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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > ULA Equipment OHM > Test Report by Andrew Henrichs
ULA Equipment Ohm Backpack
Test Series by Andy Henrichs
August 30, 2010
The ULA Ohm backpack is lightweight pack. The body of the pack is made of 1.9 oz (54 g) ripstop nylon and Dyneema Gridstop fabric. While I am not a fabric expert, it appears that the ripstop nylon is used in the side panels, the front of the extension collar, and the front part of the pack (underneath the front mesh pocket) from the bottom of the extension panel down to the bottom of the pack. The rest of the pack body is composed of Dyneema Gridstop. This construction puts the stronger Dyneema Gridstop in areas of high wear (top and bottom of the pack, the backpanel, and the side pockets. According to the manufacturer, the suspension system of the pack consists of a "1.2 oz carbon fiber/delrin active suspension hoop." This hoop stretches from a small pocket near the hipbelt, through some small fabric guide loops, up to the top of the pack. It continues arcing over the top of the pack along the back panel and follows an identical route down the opposite side to another small pocket near the other side of the hipbelt. This hoop can be removed by separating a hook-and-loop closure (that doubles as a webbing strap used to compress the top of the pack), pulling back some fabric, and pulling the hoop out.
The hipbelt of the Ohm has thin foam padding sewn into some wings of fabric that extend from the body of the pack. The hipbelt secures with a standard buckle and 1 in (2.5 cm) webbing that attaches to these tapering wings. The pack also features a hipbelt cinch closer to the body of the pack. This webbing cinch pulls the body of the pack closer to the hips. The triangular zippered hipbelt pockets attach to the hipbelt directly over this hipbelt cinch. These pockets attach at three points which require one unclip, one untie, and one unthread to remove or attach. Suffice to say, I do not expect these pockets to accidentally fall off. The lightly padded shoulder straps are slightly curved, which helps them follow a natural contour when I wear the pack. Each shoulder strap has a removable water bottle holster and a removable handloop. The water bottle holster consists of two shock cord pieces with a barrel lock. According to the instructions, these holsters are ideal for bicycle style bottles with a neck. To use, the upper shockcord is secured around the neck and the lower is secured around the body of the pack. The handloop is an adjustable loop of webbing that provides a place to rest hands, wrists, or thumbs and attaches to a D-ring on the pack with a simple plastic clip.
The upper portion of the shoulder straps is home to a load lifter. This .75 in (1.9 cm) webbing strap runs from the upper shoulder strap to the body of the pack and can be adjusted to bring the load closer to or further away from the back. Each side of the pack body near the load lifter attachment point is home to a small water bladder port. The sides of the pack feature a compression strap comprised of a thin non-elastic cord arranged in a diagonal pattern. There is a barrel lock at the top of the cord which allows the cord to be tensioned. Each side of the pack features a large pocket at the bottom. This pocket has elastic material sewn into the top of it. These pockets are quite sizeable and each can easily fit two 1 L water bottles. The front of the pack features an elastic mesh pocket. This pocket runs from the top of the pack to the bottom and tapers slightly towards the bottom. At the bottom of this pocket, there is a thin webbing loop that can be used to attach the head of an ice axe. There are two hook-and-loop closures on the upper portion of the pack (one at each upper corner of the mesh pocket). These are used to attach the shaft of an ice axe to the pack. Each of these closures has the ULA logo printed on them. There is also a ULA logo and "Ohm" embroidered on the pack body just below the ice axe loop.
The interior of the pack is quite minimalist, with only a few features. There is a removable hydration sleeve that attaches with two clips to permanent fabric loops in the pack. This sleeve is large enough to fit my 3.0 L (101 fl oz) bladder. There is also a 7 in by 5 in (18 cm by 13 cm) zippered mesh internal pocket. Like the hydration sleeve, this attaches with two plastic clips. Finally there are two diagonal strips of elastic fabric along the back panel. These secure either the included foam back pad or a sleeping pad inside the pack. This helps to provide more padding and support to the pack. According to the included instructions, "the internal back pad is not meant to be used in place of a sleeping pad to provide rigid support."
