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FR - ULA Fusion - Steve

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  • SF Nazdarovye
    Here s my field report for the Fusion. Due to extensive use of annotated illustrations, I suggest looking at the report in the test folder. It s at:
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2004
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      Here's my field report for the Fusion.

      Due to extensive use of annotated illustrations, I suggest looking at
      the report in the test folder. It's at:





      Field Report: ULA Fusion Backpack
      August 31, 2004

      Reviewer's Information

      Name: Steve Nelson
      Age: 44
      Gender: Male
      Height: 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
      Weight: 158 lb (72 kg)
      Torso: 20.5 in (52 cm) per ULA instructions
      Hip Circumference: 35 in (89 cm) per ULA instructions
      Email address: nazdarovye at y..oo dot com
      City, State, Country: San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.

      Backpacking Background:

      As an interface design and usability consultant by trade, I'm always
      excited by analyzing and improving designs and processes; backpacking
      provides a fertile and fun arena for that. I have been backpacking
      since I was a kid growing up in upstate New York: we backpacked and
      canoe-camped in all seasons, throughout the Adirondacks and nearby
      areas, ranging as far as La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve, Quebec. As an
      adult, I've backpacked and hiked extensively in California, but also
      have taken trips throughout the West, from New Mexico to British
      Columbia, and return often to the Adirondacks.

      Backpacking Style:

      In the last year I began educating myself about lightweight and
      ultralight backpacking, and have been applying more and more of this
      philosophy to my outdoor jaunts and gear upgrades. I like moving fast,
      and lightening the load facilitates that. I also enjoy urban strolls,
      cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking, and aviation in addition
      to hiking and backpacking, so my gear gets exposed to a wide variety of
      uses and conditions.

      Product information

      Manufacturer: ULA
      Product Name: Fusion Backpack
      Manufacturer's URL: www.ula-equipment.com
      Year of manufacture: 2004
      Size: Pack comes in one size only, stated as adjustable from 18-23 in
      (46-58 cm), even though the ULA site's purchase page gives a choice
      between M and L—more on that below.
      Hip Belt: Size M (out of XS, S, M, L, XL)
      Stated Weights: 32 oz (907 g) for pack, 1.4 oz (40 g) for optional
      hydration sleeve, 1.1 oz (31 g) for optional stash pocket
      Verified Weights: 35.5 oz ( 1006 g) for pack, 1.55 oz (44 g) for
      sleeve, 1.1 oz (31 g) for stash pocket on a digital scale of .05 oz (1
      g) resolution.
      Stated Volume:
      Collar: 650 ci (11 L)
      Mesh Pockets: 450 ci (7 L)
      Pack Bag: 2,300 ci (38 L)
      Hipbelt Pockets: 100 ci (<2 L)
      Total: 3,500 ci (57 L)
      Measured Dimensions (all approximate, given as height x width x depth):
      Collar: 8 x 12 x 6 in (20 x 30 x 15 cm)
      Pack Bag: 24 x 12 x 6 in (61 x 30 x 15 cm)
      Pad Sleeve: 20 x 12 x 4 in (51 x 30 x 10 cm) maximum
      Hipbelt Pockets: 4 x 6.5 x 1.5 in (10 x 17 x 4 cm) each
      MSRP as Tested: $165 (plus $5 each for hydration sleeve and stash


      My Fusion at Forester Pass on the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail

      The ULA Fusion is a lightweight backpack with an innovative design that
      incorporates a sleeping pad into a folding panel that comprises the
      pack's suspension. This report covers my first two months of field
      experience with the pack; you may wish to take a look at my Initial
      Report for more background on the pack and its features. I am, however,
      repeating the following diagram from that report to help explain
      certain features I reference later in this report:

      Field Conditions

      I have used the Fusion now for 9 backpacking days over three trips: a
      mountaineering class day trip on Mt. Shasta, California (probably no
      more than 5 mi (8 km); a fast and light overnight in Yosemite (23 mi
      (37 km) on day 1, 8 mi (13 km) on day two); and a six-day traverse
      across approximately 90 mi (145 km) of the High Sierra and John Muir

      Elevations ranged from 5,500-13,200 ft (1,700-4,000 m). Weather ranged
      from near freezing to the 80s F (28+ C), with snow and slush on the
      ground on the first trip and intermittent light precipitation (rain,
      graupel) on two days during the third trip.

