Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) Circuit 2014 Review

Update: After 200 miles I have done a longer term review on this pack and you will find it here:

I ordered this backpack on Thursday and to my surprise it arrived in just two days!   Last summer I used a  pack made by a "mid sized company"  on my overnight trips with my kid.  The pack worked okay for the first few shorter trips.  But by the time we were ready to do longer trips the pack had stretched to the point that it no longer rode comfortably on my hips.  Maybe I tried to carry too much with it.

 Also the pack body was just a little bit too small to hold 3 days worth of food for two people (or six days for one) and then part of the pack broke when I stepped on it and I was not able to obtain original replacement parts from the "mid sized company".   The "mid sized company" told me to contact their third party factory in Mexico(?)  to get my pack repaired.  No thanks.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  So I had to do an ugly homemade repair job on it and without the proper parts. It's a good thing that I know how to sew.

 I did quite a bit of research and decided that the ULA Circuit was probably the way for me to go next.  Most of the folks who through hike the PCT carry this pack and that seems like a very good endorsement to me.

First impressions:  The pack is really pretty, but then purple is my favorite color.  There were four different color options for this pack.   The pack also feels really light in spite of it being a few ounces heavier than I am used to.  This pack comes with a lot of features and  I might not want to use all of them, but that's okay because most of the features that I don't want are made to be removed.

The pack has plenty of volume for the weight and I am certain that I will never need a bigger pack than this for my 13 pound base pack weight, even when I go on multi-day hikes and carry stuff for my kid.

weight with everything included
With all the included stuff the pack weighed  between 2 pounds 4 ounces  and 2 pounds 7 ounces on my scale.  ULA says the pack weighs 39 ounces, so ULA was right on.    My pack is a size small with a large hip belt and original "J" straps.

Back of the pack so purple, so pretty


Thumb strap, notice how long all of the straps are, I'm going to trim them.

I was able to shave one ounce off this pack right away by removing the thumb straps.  The thumb straps are big loops on the shoulder pads that you can hook your thumbs into so you can elevate your hands and prevent them from swelling up on long trips.  I use trekking poles, so I doubt very much that I will use these straps.  Also they weigh one ounce and they get in the way and bother me.  I'm glad that the straps are made to be removed.

Front Mesh pocket

The pack comes with a nice big front mesh pocket.  The mesh does not stretch but the top opening does stretch.  This pocket will be easiest to load when the pack body is empty since the mesh does not stretch.  The mesh feels very solid and I doubt that it will ever get snagged and ripped on branches and rocks.

There are two ways to close the top of the pack.  You can roll it down and clip it like a dry sack when it is not too full, or you can cinch it down with two  straps when it is fuller.  The  straps are study enough that I am not likely to break them if I try to pick up the pack while I am standing on one of them.   (that is how I broke the string on my last pack)  The same clips work either as a roll top or a strap closure since ULA has very cleverly reversed the male and female clips on each side.   I really like the option of closing it like a dry sack because that cuts back on the amount of fuss.

Side compression strap
The pack comes with a compression strap on each side.  The strap is rather burly, I think it could have been made a little thinner.   I'm not a big fan of compression straps so I might cut these off eventually and then save another ounce.

There is also a big strap that goes over the top of the pack and can be used to hold stuff?  Maybe it's to hold a bear can on the top?  I suppose it could be used to carry snowshoes.  I might cut it off.  I can always sew it back on if I change my mind.

Made in the USA, got to love that!

Hydration bladder pocket
Inside of the main body is a hydration bladder pocket.  When you want to use a hydration bladder having a pocket is really important.   But when you don't want to used a hydration bladder, it's just extra weight.  ULA knows this and they made the pocket removable.  Another half ounce can be saved by removing this.   I normally use water bottles, so I think I will remove this unless I go hiking somewhere that is dryer than my rainforest and requires me to carry lots of water.

zipper pocket
Also inside of the pack body is a zipper pocket for storing things like money and car keys.  I really like this little pocket.  But, if for any reason I don't want to use it, it is made to be taken out.  It could be handy on a through hike to be able to throw your pack down and unclasp the pocket to take with you into a store or restaurant.  I will probably keep this pocket.  I really like having a secure place to keep my wallet and car keys.

