My PCT 2020 kit list
At the time of writing this review of the ULA Circuit backpack, I haven’t crushed many miles with it. So, here’s a first look at the backpack which I ended up purchasing on the Pacific Crest Trail this year. “Wait? Purchased ON the PCT?”
Yes, I started the Pacific Crest Trail this March with my custom Atom Packs Atom+, but I had to switch it out due to COVID-19 complications on trail.
Why the switch?
I absolutely love my custom Atom+, so when it came to hiking the PCT this year it was a no-brainer deciding to use it for the full 2,665 miles of the American West. Sadly though, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many uncertainties around whether resupply towns would be open to hikers coming through, so I needed to be able to carry up to 10 days worth of food should a town be closed further up trail and I needed to skip the resupply there. There was also the fact that the snowy conditions were consistent from day 2 and I needed the room to be able to carry extra equipment and clothing. The Atom+ was too small to carry it all, so I had to get the ULA Circuit in a 50L model shipped to Idyllwild.
Why the ULA Circuit?
Tom Gale’s wife, Mo used a ULA circuit on her early thru-hikes and they still had it lying around in the workshop. After closely inspecting the features and the materials I tried it on with some load and really liked how comfortable it was. So with that in mind, I always said I’d like to try one, so when the time came to get a new pack I went for the ULA Circuit without hesitation, I knew it would be a risk-free switch.
How did it do?
From Idyllwild to the i10 intersection with the PCT before returning to the UK I found the ULA Circuit backpack to be more comfortable than the Atom+ under load. I was carrying about 7 days worth of food to get me to Big Bear which was 4 or 5 days away, carrying 1 litre of water and post-holing my way through the rest of the San Jacinto Mountains. The pack carried incredibly well and I absolutely loved the extra room which made it a lot easier to pack and I felt more confident knowing I could carry extra supplies if I needed to. The hip belt pockets were a little on the small side, I felt no need for the side compression on the roll-top enclosure and there was a massive amount of webbing to trim down when I got hold of it. Since returning to the UK I’ve been using it on day hikes and carrying my equipment around.
Did you miss anything from the Atom+?
Yes, I really missed the shoulder strap pockets on the Atom+, they were so easy to use without needing to look. The Z side shock cord was greatly missed as it was useful for keeping my water bottles in the side pockets if I needed to bend over to tie a shoelace. The last thing I really missed about the Atom+ was the bottom pocket and trash hole. That bottom pocket completely changed the way I pack my food and made it so easy to eat while hiking.
Why are the shoulder strap pockets difficult to use?
They’re too flappy and too rectangular. The way they’re attached isn’t fitted flush with the pack and they’re so bulky they get in the way. The shoulder strap pockets on the Atom+, while they’re sewn in, were the perfect design for putting anything in and no matter how much or what you put in them they expand to fit the contents.
Value for money
While the ULA Circuit is expensive, it’s not as expensive as you might think for a pack of its class. What you get for your hard-earned cash is a super-strong, comfortable pack with lots of great features. Other similar packs can be up to $200 more for similar quality and features, but may not last as long.
Who’s the ULA Circuit 50L backpack for?
The ULA Circuit is for long-distance hikers looking for enough room to have more choices on what they carry, but not too much room so they allow themselves to over-pack. Perfect for your first thru-hike, its durable 400d Robic will withstand any bumps, scrapes and the occasional cactus. There’s no worries with this backpack, but for someone looking to go ultralight and sub-10lbs, the ULA Circuit would be far too heavy, the Atom+ starts at just ~600g , so the ULA Circuit is like carrying two Atom+ packs.
It’s so comfortable to wear with the extra load, it’s going to be my pack of choice for hikes where resupply points are hard to find such as the Cape Wrath Trail. If I had the choice though, I would’ve definitely chosen an Atom Packs Mo over this, but at the time, I needed the pack right there in Idyllwild.
- Durability 80% 80%
- Comfort 80% 80%
- Capability 60% 60%
- Value for money 50% 50%
- Very durable
- Very comfortable
- Great features for thru-hiking
- Lots of room in the front pocket
- Lots of excess webbing
- Heavy for a pack in this class
- Not very versatile
- Shoulder pockets difficult to use
Torso length range:
12″ – 24″
Hip belt range:
26″ to 47″
- Internal Suspension Hoop
- Padded Backpanel
- Contoured Shoulder Straps
- Front Shock Cord
- Front Mesh Pocket
- Dual Hipbelt Pockets
- 400 Robic Adjustable Side Pockets
- Rolltop Closure
- Side/Top Compression Straps
- Ice Axe/Pole Retention Loops
- Bear Canister Capable
- ULA 400 Robic
- 400 Robic Bottom Panel
- Hydration Sleeve
- Internal Stash Pocket
- Water Bottle Holsters
- Single Aluminum Stay