Application: ULA Catalyst Backpack--Rick
- Please accept my application to test the ULA Catalyst Backpack.
Applicant: Rick Dreher
Height: 6 feet (1.83 meters)
Weight: 175 pounds (79 kg)
Torso: 19.5 inches (49 cm)
Waist: 32 inches (80 cm)
Location: Northern Calif.
Years backpacking experience: 39
General skill level: mid to advanced
Hiking style and Experience
I enjoy going high and light, and frequently take two-night "fast-
packing" trips. I've lightened my pack load the past few seasons for
several reasons: I enjoy hiking more when toting less, I can go
farther and travel tougher terrain and I have to accommodate
increasingly recalcitrant joints (especially ankles). I use trekking
poles. I generally hike solo or in tandem. My backpacking has been
in the western U.S. and British Columbia, in the Cascades, the
Olympics, the Rockies, the California Coast Range and the Sierra
Nevada. My longest trips are eight-day excursions and my favorite
trips are in alpine country and include off-trail travel. When
winter arrives, the snowshoes come out and I head back to the
mountains for outings in the white stuff.
Backpack load control and light pack weight are always in conflict.
Pare the pack to a few-ounce fabric rucksack and you lose mechanical
load control and must rely on the gear itself to support the load on
your back, a concept I've found flawed in practice. Stiffen the pack
itself with some combination of framesheet and stays or rods, and
weight leaps upwards from ounces to pounds, with increased comfort
and load balance being the payoff. ULA, who make both frameless and
frame-style packs, seem to be acknowledging the advantages and
disadvantages of both. The good news is that the Catalyst--their
largest, heaviest pack--is still quite light.
Experience with Similar Products
I know backpacks. I own at least a dozen at present (sad, but true)
and have had many more than that over time. I've tested three
backpacks and a child carrier for BPL.com and have written three
backpack owner reviews. I've used nearly every category of backpack
and over time, have migrated from seeking one versatile pack for all
uses to specialty packs targeted to specific trip requirements.
Still, I consider the three-season multi-day backpack to represent
the most important one in the gear vault, and am always searching
for the "perfect" one to support trips from one night to a week's
worth. If I find it, maybe then I can jettison half my collection!
Enter the Catalyst.
Preliminary Design Evaluation
With the Catalyst, ULA seems to focus on flexible simplicity. They
spec a midsize main compartment (2,600 ci/43 L) with roll-top
closure and large extension sleeve, a hydration tube port, several
large exterior pockets, load compression straps, a rear crisscross
bungee and a pair of axe/pole carriers. Total claimed capacity is a
large 4,600 ci (75 L), so nearly half is outside or above the main
compartment. Load management is from a single stay and framesheet,
main compartment compression straps, vertical load-control straps
and hipbelt cinch straps. I don't see anything unique about the
Catalyst, but the projected 43 oz (1,220 g) weight is admirably
light for a high-capacity framed backpack made of rugged fabrics
(Dyneema Gridstop). Many theoretically competing packs weigh two or
even three times as much!
Gross weight range is suggested at 30 to 40 pounds (14-18 kg), which
would accommodate considerable food and water in addition to a
typical three-season gear and clothing load.
My proposal for testing the ULA Catalyst is to use it on my hiking,
backpacking and outdoor activity trips--in the Sierra Nevada and
around the region--from now (presuming an April beginning date and a
four-month test span) through mid-summer. I propose at a minimum,
two overnight, two two-night and one four-night trips as well as
family day hikes when I'm loaded down with girl supplies. Should the
test start be later, I'd include my annual end-of-summer weeklong
trip as part of the test.
I'll first test varied loads from minimal, perhaps 18 pounds (8 kg)
total, to the maximum 40 (18 kg) to determine the pack's response.
I'll determine how a bear canister affects packing flexibility and
load control. Once I've completed this fiddling and base-lining,
I'll hit the trail. The two most important things to the walker are
comfortable shoes and a comfortable backpack.
