Gear review: ULA Circuit backpack

When I moved to Moab back in the fall of 2018, I had two backpacks I use (and still use) frequently – My ULA Catalyst, the ULA CDT.

The Ultralight Adventure (ULA) Equipments packs made in Logan, UT, make excellent packs that are not ultralight but are light. More importantly for me and my Utah backpacking, in particular, they’ve proven themselves as durable packs and versatile that work well for backpacking when on non-maintained trails or routes, and I need more considerable carries of water, food, or other supplies.

Since 2012 I’ve used the Catalyst as my heavy hauler pack of choice.  I’ll winter backpack on skis, carry a packraft when taking cold-weather gear, guiding, etc.

On our Feb 2020 trip to The Maze via packraft. PCO Joan.

And the CDT ends up as my solo pack of choice since it can easily pack 3+ season gear and extra good and water as I need for a given stretch. I’ve used it successfully on three more remote trips (Walk Across Southern Utah, Canada’s Great Divide Trail, and the Northern New Mexico Loop) and for the many other solo trips over the years. And for day ski tours, too.

At the end of Northern New Mexico Loop in 2019.

Both packs served well for many different niches where I need durability and capacity.

But when I started backpacking with Joan regularly and taking bulkier gear (such as cold-weather gear, but not snow gear, or splitting a two-person tent), I found the CDT a little too small when I carry a lot of water. And the Catalyst a bit too big and bulky for when I did not need to take as much gear.   Joan’s an accomplished backpacker and did not need me to schlep gear and food for our trips.

I needed an in-between pack. A pack I can use for more extensive water carries, cold weather gear for the cold-but-not-deep-snow backpacking trips found in the high desert. And even packrafting.

The pack? The ULA Circuit pack.   A very versatile size at roughly 65 liters that works for different tasks. In its current configuration, it is 37 oz.   As with all ULA gear, it is light gear, but not the lightest.  But as also with ULA gear, it is more durable and versatile for different tasks vs. other packs.  As I mentioned in my “Jack of all trades” article, if I had to have one pack for a little of everything, the Circuit is the pack I’d own.  Overnight ski tours? Packrafting? Large water carries? Cold weather gear?  I’ve used it for all these tasks successfully. And at $255, it compares favorably to similar packs to REI or other retailers. But lighter.

In the High Desert over winter. PCO Joan.

The Robic fabric takes a beating. And the suspension, though rated at 35 lbs, can haul a bit more if needed depending on your fitness level and build.  The larger size hip-belt pockets allow enough room for snacks and sunscreen. The water bottle holders will enable me to stash both a water bottle and such things as gloves and a hat.

In the Abajos. PCO Joan

And the front pocket easily stashes my rain jacket or other clothing I may need to gather during the day.  I find the hip belt gives some stability that works well for heavier and bulkier loads, especially when scrambling.

PCO Joan.

In short, I love this pack. And my frequent use over the past 2+ yrs only validates the vital place in my pack quiver.   

In the San Juans. PCO Joan.

I have friends who equally enjoy the Circuit, including women. The S curve shoulder straps fits different builds vs. the so-called male athletic (roughly 6′ tall, thin, runner-type) build that many other pack companies predominantly sell. And ULA with their excellent customer service will work to make a pack that fits you well.  The Circuit also comes with an adjustable torso for children-sized packs. No reason for budding backpackers to have sub-standard gear.

In other words, the ULA Circuit is not just a “jack of all trades” pack for different uses, but it is a pack that fits many different body types, too.

Overall: If you want one pack to fit many different niches and types of trips, give the ULA Circuit a look. In the past two+ years, I may have used this pack more than any other pack in my quiver. As with the other ULA packs I own, I suspect I’ll use it for years to come. 

The La Sal Mountains. PCO Joan.

I also did a video overlook for the curious – 

Disclosure I purchased the Circuit with my funds.

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3 years ago

I too have the Gimli body shape. I have a Circuit with the J straps and they tend to rub the inside of my arms. Do you use the J strap or the S strap? I made a slight modification to the strap connected to the hip belt so that the angle coming up from the hip to the shoulder strap is more vertical. It seems to work but I have been considering switching to the S strap but would be disappointed if I paid to switch straps and still had the rubbing. What are your thoughts?

Dony Erwin
Dony Erwin
3 years ago

I purchased a Cicuit a couple years ago and have been extremely pleased with it. I max out at 35 lbs. (I like my adult beverages) and it handles that much weight like a champ. I was unsure about which straps to order so I contacted ULA and they had me send them a photo of my torso front and back. Surprisingly, Chris responded by saying I had somewhat of a “barrel” chest (huh, really?) and he suggested I go with the J straps. I was hesitant, but figured he knew what he was talking about. I love this pack… Read more »

Dony Erwin
Dony Erwin
3 years ago

CORRECTION: Chris at ULA suggested the “S” straps, not “J”. That was a typo. I’ve been very happy with the S straps.