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ULA Circuit Backpack Review


Aaron Zagrodnick

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The Circuit from ULA Equipment has been my go-to backpacking pack choice for nearly the last decade and upon review it’s easy to see why: the pack offers both versatility and durability and all at a reasonable price and weight. Thus, the ULA Circuit (or its close cousins) have become some of the most popular backpacking packs out there for lightweight and / or long distance backpacking and thru-hiking.

ULA Equipment Circuit Backpack Review

The Circuit backpack offers comfort, adjustability, and efficient storage in a lightweight package.

Where the Circuit Fits in the ULA Lineup

While ULA offers an array of models, most follow the same design principle. They’re built with a versatile arrangement of both inside and outside storage options for convenience and livability on the trail, utilize durable and tough Robic and Cordura fabrics, and are offered at reasonable price points and don’t weigh you down. I’ve had experience with ULA’s largest pack – the Catalyst – which is the best option if you’ll frequently be carrying heaver 35+lb loads, and I’ve also had recent experience with ULA’s new smaller model – the ULA Photon – that is great for day hikes or summer overnights. The ULA Circuit however is the pack that hits the backpacking sweet spot for me and for my backpacking style.

ULA Circuit Exterior Center Pocket, Water Bottle and Hipbelt Pockets

On the back of the pack you'll find a bungee system, plus a large mesh pocket which is great for carrying things you'll need during the day.

ULA Circuit Design

Offering 4200 cubic inches of total storage across a top loading main compartment, an outside pocket on the back (ULA calls this the front mesh pocket), hipbelt pockets, and two side pockets (about 68 liters all together) I’ve used the Circuit on up to 10 day trips, to quick overnights and for winter and summer backpacking and everything in between. I find the Circuit carries up to around 35lbs well – though I’ve carried up to 45lbs – and the whole design is quite comfortable.

Shoulder Straps and Hipbelt - ULA Circuit

Light, but adequate padding is found on the hipbelt, backpanel, and shoulder straps, and the dual strap, inward pull hipbelt adjustments deserve honorable mention allowing one to perfectly adjust the hipbelt and get the load resting perfectly around your hips in a custom fit manner. The Circuit utilizes a carbon and Derlin hoop type internal frame along with a single aluminum (removable) stay, and this all works together with the load lifters to get the weight on your hips.

5 Day Backpacking Trip with the ULA Circuit

The Circuit has undergone some minor changes over the years, but the basic setup has remained the same, with my experience split across one Dyneema X pack ordered from original owner Brian Frankle to a newer custom Circuit I’ve been using as of late made from hybrid cuben fiber / DCF. Currently, ULA offers their upgraded Circuit in Ultra fabric, which will save you a few ounces on the weight of your pack and offers additional water resistance. All accessories are now included with the pack – water bottle holders on the shoulder straps, interior hydration sleeve, interior pocket, handloops, and the aluminum stay.

Altogether, the Circuit is a lightweight pack listed at 41 ounces, but there’s about 7 ounces of easily removable weight if desired. Of everything removable, I take everything off except for the aluminum stay and exterior shock cord across the back – great for holding a foam pad, drying clothes and gear, etc.

Hiking with the ULA Circuit Backpack

The Circuit is available in 4 different torso sizes and 6 different hipbelt options – needless to say you’ll be able to dial in a perfect fit with some measuring time at home. 2 different shoulder strap options are available – the original and standard J-Curve design which I use, and there’s also an S-Curve option which is ergonomically designed for women, although it’s become popular all around as well. 7 colors are also available and even custom trail name embroidery; the base pack retails for $280. The pack uses a roll top closure system, and with two buckles securing down the sides of the pack aiding in compression – another top strap and two additional side straps help in this department and really secure the load and offer a great place to stash extra gear if needed.

ULA Circuit Top Strap with Ursack

On longer trips, you can use the top strap to secure additional gear or food.

