For 5- and 7-day guided trips this summer in the Brooks Range and Yosemite National Park, I plan to carry (and review afterwards) the ULA Catalyst. Its key specs:
- 48 oz (3 lbs 0 oz, 1360 grams)
- 4,600 cubic inches (75L)
- Twin aluminum stays
- Durable fabrics throughout
- Generous hipbelt pockets and front stash pocket
- Made in USA
- More information
ULA appropriately describes the Catalyst as “the tried and true workhorse of [our] pack line.” Most of its features trickle down to the smaller 41-oz Circuit, which honestly is a better pick for most 3-season trips — I need more volume and load support when I’m guiding than when I’m on a private trip.
Strip it down
Many backpacks include extraneous features and materials, leaving open the opportunity to shed weight by taking scissors to it. This is not the most effective weight-savings tactic, but it’s usually worth a Snickers bar.
I wish that products arrived exactly as I want them, but I understand the manufacturer’s rationale for including these extra items: if its products lack features or functionality that a large number of prospective customers want or expect, it sales will be hindered.
With the Catalyst (and with ULA’s other packs like the Circuit, Ohm, and CDT), the weight-savings potential is greater than with most other packs. I easily removed 4.4 ounces (125 grams), which amounts to a 9 percent weight reduction.
The process is easy, too. It took me just five minutes. And everything is reversible — by reattaching webbing clips and/or cord locks, the functionality could be fully restored.
A word of caution: to remove the cord cinches, you will need to use a knife to gently pry them open. So that you don’t stab yourself, I recommend holding the cinches with pliers, not your fingers.
Save 4.4 ounces in 5 minutes
I removed six features that cumulatively weighed 4.4 ounces (125 grams), listed below. Interestingly, the weight-savings were greater when I first did this seven years ago — in 2012 I managed to remove only 3.8 ounces.
- Hydration sleeve,
- Internal accessory pocket,
- Bungee cord over the front stash pocket,
- Two bottle holsters on the shoulder straps,
- Two handloops, and,
- Two ice axe attachments.
The hydration sleeve (1.0 oz) is useless to me since I use water bottles, not a reservoir-and-tube system.
The internal accessory pocket (0.6 oz) could fit small items like toiletries, a headlamp, and Aquamira. But I prefer to keep oft-needed items in the hipbelt and side pockets. And I like to keep other small odds-and-ends in a free-floating stuff sack, which is more portable and won’t get caught up with items being shoved into or removed from my pack.
Water bottle holsters (0.7 oz) are attached to each shoulder strap, and best fit 20-oz squeeze bottles like those used by cyclists and ultra runners. But I normally use a 1-liter smartwater bottle, and I like to keep it in my left side pocket, where it’s out of the way but still easily reachable.
Handloops (0.8 oz) dangle from the shoulder straps, too. If you don’t use trekking poles, they are a nice place to hang your hands to avoid the pooling of blood. But I always use trekking poles, so I will never miss the handloops.
A bungee cord (0.5 oz) is threaded over the front stash pocket, and could be used to secure items to the pack’s exterior, like a rain jacket or a mid-layer fleece. But the mesh pocket serves the same function and is more secure; and the bungee is snag-prone when hiking off-trail through brush.
The ice axe loop attachments (0.4 oz) are convenient for carrying an axe, but relatively few hikers ever have to. Prior to my trips in Yosemite, which had an epic 2018-19 winter, this is the one feature that I will reinstall.
Questions about the ULA Catalyst? Leave a comment.
This post was originally published on July 24, 2012.
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