      Summary of Findings

      Features and Overall Usability

      So far, I like many features of the Fusion:

      I particularly enjoy the mesh pockets on the main pack body. Initially
      I was disappointed that the pack didn't have a center pocket and side
      pockets, but I've found that I don't really miss that arrangement.
      First, the two pockets hold a lot; second, they're particularly
      well-designed and easy to reach into without removing the pack. I
      simply reach back while on the move and can grab my snacks, poncho, or
      other items I've placed toward the outside of either pocket. In my
      travels so far, I've never had anything fall out of these pockets while
      I was on the move (though I did lose something once when it must have
      slipped out when I removed another item and wasn't paying attention;
      fortunately a fellow hiker found it on the trail and brought it to me
      at our next stop.)

      I also appreciate the hip belt pockets—they're a handy place for my
      camera, GPS, sunblock, headlamp, and other items I wish to keep right
      at hand. I wish more packs offered this feature, and I applaud it. The
      only downside is that they get in the way of my arm swing if they're
      fully loaded.

      I like the overall shape of the pack—the narrow body works well for my
      fast walking style. The pack is easy to load, and the drawstrings and
      toggles at the top give a bit of latitude in how to close the top off
      with different loads. I did note that when I used the extension collar
      (carrying a bear canister), the top opening never quite closed
      completely. I placed my folded sit pad on top of the pack and held it
      in place with the top compression/closure strap, and that kept
      precipitation and dirt out of the opening.

      The internal hydration sleeve works fine (though it doesn't hold my
      largest Ultimate Direction SportTank bladder), and the hydration ports
      are large enough to allow even the largest valve I own to fit (though
      they're also tight enough when the pack is loaded that they sometimes
      pinch the hydration bladder's hose—I have to keep an eye on that).

      A few things I don't like: while not having a lid helps save weight,
      and the hip pockets provide some storage for smaller items, I do miss
      having a moderately-sized zippered pocket on the top or outside of the
      pack that can hold maps, a first aid kit, a toiletries kit, and other
      items I'd like to keep at hand. The optional stash pocket I purchased
      with the pack will hold a small wallet and keys, but is awkward to get
      at when the pack is full (also, on my last trip during this period, I
      discovered that my car key's batteries had gone dead when stored in
      this pocket—obviously the buttons were pressed by the pressure from
      items in the pack).

      The compression straps converge at a single point on each side, and
      when tightened, tend to force the pack and its contents into an
      hourglass shape, rather than really compressing the load overall. Other
      designs can be more effective at snugging the pack around varying loads
      (as was my need on my recent six-day trip).

      Finally, the pack is not ideal for trips that require a bear canister.
      My BearVault fit vertically into the top part of the pack (when using
      the extension collar), but it didn't leave much room for a full
      hydration bladder or anything else along the vertical voids the
      cylinder left. It was a struggle to get the bladder and canister in at
      the same time, though I did manage ultimately to make it work.


      My three trips involved three significantly different loads.

      For trip one, I carried mountaineering equipment including a climbing
      helmet, ice axe, and two sets of crampons. I also packed a heavy-duty
      GoreTex shell and shell pants, insulating vest, fleece hat, shell
      gloves and liners, a small survival kit, first aid kit, and a light
      headlamp. In addition, I carried a 100 oz (3 L) hydration bladder
      (filled), snacks for the day, and a camera. I brought a Therm-a-Rest
      ProLite 3 short pad to use as both a sit pad and as a "frame" for the
      Fusion. Total weight for the day, including consumables and the Fusion,
      was 19 lb (8.6 kg).

      I found that the Fusion gave me some flexibility in loading: the helmet
      could be stashed either in one of the external mesh pockets or inside
      the pack. Crampons (in protective rolls) also worked in either
      location—the mesh is sturdy enough that the covered crampons presented
      no problem. The tool loop and keeper are well-designed and were perfect
      for my lightweight ice axe. For this trip I carried the bladder inside
      the pack, but not in the hydration bladder sleeve. The Fusion was fine
      on snow, ice, slush and rock—I felt completely comfortable setting it
      down on all surfaces.

