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ULA Photon 35 Backpack Overview

The ULA Photon is a 35L ultralight-style roll-top backpack with a base weight of 26.1 ounces in a measurement medium.  It’s principally a decrease quantity model of ULA’s CDT ultralight backpack (54L) preferrred for day hikes, hut-to-hut overnights, commuting, or air journey as a result of it’s smaller and extra compact. Like ULA’s different backpacks, the Photon is offered with male (J-shaped) or female-friendly (S-shaped) shoulder straps, a number of torso sizes, a number of hip belt sizes, colours, materials, and an unusually big selection of sizes. You don’t usually discover that diploma of customization on a pack that’s this low quantity.

ULA was acquired from the previous proprietor final 12 months, by two long-time clients. They’ve stripped out among the extras that used to ship with ULAs packs, added a number of customization choices together with colours and new materials like Robic 400D, XPac, and Extremely, and modernized the ULA web site. It’s been thrilling to see them breathe new life into ULA, one of many mainstay backpack producers within the ultralight backpacking market.

Specs at a Look

  • Weight: 26.1 oz (measurement medium, Robic 400D material)
  • Detachable Elements
  • Quantity:  35 Liters incl. extension collar and exterior pockets
  • Cloth: Robic 400D Nylon (additionally obtainable in XPac)
  • Mfg. Rec’d Max Load: 25 lbs
  • Mfg. Rec’d Base Weight: 12 lbs or much less
  • Torso Lengths: 15-18″, 18-21″, 21-24″, 24″+
  • Hip Belt Sizing: 26-30″, 30-34″, 34-38″, 38-40″, 42-47″, 47″+
  • Made within the USA
  • For full specs, go to Ultralight Tools’s Photon Product Web page

Storage and Group

The ULA Photon is laid out like a normal ultralight backpack with a rear mesh pocket, facet water bottle pockets made with strong material, and a single tier of facet compression straps. It’s a roll-top pack (with none snaps, velcro, or a stiffener) that may be secured to the perimeters of the pack with straps and buckles or clipped collectively on prime. If the latter, the additional straps could be looped across the backpack to supply rear compression or act as an attachment level to lash gear to the surface of the entrance mesh pocket, which could be very useful.

The Photon is an ultralight-style roll-top backpack.
The Photon is an ultralight-style roll-top backpack.

The facet water bottle pockets are simple to succeed in whereas carrying the backpack and you will get bottles out and in of the pockets. There’s additionally elastic with a twine lock alongside the highest of the pocket to safe taller bottles.

The rear mesh pocket is nice for storing moist or free layers you need easy accessibility to, with out having to open up the roll prime.  The stretch mesh has a really tight weave and good sturdiness for on-trail use, however I wouldn’t suggest taking the Photon on rugged bushwhacking journeys if you wish to preserve the mesh intact.

The facet bottle pockets have a gap alongside the facet in addition to on prime as a result of the shoulder straps terminate inside them. Whereas this attachment level helps pull the pack nearer to your again, small objects can fall out of the facet water bottle pockets they usually shouldn’t be used for that sort of storage.

There are two zippered pockets on the outside of the hip belt, massive sufficient to retailer a point-and-shoot digital camera, snacks, Aquamira bottles, bug dope, and such. The fronts of each pockets are hard-faced to stop tearing with heavy-duty zippers for sturdiness.

There are trekking pole holders on the sides of the mesh pocket.
There are trekking pole holders on the perimeters of the mesh pocket.

The hipbelt wings are sewn to the again of the pack, which helps with load switch however they aren’t as modular or as extensive because the detachable hip belts on ULA’s increased quantity backpacks. The hip belt additionally closes with one webbing strap, not the 2 discovered on ULA’s increased quantity packs, and doesn’t conform as properly to completely different hip shapes. I didn’t discover the hip belt to be very efficient at load switch on this pack as a result of it’s too stiff to supply an excellent wrap over my hip bones. You may order the Photon and not using a hip belt, which may be possibility in case you solely plan to make use of it as a day pack with lighter masses.

