OR - ULA Catalyst backpack - Lyon
- Just in time to miss out on brownie points. Edit away. HTML version
in Test/OR folder at http://tinyurl.com/yu5o2s.
ÛLA EQUIPMENT CATALYST BACKPACK
July 8, 2007
Personal Details and Backpacking Background
Male, 60 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Email address: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA
I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the
Rockies since 1986. I do a week long trip every summer, and often
take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at
altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp
backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my
share of forced marches too. Though always looking for ways to
reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose
a bit more weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to
Manufacturer: Ultralight Adventure Equipment, Logan, Utah USA (ULA)
Website: www.ula-equipment.com. All quotations in this review come
from this website. The Catalyst page on this website has a useful
tool that allows a reader to view the Catalyst from all sides.
Year of manufacture: 2006
Year of Purchase: 2006
Fabric: Dyneema Gridstop
Colors: Green and white grid fabric, black trim. A few straps are
Features: "Internal Frame, Contoured Shoulder Straps, Bellowed Side
Mesh Pockets, Bellowed Front Mesh Pocket, Front Shock Cord, Side/Top
Compression Straps, Dual Ice Axe/Pole Retention Loops, Dual Hipbelt
Pockets, Dry-Bag Style Top Closure, Durable Dyneema Gridstop, Bear
MSRP: Pack, $225 US.
Accessory Manufacturer's Description (in quotes) or Author's
Comment MSRP ($ US) Listed weight
Dual Stay Framesheet "Dual aluminum stays replace the standard
single stay for increased load control and stability." Recommended
by company owner Brian Frankle for larger loads. 10 3 /
Internal Stash Pocket A removable internal zippered mesh pocket,
approximately 5 x 8 in / 13 x 21 cm, for easy storage of small items
such as car keys. 5 1 / 28
Hydration Sleeve "Accommodates all 2 L bladders. A few 3 L
bladders will fit. Drinking Tube exit ports on both sides of the
Catalyst allow for easy tube management." Also removable. My
Platypus 2L bladder fits just fine, a 3L Camelbak is too large.
5 1.3 / 37
H20 Bottle Holsters "Holds 16 oz [0.5 l] traditional bicycle
bottles snugly." Not your usual holster; these are removable bungee
cords that attach on the shoulder straps; see photo below. 2
each 0.4 / 11 each
Hand loops "Nice for folks who do not use trekking poles."
Removable webbing loops, located at about sternum level on the
shoulder straps. 2 each 0.8 / 23 each
ULA has a convenient sizing guide its website that enables a
customer to determine the proper frame size, from Small to Extra
Large, based upon torso length, and hip belt size, from Extra Small
to Extra Large, based upon waist size.
Listed Weight, from website: Standalone pack, 43 oz (1.22 kg) (size
not specified); accessories that I ordered (see below), 7.3 oz/ 207
g). See chart above for listed weight of individual accessories.
Measured weight of pack as delivered, XL frame, Large hip belt: 49
oz (1.4 kg)
Listed load guide: 30 40 lb/ 13.6 18.1 kg
Item (number on pack) Listed capacity (cubic inches/liters)
Main Body (1) 2600 / 42.6 (See note)
Front Mesh Pocket (1) 600 / 9.8
Side Mesh Pocket (2) Each 350 / 5.7
Extension Collar (1) 600 / 9.8
Hip belt Pockets (2) Each 50 / 0.8
Total Volume 4600 / 75.2
Note: Per email correspondence with ULA owner Brian Frankle the
Catalyst with XL frame has on overall capacity of about 5200 cubic
inches (85 liters).
Warranty: Lifetime warranty to original owner against defects in
workmanship and materials. Also: "All packs are returnable if the
product does not meet your needs. It does no good for either of us
to have you using a pack you do not like. Packs will ONLY be
accepted if they are returned in a new, unused condition. Shipping
costs WILL NOT be refunded when your payment is reimbursed."
The Catalyst, ULA's largest pack, is an internal frame backpack
designed to minimize weight without sacrificing "the basic
components of traditional backpacking -- comfort, function, and
durability." ULA introduced it in 2006 as an upgraded version of
its P-2 backpack. The buyer specifies which optional accessories
and consequent additional weight he or she desires. I ordered mine
with dual frame sheet, stash pocket, hydration sleeve, hand loops,
and one water bottle holder (on the left), bringing the total list
price to $251 US.
