Open main menu

ULA Catalyst

rated 5.0 of 5 stars
photo: ULA Catalyst expedition pack (70l+)

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.


  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • 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.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $250

The ULA Catalyst is a very sturdy pack for thru hikes and daily hikes. The pack is very lightweight and roomy.


  • Sturdy
  • Well made
  • Made in the USA
  • Very well balanced


  • Not enough pockets

ULA has made a very great pack that is made for men, women, and children. The Catalyst fits like a glove. It adjusts very easily by pulling on the strap adjusters. The Catalyst is a very deep bag. It has a inside compartment that takes all your gear.

The hipbelt is completely adjustable and replaceable if you need to go from Small to Large to Extra large. The water bottle holder on the strap is great and easy to access.

This review can't do the ULA Catalyst justice. The bag is superior over Osprey and other name-brand packs I have tried and used for hiking. I have used the pack on the Appalachian Trail section hike in VA. I have also used it on the VA Creeper Trail.

I bought this bag online through the ULA website and the customer service is superior. I received the bag within seven days because of the embroidery service they offer. You can put your name on or what you want.

Like I said before the ULA Catalyst holds up great. I still use mine when I travel and on short day hikes. It adjusts to any body type. I give it 5 stars.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $250

One of the lightest full sized packs out there. Comfortable at 40 pounds or less and very durable.


  • Lightweight for size
  • Lots of space
  • Diverse sizes up to XL


  • Starts losing comfort around 35 pounds
  • Airflow on back not as good as some others

I tried quite a few different packs in the 65+ liter range and found that the ULA Catalyst is one of the lightest and most comfortable packs out. It does great between 25-35 pounds but at and over 40 pounds other packs carry the weight better.  

My first use of this pack was on the Four Pass Loop in Aspen, Colorado, and we were pinching ounces trying to get weight down. The bear canister cost me 2.5 pounds on its own, but I had plenty of room in the pack for that and five days worth of supplies.  

I like the suspension. Very comfortable and adjustable. At first I didn't like the water bottle straps on the shoulder harness but they grew on me. Now I just use a smart water bottle in each strap and it helps balance the weight. I really like the mesh pocket and the side pockets. Great for keeping tents and tarps while they dry out.

This is my main pack now. Although it's overkill for a 1-2 nighter, I just tighten the straps down and it works like a much smaller pack. 

Eventually, I'll probably get a ULA Ohm for my smaller pack and keep this one for winter and 4+ night trips.  

Source: bought it new

This pack is absolutely cavernous. It swallowed all my gear without using the extension collar space. The bellowed side pockets allowed larger items to fit even with the pack stretched tight on the bottom.

I have the newest version with all the options already added on. I like the water bottle holders on the front straps as they counter balance the weight of the pack very well. Also the pack is made in the U.S.A which means a lot to me. The fabric is very durable and wear resistant much tougher than i expected for the weight.

I know pack fit is subjective, but I found it very easy to find a comfortable adjustment for 30 pounds including food and water. The load lifters are easily the most effective I've used on a pack this size. Overall it is a great pack from a true American small company.

Design: Top Loader
Size: 42-52 litres in main pack compartment
Number of Pockets: 3 external pockets 2 hip belt pockets
Max. Load Carried: 30 pounds
Height of Owner: 5'9"
Price Paid: $250

Have only used this for one trip so far, but I carried two tents (3 children and wife), Kelty down sleeping bag, Therm-a-rest ProLite 4 pad, stove and fuel canister, water purifier, 3 liter Platypus, change of clothes, food, and misc. equipment for a total of 34 pounds easily. 

It rode well, the hand loops were a lifesaver since I didn't have trekking poles (gave me something to do with my hands, helped with my balance, and rested the rest of my body), and it was pretty easy to adjust. 

The only complaint was that there wasn't much ventilation for my back, but you can't have everything.

Overall, it was a great pack, and I would recommend it for everyone.  And I almost forgot, if you call the number for the company, you get the owner, and he will talk about anything you want to talk about, give you pointers, and customize the pack for you if you ask.

Price Paid: $250

Did the last 1700 miles of an AT thru hike with one. It was perfect. Lightweight (replaced a Gregory in Damascus) roomy, and durable. It's still in great condition. I probably never had more than 30 pounds in it and wouldn't recommend that you go heavier than that.

I used this pack this year 2009 on the PCT. This pack took everything I could put it through including throwing it around trees in the Glacier Peak Wilderness that were down. Best pack I have ever owned!

Size: L
Number of Pockets: 2
Max. Load Carried: 30lbs
Height of Owner: 5 9"
Price Paid: $235

Purchased because I have to carry a lot of water on occasion. Works great with up to 35#, and it's huge. Great service from owner/sewer. Made in the USA! Replacement for an Exos 58.

Height of Owner: 5'10"

Nice light pack that fits perfectly. I like the size of the frame, it covers my broad shoulders and does not hang off. Built for speed!


  • The size
  • The mesh pockets
  • Everything about this pack is sweet



Hiked Franconia Ridge having just bought this pack. The fit is spot on. I loaded down with all of my gear and added winter gear to the mix because of the cold weather.

I love the outer pocket sleeve. I love the diddy bag on the inside, the simplicity yet versatile design is what I have been looking for.

I have been shopping for an UL pack and this was the smartest purchase I have made. We get to go play on some overnights in the next few days and then we head to Colorado in July. Cannot wait to hike in this pack again.

Source: bought it used
Price Paid: $150


  • Large holds a good amount of gear for self and others...


  • The material is getting older after a few years, may want to upgrade to a smaller pack

Design: Toploader, Alpine

Size: 42-52 liter / 4500 cu inch pack

Number of pockets: 3 external, 2 hip belt


  • Max load: 30 pounds
  • Internal frame
  • Internal framesheet
  • Front shock cord
  • Front mesh pocket
  • Adjustible bellow side pockets
  • Bear canister capable
  • Hydration sleeve
  • Internal mesh pocket
  • Water bottle holsters
  • Handloops

2011 Changes: Side pockets are made with 210 ripstop nylon instead of mesh. Logo bottom is now Cordura nylon instead of Dyneema. Front mesh pockets large enough to carry many items. Front cord as well to secure a sleep mat.

Pack can and is found being used on all national long trails.

Source: bought it used
Price Paid: $160 used, Retails for $254 new.

Your Review

Where to Buy

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support Trailspace's independent gear reviews.

You May Like


Price MSRP: $280.00
Historic Range: $250.00
Reviewers Paid: $150.00-$250.00
Weight 48 oz / 1,361 g
Volume 4,600 cu in ? 75 L
Max Load 40 lbs / 18 kg
Product Details from ULA »

Recently on Trailspace

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 Review

Fire Maple Petrel Ultralight Pot Review