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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > ULA Equipment Circuit > Test Report by Andrew Buskov
ULA's lightweight and redesigned rolltop backpack.
Field Report: September 12, 2010
Long Term Report: November 16, 2010
Tester Biographical Information:
I’ve been backpacking for years now, and have slowly started developing my ideal style. I’ve gotten my pack weight down to roughly 25 – 30 lbs (11.3 - 13.6 kg) before water, and am whittling it down every hike. Day hiking is nice, but getting out over multiple nights is really what I enjoy. I like to take my time and enjoy the scenery as opposed to hiking hard. I also like being comfortable and insist on an air mattress. I usually tent or hammock, but stay in shelters when needed.
(From Manufacturer's documentation & Website)
The Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit backpack was redesigned in 2009. As with its predecessor, it is designed to provide exceptional load carrying capabilities while still offering needed functional use. One of the feature changes that was incorporated was the use of a carbon fiber pole in conjunction with a firmer foam back panel for more comfortable use by the wearer. This helps gain better load management, control, and pack rigidity without sacrificing too much in weight savings.
Included in the design of the pack are the following features. They are broken down between integrated into the pack and removable features:
This product arrived to my door in a cardboard box, with no plastic shipping bag, no documentation, and no hang tags. It was in complete condition without any rips, tears, or damaged materials. I removed it from its box and immediately noticed how light it was in comparison to other backpacks I've owned. After examining all the features and playing with all the straps to make sure that everything worked well I tried it on and felt how comfortable it was. After examining it, I would have to say that it met my expectations from the product I saw on the website.
The main body of the pack is constructed of a green and white checkerboard material called Dyneema Gridstop. It looks very similar to most ripstop nylon products I've seen before, but it appears that the ripstop capabilities extend both in the traditional box-sewn pattern as well as diagonally in each box. If this is the case, it would appear that the material has twice as much ripstop capabilities as normal ripstop nylon.
The front pouch of the pack is constructed of a very course mesh pocket. This mesh is sewn to the seams along the sides of the pack and includes an elastic band across the top that helps keep the top closed. Included over the mesh is an elastic cord that is run through loops that are also sewn to the side seams of the pack. This elastic cord includes a drawstring closure at the top and an easy to grasp pull that holds the two ends of the cord together. The cord appears to be heavy-weight and takes a good deal of tension to stretch. On each side of the bottom of the mesh pouch are equipment loops for ice axes or poles. The corresponding attachment points for these loops are two hook and loop closures that are sewn into the side of the pack seams. These closures also have the ULA logo screen printed in retro-reflective paint making them easier to see.
On each side of the pack are two pouches constructed of the same heavy duty mesh material as listed above. The mesh pouch is sewn to an additional piece of Dyneema Gridstop material that is then sewn into the bottom seam of the main pack body. Both pouches are wide enough to fit a standard 1 L wide mouthed or Nalgene bottle and both have a standard piece of ripstop nylon sewn to the top of the mesh with an elastic shock cord running through it. The shock cord, which is yellow in color, extends through a sewn hole out the back of the pouch toward the wearers back before running through a cord lock that is sewn to the body of the pack. This allows the wearer to grasp the cord and tighten it single-handedly without much effort. Also on the back side of the pouch toward the bottom is another small hole sewn with elastic material that the shoulder strap attaches through; more on this below. Also on the side of the pack located near the top of the main pack body are two compression straps with quick release buckles.
I mentioned specifically that the shock cord on the pockets is yellow in color. This is significant as half of the adjustment straps for various equipment on the pack are colored yellow. This includes the four shock cords located on the shoulder straps that are designed to hold standard water bottles, the shock cords on the side pockets, and the side straps that help to secure the roll top closure. With the specific intention of coloring the hand adjustments, why aren't all the pulls colored in yellow? I would have especially liked to see the load lifter and shoulder adjustment straps also tagged with yellow ends to make them better visible while wearing. In all reality, I would have liked to see all adjustments colored for easier use.
