ULA Catalyst – first impressions

by backpackingbongos

I have obsessively spent a couple of hours playing with the Catalyst pack that I got on Friday.  My first impressions are very favourable, hopefully this is the perfect pack I have been looking for.  The main body of the pack is made from dyneema fabric, which if the Golite Pinnacle is anything to go by is very tough.  There are thick tough feeling mesh pockets on either side of the pack that can be closed by an elasticated toggle.  There is another larger mesh pocket on the front of the pack that can be compressed.  This pocket will easily hold maps and waterproofs.  There is no lid to the pack just a drybag style opening that attaches to the top and the two side compression straps.  There are also two pockets on the hipbelt that are big enough for a camera and small items that you need during the day.  I paid extra to have a removable mesh pocket inside the main body of the pack for keys / wallet etc.

The main compartment of the pack is 43 litres with the roll top opening providing an extra 10 litres if needed.  One thing that struck me when first getting it out of the box is how wide it is, much wider than say the Pinnacle which is tall and narrow.  This makes packing very easy with the top being wide enough to accommodate a horizontal Hilleberg Akto or Laser Competition.  This is one of the things that made this pack attractive to me as I find both of these tents a pain to pack due to the attached carbon fibre poles.  With the Pinnacle I usually packed these tents vertically down one side of the rucksack before adding other bits and bobs, a nuisance in the rain.  With the Catalyst I should be able to get everything packed before taking down the tent and then simply put it inside the pack at the top.

I filled the pack with various bits and bobs until it weighed 13kg which for me would be the approx weight for a 3 day winter trip with food and fuel.  With this weight the back system feels very comfortable with a large proportion of the weight being taken up by the supportive waist band.  The back system fits me very well (you are given 4 different back lengths to choose from) and the waist belt is superb (again you have 4 sizes to choose from).  The only problem with the waist belt is that if I lost a couple of inches round my waist I may not be able to do it up tight enough (a good excuse to eat pies?) – but at the moment it is perfect.  The rigid back has a distinct curve to it which feels a bit strange after using a frame less pack.  The aluminium stays are removable and can be bent as required but I think that I will take it backpacking and see how it feels before making adjustments.

The only criticism at the moment is that the front of the pack under the mesh pocket and the front of the roll top is not dyneema.  It appears to be ripstop nylon.  I will have to be careful when packing to ensure that nothing sharp or pointy goes at the front.  I would have preferred the entire pack to have been made of dyneema.

No review until it has a few miles under its belt, but in the meantime some photos (sorry about the flash!)

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15 Comments to “ULA Catalyst – first impressions”

  1. Nice pack.Hipbelt does look good.

  2. Strange, I thought the ULA packs didn’t have a rigid back frame. I like the generous width idea, it brings teh centre of mass of the load nearer the back of the wearer.
    I wonder why the external mesh pocket is tapered towards the bottom, rather than extending the full width of the pack?.
    I would prefer a standard flip-over lid.

  3. Geoff, I think that it is just the Catalyst that has a rigid back. All the others are simple ultra light packs. Not sure why the external mesh pocket is tapered, will find out if this is a problem when get to use it backpacking.
    I now prefer roll tops rather than lids on packs, although did take a while to get used to it. The generous width makes it perfect for carrying the Akto – hopefully should get its first outing next weekend!

  4. Nice pack, I looked at them myself but ruled them out due to misinterpreting the capacity.

    I ended up with a Haglofs LIM45, another roll top which I find that I like (that was one concern I had prior to ordering)

  5. Richard I initally thought that the Catalyst was bigger than it actually is, ie 60 odd litres but only 40 of that is the main sack. The rest is the mesh pockets, roll top extension and the hip pockets.

  6. Yeah thats where I went wrong, I think it’s clearer on the website now than it was previously.

  7. Looks like a great pack, James. I didn’t know that the side mesh pockets can be closed, smart system, though. You think you could fit your tent in the front mesh pocket?

  8. Hendrick – have just tested and can fit my tent in the front pocket when it is empty, it will also fit in the side pockets when empty. Will have to let you know if it fits when the pack is full as have not tried that!

  9. Good news, that ^^. My Ohm arrived today, and I got the initial impressions post already up at http://hikinginfinland.blogspot.com/2009/07/ula-ohm-arrived.html 😉 Great pack, but I am curious if my tent will fit in the mesh pocket, as it seems small-ish.

  10. Looks good, how about the side pockets if it does not fit in the front one?

  11. I think it should be able to fit in the side pockets, but can’t say till I have the tent.

  12. Yes, it (My Scarp 1 😉 fits with room to spare in the front mesh pocket. Very happy with both Ohm and Scarp!

  13. I looked at the ULA packs – they’re pretty damned good but in the end was swayed by the GG Gorilla which I love. The only change I would make to the Gorilla is a bungee cord that could be locked for the side mesh pockets. May get Mrs M to do some sewing for me when the little one is born and she’s on maternity leave. Haven’t told her this yet, of course…

    Have you seen the new Osprey offering – the Hornet? They finally seem to be getting the UL idea and not endowing a pack with ridiculous features! That said, cannot see me getting rid of the Gorilla any time soon and c.45 litres is fine for me – I’ll even take it to the TMB for 13 days (11 days mountain walking) which I am sure will be ok. Every weekend trip that I have taken it on I have not even got anywhere near using the extension collar. How is the breathing on the Catalyst? I use a SitLight mat as the backsystem for the Gorilla, but a new Z-Lite will replace that as I am thinking about moving away from the Neo Air.

    • Hi maz, I have been really pleased with my ULA pack. Its very well made and fits me well, probably my favourite pack I have owned. Good luck with getting your pack sewn and congratulations that you have a small person on the way! Not seen the new osprey pack. My ULA pack is about 45 litres too and I never fill it to the top even for a 3 day winter backpack. It has a padded mesh back so is not too sweaty. Whats wrong with the Neo air?

  14. I have a short Neo Air, so it ends at my knees. This means that my shin and ankle hang down off it in the night causing a slight kink in my knee which, in the morning, can be painful. It depends on how I sleep. I always like the old self-inflating Thermarests but they were bulky and heavy. It may be that I need a longer Neo Air – or we’ll see how my Z-Lite performs (8 sections). I’ve been looking at POE mats as well – the Ether Elite – many people like them. None of this matters much right now as I won’t need a mat in the Alps and that’s what I am preparing for at the moment.

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