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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > ULA AMP Pack > Test Report by Rick Allnutt

ULA Amp Pack
TEST SERIES BY RICK ALLNUTT
May 28, 2007

Initial Report - March 12, 2007
Field Report- May 28, 2007
Long Term Report - July 26, 2007

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Rick Allnutt
EMAIL: rick@backpackgeartest.org
AGE: 53
LOCATION: Helotes, Texas
GENDER: male
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 185 lb (84 kg)

Over the last several years, I have become an ultralight camper with a three-season base pack weight of about 10 lb (4.5 kg) and skin out weight of 20 lb (9 kg). I have completed many section hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in all four seasons, with a total mileage of about 1250 miles (2000 km). I am a gearhead, a hammock or tarp camper, and I make much of my own equipment.

Trail Name: Risk
Risk's Ultralite Hiking Page: www.imrisk.com


INITIAL REPORT
March 12, 2007

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Ultralight Adventure Equipment
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.ula-equipment.com
MSRP: US$89
Listed Weight: 10.6 oz (301 g)
Measured Weight: Main Pack Body 10.4 oz (295 g)
Front Pocket 1.8 oz (51 g)
1.0 oz (30 g) Stash Pocket 1.0 oz (30 g)
Other details: Size: M/L Color: Gray
Volume: 1600 cu in (26.2 L) main body,
Side Pockets 400 cu in (6.5 L)
Hip belt pockets 30 cu in (0.5 L)  and 1 oz (28 g) each

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

ULA Amp Pack quarter view

The pack arrived with no hang tags or packaging other than a very helpful two page set of directions. Topics covered in the directions include Amp Use (designed for pack loads up to 20 pounds); Basic Tips (sleeping pad for additional load support is strongly recommended); Putting the Pack on (adjusting the straps); Compression System; and Pack Options. I had studied the manufacturer's web site and the pack was mostly what I expected. It still seemed small compared with my expectation and I was glad that I had begun to reduce the weight and bulk of my backpacking gear.

Equipment to be packed
All this needs to fit in that little pack!


The pack is constructed from Dyneema Gridstop. The front and both sides are compressible with nonelastic compression lines. The shoulder straps are quite narrow (2 in (5 cm)) and very thinly padded. The pack straps terminate in "2-mm" cord instead of the webbing I have seen on every other pack I have picked up. The hip strap is plain 3/4 in ( 2 cm) nylon webbing with no padding across the abdomen. There are two matching triangles of hip padding at the base of the pack.

The pockets on either side of the pack will each hold two 20 oz (0.6 L) plastic soft drink bottles. That's a total of 4 bottles that will fit for a long day's walk through dry ground. I was able to remove a water bottle from that pocket while wearing the pack, though my personal shoulder joints make it easier on one side (my left) than on my right. The pockets are not compatible (not tall enough) with any of my water bladders, so I will use the soft drink bottles as my water carrier while testing the Amp Pack.
In addition, there are ports available at the upper corners of the back through which a hose can be routed when water is carried inside the pack.

Of the available options, I am testing the Removable Front Pocket and the Internal Mesh Stash Pocket. The Front Pocket is partly composed of Gridstop (front and back) and the edges are mesh. I will use that to dry my tarp and poncho when they get wet. The internal mesh pocket is made of a robust mesh through which I can not push a key. The directions suggest that this pocket is useful for keys, money, and identification. Since the pocket is firmly attached to the inside of the pack, I will place my car key, money, and ID in the pocket.

TRYING IT OUT

Before the pack arrived, I knew I would need to further trim my lightweight pack load to be able to fit my gear in the small pack. Here is the Gear List I developed:

Item ounces grams
Amp pack with options 13.2 374
pack liner 2.6 74
Ursak food sack (before food) 9 255
GoLite sleeping bag 28 793
3/4 length Ridgerest pad 7 198
cook kit 11.8 335
small fuel cannister 7 198
Brawny design tarp tent 18 510
home-made silnylon poncho 5.5 156
5 stakes 3 85
clothes bag 16 454
"bucket storage" 8 227
meds and tooth care 12 340
three days food 3 lb 1.4 kg
water 1.5 lb 0.9 kg
TOTAL 13 lb 5.9 kg


That gear just fit in the main body of the pack. For easy access, I put the fuel, cup from the cook kit, and poncho in the front pocket.

