Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The ULA Circuit as a Winter Backpack

ULA Circuit as a Winter Backpack

The ULA Circuit is among the hottest thru-hiking and backpacking packs accessible at this time. It’s a traditional ultralight fashion pack with an open entrance mesh pocket, a roll-top closure, a spacer mesh again panel behind the shoulder straps, and huge facet water bottle pockets. My favourite function of the pack is its huge hip belt, normal on ULA’s in a single day packs, which offers glorious load-to-hip switch and a few vertical adjustability so you may dial in an excellent match. For a whole breakdown of the options of the ULA Circuit, see the ULA 24 Extremely Circuit Overview I wrote early this 12 months for the blow-by-blow. The one distinction between the Extremely Circuit and the Robic Nylon Circuit I consider beneath for winter use is the material the packs are made with.

Specs at a Look

  • Whole Capability: 68L
  • Closed Capability: 47L /2900 cubic inches (foremost physique and extension collar)
  • Max beneficial load: 35 lbs
  • Pack Physique: Robic Nylon, Spacer Mesh
  • Weight: 37.3 oz / 1038 g

ULA contacted me to ask whether or not I’d evaluate the suitability of the Circuit for winter backpacking since that’s one thing we’ve been doing at and writing about for a very long time. Now, winter backpacking means loads of various things to totally different folks by way of climate circumstances and tools wants, so let’s get particular.

Winter Backpacking and Packing Necessities

Winter backpacking gear is bulky and has to be carried on the outside of your pack.
Winter backpacking gear is cumbersome and must be carried on the surface of your pack.

Three-season backpacking or thru-hiking is often carried out in comfy climate, with good beta in relation to path circumstances and water sources. However that’s not the case with winter backpacking the place there may be a lot much less certainty about what you’ll encounter. Temperatures are normally beneath freezing, winter days have a lot much less daylight, most water sources are frozen and it’s troublesome to foretell what backcountry path circumstances shall be like by way of snow depth or ice.

Climate circumstances can even range extensively, particularly at elevation, the place excessive wind speeds and wind chill enhance the hazard of frostbite or hypothermia except you carry additional insulation and face safety. It is best to count on to make frequent layer modifications to keep away from overheating and sweating, however it’s necessary to attenuate stopping to keep away from changing into chilled since you’re not shifting. Winter meals necessities are additionally considerably totally different as a result of winter backpacking makes use of roughly twice the variety of energy as non-winter climbing. Since you may’t eat all of the energy you’ll want throughout the day at breakfast or lunch, it’s necessary to snack very often and to have your meals simply accessible so you may eat on the transfer.

A top lid, dual side compression straps, and a bottom sleeping pad straps make a winter pack much easier to use.
A high lid, dual-side compression straps, and backside sleeping pad straps make a winter pack a lot simpler to make use of.

From a packing perspective, because of this it’s a must to carry much more weight by way of meals, water, and gas. You’ll wish to carry extra sleep insulation, dry clothes, and a number of pairs of gloves, and hats as a result of it’s troublesome to dry clothes within the chilly. Lastly, you may count on to hold a number of very cumbersome objects that may’t match inside your pack like snowshoes, a foam sleeping pad to take a seat on when melting snow and cooking, traction aids like microspikes, and in lots of circumstances further gear together with crampons, an ice axe, avalanche shovel, climbing gear, or ski tools. This extra tools can necessitate switching to a winter backpack that may carry extra weight, has extra closed storage and entry strategies, and has higher exterior attachment factors for carrying cumbersome gear.

Fascinating Winter Backpack Options

Winter-specific backpacks and three-season backpacks which can be simple to make use of for winter backpacking include options that make it simple to hold and entry winter-specific gear.

For instance:

  • A high lid pocket is nearly vital for winter use since it may well maintain additional gloves, hats, goggles, and face safety that you really want prepared entry to throughout the day with out having to open the principle compartment of your backpack to entry them.
  • A floating high lid is an actual asset as a result of it may be used to carry gear piled on high of the principle pack bag in place like a coil of rope, a sleeping pad, a tent physique, and even snowshoes.
  • Quite a few exterior attachment factors like dual-side compression straps with glove-friendly buckles are good for carrying cumbersome gear or objects with sharp factors like a foam sleeping pad, a shovel, snowshoes, or crampons. You may’t put these things contained in the backpack as a result of they’ll take up an excessive amount of house, they will’t match, or they’ll be lined in snow and ice (as you turn between them) and also you don’t them making all of your different gear moist.
  • Backside sleeping pad straps for lasting a pad or tent physique to the bottom of a pack are helpful.
  • Daisy chains are exterior gear loops for clipping objects to the surface of a backpack from additional webbing straps and exterior pockets to insulated water bottle sleeves.
  • An exterior crampon pocket makes it simple to hold microspikes or crampons in order that they’re simply accessible whereas maintaining the sharp factors away out of your physique and different gear in case you fall.
  • Aspect zippers allow you to entry or stash insulation layers in the principle compartment with out having to open the highest. That is particularly helpful on a high-volume backpack over 70L in quantity.
  • Ice axe loops and shaft holders to safe axes to the surface of the pack.
  • A hipbelt with a giant middle buckle that doesn’t fill with snow and can be utilized whereas carrying gloves.
  • A snowshedding again panel and hipbelt padding

How Simple is the Circuit to Use for Winter Backpacking?