Key Test Questions:
Fit and comfort. With the many ULA sizing options and no on-
pack back-length adjustment, can I get an ideal fit? How's the
comfort, both with smaller-than-capacity loads and with maximum
Load control. How well does the Catalyst respond to changes
in the two variables: weight and volume? Does the pack stay close to
my back and move easily with me on the trail, even with the
extension collar and back pocket full? Can I make fine adjustments
on the move?
Bear canister. A bear canister can really upset packing
strategy. Will my Bearikade Weekender fit the Catalyst either
vertically or horizontally (preferred) and in the bottom, center or
top? Once packed, how much useful space is left (of the theoretical
Extension collar. Does its use affect balance and the roll-
Pockets. What small gear and supplies fit into the four
accessible pockets? How easy are they to use while walking? Do the
side pocket closures work well? How much stuff will the back pocket
accommodate, and how effective is the bungee cord in controlling it?
Profile. Will the pack hang up in brush, especially with
pockets full? Will the pack bottom scrape on steep downhills?
Ventilation. Is there any provision for back ventilation and
Stormworthiness. Is there any benefit to seam-sealing the
Catalyst? Will my raincover fit?
Visibility. Does the fabric transmit enough light inside for
me to see the contents?
Durability. How rugged are the fabrics, especially the
pocket mesh? How about foam padding, stitching, hardware, zips?
Sizing and Options
Per the ULA sizing data, I'd take a medium bag and medium waist
belt. If options are included in this test, I'd like to add the
hydration sleeve and stash pocket.
Field Test Area Description
California Sierra Nevada, mountainous, 7k-11k feet/2.5k-3.3k meters
elevation, vegetation ranging from heavy forest with significant
underbrush (western slope) to treeless alpine. Terrain varies from
level meadows to steep, rocky scrambles. Trails range from clear and
easy to sketchy or even nonexistent. Because the test will include
the "bridge" season, there will be travel on springtime snowpack and
mud as well as and tricky creek crossings, all of which place a
premium on balance and load control. Anticipated hiking temperatures
could range from +40 to 85 deg F (5 to 30 C). Weather could range
from mid-spring stormy to mid-summer hot and dry, with wind-driven
rain, hail and snow all possible. Mosquito and blackfly seasons will
regrettably fall within the test period too.
Current Test Obligations
The Kahtoola KTS Steel test Long-Term Report is due April 14, 2006.
I was selected for a Benchmade knife test that's indefinitely
I agree to post all three reports complete and within the allotted
four months and to spend the required number of travel days during
the test period. I certify that I have read the latest edition of
our friend, Survival Guide, ver. 1202, and the annotations on the
My Most Recent Backpack Test Series
My Most Recent Completed Test Series
Other Completed Test Series
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress
Crescent Moon Gold Series Snowshoes
Equinox Pound Plus pack
Gregory G pack
IBEX Icefall Jacket
Integral Designs PrimaLiner sleeping bag
Kahtoola Traction System Aluminum crampons
Last Chance shorts
Superfeet Quick Fit footbeds
Tarptent Virga shelter
Yakima Grasshopper child carrier
Art'Teryx Khamsin 38 backpack
Casio Alti-Thermo altimeter watch
Contax T3 camera
Contax G2 camera
Garmin etrex GPS receiver
Gregory Reality backpack
Integral Designs Siltarp II
Leki Ti PA AS trekking poles
Keene Jamestown Nubuck Slides
Montbell Down Inner Jacket
MSR Titan Mini Cookset
Oakley A-Wire sunglasses
Osprey Aether 60 backpack
Patagonia Velocity jacket
Patagonia Essenshell jacket
Primus Alpine Titanium cartridge stove
Princeton Tec Aurora LED headlamp
Therm-a-Rest standard self-inflating pad
Western Mountaineering Ultralight sleeping bag.
Also, beta tester for Yaktrax, MSR SimmerLite stove and MSR fuel
Thank you for considering my application.