In search for the right backpack, üla Epic first impressions

Today we received a new backpack for Natasza. So far she tried 3 different backpacks and the three of them made her hips hurting… and were too big for her.
I’m in charge of the gear in our couple. I try to find the best gear that could fit our activities and our bodies.

Let’s start with a review of the backpacks she used so far:

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-a North Face Terra 45l: She used it in Jämtland. It was okay but it still hurt her hips. It weights 1795 grams according to The North Face webpage which is really heavy for a small portage.

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-a Karrimor Cougar 60-70l: this one REALLY hurt her. She suffered after a couple of kilometers but still used it on several trips (budget rules sometimes). It is difficult to find the right setting for this backpack. I used the same backpack during a 1 month Lapland traverse and it was a real pain in the ass. I can’t really recommend this one BUT I will definitely recommend the Sabre collection from the same brand, best backpack I used for heavy loads. Weights 2040g, which is too much for such a backpack.

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-a Fjällräven Abisko W 65: When buying this one we thought it would be super comfortable with its large belt and all the nice features. But, surprisingly, it did not fit Natasza either. This pack is from the “lightweight” series from Fjällräven, but still weights 2180 g without the rain cover. So it’s not lightweight according to my standards. I still think it’s a nice backpack, a really good quality product, but too heavy for our use.

 

Problematic:

I then realized that it was not the backpacks themself which were wrong, but the size and the weight of them. At 165′, Natasza is not a big person. She’s not able to carry big loads and we have to take care of her hips. So, 60 liters is way too much to carry for Natasza. 45 liters could be okay but with a load under 10 kg with all the gear and food.

I recently got caught but the ultralight philosophy, rethinking all my gear. It became really obvious during our last trip that Natasza needs an ultralight setup too. We can be on a trip for several weeks, so the gear has to be reliable and light espacially when you hike in Northern Sweden were the weather conditions are often unpredictable.

Packrafting comes into consideration too. Natasza needs a light backpack but roomy enough for all the gear for packrafting trips plus the usual gear.

At some point I almost got desperate, will I ever find the right backpack for Natasza?

Then I thought that the 3400 Windrider Pack from Hyperlite Mountain gear could be an option. I am the happy owner of a porter pack from the same company and I am more than happy with it. I asked Hendrick from Hiking in Finland to be sure. He told me that the üla Epic could fit all parameters. I trust him, he’s the kind of guy who knows when it comes to outdoor gear.

I ordered the backpack directly from their website 10 days ago and today we received the package, fast shipping from the US!

First impressions on this new piece of gear:

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The üla Epic is not a traditional backpack, it is more the concept of an external frame with a dry bag that you can attach to it. At around 900 grams, it is much lighter than all the previous backpacks Natasza used in the past. There is an insert at the bottom designed to carry a packraft, which is really convenient. It’s actually this feature that convinced us to order it: it sucks to make room inside your backpack for all the packraft gear: it will be wet and takes room even if its not super heavy: the packraft itself, a PFD and the paddles. With the Ula Epic you can carry all that gear OUTSIDE and it is still organized.

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The üla Epic right out of the box: it comes with a 65l drybag from Sea to Summit.

On the drybag are cliped two bottle holsters, you can remove them if you don’t need them.  The 65l drybag will be too large for Natasza’s needs, so I ordered an other drybag, a smaller one:

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It’s an Alpkit Airlok XTra 35l version, it has the same loops on the sides as the Sea to Summit drybag, this way you can insert the side straps of the Epic to secure the bag, plus, it’s very good value for money. Buying this very drybag was an other tip from Hendrick (thanks dude!).

I think 35 liters will be way enough. The packraft gear already weights around 4,5kg.

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Another view from the Epic, there’s a nice front pocket made of mesh. You can carry some gear your might want quickly like rain gear, or stuff you want to dry. The side straps are really extendable, that allows you to carry some really big loads (see Roman Dial using this backpack during his Arctic 1000 expedition).

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A sneak peak of how it could be loaded for our next trip: all the water gear is well packed outside of the 35l drybag.

We are going on a 4 day packraft trip in a few days, will be time for real testing.

When I first considered buying this backpack, I thought it was really expensive for an “external frame”, but since I saw it for real and took a closer look at all the details and features of this technical backpack, I really think it does worth the money, 275$.

I just hope Natasza’s hips will like this one!

 

Thanks to Hendrick for his advice and his good work on HIKINGINFINLAND.COM

 

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5 Comments

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  1. Great stuff, and I really hope that it works for Natasza. I’d try with very small loads first, and then see how it works. If she carries the food which decreases over time then her pack gets lighter. Or you could be the Gentlemen and carry everything =)

    For the packraft, I’d carry it not in the packsack and roll it as narrow as possible – if it’s such a wide package it’s easy to get stuck on twigs and in tight spaces, and isn’t very comfortable either in my experience. Best is to put a CCF pad at the bottom of the pack, then the rolled up packraft and then the drybag – that way the packraft sit a bit higher and should be more comfortable to carry.

  2. Hiking shouldn’t hurt. With the risk of just being a spammer I’d recommend looking at some lighter packs. I’m using Granite Gear Blaze AC with a Vapor Current belt and love it. 60L, 1.3kg’s. You can get all of their packs with different belts: http://www.granitegearstore.com/Belts-C22.aspx

    Hope you find something that fits!

  3. I have had the same problem with my hips and I tried different backpacks. I found Kajka that fits me well and have a good support system and if you pack your backpack lighter you don´t need to worrie about the extra weight on the backpack.

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