Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst Review
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Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst
|Price||$280 List||$224.95 at Amazon|
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$139.29 at REI
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|Pros||Lightweight, comfortable, supportive, functional feature set||Lightweight, comfortable with heavy loads, perfect pocket combination||Awesome pockets, excellent ventilation, general comfort||Light-weight, comfortable, easily personalized, inexpensive||Comfortable, great cushioning, adjustable torso length, tons of organization options|
|Cons||No lid, back panel lacks ventilation||Tiny buckles hard to operate with gloves||Not supportive for loads over 40 pounds||Not the most durable, low maximum load weight||Only comes in one size, heavier for its volume|
|Bottom Line||This pack rides the line as an ultralight bag that's still comfortable to carry, has useful features, and boasts impressive durability||A lightweight load hauler that is both comfortable and full of features||A classic backpack design with breathable a suspension and many user-friendly features||It may not be a heavy load hauler, but for moderate loads, this pack is comfortable and has a great set of features, all at an affordable price||This is a great choice for an affordable pack with tons of pockets and three ways to access the main compartment|
|Rating Categories||Ultralight Adventur...||Granite Gear Blaze 60||Osprey Atmos 65 AG||REI Co-op Flash 55||Deuter Aircontact C...|
|Ease of Use (25%)|
|Specs||Ultralight Adventur...||Granite Gear Blaze 60||Osprey Atmos 65 AG||REI Co-op Flash 55||Deuter Aircontact C...|
|Measured Weight||2.8 lbs||3.0 lbs||4.6 lbs||2.8 lbs||5.2 lbs|
|Weight per Liter (oz/L)||0.60 oz/L||0.80 oz/L||1.13 oz/L||0.81 oz/L||1.11 oz/L|
|Advertised Volume||75 L||60 L||65 L||55 L||65L + 10L|
|Organization Compartments||Front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets||Lid, front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets||Lid, front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets||Lid, front mesh pockets, 2 side pockets per side, hip belt pockets, shoulder strap pocket||Lid with two zippered pockets, front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets, sleeping bag compartment|
|Access||Top||Top, front||Top, sides, bottom||Top||Top, front, bottom|
|Sleeping Bag Compartment||No||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Materials||400 Robic fabric||100D robic nylon w/ DWR coating||Main Body: Recycled 210D honey comb nylon
Accent: Recycled 210D high tenacity nylon
Bottom: Recycled 500D high tenacity nylon
|Main Body: 100D ripstop nylon
Bottom: 420D nylon
|Main: 235-denier polyamide
Bottom/high-wear areas: 500-denier textured polyamide
|Measured Volume (main compartment)||55L||55L||(not measured)||45L||52L|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Catalyst is, far and away, one of the lightest weight packs that can carry a moderate load so comfortably. Despite this low weight, it still has enough features to keep it continually one of our favorite models in our best backpack review.
The Catalyst is the workhorse of the ULA line. The recommended max weight is 40 pounds, but we found that to be slightly conservative. We tested this pack with over 45 pounds, and it performed admirably. Whether you are loading this pack with heavy climbing gear or crammed full with a fresh resupply out of a trail town, this pack can take the weight.
The suspension consists of a frame sheet and two (malleable) aluminum stays that transfer load weight to the comfortably padded hip belt. While this style of frame is dated, it still does a great job of redistributing weight off your shoulders and onto your hips. The shoulder straps are padded well and come in the standard J-Straps and S-Straps to fit different body types. The mesh-style foam back panel doesn't breathe as well as a more modern trampoline-style harness, but it is comfortable on your back and dries quickly after a sweaty hike.
Ease of Use
The Catalyst is loaded with incredibly functional features. It's no wonder ULA rarely changes things up with its line of backpacks. Some of our favorite features include huge side pockets, an excellent front mesh stuff pocket, dual-zippered hip belt pockets, and a front shock cord lashing strap. These features are not revolutionary, but they are undeniably user-friendly.
