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Application: ULA Catalyst Backpack--Rick

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  • Rick D.
    Please accept my application to test the ULA Catalyst Backpack. Applicant: Rick Dreher Relevant Stats Age: 52 Male Height: 6 feet (1.83 meters) Weight: 175
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28 9:37 AM
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      Please accept my application to test the ULA Catalyst Backpack.

      Applicant: Rick Dreher
      Relevant Stats
      Age: 52
      Height: 6 feet (1.83 meters)
      Weight: 175 pounds (79 kg)
      Torso: 19.5 inches (49 cm)
      Waist: 32 inches (80 cm)
      Email: redbike64(at)hotmail(dot)com
      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.

      Test Proposal

      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-
      top seal?
      • 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
      sweat management?
      • 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
      BGT.org website.

      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

      Owner reports:

      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.

      --Rick Dreher

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