      For trip two I carried a lightweight overnight load, including 18 oz (
      g) sleeping bag, liner and tarptent; an alcohol stove with 4 oz (110 g)
      of fuel and titanium pot with cozy; a lightweight down vest, gloves,
      fleece hat, one extra pair of socks, and my usual survival and first
      aid kits. I also used a 4 qt (4 L) Ultimate Direction SportTank water
      bladder, silnylon bucket and purification tablets. (During the very
      long first day I consumed over 7 qt (7 L) of water.) We planned in
      advance that we would meet up with a slower group approaching from a
      different trailhead, and were sharing their bear canisters, so we
      didn't carry our own during the day. I also carried a camera, GPS,
      toiletries and a small headlamp and Victorinox "Classic." I used a
      trash bag to line the pack and protect the contents from moisture.

      On this trip I also used the ProLite 3 short pad as a pack frame. My
      base pack weight (including the Fusion) was 12 lb (5.4 kg), and my
      starting consumables added just under 10 lb (4.5 kg) or so (about a
      pound of food in addition to the full hydration bladder and the small
      amount of fuel).

      I found the pack moderately comfortable, but not as comfortable as I'd
      hoped. It was on this first long hike that I noticed that the pack felt
      as if it were hanging off of me, rather than a part of me. More on that
      in a minute. I also sweated profusely on my back and shoulders while
      wearing the pack, and it got salt stains all around the shoulder straps
      and back pad.

      For this trip I tried the bladder in two locations: sandwiched with the
      pad outside of the main pack body; and placed directly inside the pack.
      I found that, when in the pad "pad sleeve," I could use the pad
      sleeve's buckle to lock into the loop on the top of the SportTank,
      which held it in place and prevented it from sagging as I consumed
      water. With the bladder inside the pack, the pack seemed to hold its
      fit better, but the water was moved further out from my center of

      On trip three I carried an extended consumables load due to the length
      of the trip (six days, 90 mi/145 km). The load included, in addition to
      the items taken on the Yosemite trip, a BearVault bear canister, loaded
      with 7 lb (3.2 kg) of food. I also substituted some items in the
      previous list: I brought a SnowPeak cartridge stove and 8 oz (225 g)
      cartridge instead of the alcohol stove; an ultralight bivy sack and
      poncho tarp instead of the tarptent; and I added a torso-sized piece of
      closed-cell blue foam and a sit pad of the same material in addition to
      the ProLite 3 short pad. My base pack weight for this trip was
      approximately 14 lb (6.35 kg) including the bear canister and Fusion,
      and my consumables were 15.5 lb (7 kg) the first day.

      While I was satisfied with the overall performance of the Fusion on
      this quite strenuous trip, several issues with the fit and comfort of
      the pack became clear to me...and a possible design issue (serious
      drooping of the main pack body) was so obvious that others pointed it
      out to me. I'll now elaborate on this.

      Problems With Fit

      I've come to believe that the design of the Fusion may have some
      flaws—ones that should be correctable, but also ones serious enough to
      cause real problems with comfort and load-carrying capacity for the

      Of most note: the main body of the pack tends to sag down well below
      the hip belt. This appears to me to be directly due to the dynamics of
      the pack, since the hip belt is attached to a separate panel from the
      main body (the panel that folds up to enclose a sleeping pad).
      Basically, the primary thing preventing gravity from pulling the main
      body of the pack down in relation to the pad sleeve with the hip belt
      is friction from the pad, with only minor additional friction offered
      by the compression straps. In fact, because of the angle at which they
      pull, the compression straps themselves conspire to pull the body of
      the pack down; the other straps do nothing to hold it up, and the only
      thing attaching the hip belt to the main body of the pack is a flap of
      fabric at the very bottom of the pad sleeve (with only minor assistance
      from hip snugger straps, which offer little or no resistance to
      vertical shear between the two major pack components). As a result, the
      weight of the main pack body tends to hang off of this flap. These
      dynamics also tend to compress and buckle the sleeping pad inside the
      sleeve. Here's a picture from my Yosemite trip showing these phenomena:

