ULTRALIGHT ADVENTURE EQUIPMENT (ULA) CDT PACK
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
INITIAL REPORT: July 18, 2010
FIELD REPORT: October 2, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT: November 27 2010
||Catskills, New York
||6' 0" (1.85 m)|
||220 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from
a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no
means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to
carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In
recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within
the constraints of budget and common sense.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Ultralight Adventure Equipment
Year of manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: www.ula-equipment.com
MSRP: US$ 115.00
Shelter color: Green
Size: Medium/large: website states for torso length 20-22 inches (51-56 cm)
Waistbelt: large, 33 inches (84 cm)
Pack fabric: Dyneema (manufacturer Nippon Dyneema Co., Ltd.)
Listed base weight (given for medium torso, medium hipbelt: 17 oz (482 g)
Removable standard features: hydration sleeve, internal mesh pocket, water bottle holsters and handloops
Stated weight for these features (respectively): ~1.4 oz; ~1.1 oz; ~0.8 oz; ~0.8 oz (40 g; 31 g; 23 g; 23 g) [not confirmed by measuring]
Standard features (integrated): internal pad holster; contoured padded hipbelt; hipbelt pockets; contoured shoulder straps; front mesh pocket; adjustable/bellowed side pockets; ice axe/pole retention loops; side/top compression strap; drawstring extension collar
Measured weight, including all components: 22 oz (624 g)
Stated volume (medium pack): 3,610 cu in (59 L)
Volume breakdown: main body, 2,100 cu in (34 L); front mesh pocket, 450 cu in (7 L); side mesh pockets 320 cu in (6 L) each; external collar (5 L), 300 cu in; hipbelt pockets, 2 x 30 cu in (2 x .5 L)
Maximum load: 25 lb (11 kg)
The ULA CDT Pack
The ULA CDT pack arrived in good condition. Included are detailed instructions for the pack printed on a two-sided typed sheet. There is also a hang-tag from Dyneema, describing the fabric (used in many lightweight packs, it is extremely strong, based on my previous experience). The CDT is typical of many such packs in being able to utilize a sleeping pad for rigidity and weight transfer. It comes with a thin sheet of closed-cell foam already in place, but this is not heavy enough for weight transfer. To enable the use of a pad in this way, there are two diagonal lengths of elastic at the top of the rear interior of the pack. The instructions suggest that putting these over the top corners prevent the pad from creeping upwards. The use of either full or three-quarters pads is suggested, and inflatable pads may be used if partially inflated. The pack comes with a thin internal closed-cell foam panel that lends it some stiffness even without a pad, but this is not intended to be the sole interior support.
The pack is perhaps slightly atypical in having a rather full set of features. It is by no means a minimalist example of a lightweight pack. The measured weight is a little higher than stated, though in part that may be because this is likely a larger size than that weighed by the manufacturer (the two available sizes are small/medium and medium/large, and the figure quoted is for a "medium" pack, which makes the website weight a little ambiguous). By setting aside the removable features, the weight of this pack can be made quite close to that stated by ULA for the medium pack.
Design and materials
The Dyneema pack body is carefully sewn and constructed, although I encountered one loose thread or thread-end, which I cut away. The main rear pocket and side pockets are dense mesh. The upper pole loops are made from pairs of overlapping hook-and-loop fabric, the exterior of which bears the ULA logo. There are single compression straps on the sides of the pack and a top cinch strap that goes over the collar. Typically, lightweight loads should not need much compression, and this seems to be the philosophy that informs the design.
The waistbelt is wide and comfortable, and is foam-padded and lined with mesh. The waistbelt pockets, which appear to be made from a water-resistant fabric, are a good size for a windshirt, GPS unit, trail snacks, etc. The shoulder straps are similarly constructed with padding and lining, and have detachable handloops (maximum stated length 26 inch, 66 cm) and paired water bottle holsters, made of yellow shock cord with a sliding cord lock, enabling two light bottles to be carried. Bicycle-style bottles or Aquafina bottles are encouraged; Nalgene and Gatorade bottles are discouraged. The shoulder straps support a simple adjustable sternum strap with a quick-release buckle. Where the pack rests against my back is unadorned Dyneema fabric, there is no "breathable" back panel or similar construction.
