Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
ULA P-1 backpack
[Originally written for BackpackGearTest.org, this review was current at the time it was written but should now be considered out-of-date. It is likely this product has been improved based on test results such as those reported here and experiences from other users. It is also possible that this product no longer exists or has been superseded by products produced at a later time. This page is included for historical purposes as an example of a gear testing report I had submitted.
Only minor updates such as email addresses, links, and formatting have been made as necessary to accommodate inclusion of an older report into this web site.]
Web site: http://www.ula-equipment.com/
The web site provides all the details a lightweight hiker could want. Each item is listed individually with its base weight and with the weight of each component that can also be ordered. All weights are approximate to the tenth of an ounce. The web site now lists Spectra Gridstop as a component but the packs being tested were put together before that became an option.
Tester: Mara Factor
P-1 custom small 16.5" torso
I had seen this pack at the Hanover, NH ALDHA Gathering but did not have time to examine it. I had managed to slip it on and knew the torso on the demo pack was too long. With my very short torso, that didnít surprise me. I also knew it was possible to get custom length torsos for the P-1.
I think I remember having heard a few positive comments about the P-1 on the various hiking lists to which Iím subscribed, but mostly Iíve heard of people who were wondering how other people liked it. I look forward to putting the pack through its paces and being able to provide feedback for both Brian Frankle at ula Equipment and to curious hikers looking for a lightweight backpack.
Ordering experience: I was in direct email contact with Brian Frankle and was able to have some questions answered before deciding on the final configuration to be tested. In an email, I had asked about the possibility of removing options and Brian indicated he would send me a pack with removable sternum strap. He also indicated that he would make the pack with a custom 16.5" torso. Other than that, I ordered a fairly standard set of options.
What I received: The pack arrived in a standard 15.5" x 12.5" x 3" Priority Mail box. In it was the pack, completely assembled with hip belt in place and four sheets of information stapled together. There was one letter addressed to me, another for the reviewers in general, a standard order form showing the options and what each would cost as well as total cost, and a page that would normally accompany all purchases with use, tips, and fit information. The pack arrived with all options specified in the original order.
Description: The pack came as ordered, in green with black trim. The weight as delivered is 1.2 oz. more than the weight of the components as listed on the web site. Given that weights on the web site are approximates and the accompanying documentation specifically says the straps should be trimmed when you know what you need, that would probably pull the pack right back to the web site specifications.
The pack as I ordered and received it is as follows:
As most of the accessories are permanently attached, I could not weigh each item individually. The letter addressed to me indicated that my pack weighs 27.8 oz. The three different weight values I have (web, my scale, and ULA scale) are close enough to not be of concern to me.
The pack is primarily a single top-loading large bag. It has a dry bag style closure that you roll down three or more times and then fold the corners over the top and attach with Fastex buckles. An extension collar cinches shut with a drawstring. Finally, there is one strap that integrates a daisy-chain type strap with a vertical compression strap that attaches near the ice axe loop on the front of the pack, and loops over the top of the pack to attach near the haul loop.
The instructions state not to bother rolling the dry bag style top unless inclement weather is coming. But, I don't believe the pack is waterproof so I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make anyway.
There is one small 5"x7" flat pocket on the inside made out of see-through netting, a nice touch so you can tell at a glance what's in it. I had expected it to be attached near my shoulders (because I have a day pack with that configuration) but it is attached on the front side of the pack. The field test will determine whether that position affects its utility.
On the outside, there are two very large mesh side pockets. My tent, a Nomad Lite, will fit in one pocket, a nice feature for those times when I have to pack up while it's raining out. These side pockets have a standard one-handed closure mechanism. Hopefully when fully packed, if the pockets are cinched tight, they might be useful for smaller items. Uncinched, I would worry about losing items in terrain like the Whites. This might not be as much of an issue on the well groomed trails of the PCT.
My pack came with the Front shock cord which zigzags across the pack. The width of the panel with the shock cord is nearly 13" so the cord should be able to hold some bulky items. On the down side, because the area covered is so large, the cord will likely not be useful for smaller items. This is likely not an issue given the large mesh pockets. The Shock Cord does have an adjustable cord lock mechanism.
