I spent the better part of many days studying backpacks. The number of choices are overwhelming, and many of the best come from cottage industries where I was not going to be able to try one on. As I was unable to determine which one was the best in class by research alone, I decided the best way to select one was to determine how much actual capacity I would need.
There are some sections of the hike where I am going to need extra carrying capacity. In Southern California Section-F there is a 43 mile stretch with no water. As I will always follow the principle that I should never depend upon water caches being maintained, I will probably be lugging 8 to 9 liters of water. If it is hot and dry, I could see myself taking 10 liters!
Coming out of Kennedy Meadows South, I will need to bring a bear canister, ice axe, micro-spikes and a warmer base layer. That is a significant increase in my base weight.
There is a section of the Sierra Mountains where I might need to carry eight days of food!
Another concern I had was loosing something because it was hanging outside my pack. If I’m only carrying exactly what I need, then I cannot afford to loose any of it.
Finally, I wanted a pack that was able to handle 150 days of being picked up and set down. While it is cool to have the audacity to fix something with dental floss, I’d rather not have to do it.
So, based upon my analysis, I wanted a light weight pack that had the capacity to hold a bear canister, handle load weights of 40 pounds, and was made of materials durable enough to handle the hike. My choice was the ULA Catalyst. The Catalyst weighs 48 ounces and has a maximum recommended load of 40 pounds. It is more than capable of this hike.
My wife has the ULA Circuit, so I know them both. She loves hers. Slightly smaller, the Circuit weighs 41 ounces and had a maximum load of 35 pounds.
I have made a few modifications to my backpack. I have removed the Hydration Sleeve, the internal stash pocket, the hand loops and the left water bottle holders. I have then added the ULA Shoulder Strap Pocket. I have modified that pocket to allow me to zip it up yet still plug in my headphones for my phone. I also use that pocket to hold my sunglasses.
Those modifications have reduced the weight of the pack to 47.7 ounces. In theory, I could trim some of the straps, but it is such a nice pack that I don’t want to do something that I wish I could take back.
It has about 750 miles of day and training hikes. Much of the time, it is filled with water bottles. However, I have also used it on two shakedown hikes. Once I learned how to adjust it properly, carrying 30 pounds feels like nothing. I am very happy with my decision.