In ULA’s new 2006 line of backpacks, the Conduit is a frameless top-loading pack with a volume of 3,200 cubic inches and weight of just 22 ounces, just right for a weekend ultralight or lightweight backpacking trip or a day hike carrying bulky gear. It’s made of Dyneema Gridstop fabric which is both lightweight and bomber. In this review I evaluate the many features and attributes of the Conduit, and discuss its sizing and fit.
- Lightweight AND durable
- Ample volume for a weekend trip
- Good volume adjustment
- Lots of outside storage
- Wide, well-padded shoulder straps spread weight
- Optional removable accessories
- Excellent construction
What’s Not So Good
- Pack torso length is shorter than specified
- Shallow, tight side pockets
|Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA, http://www.ula-equipment.com/)|
|Frameless, top loading, rolltop closure|
|S/M fits 17-19 in (43-48 cm) torsos, M/L fits 20-22 in (51-56 cm) torsos|
|3,200 ci (50 L)|
|1 lb 6.2 oz (629 g) measured weight (size M/L); manufacturer’s specification 1 lb 4 oz (567 g)|
|Main pack body is 210d Dyneema Gridstop polyurethane-coated nylon, pockets are durable polyester mesh with an elastic binding, frontpanel is 1.9 oz/yd2 urethane-coated ripstop nylon|
|Angled mesh side pockets with elastic binding, large bellowed front mesh pocket with elastic binding, two zippered hipbelt pockets, two equipment loops, two ice axe loops, two side and one top compression straps, two hydration tube ports, padded wings plus 1.5 inch webbing hipbelt, interior sleeping pad sleeve, sternum strap, haul loop, attachment loops for optional accessories|
|Zippered internal stash pocket [1.1 oz (31 g), $5], hydration sleeve [1.4 oz (40 g), $5], water bottle holsters [0.4 oz (11 g), $2 each], handloops [0.8 oz (23 g), $2 each]|
Volume To Weight Ratio
|144.1 ci/oz size M/L (based on 3,200 ci and a measured weight of 22.2 oz, without options)|
Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity
|20 lb (6.8 kg) estimated maximum comfortable load an average person can carry all day in this pack|
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio
|14.4 (based on a 20 lb load and measured weight of 1.39 lb)|
The new Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) Conduit at 3,200 cubic inches and 22.2 ounces (measured weight) is a versatile frameless pack that can be used for weekend ultralight backpacking trips or a larger volume day pack. It’s made mostly of Dyneema Gridstop, which is a superb fabric that provides both durability and light weight. The fabric contains polyethylene fibers that are claimed to be ten times stronger than steel and two times stronger than Kevlar. The mesh used in the Conduit is also very durable.
Views of the ULA Conduit backpack. The front (top left) has a huge mesh pocket that holds a lot of gear; there are two Velcro accessory loops at the top. The backpanel view (top right) shows its wide shoulder straps and padded hipbelt with large zippered pockets. Each side (bottom left) has a half-height angled pocket and a hydration tube port. The top has a roll down closure with a tightening strap on each side, plus a top compression strap.
The Conduit is feature rich, with all the convenience features most backpackers want. The front of the pack has a huge bellowed mesh pocket that will hold a ton of gear. The side half-height mesh pockets are angled so you can easily reach a water bottle. And the hipbelt pockets are some of the nicest around - they have gusseted sides and plenty of room for a camera and more. They are mounted on padded hipbelt wings that locate the pockets at your side.
Inside, the Conduit has a half-height sleeping pad sleeve that positions and holds your folded sleeping pad against your back to create a padded backpanel. There are attachments for ULA’s optional hydration sleeve and zippered stash pocket (see specification table), that can be transferred to other ULA packs. Two hose ports are provided for the internal hydration sleeve.
In use, I loved the huge mesh front pocket for keeping on-the-trail gear handy. The large hipbelt pockets were perfect to hold my digital camera, snacks, and numerous other smaller items. I had mixed feelings about the angled side pockets. When I used water bottles, the pockets were handy for reaching them without taking the pack off. However, when I packed them with gear, they had limited capacity and were a bit tight. The optional accessories that I found most useful were the internal stash pocket and the water bottle holders that attach to the shoulder straps.
