Gear review: ULA CDT backpack


ULA CDT. From ULA Gear.

I bought a ULA CDT when it was time to replace my previous frameless pack two years ago or so.

I have been using a ULA Catalyst for quite some time and figured the ULA’s lightest offering would fit my needs for certain purposes.

Mainly? Solo, three-season+ use for non-technical pursuits but where I would be exploring off-trail.

Shortly after I bought the ULA CDT, I began a brief relationship with another lightweight gear manufacturer. The packs I tested (same model made in different years) were lighter than the ULA CDT but smaller. Reasonably durable but more complicated than the ULA CDT with the straps and “doo-dads” vs. the ULA CDT I had bought not long before.  The total space was small on both packs from the other gear company. The smaller packs made them more useful as defined route packs with 3-4 days of food optimally.  And if I went to shoulder season? Not so much a pack for me. They were/are good packs, but perhaps for a different use than what I needed. As an aside, the latest iteration of the pack now weighs 19 oz…or the same weight as a stripped-down ULA CDT.

The relationship ended with no acrimony.  And I still use some of the company’s gear.  But the three-season backpacks were not among the gear I decided to use going further as they did not quite fit my needs.

I grabbed my ULA CDT again over the shoulder season last year. And found it made a very good day-use ski tour pack, too.


Using the ULA CDT one winter day on a ski tour. People tell me I look a little like Jean Reno in The Professional in this photo. 😀

Lots of volume, simple, quick to take things in and out of, and durable.

A design that is older by cottage gear standards.

But an older design that works.

But what are the specs? I’m not much of a specific gear person. I actually talk best about overall impressions.

You can read the specs on the ULA CDT page.

The main points for me are that the pack is roughly 3000 CI/50L and perhaps a bit more, counting all the outside pockets.   Stripped down, weighs 19 oz.  (And, I if were more ambitious, as light as 14 oz!) And is really good for a base pack weights of 10 lbs or less.

The fabric is made of durable and proven Robic fabric.

I have placed ~6 days of food in the pack somehow in the past.  Five is perhaps better.

As mentioned, it is versatile.  The profile is such that it works well for off-trail jaunts.

Off-trail in the Wind River Indian Reservation with my ULA CDT. PCO Aaron @TrailGroove Magazine.


The outside pocket does not work well for bushwhacking. For mainly on-trail use, the mesh pocket is probably just fine, however.

The simple drawstring closure means I am not futzing with straps to get out my gear.

If I had to do it again, I’d contact ULA and have them put on a custom Robic fabric pocket first.  I like the outside pocket for rain gear, hauling water for dry camping, and other uses.   In the winter, my skins, wax kit, and cable bindings find a place in that pocket quite nicely.  (UPDATE: ULA has since replaced my mesh pocket with Robic. The cost was $25. )

The water bottle pockets are amply sized and easy to adjust. I find the extra room helps store things such as hiking poles when I don’t need them during off-trail scrambles.  The compression straps on the side of the pack work well and are ideally placed for this type of storage, too.

The pack resembles the original and classic Golite Jam a fair amount. Another versatile, durable, and light pack for what it did.

Unlike the Jam, the ULA CDT can be easily customized. I don’t use a water bladder, so I took out the bladder pocket (for example).

ULA is willing to do custom work, too.

The ULA CDT is not sexy, cutting edge, or the lightest pack out there.

What the ULA CDT ends up being is a well-designed and proven lighter weight workhorse pack for those who want to keep it light, get off-trail (if not bushwhacking with the standard mesh pocket), and want to do more than prime three-season backpacking.

And at $145, it is an excellent bargain. (UPDATE FEB 2022 – The pack now costs $180)

I suspect, much like my ULA Catalyst, it is a pack I will use for years to come.

I went cactus ‘shwacking in Arizona with the ULA CDT and Robic pocket. My pack survived. My friend’s pack did not. 🙂

UPDATE 2020:  I’ve used this pack many places well over the years. During my Utah walk, I somehow managed to schlep 6+ days of food, water, and a poor man’s packraft with it!   The CDT makes a proven warhorse.

At the end (and start!) of the Northern New Mexico Loop.

I also did a video overlook for the curious – 

Disclosure:   I purchased  the ULA CDT with my funds

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Buck Nelson
Buck Nelson
7 years ago

The CDT is good pack. Just finished using mine for a second long expedition. The mesh pocket is looking a little tattered, and the extension collar has some duct tape sewed on with dental floss, but that’s what I’d expect after that much use.

I first read Jean Reno as Janet Reno. Luckily there’s not much of a resemblance with the latter.

Mina Loomis
Mina Loomis
6 years ago

Found this post following through from your recent enews. Can you describe the modifications you made to this pack? What is the total pack weight this frameless pack can handle comfortably for you? Thanks! Mina

Mina Loomis
Mina Loomis
6 years ago

So you didn’t, for example, cut off the hip belt or anything? I think I am probably frame-dependent but have been toying with trying to get load transfer to a hipbelt with the rolled ridgerest technique for short trips. I have a (Frankle) Catalyst but haven’t used it since I started carrying a Mariposa. ULA still seems to be doing a good job with packs though.

Thanks for your continuing insights in your newsletter!

5 years ago
Reply to  Mina Loomis

I’ve found that folding my Thermarest Z-Lite in half and using it as a back-pad inside the pack works phenomenally. Not only does it thoroughly seem to stiffen the pack, but it also add several inches of rigid padding directly between your back and the gear. So far, so good!

Al Garay
Al Garay
6 years ago

Hey Paul, been reading your site over and over as I started my search to upgrade my backpacks and I’m focused on ULA Equipment. Wondering if the CDT works well as a daypack? Can it be compressed enough to replace the need for having a separate 15-25 liter pack?
I ordered the CDT and the Ohm 2.0. Really like your site and interested in your current equipment list as I’m going through upgrading everything.

Live in PNW. Been doing a lot of day hikes and planning to do more through hikes starting with the Wonderland trail and climbs.

Al Garay
Al Garay
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Hey Paul, can you give an update on how well CDT is holding up? How do you pack for 5/6 day trip? I’m planning to do the Wonderland trail, 93 miles with lots of elevation gain, around Mt Rainier this Summer 2021. I have a McHale pack ready but I’m considering a lightweight pack for total weight under 15 pounds. I got to try the CDT at a local store and love how well it distributes the load evenly across the back and shoulder.

Al Garay
Al Garay
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Thanks Paul. I’m going to try it out.

Al Garay
Al Garay
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Went to Feather Friends store in Seattle and tried out the CDT, Circuit and Hyperlite Mountain 3400 Northrim back to back with weights ranging from 17 lbs to 30 lbs. The CDT was comfortable up to 17 lbs (like you stated) and could do 20 lbs. In short, I came home with the Circuit. For just a bit more weight, it was so comfortable all the way to 30 lbs. The HMG stay needed adjustment was bent into my shoulder, noticeable from 20 to 30lbs. The Circuit distributed the load better just the right width. Gives me a greater flexibility… Read more »


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