A single ice axe loop comes standard and is positioned in the middle of the pack. A Velcro ice axe retainer with the ula logo is by default positioned at the top daisy chain loop of the vertical compression strap. The retainer weighs .2 oz and is easily removable or adjustable to other loops on the daisy chain. I am surprised at its 2" width. My initial thought was that the retaining loop could have been half that width or smaller. Perhaps time will show why it's so wide.
While there is no "frame" to this pack, I was surprised to see the generous padding behind the shoulder blades and in the lumbar position. All told, it seems to cover well over half the area of the back. That, in addition to a sleeping pad should provide plenty of protection for the lightweight loads this pack was designed for.
The shoulder straps seem standard issue. No surprises there.
There are two elastic drawstrings on each shoulder strap. These are the water bottle holsters. They can only be used with bottles that have a defined indentation on them or else water bottles will slip through. While the web site indicated standard bicycle bottles, it didn't indicate why. Upon examination, it's pretty clear why. I believe Nalgene bottles would slip right through. I'm not sure yet if Gatorade bottles have enough of an indentation to hold reliably.
The sternum strap, as it turns out, is the standard non-removable one. Well, the strap is certainly removable but I wouldn't be able to put it back on afterwards. But, as far as I'm concerned, sternum straps can easily be made so if I decide to remove this one - permanently, I know I can fashion a replacement strap if need be.
There is a removable hip belt with this pack. It attaches through the lumbar pad and is kept stable with Velcro. The hip belts includes load lifters which attach to the sides of the pack and pull the load closer when necessary. The hip belt has one pocket on either side. These pockets zip closed and are about 5" x 6" x 1". They appear perfect for a camera, munchies, and a maybe a map if folded small.
The pack looks and feels like a good piece of equipment. Every seam is taped so there are no exposed edges to fray and/or get caught and pulled while loading, unloading, or hiking. Examination of the visible sewing shows the variation inherent in a custom made item but no sloppiness or other variation that seems like it could affect the durability of the pack.
The only flaw I found was with the materials of the Internal Stash pocket. The fragile netting fabric has a tear approximately 3/8" long. The tear is well hidden near the top of the pocket in the netting on the side away from the zipper. This tear seems to be in a low stress area and I doubt it will be an issue during testing or during normal usage.
My casual examination of the pack even before I found the tear did, however, have me thinking that the pocket was the one weakest or least durable part of the pack. It's also probably the least important in that should something happen to the pocket, you're not going to lose anything.
But, this pack is meant for lightweight duty and it is understood that extra care must be taken to keep this pack in good shape.
I of course, first tried the pack on with absolutely nothing in it. But, as with any pack, that's hardly a fair way to test a pack. This is especially true with lightweight packs that rely on the contents to perform properly. So these comments are now based on my loading the pack with minimal weight but appropriate bulk for the pack to hold its shape and me to test fit.
Given that I am testing this pack both with and without the hip belt, I first took the hip belt off to test fit without the belt. I use a full-length Thermarest LE so I deflated my pad, accordion folded it and put that against the back of the pack. I then just loosely stuffed my sleeping bag and Nomad Lite tent into the pack. Those three items took up enough space for me to check fit.
With no hip belt, there's very little to adjust. Just put the pack on and adjust the shoulder straps. There are no load lifters on the shoulder straps, just the sternum strap. I found the shoulder straps to be a bit long for my short torso. An inch or two shorter would be preferable and leave less bulky materials under my arms to rub while hiking. But, the straps weren't so long as to be useless and I hope the length does not prove to be a barrier to the test.
I also find the straps themselves to be quite wide. A quick measurement of my other backpacks does indeed find the P-1 straps to be a 1/2 to one inch wider. While this probably helps distribute the weight better for some hikers, it might prove to be a barrier to comfortable hiking for others. I suspect this is an issue for me because of my bust. A womanly bust really does leave less room for wide straps than the relatively flat chest of a man. If the straps soften over time, they may work anyway. If they do not soften up, the straps may end up rubbing and creating sore spots.
The three inch gap between the shoulder straps where they attach to the pack is great. It will prevent neck pinching that many other packs promote. I suspect that while it's wide enough for us broad shouldered folks, it's probably still narrow enough for those with sloped shoulders.