Showing hipbelt and shoulder straps
The pack has a strong haul loop between the shoulder straps. ULA's instructions recommend using this to put on and remove the pack, to prevent excessive stress to the shoulder straps. The suggestion is given that the pack be lifted to a raised knee with the loop, and my shoulder can then be turned into the strap. I was a little surprised by this instruction, as this is close to the method that's usually suggested for heavyweight loads, and the optimal load for this pack is around twenty pounds. It's not the way I usually put lightweight packs on. There doesn't seem to be anything frail about the attachment of the shoulder straps to the body and my reaction was, that although this method of putting a pack on is good form, with such a light weight this suggestion may be a little overcautious, but I will try to observe it.
Although I have touched on the pack load in the paragraphs above, this point is emphasized by the printed instructions. The recommended carrying weight should not exceed 25 lb (11 kg), and loads should be less than that for best performance (15 to 20 lb, 7 to 9 kg). My usual total pack weight including food is under the maximum, and as consumables are used up, I should be carrying the pack within the suggested weight. The suggested method of packing is to have heavy items near the middle of the pack, medium weight items on the bottom, and light items on top. I normally put my sleeping bag at the bottom of the pack to provide a stable base for subsequent packing, but otherwise this is close to my method.
All of the fittings are cast nylon (or a similar plastic), including the buckles for the shoulder and waist straps. All seem quite robust. Since the pack has a pouch for a hydration system, there are opening for a hose at the upper left and right of the shoulder panel. The detachable mesh wallet in the interior is intended for use both in the pack and detached, in town during thru-hikes and the like, a nice touch. All in all, the CDT has a lot of features for its weight.
The water bottle holster on the shoulder strap
I look forward to testing this pack. I have owned a number of similar packs; one model in particular has been my workhorse for two- to five-day hikes for years. That pack has a similar lightweight backpacking audience to this, but the CDT is a few ounces lighter, and potentially seems to me to be more versatile, given the variety of pockets. I have loaded and worn the CDT lightly laden to get the feel of it (not on a hike) and it fits well, and feels "right." I will be reporting on my preliminary experiences about two months from now.
The ULA CDT pack is well-made and appears to be carefully designed for a lightweight load. It has a fairly extensive range of features, and is not by any means minimalist, despite having a light base weight and a very reasonable weight to volume ratio. The base weight can be reduced by detaching some or all of the optional attachments. Thanks to ULA and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this pack
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I have used the ULA CDT pack on two overnight trips over the Field Test period. The first trip was a simple on-trail overnighter on a local peak. The second was in large part a rigorous solo bushwhack off-trail, with an on-trail return. All pack use was in the Catskill Mountains of New York, to elevations of about 4000 ft (1220 m), on mountainous terrain. Daytime temperatures were at maximum 75 F (24 C) or more, and nighttime temperatures fell to a minimum of 45 F (7 C), with (on the first trip), strong, gusty winds. The weather on both trips was fine and dry, as has been much of our late summer.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
How the CDT loads
As noted in the Initial Report, this pack is intended to carry a maximum weight of 25 pounds (11 kg). In addition, the ULA website indicates a recommended base weight (i.e. the weight of pack and equipment before food and water is included) of 12 pounds or less (5 kg). On the first trip, my base weight was below the recommended minimum, as I was carrying a tarp shelter, which helped keep the weight low, but as I was making a dry camp I carried about a gallon of water in two 2 L Platypuses. With food, that raised my starting weight to about 22 lb (10 kg). I used a standard canister stove, not an alcohol stove,
On the second trip I chose a more substantial shelter, a two-person Tarptent Double Rainbow whose weight is around 3 lb (1.4 kg). This gave me a higher base weight, just a little over the recommended minimum. I could probably have shaved off an extra pound by leaving out a few oddments, but chose not to do so. I was carrying less water than the first trip (less than I could ideally have used, as it turned out, as I failed to find a spring that was supposed to be the vicinity of my campsite), so my starting weight was still a moderate 20 lb (9 kg). Neither load could be called ultra-light, but my intention was to carry a load close to that for which the pack was designed. In general, on short trips, I don't go for the bare minimum.