ULA's approach to backpack modularity in the Catalyst is to allow
the user to adapt the pack to loads of different sizes by using (or
not) different compartments or sleeves included as standard issue,
rather that adding or subtracting pockets, holsters, straps, or
different-sized pack bags from a stripped-down frame. This pack has
a large mesh pocket across most of the front of the pack that's
criss-crossed by bungee cord-like elastic bands, so that I can use
the pocket for a large item and then stuff a smaller item into the
cords. In the photo my sleeping pad is in the pocket and my rain
jacket stuffed into the cords. The mesh can also be loosened or
cinched down somewhat by means of hook-and-loop attachments at the
top on either side; these also allow safe and effective storage of
long items like the trekking poles in the photo. Large mesh sleeves
with elastic collars run diagonally across each side of the pack,
similarly permitting use for many different things.
The pack bag of the Catalyst has a single compartment, a top-
loader. I'm not sure what ULA's description of "dry bag style top
closure" means, as the lip of the pack bag and of the cover have no
hook-and-loop closures, but they can be rolled up together and
clipped securely if the pack is less than full. When the load in
the bag rises above the sides of the pack, the extended cover can be
adjusted with side compression straps that attach with quick-release
snaps to keep everything snug and covered. A long strap with a male
connector and compression slide runs from the back of the pack down
the center of the cover to a female connector at the top of the
front pocket that also has a compression strap. Each side panel has
a compression strap that allows cinching up less-than-full loads.
Sewn-on zippered hip belt pockets and tool loop at the bottom of
each corner of the front mesh pocket provide additional storage for
I used the Catalyst as my primary pack last summer on day hikes and
overnighters in the Rockies in August, September, and November, and
on several day hikes in the Texas Hill Country last fall and winter,
and very recently on two day hikes in Montana. Temperatures ranged
from 30 to 90 F (- 1 to 32 C). The August and September hikes
included some steep on-trail hiking, with daily elevation gain of
between 2500-3000 feet (800-950 m), with a pack weight of between 35
and 50 pounds (16-23 kg), including food and water. Low humidity
but still plenty of sweat on the uphill climbs! The Montana day hike
loads were in the 30-pound (14 kg) range, artificially inflated
because I volunteered to carry some children's food and gear and to
see how well a stove that I am testing packed into the Catalyst.
These day hikes were relatively short but with an elevation gain of
about 1000 feet (300 m), starting at 5000 feet (1500 m). I wore the
Catalyst once on a cloudless day ski in Wyoming, elevation about
10000 feet (3000 m) in January, with temperatures hovering around 0
F (-18 C), with a load of perhaps 20 pounds (9 kg). In the
following section I mention some particular items included in
various pack loads.
While I was fortunate enough to have fair weather most of the time I
did hike through a couple of showers and a brief thunderstorm while
wearing the Catalyst.
Disclaimer. I don't consider myself an expert on backpacks. For
the past twenty years I've used only two on a regular basis when
overnight camping, and they were similar to each other: a pre-Kelty
Dana Design Terraplane and a Mystery Ranch BDSB. Even when looking
for a permanent replacement for the Terraplane my experimenting was
limited to a couple of Mystery Ranch prototypes. For those
unfamiliar with these two great packs, both fall firmly (and
heavily) into the expedition pack category. Each weighs more than
eight pounds (3.7 kg) and lists capacity in excess of 6000 cubic
inches (98 liters). Only last year did I decide to seek some
serious weight reduction for shorter trips, and the Catalyst was one
of the candidates I examined. It's possible that my opinions in
this review are colored by my first exposure to a pack designed and
intended for those who describe themselves as "lightweight"
Weight Distribution. I learned my first lesson very quickly, that
this pack demands careful packing to ensure a comfortable carrying
load. If I follow my sloppy giant pack ways and pay close attention
only to my sleeping bag I find myself shifting the adjusters,
pulling on the hand loops to counter the pack's pulling away from my
shoulders, or listing to port or starboard. Not only that, with the
pack less than fully loaded things tend to move about inside the
main pack bag. These early experiences got me to focus on balancing
the weight and at the same time taught me how to take advantage of
the Catalyst's different storage options. Anything in the side or
rear pockets should be waterproof, of course, but with some practice
it's now fairly easy for me to keep things balanced out and me
relatively comfortable. Here's an example of a recent pack load and
where each item was stored:
Main compartment: Sleeping bag in stuff sack at the bottom, with
food packets at each end. Tent body (left) and down sweater in a
compression sack (right) above these. Then Jetboil PCS, spare pair
of socks inside an insulated cup, backcountry fly fishing kit (reel
and gear box), clean merino underwear for sleeping (in a stuff
sack), toilet kit, and additional food. 2L hydration bladder in the
sleeve. Spare shirt, socks, Aquamira kit, and other small items
stuffed in. Car keys and wallet in the stash pocket.
