ULA Backpacks from the US
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Hi all - Im not a lightweight fiend but I am currently on a bit of a mission to get my gear weight & size down (balancing weight with durability and being sensible overall). Plus I am sick of the fact that my Macpac pack weights 3kg. I dont really want to get into a debate about the pros and cons of making your gear lighter - but am more interested in if anyone has bought, or knows people that have bought a ULA pack from the states. They seem to me to be a great balance between weight, comfort, durability and capacity. Their customer service is reputedly very good and Chris from ULA emailed me to say that they regularly send packs to NZ, so people here are buying them. None of the packs that I am looking at locally have the features I want. The only problem with the ULA packs is getting them into NZ will end up being over the $400 GST threshold. See the packs here (no affiliation by the way): https://www.ula-equipment.com/product/catalyst/#reviews
Not sure about ULA; but a bunch of folks are keen on the Exped Lightening that is available in NZ: https://www.bivouac.co.nz/exped-mens-lightning-60.html
Cheers for that Paul - that pack was probably the only one that comes close for me to consider locally. The weight is pretty incredible - if I got this it would be 1.5kg less than my current pack! It also has a pretty impressive max weight capacity of 24kg - ie: before its internal frame integrity is compromised etc
I have a mate in the US who used the ULA Ohm for a while before going more minimal (MLD Prophet), loved it, said the pack seemed smaller than the rated capacity stated so that might apply to the Catalyst too. There are a couple of forum members who have used the Exped Lightning before, maybe Gaitors? who could give some real experience. I've heard that it is a very underrated pack. Another lightweight pack to consider is the Osprey Exos, just ask Honora. Went through the lightening up process about 15-20 years ago. Wouldn't go back to the old ultraheavy gear for pretty much anything these days. Carrying a weekend pack that weighs 8kg including 1l water & 1.7kg food is bliss. But working out which pack to use is the last thing you do. First you cull all the unnecessary items out first, that costs you nothing. Lay all your gear you normally take on a tramp out on the floor, and if you haven't used it in the last year, it doesn't go back into the pack (PLB excluded). Then the essential stuff you list on a spreadsheet and weigh everything down to the gram. Next you replace the heaviest items first, typically sleeping bag, shelter, mattress, cooker and billy. 2x3m silnylon fly+ polycryo groundsheet, 0deg down bag, Exped UL mattress, gas cooker, 1l Al billy should weigh well under 2kg, 2kg to cover raincoat, insulation top, thermal top and bottom, spare socks, warm hat, gloves, sun protection and another 1kg for the misc stuff like spoon, 1st aid, pocket knife, PLB etc. Once you have the stuff that goes inside the pack sorted and know its total weight and particularly volume, then determine what pack to get. With a total pack weight of 8kg I can use a 40l frameless pack that weighs 600g which is tough enough to survive leatherwood bashing with enough room for up to 4 days food. Also consider using trail runners or hiking shoes instead of boots, especially if tramping on tracks. I find using trail runners along with a lighter pack make me more agile and less tired, hopefully leading to less mistakes or injuries. A good gearlist for summer tramping in the Tarries is Trippy's: https://trippytramping.blogspot.com/p/gear-list.html He doesn't mention a raincoat or a spare thermal layer or insulation top, which I would add. The caveat to using lighter gear is that you need to be more aware of its limitations so plan your trip accordingly or change your gear to suit your trip.