The bucket storage includes a head lamp, candle, map, and Olympus Stylus 720 camera, all inside a Seattle Sport bucket. The food bag is an animal resistant material (single layer Ursack) and includes a rehydration container for cooking noodles in an insulated cozy.

The photos at the head of the report shows all the gear in the pack, before and after packing.

It was not difficult to pack the gear. I placed the food bag in the bottom, my sleeping bag above it, and then the tarptent and cook kit. I slid the medicine kit in front of the tarptent. The clothing bag and bucket go on top of the tarp tent.

TESTING PLANS

I plan to go on a three day hike this week with the light gear. Temperatures will be about freezing. Later in the spring, I plan on two week-long Applachian Trail hikes. Please check back in about two months for my Field Report and the results of these backpacking adventures.

What I really Like So Far

- Lightweight
- Small Size
- The gear fits!


FIELD REPORT
May 28, 2007

AMP Pack on rock FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have used the AMP pack for several trips over the last two months. Backpacking included a two night trip to the Smoky Mountains with temperatures ranging from 27 to 68 F (-3 to 20 C) where elevations were from 600 to 1600 ft (180 to 500 m). I took a two night trip to the Red River Gorge of Kentucky and hiked about 36 mi (58 km). During that trip, the temperatures were about the same as the trip to the Smoky Mountains. In addition, I had a rainy three night trip on the Appalachian Trail near Damascus, Virginia with 32 mi (52 km) covered in temperatures from 50 to 80 F (10 to 27 C).   I have carried the pack during rain and on sunny days, in low foot hills mainly along forested paths. 

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The AMP pack has been the only pack I have used for the last two months. The pack list I developed above has served me well for the trips taken so far.  I lightened my cook kit to a total of 7 oz (200 g) with a canister stove I am testing.  In addition, I have replaced the aluminum tent stakes listed previously with six titanium stakes with a total weight of 1.2 oz (34 g). Much of the time, my pack weight including a couple day's worth of food has been very close to 10 lb (4.5 kg).  This is a very easy pack to carry and even with the small width straps the AMP sports, it is easy to forget the pack is on my back.

Shortly after I posted my Initial Report, ULA sent me a pair of hip belt pockets weighing 1 oz (28 g) each. They came with instructions for attaching to the pack (easy to do) and I have done all my hiking with these pockets on the pack. I have found these to be handy for a small digital camera, and for a zip-lock bag of GORP for lunch/snacking. The pockets are secure and reasonably easy to open and shut with one hand. The left hand pocket is visible in the photo above, just below the side pocket holding a water bottle.

AMP pack campThe gear list carried in the AMP pack is sufficient for solo camping. I have had the opportunity to sleep through several 8 and 12 hour steady rainstorms. I have carried the pack in all day rain as well. Though the size of the pack allows for very little excess gear or spares, the gear has been comfortable in wet and in cold conditions. I have not felt like I left anything at home that I really wished I had with me. As can be seen in the photo to the left, everything useful in the forest is right at hand.  

The AMP pack is not inherently waterproof. Few packs are. In the case of the AMP, several of the seams wick water into the pack when it is carried in the rain. Because of this, I chose to use a home-made silnylon pack liner. Without fail, this kept all my gear dry. An alternate solution for wet conditions could have been a pack cover. Using either solution, it is important to be able to cover the top of the pack for rain.  When less than a full pack is carried, the top can be rolled so that the drawstring top opening does not leak, but when leaving town with a full pack, or when almost all my clothing is carried in the pack on a muggy afternoon, the pack is sometimes full right to the brim. Sometimes this keeps me from rolling the top of the pack to make the opening more water resistant.   

SUMMARY

I have enjoyed carrying the AMP pack this spring. It has been comfortable to wear the pack for up to 12 hours a day, and the small volume of the pack has pushed me further into ultralight hiking than I had previously gone. This transition has been quite pleasant and I am pleased with the accomplishment.  Please check back here in late July for my Long Term report on the pack. I am looking forward to some hot weather camping in southern Texas during this interval, and that may lead to my lightest pack weights ever!


LONG TERM REPORT
July 26, 2007

Amp Pack in Big Bend parkFIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I've had the opportunity to use the AMP pack in an entirely different sets of conditions during the long term testing period. I used the pack as a day pack while doing trail maintenance near San Antonio, TX, and I used it for a three-day backpacking trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas (Chisos Basin photo to the right below). The altitudes I have carried and used the pack range from about 600 ft (180 m) to a little over 8000 ft (2400 m). The temperatures have been uniformly warm, with temperatures between 60-99 F (16-37 C). The countryside has ranged from Texas Hill Country to the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend.  

