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ULA Epic Pack Review

This improved pack handles heavy or awkward loads with ease, for your Epic adventures.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

The ULA Epic is a terrific pack for long, self-supported journeys, packraft trips, lightweight luxury camping with heated shelters, or any trip where you'll carry 30 pounds or more. The fact that Andrew Skurka used an Epic for portions of his 4,600-mile circumnavigation in Alaska speaks a lot for this pack. For shorter trips or thru hikes with frequent re-supply, there are better pack choices.

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by Ed Tyanich |

Introduction

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.

ULA Epic Pack Review - 1
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.

What Works

  • 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.

ULA Epic Pack Review - 2
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.

Features

  • 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

ULA Epic Pack Review - 3
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.

Specifications

Year/Model 2010 ULA Epic
Style Dry Bag Harness Style Pack
Fabric Dyneema Gridstop
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
Top: 1
MSRP $275
Options Trailname Embroidery: $15

Performance:

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.

ULA Epic Pack Review - 4
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.

ULA Epic Pack Review - 5
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.


Citation

"ULA Epic Pack Review," by Ed Tyanich. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/ula_epic_pack_review.html, 2010-10-19 00:00:00-06.

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ULA Epic Pack Review
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Sort By:
Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/19/2010 14:46:46 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

ULA Epic Pack Review

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/19/2010 15:53:07 MDT Print View

Do you know the weight of the Medium torso Epic with and without the weight of the included Sea to Summit 65L Big River Dry Sack? Thanks.

Ed Tyanich
(runsmtns) - F - M
Pack Weight on 10/19/2010 17:42:00 MDT Print View

Roleigh,

I don't have a weight on the Medium Frame or the Big River Dry Bag. Hoping that maybe Chris from ULA will jump in here and provide that info.

I do know the Big River is heavier than other dry bag options.

Ed

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Pack Weight on 10/19/2010 18:03:16 MDT Print View

ULA site says 32.5 oz for Epic, seems to include weight of STS 65L, which weighs 10.0 oz.

Ed Tyanich
(runsmtns) - F - M
Pack Weight on 10/19/2010 19:26:27 MDT Print View

Brad,

The large as tested weighed 38 oz without a dry bag or side pockets.

Ed

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/20/2010 07:49:09 MDT Print View

Bought one of these a few weeks back for heavy load and nasty weather trips. Have not taken it out yet but I agree with the reviewer, this is a burly pack. Not the best option for a standard 3 season weekend trip. Also thinking this pack will be great when needing to check baggage. Even with my hiking kit, the pack frame all fits inside of the supplied Sea to Summit dry bag which seems tough enough to check without fear of it being mangled by handlers.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
ULA Epic on 10/20/2010 07:56:00 MDT Print View

"Not the best option for a standard 3 season weekend trip."

No such thing as a standard. I suspect that one's definition of 3 season is very different from that of another.

Justin Tremlin
(notu) - F

Locale: Central Washington
Racer X on 10/20/2010 16:12:51 MDT Print View

This reminds me of the Dana Designs Racer X I owned back in 2000.

Jonathan Young
(jyoungster52) - MLife
Re: Racer X on 10/22/2010 10:37:07 MDT Print View

I agree, as I remember the Racer X, having borrowed one from a friend for a weekend trial. The price of $275 for the Epic seems awfully steep also.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Pic of hip belt attachment area on 10/26/2010 11:24:17 MDT Print View

Ed, or anyone else who has an epic.

I would like to modify my Arctic Drypack so that the shoulder straps attach to the hipbelt area just like the Epic does. Currently, I have zero adjustability for the straps and it is a bit cumbersome to make sure the little plastic clip is in the slot on the drybag when I put it on.

Could you post a closeup picture of the attachment area on the Epic so I can see where and how they placed it and mimic it. I think the bag would perform much better in the new configuration. Thanks!

Ed Tyanich
(runsmtns) - F - M
Shoulder Strap Attachment Point on 10/26/2010 13:39:33 MDT Print View

Steven,

Here is a photo of the shoulder strap attachment point on the Epic. The pencil point to the sewn end.Shoulder Strap Attachment Point

Edited by runsmtns on 10/26/2010 13:40:18 MDT.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Shoulder Strap Attachment Point on 10/26/2010 16:03:50 MDT Print View

Ed,
Thank you. I figured it was located right behind the hip belt pocket but wanted to make sure. I'll let you guys know how it works out.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: ULA Drypack Modifications on 10/27/2010 08:53:48 MDT Print View

Cost me 10 bucks and a total of 15 minutes talking politics at the leather shop across the street from me. I kept the plastic triglides on the ends of the straps just in case they rip out and I need to rig up something else.

