ULA recently introduced the Epic, an updated version of the Backpacking Light Arctic Ultra pack. The Arctic Ultra was originally created in 2006 for the 1000+ mile epic journey undertaken by Roman Dial, Jason Geck, and BPL’s own Ryan Jordan. The pack was a dry bag harness designed by Roman and built for the adventure by ULA.
Left: The ULA Epic shown loaded with a full 65-liter dry bag. Right: Fully loaded back view of the Epic shows room for additional gear on the top or at the bottom compression straps.
After the adventure, the pack design was refined and offered in a limited supply through Backpacking Light. I purchased one of the Arctic Ultras for a trip that ended up falling through. I used the pack some, but in typical gear head fashion later decided I didn’t really need it and sold it. A few months later, I was kicking myself for selling the pack and ordered another one. This one happened to be the last large Arctic Ultra that BPL had.
Long story short, after using the pack for a number of trips and going with smaller packs for most trips and larger packs for backpack hunting trips, I again sold the Arctic Ultra. As every gear head knows, shortly after you get rid of something, you wish you hadn’t. So when ULA, now under new ownership introduced the Epic, I knew I had to have one.
Pack Design and Uses
The Epic and its predecessor were designed for use with a dry bag or similar storage bag. There is no pack bag per se on the Epic. This allows for use of bags of varying capacity as well as packing bulky loads such as pack rafts. This pack design excels for long, self supported journeys and pack raft adventures. For shorter trips or thru hikes with frequent re-supply there are better pack choices.
Differences in the Epic and Arctic Ultra
The biggest difference in the two packs is the attachment of the shoulder suspension to the hipbelt. The Arctic Ultra attaches directly to the slots in a POE Pneumo dry bag while the Epic attaches directly to the hipbelt. More discussion on the pros and cons of this below.
Both packs have a vertical mesh zippered front pocket. The Epic’s pocket is a bellows design, which makes it much more useful when carrying a full dry bag. Spacious hipbelt pockets are similar in both packs. Suspension appears unchanged. The suspension consists of a foam back panel and two removable aluminum stays.
The Arctic Ultra came with two POE Pneumo dry bags, a 50L and a 65L. When the Epic was first introduced, it came without a dry bag, but now includes a Sea to Summit 65L Big River Dry Sack and two removable 1L side pockets that attach to the compression straps. The pack reviewed for this article did not have either the Big River Dry Sack or the side pockets.
- The Epic was comfortable with loads well exceeding the recommended weight limit.
- Bellows front pocket is a lot more useful than the previous flat pocket.
- Spacious hipbelt pockets keep essentials close at hand.
- D-rings on shoulder harness are convenient for binoculars or cameras.
Right: The bellows design of the mesh front pocket allows easy access even with a full dry bag. Left: The spacious twin hipbelt pockets easily held a camera, snacks, and other essentials.
What Doesn’t Work
- The daisy chain on the back side of the compression panel would be much more useful if it were on the backpanel instead.
- Lack of a haul strap on the top of the pack.
- Internal frame
- Beavertail style compression panel
- Contoured shoulder straps
- Zippered mesh bellow front pocket
- Quad buckle hipbelt with reverse pull tensioning
- Dual hipbelt pockets
- Compression straps, two on each side, one on top
- Dyneema gridstop fabric
- Removable aluminum stays
- Bottom compression straps for packraft, tent or sleeping pad
- Daisy chain on back side of compression panel
- D-rings on shoulder harness
- Shoulder strap bungee system for bear spray or water bottle
Right: The daisy chain on the pack’s compression panel would be more useful if relocated to the backpanel. Left: Bungees located on the shoulder harness allow for water or bear spray to be right at hand.
|Year/Model||2010 ULA Epic|
|Style||Dry Bag Harness Style Pack|
|Frame||Internal foam frame sheet and two removable aluminum stays|
|Pack Volume||Total Volume: 38-82 liters
Main Body: 30-75 liters
Front Mesh Pocket: 6.5 liters
Hipbelt Pockets: 1.5 liters.
Removable Side Pockets: None included as reviewed. Pack now comes with two 1L Side Pockets.
|Recommended Loads||Base Load: 20 lbs or less
Maximum Load: 40 lbs or less
|Pack Weight||Large Frame (tested) Measured Weight: 38 oz (1077 g)
Medium Frame Manufacturer’s Specification: 32.5 oz (921 g)
No Manufacture’s Specification for Large Frame
|Weight of Aluminum Stays||Measured Weight: 2.4 oz (68)
Manufacturer’s Specification (Regular): 2.25 oz (63.8 g) each
|Frame Sizing||Medium fits 18-21 inches
Large fits 21-23 inches
|Hipbelt Sizing||One size fits most. Will not fit waist smaller than 25 inches|
|Dry Bags Included?||None included as reviewed. Present pack includes a 65L Sea to Summit Big River Dry Sack|
|Compression Straps||Horizontal: 2 per side
|Options||Trailname Embroidery: $15|
The Epic is rated at 40 pounds max load, and it handled that weight with ease. I had carried up to 60 pounds in the BPL Arctic Ultra, so I tried that weight in the Epic as well. It carried 60 pounds as comfortably as any pack I have used at that weight. While higher than the recommended maximum, I see no reason the Epic wouldn’t hold up to occasional loads this heavy.
The hipbelt snugged up tightly with good weight transfer to the hips. The wide hipbelt provided good support and comfort. Shoulder straps were padded enough, but not too much, and the load lifters kept the weight off the trapezius muscles.
The quad buckle design allows for a complete wrap of the hips, and the reverse pull tensioning provides maximum leverage.
The aluminum stays are removable, but there's little reason to remove them other than to bend for a custom fit. This isn’t a pack I would choose for a 15- to 20-pound load, and for anything above 20 pounds, the stays provide a lot of support.
The workmanship was excellent on the Epic and the design changes were positive. One problem I ran into with the Arctic Ultra was in the shoulder strap attaching to the dry bag rather than the hipbelt. This was done to achieve a more dynamic suspension for navigating rough terrain, but I found that with a full dry bag, I had little or no shoulder strap adjustment. I actually made extensions for my Arctic Ultra shoulder straps. The Epic straps are sewn directly to the hipbelt, have plenty of length, and I encountered no problems. Another advantage of the new design is the ability to secure awkward loads without using a dry bag. I often use a shelter that is heated with a wood stove and the Epic allows gathering firewood more easily than the Arctic Ultra did.
The Epic has the shoulder harness directly attached to the hipbelt providing plenty of adjustment.
The spacious twin hipbelt pockets easily held a camera, snacks and other essentials. The bungees on the shoulder straps worked well to secure a can of bear spray or a smaller water bottle. When I tried a 28-ounce bottle, the bungees needed to be pulled to the max or else they would let go.
Recommendations for Improvement
Other than adding a haul loop on the top of the pack and relocating the daisy chain to the back panel from the back of the compression panel, I saw little need for change. This is an improved version of a proven design.