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The ULA Circuit as a Winter Backpack

ULA Circuit as a Winter Backpack

The ULA Circuit is likely one of the hottest thru-hiking and backpacking packs out there 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 enormous facet water bottle pockets. My favourite function of the pack is its broad hip belt, commonplace on ULA’s in a single day packs, which offers wonderful load-to-hip switch and a few vertical adjustability so you’ll be able to dial in an excellent match. For a whole breakdown of the options of the ULA Circuit, see the ULA 24 Extremely Circuit Evaluation I wrote early this yr 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

  • Complete Capability: 68L
  • Closed Capability: 47L /2900 cubic inches (foremost physique and extension collar)
  • Max really helpful 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 SectionHiker.com and writing about for a very long time. Now, winter backpacking means numerous various things to totally different individuals by way of climate situations 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 accomplished in snug climate, with good beta in terms of path situations and water sources. However that’s not the case with winter backpacking the place there’s a lot much less certainty about what you’ll encounter. Temperatures are often beneath freezing, winter days have a lot much less daylight, most water sources are frozen and it’s tough to foretell what backcountry path situations shall be like by way of snow depth or ice.

Climate situations may differ broadly, particularly at elevation, the place excessive wind speeds and wind chill improve the hazard of frostbite or hypothermia until you carry further insulation and face safety. It’s best to anticipate to make frequent layer adjustments to keep away from overheating and sweating, nevertheless it’s vital to reduce stopping to keep away from changing into chilled since you’re not transferring. 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’ll be able to’t eat all of the energy you’ll want through the day at breakfast or lunch, it’s vital to snack very regularly and to have your meals simply accessible so you’ll be able to 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 prime 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 you need to carry much more weight by way of meals, water, and gas. You’ll wish to convey extra sleep insulation, dry clothes, and a number of pairs of gloves, and hats as a result of it’s tough to dry clothes within the chilly. Lastly, you’ll be able to anticipate 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 instances 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 are straightforward to make use of for winter backpacking include options that make it straightforward to hold and entry winter-specific gear.

For instance:

  • A prime lid pocket is nearly a must have for winter use since it might probably maintain further gloves, hats, goggles, and face safety that you really want prepared entry to through the day with out having to open the primary compartment of your backpack to entry them.
  • A floating prime lid is an actual asset as a result of it may be used to carry gear piled on prime of the primary 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 gadgets with sharp factors like a foam sleeping pad, a shovel, snowshoes, or crampons. You’ll be able to’t put this stuff contained in the backpack as a result of they’ll take up an excessive amount of area, they’ll’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 gadgets to the surface of a backpack from further webbing straps and exterior pockets to insulated water bottle sleeves.
  • An exterior crampon pocket makes it straightforward to hold microspikes or crampons so that they’re simply accessible whereas protecting 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 primary compartment with out having to open the highest. That is particularly useful 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, significantly 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 optionally available floating lid prime pockets than can deployed over their rolltop pack baggage, so you will have one of the best of each worlds relying on the season.  (See Additionally: 10 Greatest 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 whenever you put the pack down. This melts in your clothes whenever you put the pack on and makes it moist, which could be very undesirable in winter.


While you put the Circuit hipbelt on you want to tighten it by pulling on 4 webbing straps that stress the belt utilizing ladder locks. This will solely be accomplished by eradicating your gloves in winter since you want a nice diploma of dexterity to seize the ends of the webbing. An easier 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 primary pack bag, so there’s no place to place further gloves, mittens, hats, goggles, or face safety contained in the pack with out stopping, opening the pack bag, and retrieving this stuff. You’ll be able to’t put the within the entrance mesh pocket as a result of they’ll get moist there and turn into ineffective. When you can put snacks into the hip belt pockets, they’re not giant sufficient to carry this further accent clothes. The one different is so as to add a big third occasion chest pack connected 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 edges of a backpack, near your hips. That is straightforward 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 approach 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.


When you’re in search of a backpack that may span four-season use and your winter situations dovetail with those described above, I wouldn’t suggest getting the ULA Circuit. It’s simply not arrange for versatile winter backcountry use. It’s nice in the event you solely want to hold microspikes or crampons over a brief snow-covered part of path, nevertheless it’s not straightforward to pack when you need to carry a wide range of snowshoes and mountaineering instruments for any size of time. I additionally don’t suppose it’s actually value attempting to reengineer the Circuit to be four-season prepared. There are simply too many function and structural adjustments 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 at the least helpful to offer you a style of what to search for in a winter-capable backpacking pack and tips to 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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