The large side pockets can hold two tall Smartwater bottles each for those long desert crossings with limited water, but they are useful for much more than just bottles. We found that we could fit rain gear or a pack cover in addition to a single tall bottle. An adjustable shock cord helps keep everything in the pockets contained and secure. The pockets also angle forward, so it is easy to reach back with one hand to remove and reinstall the bottles on the go without taking off the pack.
The Catalyst is advertised as a 75-liter pack. However, it is worth noting that the main compartment is only listed as 43 liters. To account for the remaining capacity, ULA includes the side pockets, the exterior collar, the hip belt pockets, and the stretchy mesh pocket. From our experience, this pack doesn't feel as large as most other 75-liter packs.
The front mesh pocket is another perfectly executed feature. This pocket is huge, encompassing most of the front of the pack, and is an ideal place to stuff light layers, a pack cover, fuel bottles or canisters, and just about anything stuffable that will fit in this large 10-liter capacity pocket. Any bulky layers that won't fit in the stuff pocket can easily be strapped to the front of the pack using the shock cord lashing. This is also an ideal place for a closed-cell foam pad or drying wet socks, bandanas, or underwear.
Having exceptionally large and accessible hip belt pockets, they are useful and versatile. We found them perfect for our phones, snacks, map & compass, water treatment, chapstick, and any wrappers or trash found on the trail. The roll-top takes a little getting used to since it has to be buckled on each side, but the simplicity of not having the top lid makes up for the minor inconvenience. However, closing the pack when loaded all the way to the top feels slightly less secure until the top compression strap is fastened and tightened.
This pack is just on the cusp of being an ultralight pack. We were blown away by how light it feels when empty. Weighing in at just under 3 pounds, the Catalyst is an incredibly lightweight pack that performs extremely well even when loaded with over 40 pounds of gear. Though some other packs we tested weigh about the same, the higher volume of the Catalyst gives it a very impressive weight-to-volume ratio that more than makes up for a few extra ounces.
The true minimalist will also love that this pack has multiple removable features (hydration sleeve, hand straps, shoulder strap water bottle keepers, and small internal storage sac). Depending on what configuration you decide, the total weight can be reduced by up to four ounces. The 400 Robic fabric used on this pack is durable and tear-resistant, yet lightweight. The Catalyst also saves weight by keeping the suspension and construction simple.
With four harness sizes available, regardless of your torso size, it's almost guaranteed that there's a Catalyst that will fit. They range in torso length accommodation from 15 to 24 inches. They also offer six separate hip belt sizes to fit a wide range of waist measurements, from 26 to 47 inches.
Finally, they offer two types of shoulder strap shapes: the J-Curve and the S-Curve. J-Curve is their original and works best for most men, but men with certain body types (athletic build) will benefit from the S-Curve. While each pack only has a small amount of adjustment, each size accommodates about four inches of torso lengths, and with some up-front planning, a great fit is easy to get.
Should You Buy the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst?
If you want a comfortable pack that carries heavy loads well, is impressively lightweight for its volume, and has a great set of features, then the ULA Catalyst is a solid choice. This pack is super light for the amount of weight it can carry comfortably and has useful features for long-distance hiking. If you're on a tight budget, this backpack may seem expensive, considering how simple it is. But for those who want a large carrying capacity, and value-saving weight without sacrificing pocket options, we think this pack is worth the cost.
What Other Backpacking Backpacks Should You Consider?
The time-tested ULA Catalyst is an ideal pack for long-distance hiking — it's lightweight, comfortable, and scales up and down depending on how much food and gear you're carrying. If you're looking for a pack with a few more features, like a top lid and front-panel accessibility, check out the Granite Gear Blaze 60. Check out the Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10 for the most organization and accessibility of any pack we tested. If you're looking for a backpack with a more supportive, breathable, and comfortable back panel, consider the Osprey Atmos 65 AG.
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