As mentioned previously, the main body of the pack is of the top loading design with a roll top closure. The interior of the pack itself is quite spacious and tapered so that there is more interior space at the top of the pack versus the bottom. This appears to be a good thing as it will help limit load shifting toward the bottom of the pack, thus making it easier to distribute various weighted items evenly throughout the pack without having to worry about migration. The interior of the pack has two removable compartments (described below) located on the front and rear wall. The clips on both of these pockets are designed in such a way as to snap onto nylon hang loops. This prevents the pockets from slipping off the loops during hiking. Also located inside the main pack body are an aluminum bar that helps keep the pack body straight and conformed to the wearers back and a carbon fiber suspension hoop that helps to keep the pack body from slouching or collapsing on itself. Running from the back to the front of the pack across the top is a long nylon compression strap that helps to keep the rolltop closure secured during hiking.
The rear wall, closest to the wearers back, houses the hydration compartment. It is made of standard nylon sewn in a rectangular pattern with seams on the sides and top, but not the bottom. The top is sewn in such a way as to provide a flap over the top of the bladder. This appears to be designed to prevent the bladder from slipping out of its sleeve when the pack is placed in an awkward position. It also looks large enough to hold a 2 L (64 fl oz) hydration though I haven't had the opportunity to test yet. The front wall, closest to the exterior of the pack body, has two nylon loops that hold a small heavy-duty zippered mesh pouch. This pouch is approximately 6 x 7 in (15 x 18 cm) and includes the same locking clips on it that the hydration sleeve has.
The shoulder straps are contoured for a better fit and feel for the wearer while hiking. They are designed with multiple attachment points located throughout the height of the strap. There is an integrated chest strap with a quick clip that slides up and down on a nylon strap to provide better comfort for the wearer. One of the things that I was disappointed about was the fact that the chest strap was not removable without damaging either the plastic clips holding it to the nylon strap, or the strap itself. As I don't tend to use the chest strap all that often, having the ability to remove it really would have been helpful, especially on a pack designed to be ultralight. While the shoulder straps are padded, the padding feels very firm and not very thick. I understand this is a lightweight pack and that the load range is going to also fall into the lightweight category, but having a padded shoulder strap seems like it would only better the comfort of the wearer.
The hipbelt appears to be constructed in the same fashion as the shoulder straps. It is made of the same foam padding as the shoulder straps but it appears that the covering material is standard ripstop nylon. There are two zippered pockets, one located on each side of the belt. These pockets are constructed in such a way as to stand off from the hipbelt, thus preventing the contents from becoming squished as the wearer tightens the hipbelt. The front clip of the belt is floating, meaning that the clip itself is not the cinch point as with typical hipbelts. Instead, the clip floats on a nylon strap that is attached to two quick release cinch clips located on both sides of the belt. This allows the wearer to cinch the belt down in four different directions, thus giving an extra measure of comfort. The belt is also attached to the back panel of the pack with a hook and loop attachment thus making torso adjustments quick and easy. Load suspension straps extend from the front part of the hipbelt to the bottom sides of the pack for extra stability.
The back panel of the pack is constructed out of a soft mesh. This same soft mesh is located on both the bottom side of the shoulder straps as well as the inside of the hipbelt. While it is softer than the heavy-duty mesh located on the front of the pack, comfortable would not be a word I would use to describe the mesh. It still has a rough texture to it that feels like it could easily chafe during hiking. If this is indeed the same material that I've been exposed to on my other packs, then this is definitely something that I'll have to keep an eye out for as I've ended up with multiple blisters from chafing against this sort of material in the past.
