of the brown one you just posted, but the green frame in the post above does indeed have a shallow "S" curve, exaggerated at the bottom of the frame.

I have an Ohm 2.0 which has very straight (carbon wand) frame stays. It carries relatively light loads beautifully. I would not use it to carry the heavier loads I carry when i take my grandkids out. The Catalyst with its curved (by me) aluminum stays does that just fine.

The old trapper pack had exceptionally straight frame. It was horrible! Not all due to the frame, but it sure didn't help.

It's quite possible I am more sensitive to this issue than others in that (being old and decrepit) several years ago I had a 15 week period of excruciating back pain where I could barely support myself standing. After building back up to enough strength to backpack lightly, I remain very sensitive to just how a pack fits my back and how well it distributes weight.

May you enjoy your straight framed packs, may your back never falter, but do stay away from the old trapper design!

kevin timm
(ktimm) - MLife

Locale: Colorado (SeekOutside)
Externals and Other on 08/21/2013 04:39:31 MDT Print View

The Epic has curved pre-bent stays. The ULA OHM with the hooped stays are straight and noticeable.

The Kelty Cache Hauler has a slight curve, as does the Dana externals, and Jansport Externals and most any other external. I wouldn't always call them an S curve though, sometimes it's just a slight arc. The MR Crew Cab is pretty much straight. The older externals could get away with less curve because the frame was mostly outside the shoulder blades in a more straight part of the body. The ULA OHM sort of does this, but is not set as wide. On older externals, often the mesh back panel contacts the shoulder blades first effectively keeping the frame off the user and increasing comfort. The Crew Cab, mostly uses significant padding to keep the frame of the user.

The companies I am involved in( Seek outside and Paradox Packs) provide a bit of a unique perspective. First we use a lot of Carbon FIber poles, and have our Carbon custom made. Secondly, we make a hybrid frame packParadox Packs Composite

Our stays or frame has a distinct S curve to it. If we used Carbon for a frame , it would have a curve. It just won't be super comfortable or ride close enough for most people without some curve, especially at big loads. How much curve is needed is mostly a function of where the frame rides.

Seek Outside
Paradox Packs

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: Straight Frame on 08/21/2013 06:58:57 MDT Print View

"The old trapper pack had exceptionally straight frame. It was horrible! Not all due to the frame, but it sure didn't help."

Stephen, I will make sure to email Dana Gleason on his straight Crew Cab frame. I have no idea what he was thinking. I mean, it isn't like this frame is intended to carry over 100 lbs of kill....

The little bend in that Kelty frame below the pack is considered an "s" to you? It is below the wearer's rear. The start of the "s" should be in the lumbar.

Anyhoo, Kevin thanks for the perspective. Your frame looks quite amazing. I may need one.

Peter Longobardi
(paintplongo) - F

Locale: Hopefully on the Trail
ULA on 08/21/2013 07:29:37 MDT Print View

While I won't say they're the best packs, but I've hiked probably 3-4000 miles with them in the past 4 years and they work well for me. I have tried some other packs during this time(HMG, SMD, MLD), but the Circuit continues to be my favorite pack trip after trip.

Of course it's been said, but different packs for different folks for different trips.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Straight Frame on 08/21/2013 09:17:58 MDT Print View

You know, Dave, it finally occurred to me last night that there is a huge difference between external and internal packs when it comes to frames or stays. An internal framed pack rides directly against the hiker's back, and carries best when the load is as close as possible to one's back, in my experience.

An external frame pack sits away from the hiker's back, with the only contact being at the hip (via the hip belt) and behind and below the shoulders (via a tightened piece of fabric). Thus it does not need to follow the hiker's back like an internal frame does.

Some internal frame pack makers, responding to folks who don't like sweat, have come up with clever designs to create space between the hiker and the back of an internal frame pack. In my experience, with my old, easily pained back, those packs don't carry as well as well as a regular internal framed pack - thus my preference for the Catalyst and the McHale, which ride comfortably against my back. And at this point, I can feel a external frame pack (my old cheap REI being the only one I still have) pulling weight backwards, in contrast to the Catalyst. It may not be a huge difference, but my beat-up old back can feel it, and it complains.