LONG TERM PERFORMANCE

The pack has held up very well, serving my needs while moving around in brush as required in trail maintaining activity and carrying the weight I needed for my Chisos Mountains trip.

Since my last report, I have continued to carry a cup and any clothing I have shed in the front pocket. I now use the right side (belt) pocket for my poncho and the left for my lunch GORP bag. 

My gear has not changed much, though I replaced the sleeping pad I was using with a 1/8th inch (3 mm) pad I bought at the Damascus, VA Trail Days Festival. For the summer Texas hiking, I replaced my spring bag with a home-made 15 oz (420 g) down quilt, shedding considerable weight and bulk in the process.

Belt pocket and water bottle arrangementI have settled in on carrying a water bottle in each of the side pockets.
The photo below shows an Anti-Gravity Gear Poncho-Villa in the left belt pocket and how the water bottle sits in the side pocket. These main bottles are one liter (1 qt) plastic bottles left over from sports drinks. I have gotten quite good at reaching back and removing a bottle with one hand and then being able to return the bottle to its pocket by holding open the pocket's elastic with my fingers as I put the bottle back. I don't have to break stride to do this, the only interruption being my need to hold both hiking poles in one hand while getting my drink. For the multi-day hike in Big Bend, there was little water available, so I added a 3 liter (3 qt) plastic soft drink bottle as my reserve supply. With this bottle, I could carry it full, or when partly full, I was able to crush it until only 2/3 to 1/2 full.  That way it took up less space in my pack.

My pack weight with 3 day's food and empty water bottles was 11.7 lb (5.3 kg), lighter than my spring weight mainly because of the sleeping bag and pad swap outs. With the two primary bottles filled, this added 4.4 lb (2 kg) and this was still in my "forget to take it off" weight range.  But when I added an additional 3 qt (3 L) of water and its weight (6.6 lb or 3 kg) the pack was beginning to be uncomfortable.  The total weight was now 22.7 lb (10.3 kg) and about 14 percent above the recommended upper weight load of the pack. None of the stitches broke in the straps at this weight, but the rather thin straps were no longer quite so comfortable as they are at lower weights.  I had to be careful to use the thin hip belt to advantage for the 3 miles I carried this weight in the pack after leaving a spring with all bottles full. By the next morning, when I had consumed more than a liter (quart) of water, the pack again felt comfortable. As I walked along the south rim of the Chisos Mountain trail complex I frequently found myself taking photos for several minutes and forgetting that the pack was on my back.

I used the key pocket safe inside the front of the pack on this trip, and it did my heart good to be free of the worry of not being able to find my key when I got back to the car. Knowing that the keys are secure in the pack and can not be misplaced when packing up helps me to relax and not be compulsive.

At camp, I found that I could easily stuff the empty pack into my clothing bag to make a nice and comfy pillow. With very little extra clothing, I needed the bulk of the pack to keep my head off the ground.  But even then, the pack takes up so little bulk that I had to put the clothes bag with pack inside, on top of my cooking pot to sleep well.

Chisos Basin in Big Bend Nat Park SUMMARY

What I Like:  

- The pack is light, strong, and packs very easily.
- The options (front pocket, belt pockets, inside key pocket) allow me to bring just what I need for a hike. They are all functional and feel like they are built in when they are used.
- The strap system is minimalist, but the weight saved is appreciated. The straps are wide enough to be comfortable.

What I would change:
- It would be very nice to have a flap or top pocket to keep water from getting in the top of the pack.
- The front pocket is so remarkably useful, that I would sew it directly to the pack, or optionally make it into a top pocket as mentioned above (preferred).  As is, there is slight possibility of stuffing an item between the back of the pocket and the pack. I have had to check carefully to make sure that what I was stuffing in the pocket was actually in the pocket and detected an error on my part several times.
- The volume of the pack requires me to pack so tight that I never used the compression straps cords. If the seams to which the compression straps are threaded could be turned inside and made waterproof, this would be a great improvement. To not need a waterproof internal pack liner would save 2.6 oz (74 g) in my packing scheme.

I thank ULA and BackpackGearTest for allowing me to test this pack. It has taught me a great deal about ultralight-weight packing and will continue to be a part of my ultralight approach to backpacking.  

 



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