In all, I'm pleased with the construction, design, and apparent durability of the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit backpack. So far there are only a few concerns that I would like to reiterate here. First, I'm extremely concerned about the front pocket mesh panel and elastic top. I've had numerous hydration packs with this same mesh and elastic band and I have always had problems with the sewing. It almost never fails after a short period of time that the mesh separates from the elastic. This is definitely something I will be watching for over the life of the test. While I do enjoy the numerous yellow colored adjustment points, I wish that all adjustment points were color coded this way. This is definitely not something that would keep me from buying the Circuit, just a consideration from a user's standpoint. The last concern I have is with the apparent lack of padding and course mesh on both the hipbelt and shoulder straps. I wish that there was a bit more padding, and maybe a bit different mesh so as not to rub my shoulders so rough. These are all definitely some aspects that I will be elaborating on during the other two testing periods.
Field Report: September 12, 2010
During the testing phase, I was able to use the ULA Adventure Equipment Circuit backpack a total of three days. All three days were on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition, I used the pack as more of a suitcase during the trip out there to avoid having multiple bags during our treks to different parts of the park. Conditions on trail varied greatly with temperatures ranging between a cold 35 F (2 C) to a rather warm 75 F (24 C). During most of the trip the conditions were dry, but there was a bit of sprinkling rain during dinner time. Weather changed quite rapidly on the mountain as well dropping 20 F (11 C) in just over 30 minutes right around lunch time. Altitude for the trip ranged from 7,900 ft (2400 m) to 11,000 ft (3350 m) with quite a few steep sections and rocky switchbacks.
My experience with using the ULA Adventure Equipment Circuit backpack started out rather troubling this report phase. Due to the rather expensive fees that the airlines have forced on travelers here in the US, I was trying to get away with shipping my pack to my friends vs having to pay a baggage fee. I stripped the pack down as much as I could, taking out the aluminum stabilizer bar, the carbon fiber hoop, and removing the hip belt from the pack body. The pack collapsed rather nicely, and I was able to roll the pack body into a space approximately the size of a 2 l (0.5 gal) bottle, using only a bit more space for the belt and other parts. In the end though, the length of the aluminum stay and the weight of the overall package forced me to submit to the airlines and pay the baggage handling fee.
The pack held all my gear quite nicely while leaving me a good deal of extra room in my military sized duffel bag for boots and other clothing that was needed for the trip. Because of our itinerary, I was able to use my pack to carry all the clothing and other toiletries that I needed the first couple of days while leaving the camping gear in the duffel until we started out on the trail. There was plenty of space in the pack body that I was able to neatly fold my clothing and keep them from becoming wrinkled. It was easy to quickly grab the bag and I liked the fact that I could take the hip belt off the pack when I didn't need it.
When loading the pack with gear for the backpacking trip itself I was able to effectively use all of the interior space and still have some room near the top for additional gear. I loaded my sleeping bag and pad near the bottom, while trying to pack the heavier stuff near the middle of my back. I packed the main body a couple of times and found that I needed to be a bit more diligent about where I placed my gear. As the height (the distance from my back to the far outside of the pack) of the pack is a bit smaller than my other packs, I needed to be careful to evenly distribute the weight from left to right. It took me a few times to get it right so I didn't feel like the pack was sagging to one side or the other, but after I got the gear distributed just right, it was simply a matter of repacking the gear in its appropriate space throughout the trip. I also had to make sure that I had the hydration bladder properly positioned or else I had a lump in my back that wasn't comfortable at all.
On this trip, I took the following items:
Even with the above items I still had enough room left in my pack to carry my friend's Kelty Grand Mesa 2 tent. All of this, including an additional 1 L hydration bladder, put my pack weight at roughly 27 lbs (12 kg). I would have liked to have had a little less weight, but the conditions of the trip called for some colder weather gear and a bit of distribution of weight amongst the group.
Immediately upon donning the ULA Adventure Equipment Circuit I noticed how well it seemed to hug my back. From the first step on the trail I found that the pack just seemed to flow with my movements. It didn't sway back and forth, didn't rock forward or back, and didn't bounce up or down near as much as my other packs did. While I can't verify that this condition wasn't due to the limited weight I was carrying, I can say that I liked the feeling a lot. Even when my feet were killing me, my back was still nice and comfortable, and nothing really ached the whole trip.