The Ohm came with a two page set of directions. This included information on recommended use, packing and adjustment tips, and the descriptions of the removable options. The pack is rather narrow at 12 in (30 cm) across but is quite tall at 25 in (64 in). I tried it on right away and the torso length and hipbelt seemed to be a good fit. I used the sizing information on the ULA website and am very happy with the results. Hipbelt pockets are one of my favorite features on a pack and I am pleased with the ones on the Ohm. They are of a good size and can handle a map and compass, trail snacks, or a thin hat and gloves quite well. The side pockets are also quite impressive. They are much bigger than I am used to and will probably make me rethink my packing strategy slightly. They are just large enough to fit my packed Megalight, which could free up valuable interior space in my pack. The handloops are a very nice feature and will be a welcome addition on the trail. I usually alternate between swinging my arms at my side and holding on to an upper strap to prevent fluid accumulation in my hands; the handloops should be a much more comfortable option. I will try using the water bottle holsters, but I rarely use bicycle-style bottles when backpacking. I prefer to use a larger size bottle. It seemed to work with a 1 L aluminum water bottle, although I haven't gone hiking with this full bottle in place yet.
The internal mesh pocket is a nice feature and especially welcome since the Ohm lacks a top pocket. This mesh pocket will easily store my first aid kit, headlamp, knife, and other small emergency items. I don't usually use a hydration bladder with tube when backpacking, although I often use the hydration sleeve to carry a lightweight non-tubed bladder to refill my water bottles. The bladder I use easily fits inside the hydration sleeve. I tried using the elastic sleeping pad straps with both my full length and 3/4 length closed-cell foam sleeping pad. Both fit, although the 3/4 was much easier to fit inside the pack. Packing a sleeping pad inside the pack takes up quite a bit of room although I should still be able to get everything packed inside, especially if I pack my shelter in a side pocket. I will play with a few different packing strategies during the test period.
I have been able to use this pack on two overnight backpacking trips for a total of four days of field use. The first trip was in the southern end of the Lost Creek Wilderness Area along the Front Range of Colorado. Elevation on this trip ranged from 8,000 ft (2,400 m) to 9,400 ft (2,900 m). Terrain was moderately wooded with a few open parks. Due to a late start, the first day of the trip consisted of a short 2.5 mi (4 km) hike before darkness set in. The second day I covered 13 mi (21 km) to complete my trip. Temperatures were quite warm, with highs over 85 F (29 C) and I was fortunate enough to have blue skies, a moderate wind, and occasional cloud cover.
The second trip was in the Gore Range of central Colorado. This was an out-and-back trail leading to a lake and was 5 mi (8 km) each way. Once at the lake, I walked around with the pack on while exploring and searching for an ideal campsite. Temperatures were again quite warm, with highs near 80 F (27 C) at the lake. There were a few afternoon clouds that threatened rain, but it proved to be an empty threat. Other than these clouds, I was treated to blue skies that persisted most of the trip.
The feathery weight of this pack belies its true capabilities. Based on my use so far, I feel that it is a very serious pack for lightweight backpacking. I have been most impressed with how well it carries. I trend towards lightweight backpacking, but I'm not a fanatic about it. I still carry my MSR Whisperlite stove, a good book, my digital SLR, and plenty of food. On both of my outings, I was able to keep my pack weight slightly under 25 lb (11 kg), including food, water, and fuel. I used my sleeping pad to add more support and cushion to the backpanel of the pack (as show in my Initial Report), which proved to play a significant role in providing a comfortable carry. The active suspension hoop does an excellent job of transferring the load to the hipbelt; my shoulders never got the slightest bit uncomfortable while carrying this pack. The suspension straps and adjustment buckles all work very well and are easy to access while hiking. My only complaint regarding the fit of the pack is the hipbelt size I chose. I have a 33 in (84 cm) waist and selected the Medium (non-replaceable) hipbelt. This also corresponds to the upper end of the hipbelt range. When fully packed, the sleeping-pad-as-back-panel seems to round the backpanel of the pack. This pulls the hipbelt attachment points backwards and results in a slightly shortened hipbelt. This, in turn, results in minimal excess strap length of the hipbelt for any adjustment. While it is just enough for me, I would order the Large hipbelt if I were to do it over again.