It was then time to put the hip belt back on and try the pack again. I followed the instructions shipped with pack which had me tightening the straps in the same order as most other packs. I first tightened the hip belt, then shoulder straps, then sternum strap, then load lifters. The load lifters on this pack are at the hips and what I would normally call stabilizers on other packs. The torso length was perfect.
The hip belt, however, seemed short. The ends of the padded portion of the hip belt just reached my hip points with very little overlap. A quick test of positioning the hipbelt around my waist showed it had probably been sized with the waist measurement without regards for the angle of the hips. I will get in touch with Brian to find out how it is supposed to fit.
The pockets on the hip belt were positioned squarely at my sides, not at all towards the front as I had been lead to believe. This could, of course, just be another indication that the hipbelt is too short.
While the hipbelt shows no apparent accommodation for womanly hips, it is quite soft compared to the hipbelts on many backpacks. This is appropriate given that it should not be carrying heavy loads. But, as a result, I believe that it will conform to a woman's hips and be comfortable even without the higher angle that makes stiffer hipbelts more comfortable.
Questions and concerns to be addressed during field testing:
I intend to address all of these questions as best I can during field testing. I expect to test the pack both with and without the hipbelt and will supply answers based on both configurations as appropriate.
Water bottle holster:
Removable Hipbelt and Hipbelt Pockets:
The large Fastex buckle on the hipbelt has sharp edges.
The load lifter straps on the hip belt are folded twice and then bar-tacked (I think that's the stitch name). They certainly look nice this way, however, this triple width strap is almost impossible to get in and out of the ladder mechanism which is necessary for removing or adding the hipbelt to the pack. It should not take an hour of massaging to do so. One simple fold in the strap would be enough to prevent accidental pull throughs but still enable the belt to be removed more easily.
While I do not have any overnights planned in the near term with this pack (winter conditions in the White Mountains of New Hampshire preclude a sub-25 pound overnight pack), I do expect to take it on day hikes fully loaded as if for three season lightweight backpacking. I will do this on trails closer to home or in the Whites as conditions dictate. I do expect my initial field test reviews to be a thorough test of capabilities of this pack. My long term testing will allow me to reinforce my findings on multi-day trips without the safety net of a warm house.
Field Test Report
Date: March 4, 2002
Combined reports one and two:
Read the first two reports in the combined format in the Files section of the BackpackGearTest Yahoo egroup. There, I discuss the reputation, ordering experience, what I received, description, condition, fit, and questions I anticipated answering during the field test.
The P-1 backpack is a well-made, well-designed lightweight pack. Without the hipbelt, I would find myself limited to warm weather summer hikes of short duration if I wanted to make any miles with the pack. This might be as much a reflection of my neck and shoulders as the pack. Those who have more strength in the necks and shoulders and/or the time to develop such strength will likely be able to use the pack for longer distances and heavier loads.
Please revisit these reviews for a long-term review of the pack at which time I expect to also report on the hipbelt.
Brian at ULA Equipment is responsive to requests for information. The pack is still going through design changes and Brian is open to suggestions.
Field test conditions:
Most of my testing was done in the Middlesex Fells reservation, an area just five miles north of Boston with miles of hiking trails ranging from easy flat walking on old fire roads, to rugged hiking on backcountry trails. I generally stick with the longer and rougher trails to approximate what I am most likely to encounter during my backpacks in the White Mountains. I did quite a few trips in there.
I also did a short stretch of the Appalachian Trail in eastern Vermont. There, I started out carrying but eventually used some lightweight, non-mountaineering crampons of the style that would be useful along a trail like the PCT. This stretch served to remind me that while most of my hiking is done on very rugged terrain, most hiking along the Appalachian Trail and other long-distance trails just is not as rugged and does not require bombproof gear.
There is no way to attach snowshoes to the P-1 so I refrained from wearing the pack on a true winter hike. Given the conditions going over the Hancocks that day, Iím glad I did not take the pack. The side pockets would not have survived the beating the protruding limbs from the Spruce trees gave us. This pack is designed for lightweight three season hiking, not winter mountaineering.
Temperatures on my field test hikes ranged from the 30s to the 60s. There was no precipitation.
