Gear reflections: carrying

ULA Ohm

Boots and rucksacks are the most difficult bits of gear to get right. I reckon rucksacks are more difficult than boots. Boots can be tested through test walks near home (for me dog walking). However, rucksacks often need to be carried for two or three days before shortcomings are apparent.

Such was the case with my ULA Ohm rucksack. After all the hassle of getting one, I was hopeful that this would be the “one”. I bought the Ohm to see if I could improve on my Mariposa Plus, which has begun to show a bit of wear and tear. I felt the design looked more robust, using Dyneema Gridstop fabric.

The volume of the Ohm was very similar to the Mariposa. I managed to fit all my gear with three days’ food reasonably comfortably (total 12.75kg). The Scarp fitted easily into a side pocket with some Velcro webbing to secure the top. A little more care has to be taken to ensure that lumpy objects do not dig into your back. I use two sections of a GG NightLight sleeping pad for the back panel of the Mariposa, so it is a bit more forgiving.

On the face of it the harness of the Ohm seems better. The shoulder straps are more substantial and the hip belt is better positioned with superior padding. On day one it felt better than the Mariposa. It felt more secure on my back, but retained some flexibility. The back panel is a bit sweatier as it is plain nylon with no mesh.

Photo courtesy of Jeff

On day two, some shortcomings became apparent. I wasn’t careful packing and the load felt a bit lumpy. After some adjustment it was OK. About half way through the day it became apparent that the padding on the hip belt was not quite long enough to cover the tightening buckles for the webbing. An extra half an inch would have done it.

Under tension the buckles are pulled forward to protrude just beyond the hip belt padding. Because I was wearing a Paramo jacket, the discomfort wasn’t too bad, but if I had been wearing just a T-shirt, it might have been worse. I don’t want to make too much of this. I think under most circumstances it should be OK, but it’s something to be aware of.

Had it not been for this issue, I think I would say that the Ohm is better than the Mariposa. As it stands, they are both good rucksacks but suffer from some small drawbacks. Both have some issues with their hip belts. The Mariposa hip belt sits too low. The Ohm has this minor problem with the buckles.

It seems to me that rucksack manufacturers don’t pay enough attention to hip belts. The most comfortable I’ve worn so far have been from Osprey (Aether 60 and Exos 58). The worst have been from GolIte (Trek and Quest). The Mariposa and Ohm are somewhere in the middle.

I suspect the Ohm will vie with the Mariposa for summer trips, but I think I’m going to need something with a better hip belt for cooler months and longer trips.

It’s probably also worth a quick word on stuff sacks. I changed my packing technique from the last couple of trips. I had taken to using two large waterproof stuff sacks (one roll top, one without). The base of the rucksack was filled with the roll top bag. In it I put my sleeping bag (loose, sleeping mat and clothes that I wouldn’t need during the day. In the second large stuff sack (an old F&T neoprene lined one) I put everything else, inside Alpkit Apollo bags to keep thing tidy. This meant I could guarantee that everything would stay dry.

This time I put my sleeping bag in one Outdoor Designs air permeable sack and spare clothes in another. These went at the bottom of the pack. I found that this method meant I could compress my sleeping bag and clothes smaller. The rest of the gear was packed on top in various stuff sacks (Apollo bags except extra clothes, which went in another Outdoor Designs air permeable bag).

I found this system worked well and gained me a bit of extra space. The only downside was that the stuff sacks got a bit wet as the Ohm is not totally waterproof, especially at the base. The Outdoor Designs bags kept everything dry inside. However, some of the gear in the Apollo bags was a bit damp, but it didn’t matter as nothing needed to be kept totally dry.

In conclusion, I still don’t feel I’ve got it quite right in the rucksack department, so I’ll keep looking.

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9 thoughts on “Gear reflections: carrying”

  1. Robin I agree that backpacks can be difficult to get right. The Aether has the best hip belt but a bit heavy. Bit of a nuisance about the Ohm after all the hassle you had getting your hands on it.
    I am looking at the Lightwave 60 litre and the Pinnacle for winter use- but does not guarantee that I will make the right choice and buying both to find which will be best is expensive. Perhaps we should encourage a try before you buy scheme with suppliers – now that’s a thought !
    Mark

  2. I agree with you about Osprey – the Aether is an amazing sack. I’m looking for a winter sack at the moment to carry heavier loads (8-9kg) as I just don’t think I want to use the Gorilla for that – durability and heavy-load carrying is not something that the Gorilla is well-suited to. 5-7kg 3-season use is perfect but winter? Ice-axes and crampons with that outside mesh pocket? I think not. So my first port of call was Osprey – if I am going to be learning winter skills and mountaineering, carry is going to be something I do not want to have to worry about. Hence, this morning, I tried on the Osprey Mutant in Ellis Brigham. It’s nice and will probably become my winter pack. Lightweight, but still comfy, hipbelt. Don’t like the fastenings much, but I can live with that. Everything else on it seems really good – simple but effective.

    As for your problem – have you thought about trying the Gorilla? What was the issue with the Mariposa – durability? The Gorilla beats that problem. Is it not big enough for you?

    1. The Mariposa is a good pack, but durability is an issue. The hip belt is also a bit low. The Gorilla is tougher, but a smaller volume and likley to have the same issue with the hip belt. It’s just not different enough to warrant buying. I do have a cunning plan which will be revealed soon.

  3. I have a Gorilla pack but need to get it on a hill soon. Loaded up it seems rather good when tried at home. Hill time while be the deal breaker. The frame, shoulder straps and hip belt seem to be working in harmony. Maybe it is the one? I was hoping the state of the market review on BPL.com would have shed some light on rucksack design but it has raised more questions than answers for me and just contradicts other bPL reviews and thoughts. Is there a perfect pack? Who knows? One thing I don’t like about the ULA pack is the green only option. Yuck comes to mind.

    1. I’m sure you’ll like the Gorilla. The Mariposa is good, but I’m not entirely happy with the hip belt as it is a little low.

  4. I found my Vapor Trail to be both comfy and roomy, and the hip belt is quite cushy. One of the guys had it on the Snowbank hike, and it was really loaded up. It’s not the lightest, however, and lacks a nice front pocket. I’ve yet to take it on a decent hike, so I’m undecided as to whether it really suits my needs.

  5. Hi Robin. Have a look at Aarn – http://aarnpacks.com/. You might have heard of the highly regarded Pacerpoles. These are truly revolutionary packs with so many well thought out features. Not a lot of padding on the hip belt and shoulder straps because the careful design obviates the need. I have recently acquired a Natural Balance after trying many different packs and am over the moon. Not the lightest pack, but again, the weight distribution of the design makes this irrelevant.

    1. I like the theory of Aarn Packs. I rejected them because the most appropriate pack (Featherlite Freedom) as it lacks flexibility for packing a tent, specifically the Scarp. I would probably have to pack it inside and lose a lot of volume. Apart from that I would be tempted.

  6. I don’t think the perfect sack is out there. There will always be a niggle or something that isn’t quite right. I really like the comfort of my Osprey Talon 44 but there are far too many straps (now cut off) and it’s tricky to get water bottles in/out of side pockets when on the move. Apart from that it’s fine. I think that convincing yourself ‘the one’ is out there just leads to more and more ‘not quite right’ purchases. If the comfort is right I am willing to put up with a few niggles here and there.

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