Outside view:
ULA Mod1

Inside view:
ULA Mod2

Marc Shea
(FlytePacker) - F

Locale: Cascades
Less Expensive Option? on 10/27/2010 09:59:15 MDT Print View

Sorry to hijack the thread, but it appears that the NRS Paragon pack is a comparable solution and costs $220 bucks less. http://www.altrec.com/nrs/paragon-pack-system

The reviews on Altrec all seem pretty positive. Is there anyone with first hand experience?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Less Expensive Option? on 10/27/2010 10:29:27 MDT Print View

My wife uses a Paragon when we canoe in the Boundary Waters.

We attach a NRS 60L drybag, taking care to "structurally" load it for inherent stiffness. Thirtyfive pounds is about the maximum, as she also carries paddles, day bags, and other loose gear.

She typically uses a Granite Gear Vapor Ki, and says this doesn't even come close, but for typical portages of less than a mile, it is a good muck-proof, waterproof solution.

Edited by greg23 on 10/27/2010 10:32:03 MDT.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 10:40:36 MDT Print View

What a great price on the NRS. I have always thought the Epic was waaaay overpriced. This just confirmed it.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 11:22:39 MDT Print View

At first glance, that NRS pack may have some potential. A few mods may get you there.

But, at 54 bucks I am curious where it is made. Being in the manufacturing industry, I try my best to buy "local/domestic" as much as I can.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 11:29:39 MDT Print View

Steve -
Mine is a 2007 and says "Made in Vietman".

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 11:49:39 MDT Print View

Funny - ULA packs are sewn by Latin immigrants so what is the difference.

4-5 times the price is ridiculous.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 12:47:15 MDT Print View

ULA packs are sewn by Latin immigrants so what is the difference.

Difference is the Latin immigrants spend their earned money in North America. I don't care "who" makes it.

I was simply putting it out there that the ULA pack was localy made. I know lots of people here try to support local...just saying.

I try my best, but I drive a suzuki swift so probably should just keep quiet :)

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 13:13:30 MDT Print View

I see what you are saying, but China spends a lot of money in both the US and Canada...;)

Still - it is over 500% more expensive. For just the frame!

Next time I hear someone complain about spending $500 on a Mchale I will lead them to this pack.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 13:16:34 MDT Print View

Still - it is over 500% more expensive. For just the frame!


No disagreement there!

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 13:16:46 MDT Print View

With the inital setup of the pack I would agree it was too expensive, but it now comes with the drybag and handy side pockets. Still not cheap, but the price does not seem crazy anymore. Obviously it cannot compare to a $54 pack though.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 13:28:28 MDT Print View

I was surprised that the $54 model has belt pockets.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 13:52:35 MDT Print View

NRS Outfitter 62 Liter Dry Bag - $55

NRS 2.2
Virtually indestructible.

So $110 for a similar setup.

Edited by greg23 on 10/27/2010 13:53:23 MDT.

Marc Shea
(FlytePacker) - F

Locale: Cascades
Side by Side on 10/27/2010 13:54:27 MDT Print View

I would be interested to see a side by side comparison. Even if the quality of the Paragon isn't as robust, you could afford to replace it and still save money. It sounds like distance hiking with the Paragon may also be more challenging than the Epic.

For an extremely robust solution you could always go for a made in Australia One Planet Polar Pack. I believe that the cost would blow ULA and the Paragon pack out of the water. http://www.oneplanet.com.au/polar/polar-pack.html :)

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 14:04:04 MDT Print View

Greg - that's not the drybag that comes with the ULA.

You can get UL Pnemo 50L bags for about $25.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 14:05:53 MDT Print View

"Greg - that's not the drybag that comes with the ULA."

Right.
And it's not light.
But it is tough.

So with the Pneumo we'd be at $80.

Edited by greg23 on 10/27/2010 14:07:51 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: ULA Epic Pack Review on 10/27/2010 14:11:37 MDT Print View

"It sounds like distance hiking with the Paragon may also be more challenging than the Epic."

Looking at the first photo in the review, I can tell you that the Paragon carries at least as well as the Epic.

Ed Tyanich
(runsmtns) - F - M
Pack Carry on 10/27/2010 15:11:27 MDT Print View

Greg,

I don't know how you can state how a pack carries without actually trying it.

The Epic is priced $75 less than the Arctic Ultra was. Value is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

Ronnie Cusmano
(ronnie1107) - F

Locale: Northeast
Re: Re: Racer X on 10/30/2010 16:14:40 MDT Print View

I still have my two Racer X packs.....they are good if you don't go over 20 pounds.