In advance of multiple 2-, 3-, and 7-day guided trips this Fall — including some in locations where a bear canister is required — I recently picked up a ULA Catalyst. This pack is described as “the workhorse” of the ULA pack line; it offers 4,600 cubic inches of volume, a twin stay framesheet, and durable fabrics throughout, all for a competitive 48 ounces (exactly 3 pounds). There is also a smaller and lighter version available, the Circuit.
Most of my backpacks arrive with features that I don’t need or want, so shortly after receiving a new pack — and certainly before I take it out for the first time — I apply scissors and/or a knife to it. I wish that my gear were spec’d exactly as I like, but I understand the manufacturer’s rationale: if they don’t include all or most of the features that prospective customers want or expect, they limit the product’s sales.
ULA is a small company and has a good pulse on their customers, but even the Catalyst was unnecessarily “fat” from my perspective. But my customary ounce-shaving exercise was incredibly pleasant with the Catalyst: ULA is aware that some/most of their customers do not need or want some features, so they make them easily removable. It took me five minutes to do, and everything I did is reversible since the features are attached via webbing clips and cord locks, not permanently sewn to the pack.
I removed five features that cumulatively weigh about 4 oz, described below. Four ounces isn’t enormous but it’s still notable, especially in consideration of how easy it was.
The hydration sleeve (1.4 oz) is useless to me since I much prefer Platypus water bottles over a reservoir-and-tube system.
The internal mesh pocket (0.8 oz) could be used for small items like lip balm, sunscreen, Aqua Mira, ibuprofen, and a small headlamp or flashlight. But I prefer to keep oft-needed items in the hipbelt pockets and side pockets. Remaining items I will keep in a small stuff sack, which unlike the mesh pocket won’t snag other items as I am shoving them into my pack.
Water bottle holsters (0.6 oz) are attached to each shoulder strap. They are useful only if you use hard-sided 12- or 20-oz bottles like those used by cyclists and ultra runners. I don’t, preferring instead to store my Platypus bottles in the side pockets.
Handloops (0.6 oz) dangle from the shoulder straps too and, if you don’t use trekking poles, they are a nice place to hang your hands to avoid the pooling of blood in your arms. I always use trekking poles so will never miss the handloops.
A bungee cord (.2 oz) is threaded on the outside of the back mesh pocket. This could be convenient for lashing my puffy parka or a wet rain jacket to the pack, but the mesh pocket could serve that same function too. Plus, external cords are extremely snag-prone, especially when traveling off-trail through brush or when scrambling through talus or up Class III cliff bands.