Regarding volume, I was quite impressed with how well everything fit into the pack. I was initially skeptical that I would be able to fit all of my gear in the pack with the sleeping pad stowed inside. Much to my surprise, not only did I fit all of my gear, but I had a decent amount of space to spare! When fully packed, I still had approximately 3/4 of the extension collar available for additional gear. When packing, I have realized that the front stretch mesh pocket and the two side pockets are indispensable! They can hold an extraordinary amount of gear, and I have found them most useful for items that I would traditionally put in a top pocket. This includes a first aid kit, repair kit, headlamp, maps, water treatment drops, etc. This ensures that I can easily get at the items when I need to without digging through the interior of the pack. As a side note, I was happy to discover that I could easily fit my climbing helmet into the front mesh pocket even when the interior of the pack was nearly filled with my overnight gear.
I have found all of the removable accessories useful, but I use the water bottle holster, handloops, and hipbelt pockets the most. The hipbelt pockets have been home to a small knife, my compass, trail snacks, and my maps. They are easy to open with one hand and never interfere with my natural arm swings while walking. The handloops provide a welcome change of position for my hands when hiking. This prevents the dreaded "sausage fingers" when heading up to higher altitudes. I've found that the water bottle holster secures my 1 L Platypus bladder quite securely. While it is not designed for such a bottle, I have yet to dislodge it while scrambling over rocks or jumping off downed logs. It takes some practice (as well as two hands) to reattach the bottle while hiking, but this is not very difficult. While I left the removable hydration sleeve in the pack on all trips, I've only actually had a water bladder in it once. It fit my 2.5 L water bladder with no issues, although it drapes a little funny over my sleeping pad. The inner mesh pocket has proven to be an ideal size for a watch and my car keys. I tried to fit some other bulky items into it, but they didn't fit well and took up valuable real estate inside the pack. I found these items to fit better in the side pockets or front mesh pocket.
The pack also appears to be quite durable based on my experiences. The main durability concern I have is the front mesh pocket, just because of the material. That said, I had the mesh pocket leaning up against a rock during a break on my last hike. I had to pull the pack towards me several times to access it, and the mesh rubbed against the rock while doing so. Despite this stress, the mesh looks as good as new.
Likes (so far):
Dislikes (so far):
I have used the Ohm on a two-day and a three-day backpacking trip in the Elk Range of Colorado during this test phase. The elevation of the longer outing ranged from 8,200 ft (2,500 m) to 12,300 ft (3,700 m). The first day I hiked approximately 8 mi (13 km) to a remote basin and set up camp. I spent the second day exploring and fishing the vast basin and hiked approximately 4 mi (6.5 km) that day. The final day I hiked the 8 mi (13 km) back to my car. There is no official trail up to this basin, but there is a relatively well-marked climbers/game trail I could follow. One section involved a significantly loose and overgrown bushwhack around a large waterfall. Hiking in the basin itself involved lots of rock-hopping along the edge of lakes. I was fortunate to enjoy three beautiful days (except for the howling wind the final morning). Temperatures ranged from 40 F (4 C) to 75 F (24 C) with no rain and lots of sun. The elevation of the shorter trip ranged from 8,600 ft (2,600 m) to nearly 12,200 ft (3,700 m). The first day consisted of a late start and a moderate climb to treeline. The second day consisted of easy tundra walking over four closely-spaced passes. I traveled approximately 4 mi (6.5 km) on the first day and finished the loop by hiking 8 mi (13 km) on the second day. While the trail below treeline was well defined, much of the hiking above treeline involved cross-country travel with only minimal evidence of a trail as I wandered up and over grassy ridges. Temperatures ranged from 35 F (2 C) to 70 F (21 C), and the days featured mostly sunny skies with significant wind above treeline.
