Rating: 5 / 5
I've used the new Circuit for only day hikes so far, with all my 3/4 day gear (weight: ± 9 kg, including 1.5l of water- about 20 lbs) to see how it was, and it has been really comfortable.
I'm not that fit yet, but on the first test hike I really felt I could have walked all day in comfort- all day means for me about 6/7 hours. I'm a photographer so I stop often and wait for conditions to be right for the shot.
I walked 3 hours the second time, through some dry pre Pyrenean hills, and never really felt uncomfortable at all- it was just a bit of fine tuning, and we were away.
I have to add this is only the second pack I have ever owned, and I'm 43.
My last pack, was/ is a 2.6 kg Lowe Alpine 90 liter monster I have had for over 20 years. I used it right up until my last big multi day hike in 2007, which is when I swore I would never carry it again. I was carrying my normal kit- 18 kg of excellent but old style gear.
It has all served me well, and it's still in great shape, but when I found out about ultra light backpacking..... the rest is history.
In fact, all my kit has been replaced, so the Circuit was bought to be part of a system, and it carries everything very well. I've cut my average weight to between a half to a third of what is was for many years of walking.
I had considered the Vapor Trail, Pinnacle, the Jam2, and an Aarn Bodypack, but went with the Circuit and am not disappointed. Brian at ULA is great to deal with.
I use either a cut down Ridge Rest or a Womens ProLite 3 sleeping mat folded as back support depending on the trip, and both work great to support the weight in the pack. I keep my sleeping bag ( Rab Top Bag) loosely compressed in the bottom, clothes bag and the tarp next (Shangri- La 3), and the food bag on top with a liter of water. This load distribution works really well for me. I keep things loose and uncompressed to give the bag volume, rather than compact everything down. With all my kit, I only use the main compartment, about 40 liters of space- if I wanted to carry more, there's plenty of room with the extension and front pockets.
The hip pockets are fantastic for keeping the things you always need handy, like a head lamp, matches, bandana, knife, compass, sun glasses, gloves etc.
I keep .5 liter of water in a Platypus in one side mesh pocket, and balance the pack by filling the side pockets with the water and snacks. I try keep the large mesh pocket on the front empty for wet things, except for a small sit pad I made with the remains of the cut down RidgeRest. The side mesh pockets are really easy to access, tighten and loosen while walking, to get a drink or an apple.
The hip belt sits well on the hips, and has plenty of straps to dial in the most comfortable fit. I found the hip belt more comfortable if I didn't try fill the pockets too much. The pockets are fantastic- I'll never buy a pack again without them- I'm totally converted.
I've never had a pack without a lid before, but I soon got the hang of the roll top. Thankfully there is not too much extension collar to fight to get in the bag. Great design. Better than the Vapor Trial in this respect, which I read has acres of fabric to fight through to get to the inside of the pack.
The construction and stitching are first rate, and the fabric is robust, I did a bit of bush bashing, and it came out unscathed.
I've walked a few more times recently and in the rain too, and the bag just keeps getting better as it loosens up. No water got in, although it started raining so hard I ended up using my poncho.
So far, the only suggestion I'd make to improve the bag would be to swap the gender of the top closure, that way the remaining webbing strap could be stowed in the front pocket- I might do this myself one day, but it's not a big deal. Otherwise, I'm very happy with the Circuit, and can't wait for the weather to get better so I can go on some overnighters up to some glaciers in the Pyrenees.
EDIT- ONE YEAR LATER July 25 2009
I ended up selling the pack, as after using for a year, I found I didn't have enough gear volume for the volume of the pack. The gear I had fills my new 35+ liter pack fine, but I found I couldn't compress the Circuit to the same volume to my satisfaction. I see they now have a small size, which I also think would have fitted me better.
Great pack though!!!