Front pocket: Sleeping pad, with rain jacket on the outside.
Left mesh pocket: Tent poles and stakes in stuff sack, rain pants,
first aid kit.
Right mesh pocket: Fly rod in tube, windshirt in a plastic bag, map,
trowel and toilet paper in Zip-Lock bag.
Left hip belt pocket: Tube of sunscreen and bottle of bug juice, in
a Zip-Lock bag; Clif Bar; pocket knife, headlamp.
Right hip belt pocket: Camera
Left shoulder strap: 0.75 l/qt water bottle.
When I have packed it carefully the Catalyst does a very good job of
weight distribution. The forty-pound (18 kg) rating is if anything
conservative, as I've packed with as much as 50 lb (23 kg) on a ten-
mile (16 km) hike with no particular problems.
Fine tuning. Straps at the top of the shoulder pads and a sternum
strap aid weight distribution by allowing me to hike up the pack so
that it rides on my hips and stays close to my back. I've been able
to tighten these one-handed while wearing the pack; loosening any
one of them sometimes requires both hands. There are also
adjustable straps between the bottom of the shoulder straps and the
hip belt; these I must adjust before placing the pack on my
shoulders. With the heaviest load, 50 lb (23 kg) the pack will
occasionally slip down my back slightly. I didn't try this pack on
before buying it and I have once or twice thought that perhaps the
frame is too long, but I've met with this problem on other packs
that the pack designer himself custom fitted to me, so I'm inclined
to blame this issue on less-than-perfect packing or adjusting on my
part. I can report that I haven't yet had sore shoulders at the end
of any day and haven't had that dreaded feeling of lugging a boulder
that comes when the top of my pack pulls away from my shoulders.
Ten compression straps two on the lid of the pack, four on the
shoulder straps, one on each side, and two on the strap that runs
across the middle of the cover are effective at choking the pack
size down when necessary. So effective, in fact, that now that I'm
used to it I haven't minded using the Catalyst as a day pack.
Durability. So far so good. I haven't bushwhacked extensively in
this pack, but it's held up very well in its rookie year, with no
tears, scratch marks, loose threads, or jammed zippers. The fabric
is water resistant when exposed to intermittent showers.
Options. With one reservation each optional accessory does its
job. I haven't been able to measure or compare, of course, but I
believe that the dual frame sheet has aided carrying capacity, given
the comfortable ride of the pack at a weight in excess of its
recommended capacity. I like the hand loops for minor weight
adjustments and, as advertised, as an alternative to trekking poles
on less rigorous hikes. The hydration sleeve works just fine with
the minor tweaking discussed below. I really appreciate the stash
pocket; I'm paranoid about storing car keys in anything other than a
zippered pocket and now I know exactly where they are. My only
issue is with the water bottle holder. This is a means of carrying
extra water that's less intrusive than a holster on a hip belt, but
even after cinching the bungee as much as possible a bottle often
slips out when I'm swinging the pack onto or off of my shoulders.
Making sure that the top cord is set in the groove between bottle
and cap reduces this risk somewhat. A bottle with a throat stays
put more often than the cylinder shown in the photo. I haven't had
the bottle impede arm movement when hiking.
Overall I give this pack very high marks; what follows are
especially noteworthy items:
Weight distribution. It's really, really good. I've been spoiled
by my expedition packs, but I don't lose much in this category when
I fill up the Catalyst properly. Saving more than four pounds (1.7
kg) just by taking the Catalyst instead of one of my expedition
packs makes this a worthwhile trade-off for me.
Versatility. I can use it for a weekend or an afternoon.
Simplicity. Everything has a purpose and there's no feature that I
haven't used to good effect. Very little has gone wrong.
The hip belt pockets are perfectly placed for easy access. Because
they're sewn on there's no chance of their slipping around on the
belt or catching on something and coming off. Truly useful on every
Similarly, the mesh pocket and cord system on the front of the pack
make for very efficient packing.
I do have some nitpicks and suggestions for improvement:
The hydration ports at the sides of the Catalyst are too small. I
had difficulty forcing the bite valve of my Platypus system through,
and a larger valve on a Camelbak system that I have won't fit,
requiring me to detach the tube from the lid or the valve for
insertion through the port. A minor inconvenience except in winter
when the tube wears a neoprene sleeve, when it's a real struggle.
A necessary consequence of use of the side pockets for real storage
means that the mesh on the side pockets tends to sag, making the
pockets bulge out when not stuffed with gear. I've had a problem
with this snagging on bushes that are close to the trail. It also
means less-than-ideal tension when all that's in the pocket is an
expensive fly rod. I'd like a bungee cord-type of tensioner to take
account of a less-than-full load.
