Ultralight Adventure Equipment’s entire pack line has been redesigned for 2006, and the frameless Relay at 2100 cubic inches and 17 ounces is the smallest pack in the new lineup. It’s a roomy multi-purpose daypack with plenty of pocket space and load-carrying ability. So does the performance of the Relay meet our expectations?
- Lightweight AND durable
- Ample volume for a day pack, and good volume adjustment
- Lots of outside storage
- Wide, well-padded shoulder straps spread weight
- Optional removable accessories
- Quality construction
What’s Not So Good
- Pack torso length is shorter than specified
- Shallow front pocket
- Delta wings on hipbelt are too small
|Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA)|
|Frameless, top loading, drawcord closure|
|S/M fits 17-19 in (43-48 cm) torso, M/L fits 20-22 in (51-56 cm)torso|
|2100 ci (35 L)|
|1 lb 2.3 oz (519 g) measured weight (size M/L); manufacturer’s specification 1 lb 1 oz (482 g)|
|Main pack body is 210d Dyneema Gridstop polyurethane-coated nylon, pockets are durable polyester mesh with an elastic binding, frontpanel is 1.9 oz/yd2 (64 g/m2) urethane-coated ripstop nylon|
|Angled mesh side pockets with drawcord closure, bellowed fabric pocket and bungee attachment system on front, two equipment loops, two ice axe loops, removable foam backpanel pad, two side and one top compression straps, two hydration tube ports, 1.5 in (3.8 cm) webbing hipbelt, interior pad sleeve, sternum strap, haul loop, attachment loops for optional accessories|
|Zippered internal stash pocket (1.1 oz/31 g, $5), hydration sleeve (1.4 oz/40 g, $5), water bottle holsters (0.4 oz/11 g, $2 each), handloops (0.8 oz/23 g, $2 each)|
Volume To Weight Ratio
|114.8 ci/oz size M/L (based on 2100 ci and a measured weight of 18.3 oz, without options)|
Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity
|20 lb (6.8 kg) estimated maximum comfortable load an average person can carry all day in this pack|
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio
|17.5 (based on a 20 lb load and measured weight of 1.14 lb)|
The distinctive trait of ULA packs is their Dyneema Gridstop fabric, which is both durable AND lightweight. The fabric contains polyethylene fibers that are claimed to be ten times stronger than steel and two times stronger than Kevlar. The mesh used in the side pockets is also very durable. This is a lightweight pack that is also bomber.
With 2100 cubic inches of total volume (main body 1500, front pocket 150, side mesh pockets 250, extension collar 200), the Relay provides plenty of room for everything you need for a day and the ability to organize it the way you like.
A tour of the ULA Relay pack. The front (top left) has a fabric pocket, bungee attachment system, ice axe loops, and Velcro pole retention loops; each side (top right) has a mesh pocket, one compression strap, and a hose port; the backpanel view (bottom left) shows the Relay’s wide shoulder straps, sternum strap, and webbing hipbelt; and the top view (bottom right) shows the drawstring closure and top compression strap.
The Relay pack is full-featured (see specifications), and only lacks load lifters, which one can argue are not needed on a pack this size. Besides the standard feature set, the Relay (like all ULA packs) will accept ULA’s optional internal stash pocket, hydration sleeve, water bottle holsters, and handloops. All of these options are removable, so you can use them when you want them or transfer them to other ULA packs you own. The options are also bargain priced (see specification table).
Optional accessories for the Relay (that attach to all ULA backpacks) are a zippered internal stash pocket (top left), hydration sleeve (top right), water bottle holsters (bottom left), and handloops (bottom right). See specification table for prices and weights.
The Relay comes in two sizes (S/M and M/L), each with a fixed torso length. The size M/L tested is claimed to fit torsos 20 to 22 inches, but I measured the pack torso length to be only 18 inches. For me (6 feet, 170 pounds, 20 inch torso), the pack was a bit small, but acceptable. It would definitely be too small for a taller person. Basically, the longer your torso, the lower this pack rides on your shoulders (see top photo).
