Post Pacific Crest Trail evaluations of my hiking gear. First up, backpack and storage.
The ULA Catalyst Backpack is an outstanding backpack. I took off the water bottle holsters and handloops on the shoulder straps to save some weight. I also shortened many of the straps for weight savings as well (shoulder, hip belt, chest) after I got everything adjusted. I rolled/folded the hanging part of the straps and taped them with duct tape. I would have sewn the ends to keep them from running out of the buckles, but I didn’t have access to a sewing machine on the trail. I left a little extra on each strap in order to loosen things up or change how the load was bearing on my body.
The pack was comfortable to carry even when fully loaded with gear, fuel, food, and water after a resupply. The most weight I carried in it was about 38 pounds. In addition, a bear-proof food can that is required in parts of the Sierra Mountains fits horizontally inside the pack.
I stopped by the ULA booth at the Annual Day Zero PCT Kick Off. The staff there was very friendly and helpful. I watched as they coached a hiker on how to load the Catalyst for efficiency and balance. I didn’t learn anything new but it was nice to know I was packing well (sleeping bag and other bulky items like extra clothes and tent at the bottom, food bag centered above that, additional gear stuffed around the food bag). They also recommended carrying a tall, slender beverage container like the SmartWater bottle since it fits better in the side pockets and are much easier to reach back and pull out compared to short, squat bottles like Gatorade and Powerade. I made the change once my first set of re-used bottles were worn out.
The only problems I experienced with the pack were due to the trail and not ULA. The pack suffered a little wear and tear compliments of cacti and other thorny vegetation. I used a little dental floss to repair the tear in the front mesh pocket and some Tenacious Tape to repair the slashes on a side pocket. I also got something like car battery acid (picked up on a hitch in the bed of a truck) on one of the hip belt pockets or it was Aquamira that leaked out of its containers, which I washed off as best I could and taped up with Tenacious Tape. Unfortunately, this continued to degrade the rest of my walk so I’ll need to replace the hip belt.
I met a lot of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail carrying the Circuit, including some in the Sierra Mountains who had loaded it with a bear canister. That’s considerable capacity. For my next walk on a long trail, I think I’ll take a ULA Circuit Backpack. They all said they were very happy with their Circuit. I never used the full capacity of my Catalyst. And, I like the idea of saving over another half a pound in my base weight. Carrying a Circuit will also challenge me to reduce my overall pack weight since the recommended max load for the Circuit is 35 pounds compared to 40 for the Catalyst.
I’ve been using the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack hiking, rafting, as a river ranger, and on backcountry ski patrol for a number of years. On the PCT, I used one dry sack for my first aid kit and one for my extra clothes. The one with the clothes also doubled as my pillow at night. While I have yet to find any storage sacks 100% waterproof, these do a great job keeping gear dry in most situations. Before my hike, I had thought about using cuben fiber dry sacks to save some weight but was glad I didn’t. The ones I saw other hikers use were pretty fragile and got holes in them pretty early on. I will be sticking with these dry sacks on future hikes.
The simBlissity UnSlack Pack shoulder strap pocket is a handy piece of gear. I used the outer, mesh compartment to carry my maps for the day and compass and the inner, nylon pocket to keep my smartphone/camera handy. No wear or tear issues on my entire walk. Might consider a second one for the other shoulder strap for future hikes.
Trash compactor bags are a standard in lightweight backpacking gear as a pack liner instead of using a pack cover. These are much sturdier than regular trash bags. I carried one and had extras in my bounce box. I always kept my sleeping bag stuffed in its dry sack packed inside the trash compactor bag when hiking, often my down puffy jacket in it, and sometimes even my extra clothes in their dry sack in it. When everything else in the pack was wet from rain, gear in the trash compactor liner bag was dry. Of course, these will be with me on my next hike.