      And, just so it's clear this buckling and slippage is not unique to a
      specific load or pad, here's a picture from a completely different
      trip, showing the Fusion with a larger load and a closed-cell foam pad
      as its support:

      Now, the shoulder straps theoretically should help boost up the
      pack...but this kind of negates the usual way of distributing a load
      when wearing a pack equipped with both a belt and shoulder straps,
      which is that the hip belt carries the majority of the weight. In this
      case, if I let the hip belt carry the weight, the rear of the pack
      droops; if I hitch up the pack as much as possible on the shoulder
      straps, I can reduce the droop (though not eliminate it), but the
      weight is transferred substantially to my shoulders. Neither condition
      is comfortable.

      Finally, I'll note that on my trips I tried numerous combinations of
      ways to load my items, placements of the hydration bladder, and types
      and placements of my sleeping pads. These included: ProLite 3 folded
      black side out or orange side out and used in pad sleeve deflated; same
      used partially inflated after loading; same used with and without a
      hydration bladder sandwiched in with it (instead of inside the pack);
      blue closed-cell foam pad folded as frame support (better structure
      than the ProLite but much less comfortable); same with and without
      hydration bladder; no pad at all (both with and without hydration

      The most comfortable was definitely the partially-inflated ProLite,
      with the hydration bladder on its own not feeling too bad either. The
      closed-cell foam pad was too hard and I didn't find it comfortable, and
      the pack without any pad at all didn't seem to work well (too hard, and
      I could feel lumps through the back of the pack). I'll also note that
      the slippage occurred with each of the above arrangements. The slippage
      also occurred regardless of how carefully I tightened hip snuggers,
      load lifters, compression straps and other straps.

      While it is possible that I am doing something wrong—and I look forward
      to discussing this with ULA—I do believe that the pack would work
      better with a revised arrangement of straps attachment points, possibly
      even moving the hip belt attachment to the main body and anchoring it
      on the internal carbon fiber frame.

      One other fit issue: I ordered the pack with a size M hip belt, but now
      believe that a S would be a better choice. I can't tighten the hip belt
      enough to get it truly snug on my hips, and thus the pack tends to
      drift down lower than I'd like (this is in addition to the "saggy butt
      syndrome" described above).

      Durability and Wear

      Overall the Fusion has fared well so far—the fabric has held up well to
      abrasion, and all buckles, zippers and toggles are in perfect working

      However, I have noted one area of concern: the bottom of the carbon
      fiber frame has abraded through its fabric covering on one side and is
      now visible, as shown here:

      This appears to be a spot that rubs against the webbing (held in my
      thumb in the left-hand picture) when the pack is in use and all straps
      are tightened. I've never dragged the pack across rock, and there is
      absolutely no abrasion anywhere else, so I believe this is a result of
      stresses in the design. I plan to keep an eye on this and provide
      further information in my long-term report.

      One other issue to note from these pictures: the frame is attached .5
      in (1 cm) lower on the left side of the pack than on the right—note the
      relationship between the webbing and the bottom corner of the pack in
      each picture. (And on a separate note, the threads in the right-hand
      picture appear to be ones that just weren't trimmed during
      construction, rather than anything coming loose.)

      Another tester, and a second person on a discussion group online, have
      reported the frame cracking when they over-tightened the pack's straps
      (and one time, when kneeling on the frame). I've not seen any evidence
      of cracking, though I'll note that the top of the frame deflects
      significantly when I tighten the load lifters. Still, this is a
      specialized pack and deserves some care in its use.

      Long-Term Test Plan

      For my long term tests I plan to try several things to remedy the
      issues I'm having with the fit and dynamics of the Fusion.

      First, I will order a size S hip belt from ULA and make sure that I
      have exactly the right fit.

      Second, I will experiment with other pad types to see if they are able
      to provide better purchase for the suspension. My hunch is that it
      won't make a significant difference, but I would love to be proven
      wrong. Since the ULA site shows the Fusion with a Z-Rest style pad, I
      will at least attempt to obtain one of those.

