Borne in Southern Utah, Outdoor Vitals is a company founded on the vision of bringing quality, lightweight backpacking gear to the masses. They seek to accomplish this by keeping pricing aggressive and use a direct-to-consumer model. Their first products were in the sleeping bag space, and they have since moved into backcountry garments and ultra-light backpacks and shelters.
Recently Outdoor Vitals designed a pack designed to serve well in travel and trail settings. Here’s a blurb from the product description: “Take the KotaUL Backpack from the terminal straight to the trail without blinking twice. This pack was built for incredible versatility & all-day comfort.”
Primary Fabric: 210D Nylon with 400D Spectra Ripstop Grid
Quality & Comfort
While the KotaUL is made of a lighter material suite than I am used to, it appears well suited to the tasks it was designed for. The 400d outer layer combined with the 210d inner layer seem like it will hold up well to travel and outdoor tasks. There are no stray stitches or anything like that, so the factory that produces these seems to be dialled in. The pack uses no. 5 zippers throughout, no doubt for weight savings, and most of the buckles are Duraflex brand.
The KotaUL is billed as a pack that can be used with equal aplomb in the airport or on the trail. The belt is fully removable and the shoulder straps can be stowed in the back panel. These options should keep them safe from the baggage handling machines or can be utilized to make the bag sleeker.
Unfortunately, it is let down by its suspension. The foam used in the straps and belt is not dense enough, so it falls flat under a load. In addition to this, the padded portion of the waist belt is not wide enough- I’m a 34″ waist and it simply does not wrap around my hips enough. The lightweight 22″ frame is tall enough and rigid to provide some weight transfer to the hips, even if the belt does not distribute the load all that well.
Coming from a company that makes backpacking products, I expected Outdoor Vitals to produce something at least respectable in this department. I get that it’s a cross-over, multi-use bag, but I suspect the user will have mild comfort issues, depending on their use.
Organization & Access
The face of the pack is relatively clean and hosts a large accessory pocket that is sized well for something like a tablet. This pocket features some interior organization options. For a travel bag, I appreciate that the pockets are all zippered to ensure the contents are secure and safe. Each pocket also has its own built in volume, so they are not robbing space from the main compartment. Beyond the way the pockets are built, they are useful in a travel scenario, allowing the user to access smaller items on the go.
The top of the bag has a good-sized pouch that houses zippered pockets for quick-grab items, as well as hook for a keychain.
The sides of KotaUL sport large bottle pockets that swallow a 1 litre bottle with ease, a side grab handle and attachment points for the included accessory straps.
The bottom of the bag has another grab handle and attachment points for the lash-straps.
Looking inside, there is a 15″ laptop sleeve, side sleeve pockets, more attachment tabs for accessory straps and a larger stretch pocket on the front flap. There is also a series of buckles that allow the pack to be compressed a little way when the full volume is not necessary.
- The organization of the pack is ample and smart.
- Sizing is correct for a carry-on bag. It maxes out right at what the airlines usually allow.
- I’m a huge fan of the big main compartment panel access. It is really easy to pack out for a trip and allows the traveller to get to their goods at will.
- I appreciate the removable compression/lashing straps. This give a lot of flexibility and keeps the pack clean and tidy when they are not used.
- $250 is an aggressive price in a market where bags are often $400-$500. I like it.
- Comfort was the biggest issue for me. Getting across the terminal and that real trail-use is not something I’d recommend. Sorry guys- it’s really not good.
- There is a single, off-brand buckle used on this bag, at the attachment point for the bottom of the shoulder straps, arguably the most critical buckle on the bag. The Duraflex buckles used throughout. the rest of the pack are sturdy and give me no pause, but these ones feel cheap and flex and click under a load. To be fair, they held up in my testing, but I’m really confused by their usage here.
- I really don’t like no. 5 zippers. They are not as smooth or durable as no. 8 zippers, and they really diminish user experience.
I was really excited to get my hands on this bag and really wanted to see something that could serve well as a travel and trekking pack. While it is impressively light, I believe Outdoor Vitals would have been better served to take a bit of a weight penalty and make the suspension more substantial. The KotaUL could serve a user somewhat well in the travel role if they won’t be under the pack all day because the organization and access really do perform. I wish I could endorse this bag for it’s intended use, but it’s just not there.
There will be weight, volume or cost penalties, but something like a Mystery Ranch Scree 32, Coulee 40, or Tower 47, Hill People Gear Aston House Backcountry or Kifaru Shape Charge or 22 Mag seem like better choices if outdoor use is a serious consideration.