My recent backpack in the North Pennines gave me the opportunity to play with some new gear I had purchased over the previous few weeks. Obviously a 2 day backpack with a wild camp can only give an initial impression of how stuff will perform over time, but here is my two pennies worth anyway (I have ended up splitting this post in two as I got carried away writing about the Catalyst!)
ULA Equipment Catalyst
This was a dream to pack the night before going away, it simply swallowed my overnight summer gear. It was probably overkill taking this pack out for one night as even with the Akto inside it was only about three quarters full, I had to make full use of the compression straps. ULA’s website states that the main body of the pack is 2600 cu in which by my calculations is 42 litres. I think that the packability comes down to it being slightly wider than many other rucksacks, of great benefit when using a tent such as the Akto or Laser Comp. It was the perfect width to place the Akto inside the pack near the top. No faffing about trying to pack the tent vertically inside like I have to with the Golite Pinnacle.
When putting on the rucksack for the first time there is a fair amount of adjusting to be done to get the perfect fit. The wide waist belt is very comfortable and the buckle is linked to two pieces of webbing on each side which you pull inwards to tighten. This means that you can increase or decrease the pressure of the belt at the top or bottom to get the most comfortable fit. I found that a few times when walking along I would adjust the belt a little to suit the terrain that I was on. One thing that I did find a bit odd and rather annoying is when I took the pack off and put it back on again after a break. The previously perfectly adjusted waist belt would no longer fit around my hips, I would have to loosen it off, buckle up and re-tension the straps. The instructions that came with the pack suggested that this would need to be done so I would imagine this is part of the design. I am on the other hand just used to throwing my pack on my back and buckling up. The pockets on each side of the waist belt are of a perfect size and don’t get in the way, I used them to store my camera, tissues, snacks etc.
The internal frame of this pack is very stiff and to be honest took me a while to get used to. I have recently been using a frameless pack which with careful packing will mold to the shape of your back. With the catalyst you definitely do get the feeling that you have a framed rucksack on your back. When standing upright the sack fits the contours of my back perfectly, but I have to admit to quite often slouching. When you do slouch you are made very aware of a solid object strapped to your back. I think that this may be an incentive to improve my posture!
I have found that many packs in the past have felt a bit separate from my back and they can wobble around on rough ground. This may sound a bit weird but the Catalyst felt like it was actually clamped onto me. It appears to be designed to be a close fitting rucksack and feels at its most comfortable when tightened so it is close to your back. This again leads to the same problem when taking it off and putting it back on again. The shoulder straps will be adjusted perfectly when taking it off but for some reason seem too tight when putting it back on again. A fair bit of adjustment of shoulder straps and waist belt is necessary to get it perfect again.
The mesh pockets on the sides are huge and can be closed off with an elasticated toggle. A one litre platypus bottle fits in with loads of room to spare. The large mesh pocket at the front of the pack is perfect for maps and items you need throughout the day such as waterproofs. I personally would not use it for heavy items such as a tent as this could mean making the pack off balance.
Aside from the adjustment issues when putting the pack on (which in reality only take a few seconds) I am very pleased with the Catalyst. It will get alot of use over the coming few months and I will get a better picture of how it performs, especially on longer trips when it will be carrying more weight. It is very well made and the Dyneema fabric appears to be very tough, I hope it will last for many years to come.
Some more gear waffle to come…………..