In case your model of winter backpacking resembles the winter backpacking necessities I checklist above, the Circuit is awkward to make use of, notably when in comparison with winter-specific backpacks just like the Osprey Mutant 52 or the Black Diamond Mission 75. Different light-weight backpacks just like the Granite Gear Blaze 60 or the Granite Gear Crown3 60 are additionally considerably simpler to make use of as a result of they’ve twin compression straps on three sides and elective floating lid high pockets than can deployed over their rolltop pack baggage, so you could have one of the best of each worlds relying on the season.  (See Additionally: 10 Finest Winter Backpacking Packs)

That’s to not say that you simply couldn’t hack the Circuit with third-party webbing straps to create higher attachment factors, however the present pack design continues to be restricted in that regard as we talk about beneath.

Mesh again panel and hipbelt padding

The Circuits back panel and the inside of the hip belt is covered with a porous mesh that picks up snow when you put the pack down. This melts on your clothing when you put the pack on and makes it wet, which is very undesirable in winter. 
The Circuit’s again panel and the within of the hipbelt are lined with a porous mesh that collects snow.

The Circuit’s again panel and the within of the hipbelt are lined with a porous mesh that picks up snow if you put the pack down. This melts in your clothes if you put the pack on and makes it moist, which could be very undesirable in winter.


Once you put the Circuit hipbelt on you’ll want to tighten it by pulling on 4 webbing straps that rigidity the belt utilizing ladder locks. This could solely be carried out by eradicating your gloves in winter since you want a positive diploma of dexterity to seize the ends of the webbing. A less complicated hipbelt with a a lot beefier middle buckle that doesn’t clog with snow is extra fascinating.

No exterior closed pockets

All the storage on the Circuit is in the principle pack bag, so there’s no place to place additional gloves, mittens, hats, goggles, or face safety contained in the pack with out stopping, opening the pack bag, and retrieving these things. You may’t put the within the entrance mesh pocket as a result of they’ll get moist there and turn into ineffective. Whilst you can put snacks into the hip belt pockets, they’re not massive sufficient to carry this additional accent clothes. The one various is so as to add a big third social gathering chest pack hooked up to the entrance shoulder straps.


Its awkward to carry snowshoes along the side of the pack because there is only one side compression strap and it doesn’t close with a side release buckle.
It’s awkward to hold snowshoes alongside the facet of the Circuit as a result of there is just one facet compression strap and it doesn’t shut with a facet launch buckle.

Probably the most environment friendly strategy to carry snowshoes is alongside the perimeters of a backpack, near your hips. That is simple to do with backpacks which have dual-side compression straps with glove-friendly side-release buckles. Sadly, the Circuit solely has one facet compression strap, that closes with a glove-unfriendly ladder lock and a brief webbing strap that’s solely barely lengthy sufficient to safe a foam pad to the facet of the pack with one finish in a facet pocket. There’s additionally no means so as to add your personal facet straps as a result of there aren’t any gear loops sewn into the vertical rear seams alongside the facet of the again panel.

There are no good anchor points to attach an insulated water bottle sleeve to the Circuit if the side pockets are in use or covered by other gear.
There aren’t any good anchor factors to connect an insulated water bottle sleeve to the Circuit if the facet pockets are in use or lined by different gear.


If you happen to’re searching for a backpack that may span four-season use and your winter circumstances dovetail with those described above, I wouldn’t advocate getting the ULA Circuit. It’s simply not arrange for versatile winter backcountry use. It’s positive should you solely want to hold microspikes or crampons over a brief snow-covered part of path, however it’s not simple to pack when it’s a must to carry a wide range of snowshoes and mountaineering instruments for any size of time. I additionally don’t assume it’s actually value attempting to reengineer the Circuit to be four-season prepared. There are simply too many function and structural modifications required that it’d most likely be extra expeditious to design a wholly new pack on the pre-existing Circuit or the bigger ULA Catalyst body.

I hope this evaluation was no less than helpful to provide you a style of what to search for in a winter-capable backpacking pack and tips that could packs, together with light-weight backpacks, that may span four-season use.

Disclosure: ULA donated a Circuit backpack for this text.

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