Field Observations and Conclusions
While still generally impressed with this pack, I had a few issues crop up on the longer outing. The primary issue was the comfort of the hipbelt. My added food and fishing gear pushed my pack weight to 30 lb (13.6 kg), which is the recommended maximum load of the Ohm. I felt that I had to cinch the waistbelt a little tighter to secure this load, and this led to irritation of my anterior superior iliac spine (the bony prominence on the front of the hips). I noticed that the foam padding sewn into the hipbelt is actually able to slide slightly. This .5 in (1.3 cm) of available movement is enough of a shift to expose this bony prominence to essentially direct contact with the plastic cinch on the hipbelt (only the fabric of the hipbelt prevents direct contact). This contact, combined with the increased hipbelt tension actually bruised my hips and was very uncomfortable by midday. I hiked the second half of the day with the hipbelt much looser and was able to tolerate the increased load on my shoulders with no issues. I feel that the fabric/padding section directly behind the plastic cinch in question should be extended at least .5 in (1.3 cm) to minimize this potential pressure point. While I did have a minimal discomfort in this spot on the shorter trip, it wasn't nearly as severe. I'm assuming this is because I was carrying less weight. One other minor criticism of the pack is that it seems to be quite tall. During normal hiking it wasn't a problem. When making my way up a steep section of the aforementioned bushwhack, I found that I would hit my head on the curve of the suspension hoop when looking up. This wasn't a huge issue, but it was annoying.
I am still very happy with the volume afforded by the Ohm. As mentioned in my Field Report, the Ohm handles food and gear for a two-day backpacking trip easily. I was happy to discover during the Long Term Report phase that I had plenty of room for three days worth of food and gear, even with my bulky foam sleeping pad stowed inside the pack (to add rigidity to the back panel). While packing the Ohm in this manner required an adjustment to my packing style, I found that I adapted quickly and easily and am happy with the level of organization that I can achieve with this pack. As for the accessories, I continued to use the water bottle holsters, handloops, and hipbelt pockets the most. I found the internal mesh pocket most useful for storing my car keys, and rarely used the hydration sleeve. I tended to treat water as I hiked to save weight and filled a large bladder with water once I reached camp. Because I used my sleeping pad to add structure to the pack, I left the foam internal back pad at home. Based on my use around the house, I would use this internal back pad for day trips in order to save weight and bulk inside the pack. The hipbelt pockets held trail snacks, a compass, a knife, and water purification drops. These items fit inside the two pockets easily and it was great to be able to access them quickly. The handloops proved to be a nice option when I needed to change my hand positions. I used these often during my hikes. Finally, the water bottle holsters proved to be incredibly useful. In the past I would clip a water bottle to the shoulder strap of my pack and it would hang near my hip. This would invariably bump against my hip as I walked, which became quite annoying after several miles. With the Ohm, I was able to use a 1 L water bladder in the water bottle holster; no swinging, no bumping, and no annoyance. Even though the water bladder I used was not the recommended bottle style (ULA recommends a bike-style water bottle), the holster worked incredibly well. While initially a struggle, removing and securing the water bottle in the holster quickly became second nature. It did require two hands, but was quite easy. On the bushwhacking decent portion of my three-day backpacking trip, I had to downclimb a short vertical section. During this scramble, the bottom of my water bladder was knocked out of the holster. To my surprise and delight, the top strap of the holster held tight and the water bottle remained attached to the pack.
Overall, I am very happy with the ULA Ohm. It is incredibly light, but carries quite well. It has proven to be quite durable, with no noticeable wear anywhere on the pack. I find this impressive considering the condition my arms and legs were in after some of the bushwhacking I did. While I did experience some irritation on my three-day backpacking trip, I was able to adjust the pack position and hipbelt tension enough to relieve most of the discomfort. More padding in this area would help reduce the chance of irritation considerably, and I may modify the hipbelt slightly to achieve this. The included accessories are incredibly functional and I have relied on several of them. I will continue to use this pack as my lightweight backpacking pack. For trips that require a pack weight of greater than 35 lb (16 kg), I will probably use a beefier pack. Examples of these trips would be very long trips (lots of food) or backpacking/climbing trips.
Thank you to ULA and BackpackGearTest.org for giving me the opportunity to test this pack.
Read more gear reviews by Andrew Henrichs
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