In the Field

My favorite thing about the pack, has to be the comfort and pocket arrangement. In the morning all sleeping gear is packed at the bottom of the pack (inside an Exped Schnozzel), my shelter of choice on top of that, then my Ursack, and finally I forgo use of the included hydration sleeve and just throw my Platypus 3L Hoser horizontally across the top (with all other incidentals filling the spaces in between the aforementioned items). No dedicated sleeping bag compartment or first aid kit pockets on this pack – ULA hasn't over done it on the layout and the arrangement and design is just about perfect.

A Multi-Day Hike with the ULA Circuit Backpack

Anything I might need during the day is packed in an outside pocket of choice or at the top of the main compartment for easy access on a lunch break. For example, rain gear goes well in the exterior outside pocket of the pack with a water filter, water bottles go on the sides, and snacks work well in the hipbelt pockets. Thus if a quick afternoon shower rolls through or you just want that granola bar to get you through the next pass, there’s no need to deploy the contents of your pack trailside in a yard sale manner to find what you’re looking for. And if you’re a hydration reservoir user like me, be sure to setup your pack so you can refill on the move without even opening your pack – my solution is detailed in our Platypus Gravityworks Review – and a magnetic sternum strap holder is also a favorite add-on feature. Carry a larger camera like me that won’t fit in the hipbelt pockets? Check out the ZPacks Multipack which adds even more convenience here…an overall theme with the Circuit.

As long are you aren't overloading the Circuit, it's very comfortable. This is not a super deluxe plush, heavily padded backpack – where there is padding on the Circuit it's light and of the "just enough" variety. This saves weight and results in a more connected feeling with the pack. Where the pack really shines is its adjustability, with one of the best hipbelts on the market with its dual strap inward adjustment. Long story short, as long as you're not exceeding the suggested carrying weight of the pack, it's all just right, and you can even go beyond this limit (such as the first day or two of a long trip) without too much of an issue.

Fit and Durability

In regards to fit, at 6'2" and with a longer torso length, the large ULA packs fit me perfectly. Regarding belt size I go with a medium belt, but I'd suggest sizing up if you're in between sizes or on the cusp. Be sure to pay attention to the +2, 3, or 5" part of ULA's hipbelt sizing guide – you can check out the ULA hipbelt measurement guide and torso fit instructions on their website at the bottom of the page.

Durability has been great on all the Circuits I've owned. The Robic fabric is quite tough and can take a beating, showing some wear here and there after extended use and thousands of miles, mostly on the bottom of the pack where its set down on potentially abrasive terrain. I've only had one tear and that was on a hipbelt pocket (which uses a lighter ripstop) and that was from a branch during some offtrail travel. This was quickly fixed with a Tenacious Tape patch.

ZPacks Multipack and ULA Equipment Circuit in Winter Camp

The ULA Circuit is adaptable to a wide range of trips and offers enough capacity even for lightweight winter excursions.

Conclusion

Overall the Circuit from ULA Equipment has worked so well for me that it’s tough to even consider other options on the market. If you're looking for a new pack and have a lightweight backpacking style or for those that have an ultralight gear approach, ULA really has this pack at the top of the class. This isn't an ultralight pack, but it's light enough and the Circuit is all about balance, and it's a balance that ULA has managed very well with the Circuit. It's a great choice for those that prefer a lighter pack weight, but you don't have to go too ultralight with the Circuit.

If you like to pack a little heavier, or if taking longer trips with more food is your forte’, the Catalyst might be worth checking out, or if you’re packing a little lighter and / or shorter trips are your focus the OHM 2.0 is worth considering as well. In between them though, the Circuit fills the niche for me perfectly on nearly any trip.

The ULA Circuit retails for $280 – find it here at ULA Equipment, and you can view the $380 upgraded Ultra fabric ULA Circuit here.

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aguerra.1993

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That Cuben hybrid circuit looks beautiful. I really love my circuit but as in venture deeper into lighter gear the less space I need. It is perfect for someone with a light kit though, and it's a perfect bag for a long stretch with no resupplies or cold weather camping. I plan to use mine in Colombia in the upcoming months as I can hold over 10 days of food with no problems. 

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