As noted, the water bottle holder requires attention every time I
put on or take off the pack.
- PLEASE READ THIS EMAIL IN FULL. IT IS MOST IMPORTANT!
Thanks for your Owner's Review. It has been added to the Owner
Review Queue and will be picked up by an Edit Moderator soon. Do
not worry if nothing happens with it for several days. All our
Editors are volunteers and your report will be subject to an
official edit within fourteen days. If you have not had a response
from an Edit Moderator via the Yahoo Groups list within this
timeframe, please let me know directly at jdeben@....
To assist in this process, if this is your first Owner Review we ask
that you post only ONE Owner Review for edit at a time. Our
experience is that it is more efficient for both the Editors and
yourself, if you post your first review, have it edited, approved
and uploaded before you post your second and subsequent reviews.
This way we can work with you on addressing any standard BGT policy
edits which you can incorporate into your second and subsequent
reviews before submission.
If you are new to BackpackGearTest.org, welcome to the community!
The Editors will work with you, within their own time constraints,
to get your first two Owner Reviews approved and upload in a timely
manner. Once these first two Owner Reviews have been approved and
you have submitted your Tester Agreement you will be eligible to
start applying for Tests. If you'd like more assistance or guidance
with the process you can request a mentor by sending an email to
Jennifer P, the mentor coordinator, at (jennifer.pope@...).
You may receive edits or comments from other members of the group.
These edits and comments, while not official, should be considered
carefully, and if you find them substantial, revise and re-post your
review. Incorporating member edits and re-submitting to the list
will usually result in a better review, as well as making things
easier for the official Editor. Please put REVISED in the subject
line of your re-submitted review, if you take this route or make any
changes to your review BEFORE the review has been taken by an Edit
Additionally, it is important for you to monitor the Yahoo Groups
list to keep track of the progress of your Owner Review. Once an
Editor has taken your OR and made the necessary edits they will post
their comments to the list with EDIT in the subject line. Once you
have incorporated these edits into your review please use REPOST in
the subject line. When your OR has been approved by the Editor they
will use APPROVED in the subject line.
If you'd like to keep track of the progress of your OR, the entire
Owner Review Queue is posted to this yahoo group list on Fridays.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to ask via
the list or contact me directly.
Edit Administration Manager
- Hi Richard,
Thanks for another fine review. You know the drill. I have a few
edits. After they are done you may put it here;
***Manufacturer: Ultralight Adventure Equipment, Logan, Utah USA (ULA)
Edit: I think the (ULA) should go right after the actual name.
***ULA has a convenient sizing guide its website that enables a
EDIT: "on" its website
**the Catalyst with XL frame has on overall capacity
EDIT: "an" overall capacity
***rather that adding or subtracting pockets, holsters, straps, or
different-sized pack bags from a stripped-down frame.
EDIT: rather "than"
***I'm not sure what ULA's description of "dry bag style top closure"
means, as the lip of the pack bag and of the cover have no hook-and-
Comment: most traditional dry-bags have a roll down top that then
clips together from the sides of the rolled down top. Is that what
this does? I have lots of dry-bags in MN.
Low humidity but still plenty of sweat on the uphill climbs!
Comment: I hear you
***I volunteered to carry some children's food and gear and to see
how well a stove that I am testing packed into the Catalyst.
Comment: ah the things we do for BGT!
***While I was fortunate enough to have fair weather most of the time
I did hike through a couple of showers and a brief thunderstorm while
wearing the Catalyst.
EDIT: I try to never edit for commas, but this needs one after "time".
***A minor inconvenience except in winter when the tube wears a
neoprene sleeve, when it's a real struggle.
Comment: I had to do surgery on a new pack just for this reason
- Ray, Thanks for the quick turnaround. Revised and uploaded and Test
file deleted. Regarding the dry bag closure, the top of the Catalyst
looks to me like an ordinary pack apron, with no toggle. There are
no "lips" like those on my dry bags(I have a couple that I use on
fishing and rafting trips) and no clips. As I indicate in the review
it's possible to roll up the top when the pack's not stuffed, but I
can't find anything designed especially for this purpose. I'm going
to ask Brian about it but I think he's on one of his sabbaticals,
er, field expeditions for the next few months. Regards, Richard
--- In BackpackGearTest@yahoogroups.com, "rayestrella1"
> Comment: most traditional dry-bags have a roll down top that then
> clips together from the sides of the rolled down top. Is that what
> this does? I have lots of dry-bags in MN.