Re the Kelty: Again, take your straight edge, and hold it against the Kelty - this time do it just above the bottom bend. It will still not align fully against the very shallow curve of the upper 3/4s of the frame. Call it a shallow "C", or a shallow "S" for the whole frame, but it is not straight.

I finally looked up the Mystery Ranch frame- yup, it's straight. I wish you joy of it while you're packing out your elk. The hip belt alone makes it a very different frame from the old trapper and likely more comfortable, but I find myself uninterested.


Dan D

Locale: Boston, MA
Re: ULA on 08/21/2013 09:56:21 MDT Print View

I have a whopping five miles on my shiny new Ohm 2.0 that i received yesterday. I must say my initial impression is very positive. Build quality is great. The hip belt is fantastic and it has tons of room and utility.

While the carbon fiber stays are straight, they do flex. I found that when i snugged up the load lifters, their force combined with the hip belt in the lower back area caused the stays to bend into an S shape. It conformed to my back nicely.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: ULA on 08/21/2013 10:43:33 MDT Print View

Haven't read all the posts, but here's my experience: I just got back doing 70ish miles hiking and packrafting in North Dakota. I used a Catalyst and carried a little over 45 lbs (lots of water). I hiked 33 miles in two days, and the Catalyst did well. That amount of weight will wear on you no matter what pack you use, but it handled it as well as I could expect. I was able to keep most of the weight off my shoulders, and the load was stable, even when bushwacking down the side of a coulee when we lost the trail.

(PNWhiker) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Anish's comments on 08/22/2013 08:56:01 MDT Print View


Sorry I haven't read all the posts and apologize if this has been mentioned. Anish gave here feedback on the ULA CDT here (grade C)

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Anish's comments on 08/22/2013 09:46:56 MDT Print View

From the link to Anish:

"Back sores/chafing. I had incredibly painful chafing and sores on my back nearly the entire hike. I believe part of this was due to my back never getting to air out or a recovery day to heal. I think the pack size was too large for me and therefore hung down too low as well."

I don't own a frameless pack so I really can't speculate as to what the problem is with her shoulders. Size and lack of weight transfer leaps to mind.

As far as her back goes, with the sheer hours she was putting on the trail and the pack on her back for upwards of 19 hours per day, I'm not surprised. It almost sounds like bed sores.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Pack Sizing on 08/22/2013 10:47:15 MDT Print View

I have about an 18" torso as well (5'11" here--not much taller). But with ULA's sizing, that puts me firmly in a Large. Look up how they do measurements, and you'll quickly see why there's a discrepancy.

All of your problems regarding load transfer are indicative of a pack that is simply too short. The others--well--personal preference in design and aesthetics are important as well. Just don't fault them for the load transfer issues.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
ULA Sizing... on 08/22/2013 11:21:36 MDT Print View

"I have about an 18" torso as well (5'11" here--not much taller). But with ULA's sizing, that puts me firmly in a Large. Look up how they do measurements, and you'll quickly see why there's a discrepancy."

What exactly do you mean by "how they do their measurements?" Nothing on the ULA website indicated to me that they take their measurements of torso length any differently than the standard way (the distance between the top of your iliac crest and your C7 vertebrae), as indicated by this surprisingly transfixing sizing video here:

Also, when you look at the sizing description of the ULA packs, you will find the following breakdown:
Small: 15"-18"
Medium: 18"-21"
Large: 21"-24"
XL: 24"

Please tell me what I am missing here? How does an 18" torso warrant a large sized pack?

This is all sort of irrelevant anyway because when I went to the store and tried the packs on, I could make the medium too big for me if I didn't adjust the hipbelt up. So all this talk of taking a size large is just craziness to me. If anything I should consider a size small (but it felt ever so slightly too small, as I mentioned in a previous post).

While I'm definitely not buying either the Catalyst or the Circuit at this point, I'm almost tempted to go back to the store, try on the different sizes and give everyone here picture evidence of what I'm talking about.

... Though maybe I'll just go hiking instead because this "pack is too small for you" talk is all just kind of nonsense at this point based on what I already know from trying these packs on for several hours.

Edited by dmusashe on 08/22/2013 11:26:54 MDT.