In the field, I used the Relay on a variety of outings and found it to be very versatile and a serious load hauler. I liked its 3-D Spacer Mesh padded 3-inch wide contoured shoulder straps, which did a great job of distributing weight. For a daypack, it also has a serious 1.5-inch webbing hipbelt. I found that I could easily and comfortably carry a 20-pound load with the Relay, which is right on target with the manufacturer’s claim. The pack also has a slight hourglass shape, which helps to provide elbow room.
The Relay’s well padded 3-inch wide shoulder straps account for its excellent load carrying ability.
A good measure of a pack’s user-friendliness is whether you can reach and replace a water bottle in a side pocket without having to take the pack off; the Relay passed. I also found the ULA optional accessories to be very useful. The internal stash pocket and hydration sleeve easily clip in, provide a lot of utility for little extra weight, and can be transferred to other ULA packs. The water bottle holsters are simple and light and keep a pint of water very handy. The handloops…, well, you will just have to try them and see if you like them.
Now for a few nitpicks. Although many people will like the Relay exactly the way it is, there are a few design elements that I personally differ with. On the frontpanel, I would prefer to have a full height mesh pocket instead of the shallow fabric pocket at the bottom and bungee attachment system above it. The bungee system interferes with inserting items into the pocket. I used the bungee system, and it works fine, I just prefer a large front mesh pocket.
Also, the frontpanel does not have a good provision for attaching bulky items. The pocket can handle a narrow snow shovel or a gear bag, but it’s difficult to attach anything larger. To provide more versatility, it would be nice to have four attachment loops sewn into the front seams and optional accessory straps offered.
The angled mesh side pockets are a ULA trademark, but I personally don’t find them to be very functional. To me, they amount to half a pocket. I would prefer to have full-height mesh pockets, one with a side opening to facilitate inserting a water bottle.
I would also like to see the top compression strap reversed, so the female end is attached to the top of the backpanel. As it is, the strap (which is too long) dangles behind your back. Finally, I found the delta wings (that the webbing hipbelt attaches to) so small that the padding on them has little function. Larger wings that pad the hipbelt across the hipbone would be more functional.
At a little over a pound, the ULA Relay is a full-featured pack that provides a generous amount of volume for a day pack, organization options, weight-carrying capacity, and durability. Other daypacks with the same volume and weight carrying capacity have an internal frame and weigh 2 pounds or more. The Relay is very comfortable to carry, if its torso length is a good fit for you. Its standard feature set is very nice, but could benefit from some tweaking (depending on your preferences).
The Relay should not be overlooked as a potential pack for fastpacking. Its rugged construction, weight-carrying capacity, water carrying capability, and hourglass shape are features that adventure racers look for, but it lacks hipbelt pockets.
The Relay at 2100 cubic inches and 17 ounces could be used as a durable overnight backpack, however it has a weight penalty compared to the Fanatic Fringe Alpine Trail pack at 2400 cubic inches and 7 ounces (but no hipbelt), and the GoLite Dawn at 2500 cubic inches and 14 ounces.
The use of Dyneema Gridstop fabric for most of the pack makes it both lightweight and durable. ULA’s optional accessories are removable and can be interchanged in other ULA packs.
Recommendations for Improvement
Please don’t misunderstand my nitpicks above; the ULA Relay is a fine lightweight pack. However, I do have a few suggestions for improvements that are worth considering:
- Replace the shallow fabric pocket and bungee system on the frontpanel with a full height mesh pocket.
- Replace the angled side pockets with full height pockets, possibly with an angled entry near the bottom to allow inserting a water bottle without taking the pack off.
- Reverse the top compression strap so the strap hangs on the front side of the pack.
- Enlarge the delta wings on the hipbelt so there is adequate padding over the hipbone.
- Add four attachment loops to the frontpanel seams, and offer optional accessory straps for attaching larger items to the front of the pack.