On both of these overnights, I used a full length Z-Rest; the pack is designed to be used with a sleeping pad to give it structure. I folded this to create a back panel. On the second trip I placed my shelter poles diagonally within the folded pad for added firmness and to facilitate weight transfer. The Z-Rest, placed in the pack, is held in place at the top under the diagonal elastics built into the CDT, and I secured it in position with the bulk of my sleeping bag placed in the base of the pack. This was a lightweight bag (Valandre Mirage) rated to 23 F, -5 C, weight 25 oz (0.7 kg), housed loosely compressed in a lightweight silnylon drybag. I could have gone for a significantly lighter bag with a rating of 35 F (2 C), but on the first trip I expected strong nighttime winds (and was not disappointed). In a tarp shelter, winds can make for cool sleeping. I felt the sleeping bag was the right choice on both trips. More to the point, it demonstrated that despite the CDT's limits of recommended minimum weight, perfectly adequate comfort can be achieved, for a three season trip at least, with the right choice of gear. I would have been comfortable at a significantly lower nighttime minimum temperature than I experienced.
In both cases, I carried my shelter in one of the side pockets. Here's the setup for my first trip:
The full pack, ash-tree bolete in the foreground
That's my tarp and its folded pole in the left mesh pocket; one of my two water containers, a lightweight inflatable torso pad and a few other odds and end in the right mesh pocket; and a silnylon poncho to serve as a groundsheet and rain wear (together a windshirt and a lighweight jacket for evenings) in the rear mesh pocket. Munchies and a GPS unit are in the two small pockets on the waistbelt. Everything was cinched in carefully with the pack side straps (I wouldn't recommend carrying water in this fashion for an off-trail hike; though I didn't have problems, I felt it was held in place a little precariously).
Inside the pack is more water, the rest of my gear, and my food. I even had gloves and a hat packed in there, just in case (total overkill, but I've needed them in summer before now). The bottom line is that fully loaded, with a spare night of food and loads of water, the pack easily carries all one could reasonably require.
How the CDT carries
I put my headlamp in the supplied mesh wallet for easy access, along with my ID and some cash for the trip home, as I expected to set up camp after dark (I did so on both trips). The wallet, which is at the top of the pack, below the collar, is a very nice addition to this pack's features. It is easily detachable. I didn't use the hydration sleeve on either trip, but I will at least once for the long-term report (I am not a big fan of hydration tubes, as a general rule). At the trailhead I loosened all the straps, put the pack on, and cinched in the waistbelt and adjusted everything just so, starting with the waistband and then the shoulder straps. I then hit the trail. No fuss, no muss, all very straightforwardI especially like the way that the waist adjusts, with the pull straps situated away from the main buckle. I was interested to find (and I noted that this was consistently the case) that I didn't really need the sternum strap. I have slightly narrow shoulders, and find this strap almost essential with many packs, so this was a pleasing discovery. The only time I really felt it essential to have it fastened was during a brief third-class climb during the second trip, as I wanted the pack to hug my back without any possible side-to-side slop while I climbed steeply a couple of hundred feet or so on some narrow and rather exposed ledge systems.
The pack's waiststrap seems very well designed, spreading the load to the hips well, and even fully laden it is remarkably comfortable to carry the CDT at weights near the suggested maximum load or less. As my levels of food and water declined, I sensed that the true "sweet spot" was around fifteen to eighteen pounds (7 to 8 kg), but this pack certainly isn't at all uncomfortable fully laden. It is constructed without load-lifter straps, but on a pack intended for these weights I certainly didn't feel their absence. It's fairly snug, in a good way, a good pack for precarious perches, handy for one who likes a little non-technical climbing on a hike. Perhaps because of this snugness, as it has no back panel it can feel a bit sweaty, but the same's true with most packs I use, panel or no. It's also light enough to carry briefly over one shoulder for ventilation. I do feel that the torso length (medium/large) is just right for me.
I did use the handloops on trail for a while. Though I knew ULA packs had them as an option, I have no other pack with them, so they were a new feature to me. I like them, and they do seem to slightly change the way the pack carries. It seems to me that some load is taken by my hands when they are in use, and that perhaps they act slightly like load-lifters. The downside is that the loops can't easily be used with hiking poles, so those have to be strapped on using the retention loops, adding load to the pack.