The inside of the Photon is only a huge sack. Whereas it does have facet hydration ports, there isn’t a hydration pocket. There are two webbing loops sewn into the highest seam the place you possibly can grasp a hydration sleeve, however it prices a further $12 on prime of the pack’s $200 value. I feel they need to simply sew in a middle grasp loop within the base pack and name it a day, relatively than charging further for a function that’s often customary on different backpacks.

The side pockets are tall enough to carry 1L bottles
The facet pockets are tall sufficient to hold 1L bottles

Exterior Attachment and Compression System

There’s one tier of compression straps on the Photon positioned above all sides pocket. Along with serving to compress puffy gear saved contained in the pack, they will also be used to safe lengthy skinny objects to the facet of the pack like a Tenkara fishing rod tube or a trekking umbrella.

Like all ULA backpacks, the Photon’s shoulder straps present plastic rings to hold gear like GPS receivers or a Garmin mini 2. The sternum strap slides up and down a chunk of webbing sewn to the entrance of the shoulder straps and is simple to regulate (because it’s not sewn like a daisy chain).

The shoulder straps have plastic rings to suspend pockets or gear from
The shoulder straps have plastic rings to droop pockets or gear from

There are seven gear loops sewn into the pack’s seams that circle its perimeter which maintain a crisscrossed adjustable elastic twine good for lashing objects to the pack, though you possibly can simply rig up further cords any method you please. The Photon additionally has a pair of trekking pole holders that run down the surface of the pockets.

Backpack Body and Suspension System

The Photon comes with a easy foam pad that gives cushioning between the principle compartment and your again. You’d should be actually beneficiant to name it a body. ULA recommends carrying as much as 25 lbs with the Photon, which is what you possibly can anticipate with a frameless backpack, any frameless backpack.

The hip belt pockets are generously sized.
The hip belt pockets are generously sized.

I’d even suggest going lighter than 25 lbs with the Photon as a result of it doesn’t take kindly to being packed tightly. For instance, in case you pack any hard-edged objects you’ll in all probability really feel them by the froth until you pad them out with softer objects. If you happen to attempt to overstuff the Photon, the pack will barrel into your again so it’s greatest to pack objects loosely as a substitute.

The froth pad is held in place in the principle compartment by elastic straps and is well detachable. In order for you, you possibly can exchange it with a pad you narrow down for that objective, maybe one thing like a Therm-a-Relaxation Zlite, that may double as sleeping insulation. Including a stiffer or a thicker foam pad may even assist add extra construction to the storage and make it rather more comfy to hold.

The rolltop can be clipped to the sides or buckled on top.
The rolltop could be clipped to the perimeters or buckled on prime.

Though the 35L Photon has a decrease capability than the 54L CDT backpack, the shoulder straps are the identical with the identical width and foam padding/mesh backing, offering a really comfy carry. If you happen to’re a girl or an athletically constructed man, the Photon can be obtainable with female-friendly S-Formed shoulder straps that gained’t mash your breasts flat. Almost 50% of ULA’s buyer base is feminine as a result of they’re one of many solely cottage backpack makers to supply anatomically appropriate shoulder straps for ladies.


The 35L ULA Photon is an ultralight model rolltop backpack obtainable in a variety of colours and sizes, which makes the pack fairly interesting as a result of it’s not one thing you discover that always with decrease quantity backpacks. There are additionally quite a lot of customization choices obtainable that I didn’t get an opportunity to guage together with the power so as to add an actual body w/load lifters (+50$) and a move via hip belt (+50$), like those supplied on ULA bigger quantity in a single day packs. Based mostly on my expertise with ULA’s packs, I feel these are good choices to think about as a result of they’ll stop any barrelling when the pack is stuffed tightly they usually’ll enhance the match of the hip belt, significantly in case you carry gear close to the pack’s max really useful load of 25 lbs. For lighter weight masses, I’d take into account forgoing the hip belt altogether.

By way of high quality and sturdiness, the stitching on the Photon is immaculate, which you’d anticipate on a pack that’s nonetheless manufactured within the USA. The Robic 400D Nylon can be impressively powerful stuff and whereas it’s not waterproof like XPac or Extremely, it’s extraordinarily abrasion resistant and may maintain up just about without end.  ULA has been utilizing this grade of Robic for a few years now they usually have the observe document to show it.

Disclosure: ULA loaned the writer a Photon Backpack for this evaluate.

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