User Review: ULA Equipment Catalyst
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $250
This pack is very light and is the manufacturer's stated weight (I weighed it myself). Although I haven't had the pack a long period of time, it has performed admirably so far on several multi-day trips and has held up well.
- Lots of external storage compartments
- Good workmanship
- Must be treated gently
- Hip belt buckle occasional pops open
- Capacity might be limited for long (5 days plus) trips
- Not suitable for heavy loads
- Back padding not well vented
I bought this backpack in 2009 directly from ULA (Ultralight Adventure Equipment). I have used it on about 6-8 trips of 3-4 days. I'm 5'8" and 145 lbs. I used ULA's sizing criteria on their website to choose my pack size and based on it chose the medium size for both pack and hip-belt size, and it is the right size for me.
The pack carries well, always feels stable over rough terrain, and fits close to my body. The two aluminum stays are are flexible and can be formed to your back shape for a good fit. It has load stabilizer straps to adjust the pack's distance from your body as desired. As noted above, the hip-belt buckle occasionally opens, even when I'm careful about closing it. This is something ULA needs to address (perhaps they have already). But otherwise the hip belt is comfortable.
Much of the stated capacity is in the form of external mesh pockets. Using the mesh helps reduce weight, and I find them mostly well placed and easily accessible. I'd rather have capacity in the form of external pockets than interior capacity. One great feature of the pack is the way the internal compartment closes - much like a dry bag, i.e., you fold the edges of the compartment over and secure it with buckles at each end.
Or, if more capacity is needed, the compartment can be left open and secured (minimally, however) with a long strap that runs over the top of the compartment. The ULA web site's images illustrate this well. Another good feature is that the internal back padding can be removed, and a sleeping pad can be used in its place, which frees up more storage space in the pack.
Most of the "cons" noted above are probably factors that would apply to any ultra-light pack, not just this one. Follow ULA's instructions for putting on and taking off the pack. Don't overload it — the pack is made well, and the seams and joints are well constructed, but it might not be able to take a load beyond their recommendations. I always try to follow their directions, and I hope to get a lot of use out of the pack. As far as the back padding not well ventilated, I don't find this to be a major problem, and adding some kind of "ventilation system" would probably negatively affect the fit of the pack.
Overall, I'm very happy with this pack, and would recommend it.