IR: ULA Circuit backpack--Rick D
Here is my initial report for the ULA Circuit pack. HTM is here:
ÜLA Circuit Backpack
Test Series by: Rick Dreher <<IMAGE 1>>
June 03, 2010
NAME: Rick Dreher
LOCATION: Northern California
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (2.10 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.40 kg)
FOOT SIZE US mens' 11.5
TORSO LENGTH 19.5 in (50 cm)
YEARS HIKING 41
I enjoy going high and light and frequently take shorter "fast- packing" trips. My longest trips are a week or so. I've lightened my pack load because I enjoy hiking more when toting less, I can go farther and over tougher terrain, and I have cranky ankles. I use trekking poles and generally hike solo or tandem. I've backpacked all over the U.S. West and now primarily hike California's Sierra Nevada. My favorite trips are alpine and include off-trail travel and sleeping in high places. When winter arrives, I head back for snowshoe outings in the white stuff.
Product Information & Specifications
Manufacturer: ÜLA Equipment
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: <<HYPERLINK GOES HERE - "http://www.ÜLA-equipment.com/" LINK TEXT = "ULA Web site [http://www.ÜLA-equipment.com/]">>
MSRP: US$ 200
Listed Weight:*: 36 oz (1,021 g)
Measured Weight**: 38.2 oz (1,083 g)
*Medium pack, medium hip belt, no accessories
**Medium pack, small hip belt, including accessories
Total volume (manufacturer): 4,200 ci (69 L)
Recommended max. load: 35 lb (16 kg) total; 15 lb (6.8 kg) base weight
Single main compartment with extension collar and roll-top closure; five exterior pockets (1 back, 2 side, 2 hip belt); two removable interior pockets (for hydration system and small items); integrated carbon fiber-delrin perimeter hoop frame plus removable aluminum center stay; padded backpanel, shoulder straps and hip belt wings; adjustable sternum strap; side compression straps, ice axe/pole loops; removable handloops; water bottle holsters.
<<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 2" IMAGE CAPTION = "Front view + key features.">>
The ÜLA Circuit is a lightweight, top-loading, full-featured, internal-frame suspension backpack. The Circuit is large enough for longer multiday trips yet light and compressible enough to be an option for shorter trips toting a reduced load. It has a frame suspension, not relying on a sleeping pad or other soft "frame" for support like many lightweight packs. The 2,400 ci (40 L) main compartment has a roll-top extension collar and huge external pockets that add a whopping claimed 1,800 ci (30 L). The capacity breakdown provided by ÜLA is as follows: extension collar: 500 ci (8.2 L), front pocket: 400 ci (6.5 L), side pockets: 350 ci (5.7 L) ea, hip belt pockets: 100 ci (1.6 L) ea. Tally them up and the Circuit balloons to 4,200 ci (69 L).
The test Circuit shipped with some goodies: detachable internal hydration and accessory pockets, "hand loops," and shoulder strap water bottle holsters. The bottle holsters are permanent while the detachable bits total 2.8 ounces (78 g). An embroidered monogram is available to buyers wanting a custom touch, as ÜLA packs are sold directly to the consumer.
<b>Fabrics:</b> Dyneema gridstop, coated ripstop nylon and nylon mesh.
<b>Materials and Construction:</b>
This pack is a beautifully made (in Utah). Fabrics, especially the Dyneema and the pocket mesh, are stiff and exude ruggedness. The nylon mesh in particular is almost wire-like. More common coated nylon is used where the pack isn't subject to abrasion-a cost and weight savings. The back panel, shoulder straps and hip belt wings are padded with open-mesh covered foam. The two-layer foam is open cell towards the outside backed with thin, stiffer closed-cell foam for shape and support. Webbing, buckles, bungee cords, zippers and related hardware are slender and light compared to what's used on typical backpacks.
Fabric edges, stitching and seams all look good, with no loose threads, missed stitching or exposed seams and edges. All interior seams are bias-taped. Zippers, buckles, straps and cords all operate easily and seem securely anchored.
<<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 3" IMAGE CAPTION = "Back panel and hip belt feature ventilated padding.">>
<Main compartment:</b> As noted, main compartment access is from the top via an extension collar and roll-top closure. The roll-top anchors with straps on either side and a load control strap wraps over the center, back to front. All three straps have snap-release buckles. About a third of the way down the bag are two load-compression straps-one on either side. There are also two ice-axe/pole straps and loops and two drinking hose ports.