Getting into and removing items from the pack was a breeze. The roll top was nice and wide and allowed me to dig through the entire pack without having to dump the contents into a heap on the ground. Even removing larger items like my hammock from the bottom of the pack was quick and easy. I did find that it was a bit difficult to remove my water bladder from the pack though simply due to the way the sleeve is designed.
As the hydration sleeve itself is designed to be removed with a couple of clips, it means that the sleeve isn't sewn to the back of the pack like most sleeves I'm used to. Because of this, removing the bladder from the sleeve causes the sleeve to slide up inside the pack as well. This makes placing the bladder back into the pack rather difficult at times as I had to continually reposition the sleeve and push interior items aside so I could get the bladder to sit directly in the center of the pack. It would seem to me that a better practice would be to have the bladder sleeve sewn to the interior of the pack, but this is just my thoughts.
Donning and doffing the pack while full of equipment was easy and painless. All of the straps were easily accessible while wearing the pack, and I found that I was able to easily adjust the straps without much effort. While I didn't need the yellow tipped ends that I mentioned above, I still think that they would look better aesthetically. The padding in the hip belt and shoulder straps turned out to be just right. Not too much padding that I was sweating constantly, and not too little that it was painful to carry. Even the padding along the back panel proved to be comfortable and breathable to some extent.
I'm pleased with the carrying ability, comfort, and quality that I've seen with the ULA Circuit pack. So far it has continued to meet my expectations and has been a joy to test. I look forward to testing this over the next few months during the upcoming cold weather season. Be sure to check back soon for an update.
Long Term Report: November 16, 2010
In the final weeks of this testing phase I was able to get an additional three days of use and experience with the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit backpack. Both trips were long dayhikes in the Pennyrile State Forest, a 14,000 a (5600 ha) section of forest that has roughly 23 mi (37 km) of trails. The elevation for the area is between 400 -700 ft (122 - 213 m). The temperature ranged from 65 - 73 F (18 - 23 C).
Due to the lightweight nature of this pack, and the fact that the main pack body is roughly 2,400 cu in (39 l), I wanted an opportunity to test it as a long haul day pack. I loaded up a bunch of my gear, and headed out for a few long hikes. I was able to take most everything with me that I did on the multi-night hike without having to worry about safety items like extra clothing or cold weather gear. While the pack wasn't as stuffed as it had been, I was able to fill it quite a bit. This allowed me the opportunity to get a better feel for retrieving items from my pack that were stuffed near the bottom. While it wasn't that difficult in the last testing phase, I found that the little bit of additional room made it that much easier. Definitely better than I'd experienced in the past with other packs.
In addition, I was able to get a better feel for how the pack wears when not loaded down fully. As mentioned above, the padding on the belt and shoulder straps isn't all that thick. While it wasn't painful to wear with the heavier gear I toted in my last report phase, it was equally as enjoyable to wear during this testing phase. The shoulder straps felt soft and comfortable, and the hip belt didn't at all cut into my sides. It is also important to note that the pack didn't shift or move during my hikes, even with the lighter pack.
As expected, all zippers, seams, hook and loop closures, and additional attachments are in excellent shape with very little signs of wear or damage. The cloth and mesh are still in good condition, and there are no signs of tearing or scrapes anywhere on the pack. I did notice that placing the bladder and removing it from the pack was quite a bit easier than it was when the pack was stuffed full. This made it that much easier to refill my Plattypus bag after a long days walk.
In short, I'm very happy with the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit backpack. It has performed well during all my trips, has been comfortable to carry, and has held all the gear that I've wanted without letting me down. This is the first ultralight pack that I've tested and it definitely held up to all expectations I had. I would gladly recommend this pack to anyone I know looking to shed a pounds.
I'd like to thank Ultralight Adventure Equipment and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in testing the Circuit backpack.
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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > ULA Equipment Circuit > Test Report by Andrew Buskov