A review of the ULA Catalyst backpack
Overall, I am pretty much a minimalist when it comes to backpacking.
I take what I consider to be enough for my own personal safety, comfort and enjoyments levels.
On a weekend by myself, that can mean no stove, a simple tarp-like shelter, a foam pad and minimal clothing.
With this type of basic kit, I have done long trails and adventurous solo backpacks.
However, just as my gear has evolved over the years to become lighter and more streamlined, so have my ideas of what gear to bring.
An overnight climbing trip means I am bringing a helmet, schlepping a rope and bringing my own personal climbing gear in addition to the basic backpacking gear.
And a winter trip on skis? A warmer bag, an additional pad and different or additional types of clothing.
The one commonality among these different trips with different gear ? I bring a bigger pack.
Now, back in the dark ages of say 1998, I had an enormous pack by modern standards. An EMS 5500 with uber-suspension and padding, lots of pockets and enough material to make an emergency bivy shelter if so desired (I kid on the last part. I think….) As the name suggests, this 5500 cubic inch monstrosity was big enough to haul everything I thought I needed for an excursion into the White Mountains. At ~7 pounds empty, it felt it, too!
What the hell was I thinking????
As I became more experienced and realized I needed less to enjoy a backpacking weekend, my pack became smaller and lighter.
But there was still a need to use a bigger pack for other activities. Trips with friends that are more social? Winter trips? Climbing? I’d cram everything into a GoLite Jam that is a rather nice pack but not meant for the abuse I was throwing at it. No matter how much duct tape or dental floss repairs I made, the poor pack finally was shot.
Then I discovered ULA packs for myself. Lightweight packs a little beefier than the ultralight packs being made currently by other companies. They are good packs for people who wish to lighten their load but still retain some durability and comfort of more traditional gear. Some of the models have a more traditional-style suspension for heavier load hauling. Yet, the packs still manage to stay light.
For playing Sherpa, climbing or winter trips I have been putting a ULA Catalyst through its paces during the past year.
At 4600 CI and 48 ounces in weight (size medium), it is not much smaller than my old EMS pack and less than half the weight.
Once I had the pack adjusted and dialed in for my use, the pack fitted me well and rode beautifully.
It has become a workhorse pack for me.
A pack where I don’t have to cram in extra gear and clothing and where everything fits “just right”.
Sorry no photo of me in a ULA pack. Instead, here’s a lovely photo I took of OTHERS in ULA packs 🙂
As with all ULA packs, you can easily customize the pack for your needs. Don’t need the mesh wallet and keys holder? Take it off. Don’t use a CamelBak? Remove the water bladder sleeve. And so on. An easy way to shave off 3-4 ounces depending.
An actual photo of the Catalyst…from the ULA site.
At $250, it is more expensive than many ultra-light packs. But that is the wrong comparison to make IMO. Compare the ULA Catalyst to other packs that are similar size and purpose, and the Catalyst is not only lighter but also very competitive in terms of price. As a bonus, this pack is made in the USA. With the competitive prices and excellent performance, nice to see a Made the USA product as a viable choice in outdoor gear.
Note that ULA sells a smaller version of this pack called the Circuit. About 7oz and 600 CI less. If you do not need the extra capacity of the Catalyst, the Circuit is a favorite all around pack as well.
The sub-1lb packs made of thin material still have a place in my kit. For solo trips trip regulated to on-trail (or off-trail with no abrasive bushwhacking), still my pack type of choice.
But when I need to haul more and need something a little more durable, I’ll go for my ULA Catalyst.
It’s an excellent product that works. ‘Nuff Said.
Note: This pack was paid for with my own funds.