A minor disaster
On my second trip, I began a long ridgeline ascent to the highpoint of my route. This is a bushwhack I've taken several times in the past, though not recently, and my recollection was that it was not too densely vegetated. The hard climb (in terms of verticality, not elevation) was at the beginning of the day, when I ascended the summit of the peak below which I had slept, and I was looking forward to hitting the trail and beginning the descent to the car. Unfortunately, either I had forgotten them, or i was away from my usual line, but my route took me through some very dense spruce-fir growth, common at higher elevations in the Catskills. This is rough stuff on body and gear alike, and I found myself crawling under the close-packed trees to get through (and getting scratched up, as usual). Finally, I hit the trail, and unshouldered the pack to get some food and the remains of my water. It was then that I saw the spruce had taken its toll.
A large hole had been opened in the rear mesh pocket, probably by a protruding branch. The tear seemed to have run from the point of the initial puncture. Fortunately, no gear had escaped, nor was any damaged. While I have had small snags to mesh pockets on packs when bushwhacking, this is the only time in many years of thrashing through the woods that I have had a major tear to a pack; the damage is usually to myself or my clothing. The body of the pack was entirely unaffected, but the rather soft, stretchy mesh of the pocket had suffered badly.
I called ULA the following week, arranged for a repair, and shipped the pack off. The response from ULA was exemplary. I have just received the pack back (about two weeks later) flawlessly repaired. Initially I thought it had been entirely replaced, but a careful examination (a spruce needle tucked away in some waistband padding) indicates that this is one and the same. The craftsmanship of the repair seems impeccable. I am very impressed, both by the turnaround time and the quality of the work.
Despite this misadventure, I am very taken with ULA's CDT pack. It carries well, and is perfect to my needs for three-season backpacking, though perhaps not off-trail. The body of the pack is made of strong stuff (I have had Dyneema packs before), but the pockets are a bit more vulnerable. In future, I will need to exercise greater care.
LONG TERM REPORT
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
For the past two months I have used the ULA CDT pack on three backpack trips in the Western and Southern Catskills, at elevations to 3,000 ft (914 m). Nighttime temperatures have ranged from 35 F (2 C) down to about 20 F (-7 C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The ULA CDT pack has continued to show its versatility, although with the colder conditions that will hold sway from now until spring, I will need to set it aside for a pack with a slightly larger capacity, to carry additional gear that will give me a margin of safety. The Catskills in winter are not to be taken on too lightly, literally and metaphorically. Not to be morbid, but we have already had our first exposure-related death of the season, something that rubs this home. The CDT is, for my part of the world, a three-season pack.
I have no real complaints as to its performance. It has continued to be very comfortable in use, even close to maximum load, and it carries a very respectable volume in a stable fashion. The one significant limitation is that I do like to spend time off trail, which in most of this region means that encounters with heavy brush and summit growth are a strong possibility. Given my experience during the Field Report I would not want to risk ripping the pocket mesh a second time. Beyond the fact that I don't like to damage gear, the tear to the pocket was sufficiently large that I could potentially have lost items from the pocket. In consequence, I now use the pack solely on trips where I will be predominantly on trail.
I have taken out the detachable hydration sleeve and the bottle loops, as these are optional accessories. They don't add significant weight, but they have no utility for me at present; both are good features, but they are not really in line with my style of backpacking. The mesh pocket I like a great deal. The hand loops are a curiosity about which I remain somewhat undecided even now, but on the whole I like having them, and will leave them in place.
The pack shows no deterioration from wear and tear (as previously noted, the repair to the pocket was essentially invisible). Given that it is so comfortable, and has a very reasonable weight to volume ratio, I expect to continue to use it as a backpack with frequency once winter is over, and because of its stability may use it as a winter daypack. I have other packs of much the same volume, but none carries as well as this.
This is a sturdy, comfortable pack for travel primarily on trail (or at least where the pockets will not be snagged by branches), for those whose gear is lightweight. For those regions not experiencing serious winter conditions, it will be a good four-season option, but here in the Northeastern US it will be a three-season backpack, or a winter daypack.
If there is any single feature I would change it would be the pockets. I'd love to see them in the same Dyneema fabric as the body, or at any rate made from a much sturdier mesh. Other than this, there's really nothing that I would alter.
My thanks to ULA and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the CDT Pack. This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org
Version 1.5. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Edward Ripley-Duggan