The pack comes with two ice axe loops that can also be used to carry trekking poles.  I might remove one of these.  I only carry one ice axe at a time and I can carry my tiny trekking poles in the huge side pockets.

There is a shock cord with a clip that goes over the front mesh pocket.  This might be a good place to hold snowshoes or an extra jacket.  I always like to have at least one shock cord on the outside of my packs.  The cord has a plastic stopper on it to keep the ends from falling out of the clip.  The same result could be achieved by tying knots into the ends of the cord but this clip seems more secure.

The sternum strap is way too long and it is thicker than it needs to be.  I will be cutting the excess off of this and sealing the end before this pack goes anywhere.  This pack has an awful lot of straps on it and most of them are too long.  That's okay though, I can cut them all off to the size I want once I have decided exactly how long I want them all to be.  I know that I can save at least 2 ounces by  trimming the straps.

The pack also comes with water bottle loops on the shoulder straps.  I've never carried water bottles on my shoulder straps, but I know that a lot of hikers do and I'm willing to at least give it a try before I cut the loops off.  Since the side pockets are not as easy to reach into as I would like, I might actually want to carry water bottles on my shoulder straps.

I put all of this stuff into the pack to see how it fit me when loaded

The first test to see how this pack fit on me was to fill it with stuff.  I filled it with all the stuff I would normally take on a backpacking trip and then I added some bottles of liquid to replicate the weight and bulk of my food.  All of the stuff pictured above made my total pack weight about 30 pounds.

Loaded pack.  The top is being held shut with the straps in this picture
I found that the pack fits quite well!  It fits nice and high on my hips just the way I like a pack to fit!  I'm 5'6" and I got the small sized pack body.  I can tell that even if this pack stretches out some it will still fit me well.  So far I'm loving the way this pack fits! 

The pack includes load lifter straps, I really missed not having load lifters on my last pack.   In this next picture I have not yet adjusted the lifter straps.  

I'm going to send a picture to ULA and ask them if they think I got the right sized pack.  The website says that they will provide this as a service and even send you the proper parts for free if it turns out that your pack does not fit correctly the way you ordered it.  

Loaded for a total weigh of 30 pounds including the pack it seems to fit well

Large zipper pocket on hip belt.  I am not wearing the pack in this picture
The hip belt comes with two large zipper pockets, one on each side.  The pockets are larger than I expected them to be and I am happy about that.  I should be able to fit a lot of moss samples into these pockets.

Large Zipper pockets are easy to reach, I got the "J" style shoulder straps
This picture shows where the hip belt pockets line up.  They are off to the side a bit an not really easy to see into when you have the pack on.

I can reach into the side pockets with the pack on

The main pack body has two very large side pockets.  I can reach into the pockets
when I have the pack on but it is not as easy to reach into them as I would like.  The pockets
cinch shut with a shock cord to help keep your stuff from falling out of them.
Included instruction sheet

Cost with shipping

Bottom line:
Good volume, low weight, sturdy pack that fits me perfectly.   I think  this pack is going to serve me quite well for years and years. 

My only real complaint is that it is not as easy as I would like for me to be able to reach into the side pockets.  But at least I can reach into them. Perhaps I won't mind that, if I start to carry water on my shoulder straps instead.

  Also the pack comes with too many straps and the straps are too long, but that is a problem I can easily fix with a pair of scissors.  I will take the pack on at least a couple of backpacking trips before I decide where to cut the strops.

I wish the pack cost less money, but  it is priced competitively so I can't complain too much and it is made in the USA.  Kudos to ULA for keeping jobs in the USA.

Next I would like to get one of these packs for my daughter.  This is the only ultralight pack that I know of that is made in an adjustable kids size.


Douglas Layne said...

I also like my Circuit. The long straps was actually a buying point for
me, an adjustment that I can do over time. I like the color but for others, lol. I actually carry my water on the shoulder straps.

mj said...

I am male and short,5'5". I am going to order Circuit soon, but why you don't choose medium size? ULA said small and medium shall both fit me.

Mossy Mom said...

I think I have a short torso and I find that small packs fit me better.

PlayingWithFitness said...

Great review! Thank you for including so many pictures, too. I've had my eye on this pack, and I don't think I've seen any bad reviews on it. It seems to be a crowd favorite. Happy trails!