Answers to questions posed in the first report:
All field tests were done without the hipbelt. I do still expect to receive it and will report on the pack with the hipbelt for the long-term report.
The water bottle holster requires a bicycle bottle with a significant "waist" to it. Neither Nalgene nor Gatorade bottles work with this design.
With my short torso, I find that the bottom part of the holster is too far under my arm to be useful. It impedes my arm when I try to swing it as I am walking - with or without my hiking poles.
I find that on smooth trails, I can use the holster with just the top shock cord retainer, but when the water bottle is full and Iím covering rough terrain, it still has a tendency to stretch the shock cord and pop out. Perhaps a wider band rather than a thin shock cord would reduce the bouncing I presently experience.
I also wonder if there might be a way to rig it to hold Gatorade bottles. With the move toward lightweight backpacking, I find bicycle bottles to be relative heavy compared to the ever-present Gatorade bottles.
The holster is also a convenient attachment point for my bandana.
See long-term report for more information.
See long-term report for more information.
The interior pocket was somewhat useful when I was using my Therm-a-Rest as the back support. With that, I would use it to hold car keys so I could find them quickly and easily upon return to my car.
It was not useful at all when I used my closed cell foam pad as a tube to line the inside of the pack. Then, it was squashed flat between the pad and the outside of the pack. Had I forced the issue, there would have been s significant lump as a stress point on the outside of the pack.
The slight tear I had identified during my initial examination did not worsen during the field tests.
The front shock cord was a convenience to have on the pack. I found I could easily and securely attach clothes to the pack without having to open the pack up each time I needed to peel something off.
The one "problem" I found with the shock cord was the way the cord-lock was attached to the cord. The cord was positioned through the same retaining loop near the top of the pack that the vertical compression strap goes through. I found that occasionally, the cord-lock would work its way back down through the loop. When this happens, tension would lessen and the possibility of losing something kept under the shock-cord would increase.
I wonder if the cord-lock was meant to be attached differently. Rather than have both ends of the shock-cord go through the retaining loop, perhaps just one end was supposed to go through, thereby preventing the cord-lock from working itís way through the loop and releasing tension.
I found the sternum strap is essential for using the pack without the hip belt. Without the sternum strap, the shoulder straps seem to pull back uncomfortably on my shoulders. With it, I do not need to put much tension on the sternum strap to hold the shoulder straps in the most comfortable position. The strap also aided in the stability of the pack.
The holes are quite large and two objects I would otherwise regularly store in the side pockets, my tent poles and orange trowel, can fall right through.
Care must be taken when loading the side pockets and if nothing else, the drainage holes should be documented as a feature. But I wouldnít be surprised to see if thereís a change in the offing.
I asked Brian if there was a reason the holes were so large and his response was "No specific reason, better drainage I suppose. I found that most folks are putting large items such as fuel bottles, ground clothes, water bladders, extra layers, etc in the side pockets --- things that are not likely to slip out of the drainage hole. Smaller items seem to fit better and are easier to find in hipbelt pockets, the internal pocket, or the front mesh pocket. That is the first comment I have heard in regard to the drainage hole size...something I will take into consideration."
Given that I did not have the hipbelt with pockets or the mesh pocket on the pack I was testing, I found the side pockets to otherwise be the obvious place to put smaller items. The inside pocket is not that convenient for quick access.
Going up and down steep hills on rough terrain, I found the bottom of the pack would bounce off my back and/or swing to the side. As such, in rugged terrain, I recommend using some sort of stabilizer belt. It need not be the entire hip belt, but a simple waist belt out of 1" webbing to stabilize the bottom of the pack would suffice during times when weight transfer to the hips is unnecessary. This could easily be added through the stabilizing ladder-locks already in place for use with the hip belt. Two short straps would be sufficient or one longer one that went through the hip belt lumbar pad and both stabilizing ladder-locks. I have not yet tried this.
"Upon initial inspection it may appear that the collar and dry bag lid are repetitious. I feel that both serve independent purposes. The dry bag lid, while serving as an extension collar to increase volume, also (when closed correctly) keeps the weather from entering the pack. I found in some earlier prototypes that loads could actually work open the barrel lock closure that is found on the collar. Just having a collar didn't contain the load well, and was obviously not as weather resistant as the dry bag lid. I also tried prototypes with just a dry bag lid. Although weather resistant, it was a hassle to open and close it each time when entering the pack. When I was carrying large loads, the dry bag lid didn't offer enough load compression on its own, and loads would shift easily, especially when hiking off trail. So, as a result of field tests, we decided to combine both and solve all the issues -- weather resistance, load compression, and easy access."
