ULA Circuit Backpack (Ultralight Adventure Equipment) review
Weight : 32 oz ( my 2007 model ) Current ULA Circuit backpack is 39 oz
Volume: 3700 cubic inches (2007) Current ULA Circuit backpack is 4200 ci .
Volume breakdown for Current ULA Circuit backpack:
- Main Body: 2,400
- Front Mesh Pocket: 400
- Side Mesh Pocket: 350 ea
- Ext. Collar: 500
- Hipbelt Pockets: 100
- Internal Suspenion Hoop
- Padded Backpanel
- Contoured Shoulder
- Front Shock Cord
- Front Mesh Pocket
- 210 Ripstop Adjustable Side Pockets
- Rolltop Closure
- Side/Top Compression Straps
- Dual Hipbelt Pockets
- Ice Axe/Pole Retention Loops
- Cordura Bottom Panel
- ULA 210 Robic
- Hydration Sleeve (~1.4 oz)
- Internal Mesh Pocket (~1.1 oz)
- Water Bottle Holsters (~0.8 oz)
- Handloops (~0.8 oz)
- Single Aluminum Stay (~2.0 oz)
Recommended max load of 35lbs or less.
The ULA Circuit backpack (Ultra Light Adventure Equipment) is an obvious descendent of the Ray Way and G4 Backpacks. It does have one major difference, A very effective frame to transfer weight from the shoulders to the hips. The frame is composed of two carbon fiber stays with a delrin connector piece. The weight of this frame is a just 1.2 ounces. Like the Ray Way and G4 Packs the circuit has one large main compartment and a large extension collar. All of the above mentioned packs have mesh pockets on the outside, great for carrying wet gear and items which can be quickly accessed without disturbing the main contents.
When researching packs for my thru-hike I noticed a few in the two pound 3500 cubic inch range which could carry 30+ pound loads and had received good reviews. The other packs considered were the Granite Gear Vapor Trail and the Six Moon Designs Starlite.
A few of the deciding factors for me choosing the Circuit were the outside mesh pockets and the hip belt pockets. ULA is one of the first companies to incorporate pockets into the hip belt (You can also currently get them on the Six Moon Designs Starlite as an option). The hip belt pockets are of great use, particularly if you are looking for somewhere to store map and guidebook info and need to check it often.
How did it perform?
The ULA Circuit backpack performed well on the trail. It is a comfortable pack especially with loads under 30 lbs. Some experimenting with gear placement in the pack might be required to reap the full benefits (keeping heavier items in the middle near your back). The lightweight frame transferred weight well and is removable, allowing the pack to be thrown into the washing machine. This is a BIG bonus for long distance hikers. I have seen many thru-hikers in town wash everything at the laundromat only to toss a horrendous smelling backpack on their back over their newly cleaned trail clothing. The ability to keep a fresh smelling pack (even for a little while) can really boost spirits.
I had sewn a camera pouch onto the sternum strap. This makes camera accessibility a breeze.
The Circuit is made from dyneema fabric, which is very strong and handles abrasion well. The collar is made of ripstop nylon and I have yet to have problems with it. The mesh shows a little wear, but nothing out of the ordinary and nothing to hinder the performance. The only major problem I encountered was a broken frame. I managed to snap the plastic connector piece mid hike while carelessly grabbing the pack while exiting from underneath my tarp.
I called ULA and spoke to then owner Brian Frankle (a long distance hiker himself). Brian told me he was going to send a “loaner” pack out to me so he could update the pack that I had. He explained that he had developed a new way to attach the frame to the inside of the pack reducing the chance that the frame would brake again. Luckily for me, the pack is functional without the frame. I hiked a couple hundred miles “frameless” losing nothing more than a little comfort. When I had received a package from him, he left a note with a brand new pack body stating he was out of loaner packs and that he had just sewn up a new pack body for me. This frame has held up since then with no further issues. Kudos to Brian for going above and beyond!
I had two other minor issues with the pack later in the hike.
1.) The grommet for the drawstring cord came loose leaving the drawstring to rub directly against the nylon on the collar. This did not affect the performance and the problem did not get worse as I hiked. The ripstop nylon did its job and held up for the rest of the hike.
2.) A load lifter strap attachment pulled loose from the main pack body. This happened in Maine while carrying a larger than usual supply of food. I was able to fix it on the spot with a needle and thread. My temporary repair held up for the rest of the hike.
My pack had not had any other issues other than what is listed above. I sent it in to ULA in 2009 to have my “temporary” repairs professionally attended to while I prepared for another long hike. This pack continues to be my pack of choice when carrying loads of 20-30 lbs. It is a very versatile piece of equipment and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a long distance hiking pack. This pack is also a great choice for those carrying more conventional loads and looking to convert to lighter gear and techniques.This is because it does carry a load much like a traditional frame pack as opposed to an ultralight frameless pack.