If you’re new to the ultralight scene, ULA Equipment is a well known bag maker in the outdoor and backpacking world. They’ve been around for a while and are generally well regarded in those communities. The biggest focus of ULA packs are always weight and comfort, as they’re primarily built for thru hiking and ultralight backpacking. Their bread and butter are large volume, live-out-of-your-backpack type bags such as the Ohm 2.0, Catalyst, and Circuit.
The newer Packrat is one of ULA Equipment’s recent forays into the every day carry pack category (along with the Dragonfly and Burst). The Packrat is still a lightweight backpack, just focused a bit more for every day carry. To achieve this, ULA has kept the bag design fairly simple. This no frills approach helps keep the overall weight down while still keeping the bag fairly weather resistant.
One of the great, unique things about ULA is that they build packs to order and have numerous fabric, color and material options available. They can also embroider your name on the pack or change the colors of the logo. For example, the pack I review here is in black Dimension Polyant X51 with a blacked out logo, but there are about 38 or so other color and fabric choices I could have gone with!
So far I have primarily used this pack for commuting and day hiking. My commuting load is right around 10 pounds which is about perfect for this bag.
|Capacity (Main Body)||1326 cu. in.||22L|
|Capacity (Side Pockets)||55 cu. in.||1L|
|Capacity (Front Pocket)||127 cu. in.||2L|
Quality & Comfort
The Packrat uses the same 3 inch, S-shaped straps that are on the Dragonfly and other bags in the ULA lineup. These straps do a really great job of hugging your torso and distributing the load. If anything they might be a tad overkill for the bag’s preferred loaded weight, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And while I don’t believe ULA provides a specific maximum or ideal load measurement, I’ve carried loads around 15-16 pounds in comfort. It does help to have a laptop or similar device to provide a bit more rigidity to the back panel in those scenarios. One difference when compared to the Dragonfly though is that there are no pouches attached to the straps. You can still obviously add your own. I don’t think this is either good or bad, just one thing worth noting.
As for the back-panel, it’s less rigid than the other packs mentioned above. There are pros and cons to this, but one of the pluses is that it’s easy to pack the bag down relatively small or flat in order to stow it into another bag. Although this bag isn’t marketed as “packable”, nor does it pack down as far as those bags, it does get much smaller than similar type bags. This is a nice feature.
On the quality side, the bag did have some minor cosmetic quality issues with stitching. I own several other ULA bags and this is the first time I have come across this issue – perhaps they are still working out some issue with this new design. That said, here’s a few shots of the stitching I noticed shortly after the bag arrived.
Quality in terms of materials used and design was pretty good, especially for a sub $100 bag. Assuming the stitching issues are addressed I think this bag is a great value at this price point.
Inside the Packrat is an expandable main compartment with a sleeve for a laptop or water bladder, a zippered compartment in front of the sleeve, and a removable zippered pouch.
The laptop/water bladder sleeve is nice to have, especially when you want to stiffen up the back in some scenarios. That said, the removable zippered pouch gets in the way much of the time, especially if you’re someone who is going in and out of your bag a lot, grabbing your laptop, etc. In those scenarios I’d strongly consider removing it, though on the other hand, internal organization for this bag is on the sparse side so you’d be giving something up. This hanging organizer would almost be better situated on the front side of the compartment.
Another thing to consider for laptop users is that there is minimal padding. So if you’re rough with your bag you’d really need to be careful about smashing your devices when you put the bag down. You should probably consider an additional padded sleeve. Some bags address this by suspending the laptop sleeve inside the bag, but that wouldn’t really work here due to the design and size of the bag. In other words, though this bag does work with laptops, it’s certainly not optimized for it. These are the prices you pay for light weight do it all bags that skew towards outdoor adventures versus city commuting.
On the outside of the bag, made out of a stretchy spandex material, is a front pouch and two side pockets. The front pocket has a drain hole and is large enough to hold your wet rain jacket, a baseball hat or whatever. The side pouches stretch far enough to hold a 64oz Naglene bottle, though such large items might be harder to get in or out if the bag is really stuffed. Just due to the nature of the stretch material, the contents somewhat pushes into the inside of the pack. I’m generally a big fan of this design.
The expandable drawstring collar is a surprisingly nice feature, which in combination with a single buckle adorned strap is how you close the bag. This allows for the user to overstuff it to nearly double what the volume visually indicates. Alternatively you can use the strap to stow items outside the bag (assuming it’s not too far expanded already). Some people might find that it interferes with every day use of the main compartment, but I haven’t found that to be the case and in any event, its use would outweigh this minor annoyance.
- The weight of the pack itself compared to its carry volume and included features is pretty great. I’m someone who appreciates bringing lightweight but useful gear with me which allows me to go longer and farther, and this pack delivers on that mindset.
- Straps and load balancing are definitely a strong point of ULA and this bag doesn’t disappoint there either. The wide straps distribute the load really well, even at levels that the bag really shouldn’t be carrying.
- As mentioned above, I’m a big fan of the storage capacity of the bag, especially for light but large bulky items like down jackets or sweaters. I plan to use it for some day hikes in Colorado later this year where the amount of layers you wear changes during the day and this should be perfect for that. During my regular commute to NYC I have no worry of throwing extra layers in there along with my laptop to get me through any condition.
- I love the external organization setup. In my experience comparable bags of this sort often do not offer external storage, or if they do its not very useful. This being optimized for quick access and comfortable carry make them really easy to use.
- The removable pouch setup was a fail for me. I’m one of those people who go in and out of my laptop sleeve a lot and the pouch just got in the way. This is a shame because the bag could really use the extra organization. It’d be great if they could come up with a better system there. It might just be that I’m using the wrong type of bag for this purpose, which I can appreciate, but I feel with some changes this bag might be a bit better in the commuter category.
- The stitching is sort of the elephant in the room. ULA is a great company, with great customer service, who in my experience make great products (several of which I own and have used extensively), so I was really disappointed to see the quality issues with the stitching. Perhaps its because this bag is new, at lower price point? Whatever the reason it should be addressed. I did check with another new owner of this bag who seemed to have similar issues. Again, these seem to be mainly cosmetic but for a company this established and with such a big following, we shouldn’t be talking about this at all.
Assuming that the minor cosmetic issues are addressed, this bag for me is definitely something to consider for the right consumer. When weight, efficiency, and adaptability to different scenarios are important factors then the Packrat is worth a look. If I were not an “outdoor” guy as much as a city person then I probably wouldn’t have considered the Packrat, as it definitely skews towards the former, but if you want a bag that does a decent job at both day hiking up a mountain and riding a train into NYC, this does a pretty good job. I also love the customization that ULA offers which really allows you to make this bag your own. An unexpected benefit was that I was already looking for a packable bag to fit into my luggage and this seems like it will work pretty well for that. I’m all for gear that fits more than one use case.
In summation my recommendations to ULA would be that with some tweaks listed above this will be a real winner, and I’d be curious to hear what you all think!