"Certainly a shoulder strap is not going to tear out if you grab one to put on your pack. However the warning of sorts that I mention in the P-1 paperwork is just that --- think about how many times someone puts on and takes off a pack during a thru-hike! By grabbing the shoulder strap to put on the pack, ALL the weight is being shifted to a single seam and bartack. This is true with a haul loop as well, but the weight is centered rather than at an angle and the result is an EVEN pull at four bartacks --- much stronger. Admittedly I try to scare folks a bit in the pack paper work to try to instill good habits that will keep them happy with the product, and me happy that I do not have to deal with warranty issues from improper expectations."
Every time I reach for the pack to lift it up and put it somewhere without it first going on my back, my hand gravitates to the compression strap, not the haul loop. Like with every other pack, grabbing by the haul loop leaves the pack dangling at a funny angle that can be difficult to manage. Grabbing by the top of the vertical compression strap, a really handy and otherwise "obvious" place to grab the pack leaves the pack dangling straight down just as any other "bag" with a handle. It would be a great feature to be able to use the vertical compression strap as a haul loop. When asked Brian saidÖ
"The vertical compression strap can certainly be used -- however the weak link in that approach, if I understand your method, is the buckle itself. If you look in the interior of the pack, both points are bartacked as reinforcement."
The pack also rides differently depending on the type of clothing you wear underneath. The fabric on soft shoulder pads can catch on some other fabrics. While I anticipated some "pulling" as a result, this never seemed to be a problem. When wearing a micro-fleece sweater, I did have to make sure that it was lying flat against my back as I put the pack on or at least give it a good tug once I got the pack on to make sure it was lying flat underneath. For the most part, this was an automatic response and I mostly noticed it because after wearing a couple of times with that micro-fleece sweater, I could see small pills of the blue sweater sticking against the black fabric of the shoulder and lumbar pads. With more slippery fabrics such as silkweight Capilene and Pertex, this wasnít an issue at all.
Long Term Report
Date: July 28, 2002
P-1 custom small 16.5" torso, manufactured and acquired, 2002
Previous reports: Read the first two reports in the combined format in the Files section of the BackpackGearTest Yahoo egroup. There, I discuss the reputation, ordering experience, what I received, description, condition, fit, and questions I anticipated answering during the field test.
Also read the third report for information on how the pack performed for me without a hipbelt.
This report concentrates on how the pack handled with the hip belt. I find the differences between using the pack with and without the hipbelt to be significant.
The P-1 backpack is a well-made, well-designed lightweight pack.
For backpackers who truly know how to pack light, I find the pack with the hipbelt to be ideal for backpacking trips like an Appalachian Trail or Long Trail thruhike. With a load topping out at about 21 pounds with four days of food, I found I could comfortably walk all day with the P-1 over rough terrain.
Long-term Field test conditions:
Due to delays in getting an appropriately sized hipbelt, I only had a few weeks to test the pack with the hipbelt.
I started by taking the fully loaded pack out on a rugged day hike on Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. This initial test of the pack with the hipbelt proved to me that the hipbelt likely provided me all the additional comfort I would need to use the pack for longer hikes.
Given the success of the trip up Mount Monadnock, I took the P-1 with hipbelt out for a week on the Long Trail. Some of my days were as short as 5.5 miles while others were as long as 14 miles over very rough terrain.
Temperatures on my hikes ranged from the 40s for some nights to the 80s for some days. There was a fair bit of rain.
Answers to questions posed in the first report:
All responses in this report are based on using the pack with the hipbelt. I made a concerted effort to comment where my responses vary from the earlier field test report without the hipbelt.
While I found the water bottle holsters do not work for my typical hiking bottles (Gatorade and such), I've since tried using them to hold my hydration system tube. For this, just one of the holster cords works perfectly.
I ended up using one cord for my hydration system and the other for my bandana.