ULA’s optional accessories easily attach to the Conduit, or any other ULA pack. They include an internal stash pocket (top left), a hydration sleeve (top right), water bottle holders (bottom left), and handloops (bottom right). See specifications table for weight and cost information.
The optional internal hydration sleeve was a bit cumbersome to use with this pack (or any pack with an internal hydration sleeve) because of the difficulty to refill it when the pack was stuffed full. My personal preference was to put a Platypus hydration system in one of the side pockets, which was much more convenient. A full height side pocket on one side would be better for that purpose.
The Conduit’s suspension system consists of 3-inch padded shoulder straps (that distribute weight well), a sternum strap, and 8.5 inch padded hipbelt wings that connect via a 1.5 inch webbing belt and buckle.
The shoulder straps on the Conduit (left) are 3 inches wide and well padded, good for distributing weight. The bottom of each shoulder strap attaches to a small delta wing on the bottom of the pack (right). The hipbelt has two padded 8.5 inch wings, each with a large zippered pocket. The side pockets are half height with a fabric bottom.
For fit, the Conduit comes in two sizes: S/M fits 17-19 inch torsos, and M/L fits 20-22 inch torsos. I measured the pack torso length (bottom of shoulder straps to middle of hipbelt) of the size M/L pack I tested, and found it to be only 18 inches. This means that the M/L Conduit will best fit a person with a medium-sized torso (17-19 inches). A long-torsoed person can either tighten the shoulder straps and carry most of the load on his shoulders, with the hipbelt acting as a stabilizer, or allow the shoulder straps to wrap around the shoulders and down the back to place more weight on the hips.
In size M/L, the Conduit was a perfect fit on our 16-year old niece (left), but it fit low on me (right).
Why not make the pack torso longer? One limiting factor, as ULA explains, is that most sleeping pads are 20 inches wide, and the folded pad needs to fit vertically inside the pack from the bottom of the pack to the top of the shoulder straps, without inching up. That gives about an 18-inch pack torso length when measured to the middle of the hipbelt. The solution I found to make the Conduit fit more comfortably was to put a “hinge” in it. I folded my TorsoLite inflatable sleeping pad into a square and put it in the bottom of the pack, along with my sleeping bag. I then put my food bag above that against the backpanel, and packed the rest of the pack normally. This put a distinct bend in the backpanel, as shown in the photos, which made it conform much better to my back.
Packing the Conduit to put a hinge in it (left) improved the fit of the Conduit against my back (right), but I would prefer a taller pack that matches my torso length.
That said, my personal preference is for a pack with a torso length that more closely matches my body torso length. For example, the Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack in size medium has a measured pack torso length of 21 inches, and the G5 Hyperlight in size medium measures 24 inches. Obviously Gossamer Gear doesn’t let the 20-inch width of a sleeping pad limit the torso length of their packs. So, the bottom line, for me, is I like most everything about the Conduit except its short torso. I would really like to see the Conduit (and other ULA packs) available in an extra large size, with a pack torso length of around 21 inches.
The Conduit is just the right size for an ultralight weekend trip or day trip carrying bulky gear. This pack is both lightweight and durable, so you don’t have to baby it like many frameless backpacks made of thin fabrics. The construction is excellent, using very high quality materials and adequate reinforcements; even the internal seams are all bound. Its feature set is superb.
For weight carrying, the Conduit has wide padded shoulder straps to distribute weight and its padded hipbelt wings cushion the hips. The Conduit in size M/L best fits a person with a 17 to 19 inch torso, but can be adapted to a taller person by packing it to create a hinge. Depending on the fit and your shoulder strength, the Conduit can comfortably carry 20 to 25 pounds all day.
The use of Dyneema Gridstop fabric for most of the pack makes it both lightweight AND durable. ULA’s optional accessories are removable and can be interchanged in other ULA packs.
Recommendations for Improvement
The ULA Relay is really a fine lightweight pack that incorporates a lot of refinements from previous ULA packs. However, I do have a few suggestions for improvements that are worth considering:
- Replace the angled side pockets with full height pockets, possibly with an angled entry near the bottom to allow inserting a water bottle without taking the pack off
- Reverse the top compression strap so the strap hangs on the front side of the pack
- Offer the Conduit in an extra large size with a pack torso length of about 21 inches