ULA Equipment of Logan, Utah makes lightweight packs and shelters. This review focuses on their P-1, their mainstream frameless pack designed for carrying loads of up to 25 pounds.
About the Pack
The P-1 is a frameless, backpack with a single top-loading main compartment that uses a rolled or folded sleeping pad for load support. The pack features two side mesh pockets, a padded hip belt, and a roll-top dry-bag style closure. Our review version also had a large front mesh pocket, hip belt pockets, sternum straps, and shock cord water bottle holders on the shoulder straps, which are optional extras.
Weight. In this configuration, the pack (sized by the manufacturer to an 18.5″ torso length) weighed 20.0 oz. The manufacturer claim for our option set was 21.9 oz, so we were pleased that the pack’s weight easily came in under the manufacturer’s spec.
Construction and Materials. In contrast to some cottage-industry products, the immediately recognizable feature of this pack is the quality of its construction. In approximately 400 miles of hiking with seam-bursting loads, we noticed no durability problems whatsoever. In addition, the aesthetics of construction are excellent. Internal seams are grosgrain-taped and the materials and hardware used are first-quality. The P-1 saves weight by using 2.2 oz (approx) ripstop nylon in the body and extension collar, with 5 oz (approx) 210d Spectra ripstop nylon where durability is important – including the lower body, bottom, and hip belt. An all-Spectra <u>ripstop</u> version is available for a little extra cash and weight, but we don’t think that most people will need it.
Features. External bellows pockets use a durable non-stretch mesh with drawcord closures at the top of the pockets to contain items. Hip belt pockets are zippered, and the top closure is a drawcord, combined with a roll-top extension collar and vertical compression strap. While one of reviewers commented that the roll-top added unnecessary weight and complexity, the rest of us appreciated the extra water protection when hiking in an all-day rain. The P-1’s roll top effectively kept the upper contents of the pack dry in wet conditions. Fully extended, the vertical compression strap was absolutely necessary to stabilize the load. The lack of side compression straps made this pack unsuitable for stabilizing smaller loads and shrinking the big puffy ones a bit, but ULA offers them as an option.
Suspension. The P-1 suspension consists of two padded shoulder straps and a removable padded hip belt. Padding is light – approximately 3/8″ closed cell foam. Shoulder straps are attached at a single point to the back, with no load lifters or adjustment mechanisms. We specified our pack for a hiker with an 18.5″ torso, and we thought the P-1 that was provided to us was more appropriate for smaller torsos. When the pack was loaded, the shoulder straps curled around the shoulders and attached to the back of the pack at a point that was lower than the shoulder crest. The result of this type of fit is that, without the use of load lifters, the load is not transferred effectively enough to the shoulders and a torque results, causing back and shoulder strain. While this was not noticeable at lighter loads, all but one of our reviewers felt it was a problem at loads greater than 25 pounds. The distance between the hip belt midline and the shoulder strap attachment point on our P-1 was 16.5 inches. We thought this was too short for an 18.5 inch torso.
We believe that a good-fitting frameless pack should have the distance between the midline of the hip belt and the attachment point of the shoulder strap be equal to the torso length plus about 2.0 inches. This provides enough distance to minimize torque and allow for adequate load transfer. The reason for the 2.0 inch margin is to allow for the collapse of the pack’s effective back length in response to carrying heavier loads without stabilization from an internal frame. We do not believe that this is an inherent problem with the P-1, but if we were ordering a P-1, we would specify a hip belt midline-to-shoulder strap attachment point distance that was about four inches longer than the pack we received for review.
To test this hypothesis, we gave the pack to a woman with a 15.0″ torso length. She hiked with the P-1 for on several trips and found its comfort to be excellent. Our longer-torsoed reviewers (17.0, 17.5, and 18.5 inche torso lengths) found the comfort of the pack to be either “fair” or “poor” on long hikes and all of those reviewers attribute that to an improperly sized torso.
The hip belt and shoulder straps provide sufficient surface area coverage and padding and were appropriate designs for a light pack such as the P-1.
Back Padding. The P-1 requires the use of a rolled or folded foam pad placed inside the pack for both load support and backpadding. However, the P-1 also includes external foam padding covered with a wicking material, in both the lumbar regin and the shoulder blade region. While this appeared to be a nice feature when we received the pack, we felt that it was unnecessary and added little to the pack’s performance, in terms of comfort, sweat distribution, or aesthetics (these are the first areas of the pack that are showing some wear, and we suspect, will be the first areas of the pack to wear out).
The P-1 can hold quite a lot of gear, with a main packbag of approximately 4,025 cubic inches (which we verified to be accurate within 5% of the manufacturer’s spec). However, with a packbag height of only 19″ (unextended) and a width of 7″, the pack resembles a ball-shaped tumorous growth when stuffed. This contributes to load-carrying problems at heavier weights, because the center of gravity remains too far from the back. We’d like to see the P-1 gain some height and lose some width to achieve a trimmer profile more suitable for scrambling, bushwacking, and more comfortable load carrying.
We did discover significant advantages to the tumor build, however, that are available to the user who keeps his load down. The low height never interfered with our head, making the pack entirely suitable even for near-vertical alpine climbing with two ice tools. In addition, when we ditched the hip belt for ultra-light loads, the pack carried very well using the shoulder straps alone. Taller packs make hip-belt-free hiking somewhat impractical because the packbag continuously and rhythmically butt-bounces as you walk.
Despite the torso sizing theories of ULA (which you can get around by specifying a larger pack size than what they recommend), we found the P-1 to be an outstanding piece of lightweight backpacking equipment. It is well-made, uses top-quality materials, and with the available options, is as feature-rich as they come.
Final Grade: A minus