<b>Pockets.</b> The gusseted mesh front pocket is huge and the angled side pockets are sizeable as well, extending well away from the main compartment. The side pockets have corded top closures but also have low openings where the shoulder straps pass through. Small items could possibly fall through them. Waist belt pockets have zip closures and are made of regular nylon, not mesh. Inside the main compartment are two detachable pockets: a water reservoir sleeve and a mesh organizer with zip closure. The large back pocket is crisscrossed by a bungee cord for yet more readily accessible storage.
<b>Frame & Suspension</b> Load handling and suspension features comprise padded shoulder straps, back panel, and hip belt wings; a sternum strap; load-lifter and hip belt load stabilizer straps; a perimeter frame; and an aluminum stay. The perimeter hoop frame, said to weigh a scant 1.2 oz (32 g), is an inverted "U" comprising two carbon fiber vertical rods connected on top by a curved delrin arc spanning the top of the pack's back panel. The frame also anchors the lifter strap and hip belt stabilizer straps. The foam back panel spans the back between the vertical frame tubes and a slender, contoured aluminum stay rides in a vertical sleeve down the center, behind the foam. The 2 oz (60 g) stay is removable. The belt buckle connects to the hip belt wings via a V-strap configuration rather than a simple straight piece of webbing.
<b>Extras:</b> In addition to the internal pockets, the test Circuit comes with two of water bottle "holsters" (pairs of bungee loops on each shoulder strap) and hand loops (webbing loops that clip to the shoulder straps). Adding up the many ways to carry water on and inside the Circuit, it would be possible to stow a gallon or more (ignoring the gruesome weight for a second).
Instructions and Support
The Circuit comes with a two-page detailed instruction sheet covering the pack's design, recommended loads and loading them, fit, adjustments to match trail conditions, care and maintenance, etc. It's very thorough and written by somebody who's clearly a fellow backpacker. Most interesting tip gleaned so far: hoist and lower the pack using the haul strap to avoid tearing out a shoulder strap. The ÜLA Web site has much more, including helpful videos. It's impossible not to be impressed with the depth and quality of the information available to their customers.
I experienced a major disconnect upon first retrieving the Circuit from its box: This big, full-suspension pack is this light?!? I've downsized my pack along with my load over the years so the Circuit appears a bit large to me now; large, but without a weight penalty. Head-scratching continued as I pored over the fabrics and other materials, which all seem quite rugged and nary a scrap of sil-nylon to be seen. To repeat myself, this is a cleverly designed and beautifully made backpack that delivers a lot at about a kilogram. I'll add that the price seems more than fair considering everything it offers and the now rare, stateside manufacture.
<<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 4" IMAGE CAPTION = "Side view with extension collar.">>
Considered by itself, the main compartment isn't that large at 2,400 ci (40 L), but the tall extension collar and heroically large external mesh pockets add considerable volume--a claimed 75% bump if all available space is used. At this early date I can easily envision supplying a week-long trip using the Circuit, even with a bear canister (stowed vertically, alas).
<b>Sizing & Adjustments</b>
The Circuit is made to order from a selection of three bag sizes and five hip belt sizes. This test pack is a medium bag and small belt to match my 19.5-inch (50 cm) torso and 32-inch (80 cm) waist. Importantly, the hip belt can be adjusted vertically to help dial in the fit because it's attached using hook-and-loop-it can also be completely removed. This adjustment was not evident to me from perusing the ÜLA Web site, and should make it easier to tweak the fit since I'm at the long end of the vertical range for medium. The test pack and all supplied accessories is within a couple ounces of the weight spec, which is for a medium pack and medium hip belt without accessories. That's essentially hitting the target.
<<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 5" IMAGE CAPTION = "Huge side pockets have top closure and lower opening.">>
I use another frameless backpack that's smaller than the Circuit yet weighs only a few ounces less, and the Circuit seems equally rugged. For that matter, I have <i>day</i> packs that weigh more. Judicious and exotic material selection, a clever frame and no complex features or adjustments must all play a part in making the Circuit such a large and light backpack.
The Circuit's configuration means a couple of things: The single main compartment won't accommodate a bear canister sideways but will vertically. Really large loads typically carried when launching a multiday trip will push a good fraction of the load skyward as the extension collar is filled. It will be interesting to find out how well the Circuit manages loads that jut well above the shoulder straps. The pack profile is somewhat tapered--wider on top, narrower down lower, which should give me extra lower back clearance if I find myself headed down a steep slope, facing outwards.
Negatives? My small quibble is the dark fabrics and tall main compartment reduce interior visibility because relatively little daylight makes it inside. Echoing Henry Ford, you may have your ÜLA pack in any color you like so long as it's forest green and black.
Please check back in two months for the field report.
My sincere thanks to ÜLA Equipment and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the Circuit!
This report was created with the BGT Report Generator.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.