      Finally, I will continue to expand my usage of the Fusion for different
      types of trips and conditions—I have a wide-ranging schedule coming up
      and look forward to exposing the Fusion to winter, canoeing, and other
      types of trips beyond those I've already taken it on.


      I live in California but have a business and family schedule that often
      brings me to the east coast. Trips planned during the long-term test
      period for the Fusion include:

      Confirmed weekend backpacking trips in the Santa Cruz mountains and
      Ventana Wilderness

      Confirmed extended trip on the Northville-Lake Placid trail

      Proposed weekend backpacking and canoeing trips in the Adirondacks and
      the Sangre de Cristo range in Southern Colorado, a possible summit
      attempt at Mt. Shasta, and several other overnights in California

      At least two early winter trips at Yosemite and Lake Tahoe

      Altitudes on these trips will range from sea level to over 10,000 ft
      (3,050 m). Weather will range from hot and dry California summer
      conditions to afternoon Sierra thunderstorms to wet and soggy east
      coast hiking and paddling to Sierra Nevada early winter snow.
      Temperatures will likely range from below freezing to as high as 100° F
      (38° C). Most of the hikes will be on trails, but one Sierra Nevada
      trip and both Adirondack trips will involve bushwhacking and/or
      extensive scrambling around blowdown and overgrowth.

      Test issues

      As noted in my initial report and reported on above, I will continue to

      Overall comfort of the Fusion and its suspension, especially now that I
      have discovered issues with how it works for me

      Effect of the shape and other design elements on walking (I love to
      move fast, I hike with poles, and I like narrow pack designs that don't
      get in the way while staying well-attached to my torso)

      Suspension adjustability on the trail (load lifters, sternum strap, hip
      belt placement, load balancing, etc.)

      The effect of various weights, volumes, and weight distributions on the
      comfort and stability of the pack

      The effect (and effectiveness) of the carbon fiber hoop frame

      Comfort and load carrying ability with and without the removable hip
      belt (depending on load)

      Ventilation (does the suspension get hot; does it promote or soak up
      excessive perspiration?)

      Ease of packing, unpacking, repacking, and adjusting for changing loads
      (including reduction of weight and volume over time due to consumption
      of food and fuel on a long trip; usefulness of the "dual-drawcord
      extension collar"; the effectiveness of the "4-point compression

      Usefulness of pockets, including those on the hip belt

      Ease of use and security of cinch cords, buckles and other elements,
      including when wearing gloves or mitts

      Suitability and security for lashing external items (ice axe loop; lash
      points for extra pads, shelters carried externally, snowshoes,
      crampons, etc.)

      Ability to accommodate bulky items such as a bear canister

      Usability with a hydration bladder (comparing sandwiching it in with
      the pad versus placing it in the pack or pockets; tube and bite valve

      Durability of materials and construction (including during bushwhacking
      and non-technical climbing)

      Weatherproofness (how well does the top seal; how waterproof is the
      pack in fog, precipitation, or the wet bottom of a canoe?)

      Suitability as a canoeing/portaging pack

      Camp chair conversion (rumor, gimmick or luxury?)

      Ramifications of the exposed, sandwiched pad integrated into the
      suspension (how easy is it to place and secure the pad; does it stay in
      place; does the pad sleeve construction collect precipitation or
      debris; does the exposed pad snag on vegetation or get exposed to
      excessive dirt and other abuses?)

      How comfortable is that pad sleeve, anyway? Which pads or other
      "fillers" are most comfortable and effective?

      For all trips I'll record a summary of items carried, their overall
      weight and volume, and note weather and trail conditions along with my


      After spending two months with the ULA Fusion backpack, I have great
      enthusiasm for many of its features, tempered by my concerns over its
      load dynamics and comfort (all relating to its innovative suspension

      I plan to keep experimenting with how I can best use this suspension,
      as well as contributing ideas for how to improve the design should it
      turn out to have genuine issues. Either way, I look forward to
      continuing my use of the Fusion and continuing to give it an extensive
      workout in the coming months.

      Thanks to BackpackGearTest and Brian Frankle at ULA for giving me the
      opportunity to participate in this test.
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