Thanks Bazza - tell you what, I am getting more convinced to get the Exped for sure. It seems light, robust and of a decent capacity. Getting that would cut about 1.5kg off my weight. I have also just invested in the Sea to Summit Micro sleeping bag - that has cut another 600g off my weight too. If I can cut the baseline kit down - with my new OR bivvy bag, light groundsheet, micro sleeping bag - that means I just need to invest in a lighter pack - and the Exped could do the trick. Im not a fan of the weird Osprey curved-frame backs which to me reduce pack capacity inside the pack and are also really uncomfortable on my lower back. Then I'd just need to look at peripherals like camera & GPS weight and of course food (which I am also lightening up) and I reckon the coup de grace for this is to also invest in one of the newer dehydrators - so I can also bring decent (and healthy) lightweight meals on my trips. Taking large amounts of water will of course also bump weight up again. The only thing I cant seem to find a lighter option with is sleeping mats - I have a summer one (exped) and winter one (klymit) and they are both around 500-600g. I reckon that even taking a rolled-up old-school foam mat on the front of my pack (when space permits) would save weight in this department.....
The old sno foams are under 100g you cant puncture them and they insulate well enough for most trips. However at 6mm thick against 50mm for an air mat they are not that comfortable. (either that or Im just old)
On the sleeping pad front you could look at the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite (340g for the regular size) but very pricey (~$400 through official NZ shops), the Zlite foam mattress packs better than a rolled foam (290g for sml $90) or the Ali-Express Zlite knock-off for about $25. I use the small size (older model) of this: https://www.bivouac.co.nz/gear/camping-and-tramping/sleeping-mats/exped-synmat-ul.html at about 420g, it's pretty comfortable, no punctures yet, use my emptied pack under my feet. On the electronics front, a Samsung S8 is mapping GPS (use ViewRanger app), camera, notes, phone, journal. A USB battery 100g + cord provides a top-up after two days in flight mode and track recording in flight mode. On the food front for a full days tramping, I aim for 3500Cal/850g/day, i.e. an average of about 1800kJ/100g dry food. Starches/Sugars are about 1550kJ/100g, salami/jerky/cheese 1000-1200kJ/100g, nuts/chocolate 2000-2200kJ/100g and pure fats/oils about 3000kJ/100g. So to meet the average and providing some balance in carbs/protein/fats (not necessarily a good diet in the long term) you need to add fats/oils to most meals. A good slug of extra virgin olive oil works well for me, or occasionally a slab of butter in cooler months. Home dehy does sound more appealing... If you want to get really picky repackage things like insect repellant, sun screen, toothpaste into much smaller bottles so you only bring what you'll use on the trip.
Thanks both for the suggestions - I was thinking seriously about going back to the old school mats where I really want to keep weight down - and your replies confirm that it is an option. When Im tired I just zonk out, and I woud probably only use these for say a hut floor, rather than tenting. Yes I have already reached the repackaging stage - and I also have a mix of butter and coconut oil that I use for brekky and lunch - using pure fats has made a huge difference to my energy and stamina - and has also meant that I dont need to take as much other food in general.
We did the Travers - Sabine circuit 2 weeks ago, and the most popular pack was the Osprey AG. At 2kg definitely not a light-weight, but I don't know a pack that carries that comfortably.
I had a ULA CDT and used it on a couple of three day trips. It was a very well made pack but I just couldn’t adjust to the lack of frame even with a load less than10 kg so ended up selling it. It’s the only frameless pack they make I think so one of their framed packs might be a better option. If going light in summer or staying i huts I use the Zpacks arc zip I picked up a few years back when the $NZ was much better against the US. It was just under the GST threshold if I recall. Very comfortable pack, the weight transfer is remarkable for such a simple and light frame. But i struggle with volume for longer trips carrying tent, sleeping mat and many days food. For those trips I use the Osprey AG 65 L which is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever used and a Swiss Army knife of pockets for organised storage. Both the Zpacks and Osprey have curved frames (the Zpacks you bend the carbon rods and lock the shape in) and it’s hard to imagine going back to a pack without this option for ventilation. As for lightweight mats, I tried the Exped Synmat, it was a bit too ‘bouncy’ but pretty nice thickness. The Neoair Xlite I struggle with the collapsing edges. My current favourite is the nemo tensor insulated, it’s large, comfortable with much better stability and still only around 600 g for the large wide version. Keep an eye out on Amazon for the US store sales for 20% or more off.
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