I recommend including an option for just the "top" portion of the holster - perhaps one on each shoulder strap.
I carried weights of up to 22 pounds quite comfortably in the P-1.
I was a bit concerned at first because it did not seem to transfer weight to my hips as readily as other packs. Given the nature of lightweight backpacking, this did not end up being as much of an issue as I had expected.
Due to sizing issues, I did not test a hipbelt with pockets.
Once again, I found the interior pocket to be useful for holding keys and wallet. Those items I wouldn't want routinely while out hiking, but just when I returned to my car. For the Long-term field test, I used a fairly flexible Big Agnes REM Air Core sleeping pad so did not have any issues with the keys being a stress point "lump".
Once again, the slight tear I had identified during my initial examination did not worsen during the long-term field tests.
I wrote in my last report: "I found the sternum strap is essential for using the pack without the hip belt. Without the sternum strap, the shoulder straps seem to pull back uncomfortably on my shoulders. With it, I do not need to put much tension on the sternum strap to hold the shoulder straps in the most comfortable position. The strap also aided in the stability of the pack."
As it turns out, even with the hipbelt, I still find the sternum strap to be essential. With the straps, I have no problems with the width of the shoulder straps. Without the sternum strap, I find the shoulder straps can rub uncomfortably.
The sharp edges have never been an issue during testing.
On rough terrain, the pack was quite stable with the hipbelt. As I used my hiking poles to maneuver downhill, the affect of dropping my shoulders would allow more of the pack weight to settle on my hips. This effectively lowered my center of gravity - a good thing when going down tricky sections of trail. When reaching up, my shoulders bore more of the weight but given the light load, it was acceptable and took pressure off my hips to be able to swing my legs and reach more without the pack getting in the way.
On easy terrain where I could just walk along, the pack carried well.
Here's what happened:
When collecting measurements and options for the individual packs, Brian sent email to each tester outlining the measurements he needed. Minimally, he asked for torso and "waist" measurements. I could have asked for clarification of exactly what he meant by waist, but instead, I sent him a list that included torso, waist, hip at iliac crest, and hip at widest point measurements. At that point, even though I tend to scrutinize web sites, I was either unaware that there was a sizing page at the web site or had looked at it but hadn't noticed the use of the term "waist" for what I would consider a hip measurement.
As a experienced backpacker, I assumed that the hipbelt wouldn't be sized according to my true waist measurement, but that perhaps Brian had just used that term because it was easy to type in an informal email. That's why I had included the other measurements so he could pick and choose exactly what he had really meant.
Now, had I looked at the sizing portion of the web site, I would have seen that the "waist" measurement Brian was looking for was in fact the hip at iliac crest measurement and I could have sent just that.
I suspect that once my email reached ULA-Equipment, in the rush to produce the packs, the measurement I had marked as "waist" got used for determining the hipbelt length.
I suggest that the term "waist" be changed to "hip" for measurement purposes. "Waist" is typically used for the measurement at the narrowest part of the body between the rib cage and pelvis, not at the hip.
In any case, when I received the pack, I realized the hipbelt was much too short for my hips. Because the hipbelts are removable, I was able to continue with the gear test by testing the pack without the hipbelt while I waited for an appropriately sized hipbelt.
The next hipbelt I received was a "large". It had a pocket on just one side. The length of the belt would have been on the long side of adequate but still in the adequate range. However, in looking at the belt and trying it on with the pack, I realized the width of the belt was significantly wider than that of the small hipbelt I had already sent back. Just to verify that was the case, I had the other testers measure their hipbelts and sure enough, it was wider by an inch or so.
It was easy to see how and why a "large" hipbelt might be wider than a "small" but for me, it posed another problem. My pack was a custom "short" pack because I have such a short torso. As such, the width of the hipbelt was too wide for me. If I positioned my leg as if I was hiking up a large step, if the bottom of the belt was positioned over my leg, the top was well above the bottom of my rib cage.
Needless to say, this was turning into a big learning experience for both Brian and myself.
At that point, I returned the "large" hipbelt and Brian sent me a "medium" belt with no pockets. It is with that belt that I conclude this successful geartest of the P-1 backpack WITH hipbelt.
Last updated, July 10, 2010.
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