2010-02-21

Gear Review: ULA Circuit

I got a backpack as a graduation gift from my parents in 2006. I had picked the backpack out myself. It was ordered from a guy in Utah, who sewed it in his garage. The pack was a ULA Circuit.

Since then, ULA (http://www.ula-equipment.com) has gotten some rave reviews from backpacking magazine and others. It's now 2010, so my pack is 4 years old. Here's some of the trips it's been on.

3 day trip in racoon creek state park
3 day trip in a small park in Pennsylvania
3 day trip in western massachusetts, bad blackfiles
3 day trip in the white mountains, above treeline, lots of sliding on butt on the rocks
9 day trip on the baker and north-country trails much bushwacking through thorns
3 day trip on the laural highlands trail
3 day trip in shenandoah national park
9 day trip on the olympic penensula, going up and down cliffs all day, some bushwhacking, and hitchhiking.
2 day day-hike style trip in yosemite in november
3 day trip in Yosemite high-country, up to 10,500 feet
4 day winter trip in the desert south of big sur
7 day trip in rain in the white mountains, a little above treeline
3.5 month 1500 mile trip on the Appalachian trail
2 day snowcaving trip in tahoe

Not including hauling it around when car-camping or as a work backpack for a few weeks after getting off the trail, etc. So, >163 days total of backpacking, plus other usage and any trips I'm missing :).

Specs for the backpack
weight: 2 lbs
volume 3500 cu (including all pockets)
suspension: no framesheet, carbon-fiber hoop
fabric: spinnaker cloth
features: hipbelt pockets, ice-axe loops, mesh side pockets (good for bottles) mesh back pocket, drawstring top, no hood.
comfortable carry weight (my opinion): 45 lbs

Surprisingly this pack is still alive, even with it's 2 lbs weight. The hipbelt pockets were made of a thin cloth and are patched with layers of ducktape, the bottom has a hole or two. There's a hole from the back mesh pocket to the main compartment. It's time to replace the pack, but were I on a through-hike I'd totally just keep hauling with this guy. If you look through the list you'll see I've dragged it over rocks, bushwhacked through heavy briers, and generally beaten the hell out of the pack. I'm pretty hard on gear to start with (I care for it, but I push it's boundaries).

Faults with this backpack:
- The hipbelt leaves something to be desired. It's mounting leaves the bottom of the pack below your butt. The belt is also not particularly shaped, so it tends to droop heavily towards the back.
- You cannot get all weight off of your shoulders, ever. The pack likes to be carried at 60% of the weight on the hipbelt 40% on shoulders. You can move it to maybe 80% pretty easily, at 90+% the pack gets awkward and hangs wrong (I made these numbers up).
- The waterproof-ish fabric is shortly not so. This isn't much of an issue since almost no packs stay waterproof, but it's something to keep in mind (especially since the roll-tops on the newer designs look like they might be).

Un-expected features of this backpack:
- The shoulder straps attach to the bottom/back of the pack, this means that they LIFT the pack. This is awesome because you don't get bag-sag in the back of the
backpack, greatly helping weight distribution.
- The bottom of the pack cuts inwards towards your pack, also helping with weight distribution (for those who don't know, pack weight down and away from the back is the least comfortable).
- The hipbelt pockets are huge, awesome, and easy to access
- The mesh pockets are great for stuff or water-bottles. The bottles don't don't fall out yet are easy to get in and out

Other notes on the pack:
- The shoulder straps are VERY wide set, be warned. (great for me)
- You need to shift things in it a bit. I pack carefully for weight distrobution and such, if you pay no attention it will stab your back due to it's lack of a framesheet. I'm happy with the tradeoff though for a lighter backpack.
- The new "Amp" backpack looks to be it's replacement, but sadly it's length is somehow very very different, and it simply didn't fit me after I ordered it, and I had to return it. His 18" fits a 21" back as I measure (my circuit is an 18").

WARNING: This pack has been redesigned now significantly, and I can't speak to the newer design. I'm actually looking at granite-gear for my next pack as the new ULA pack is more featured and loses some of it's advantages over the granite-gear vapor flash. The vapor-flash also looks to have a better hipbelt. Stay tuned for more as I look for a new backpack :).

EDIT:
chalk up another trip, overnight in Big Sur.

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