I recently returned from a trip to Colorado to visit Scot and Evan where I was able to make use of my Ute for the first time. I hiked with this pack everyday, and did one overnighter into the West Elks wilderness that involved quite a but of off-trail travel. I carried the same load throughout the trip, including the day hikes, which consisted of the following:
- Kifaru 20* standard length/width Slick Bag
- Thermarest NeoAir (original, size L)
- Montbell inflatable pillow
- Go-Lite Utopia 2+ (On the overnighter I just carried the poles)
- Longie top/bottom (Smartwool)
- Food Bag (REI 5L lightweight stuff sack)
- Dehydrated meals, chocolate, drinks, etc
- Can of Pringles (Great for salt craving after a long day of hiking)
- Patagonia Rain Shadow pants/jacket
- HPG Mountain Serape
- Eagle creek pouch containing first aid kit bunged to PALS on inside lid of Ute
- (2) Nalgene 1 liter canteens in Ute wand pockets
- (1) Nalgene 1 liter canteen on left side of belt
- (1) HPG Canteen pocket on right side of belt used to hold my camera
- HPG Kit bag connected to lifter straps (Contents are another subject)
- REI crazy-creek style trail chair, stashed between PALS pocket and pack bag
- Tyvek ground sheet stored along with trail chair
- Cook Kit
- GSI Halulite minimalist with Trangia stove, mesh pot stand, extra fuel, wind screen
- Katadyn Hiker pro filter
- Gerber wood saw
- Kifaru pull-out with misc. items (Bug spray, batteries, compass, etc…)
- OR Gaiters
- TP/hand sanitizer in a small dry-bag
- Nikon Monarch 8x36 binos
- 20L REI lightweight stuff sack
- Neck gaiter
- Excellent construction, durable materials, Made in USA.
- Not an ultralight pack, but comparable to others in its category, and reasonable considering durability of materials and features
- The Ute is a good looking pack, and when filled with everything I needed, it presented a tight, compact load that was very well managed due to bag design and compression options
- The two-tone Khaki/Ranger green is a nice low-key look, which helps blend in to the environment, but at the same time does not look "military" in appearance.
The Ute provided ample room for all of my stuff. For a winter load, I would likely move my sleeping bag/pad to the top of the bag to make room inside for bulkier clothing and extra food.
When I received the pack, I removed the stays and checked them for fit. Surprisingly, they were bent pretty closely to my back profile, so I decided to leave them alone. The other thing I did was to replace the stock belt-buckle with an Australpin Cobra buckle from Paragear. The Cobra buckle is a more durable option. I have stepped on and broken a lot of belt buckles, so I decided to try the cobra this time around.
I ordered my pack with a medium sized prairie belt, which fit my 35-35'' waist well, and fell about in the middle of the adjustment range of that size with lightweight summer clothing. The prairie belt fit very well, and remained snug while hiking both on and off trail. As we all know, a good belt is key to a pack that supports weight and remains comfortable- and the prairie belt fits this roll very well. On this trip, I had my immediately accessible water on the left side, and my camera on the right side. A belt with PALS webbing is really useful, and can be configured for a variety of tasks. I also added a grimlock to the left side of the belt, where I was able to hang my leather gloves. Having leather gloves accessible on the belt is a great asset in navigating rock slides on all fours, or for any number of other tasks. In the winter, I can use the grimlock to hang my trail crampons during intermittent use.
The dual-pulley tension system on the belt works very well, and provides a mechanical advantage when applying tension to the belt, and also makes loosening the belt easier once you get into camp and need to take off the pack. Another advantage of the buckle pulley system seems to be that since the webbing is pulled from 2 points on each side of the belt, it helps to distribute the tension of the belt, so instead of just having one piece of 1.5'' webbing, you now have the load distributed across two pieces.
The belt was very comfortable, and provided a lot of support for the pack, but what stuck out in my mind most was how well it stayed in place. On other pack waistbelts that I have tried, I had a hard time keeping them tight through extended use, which often translated into the belt slipping down and causing my pants to ride down as well- very annoying. The prairie belt did a good job staying put, and keeping my pants up as well.
The shoulder harness is another unique attribute of this pack. It does a good job of distributing weight across the shoulders, and allows for a certain amount of articulation between the hips and shoulders- helpful for scrambling on rocks.
Overall, the Ute is a really versatile pack with an uncomplicated design, and adjustments that allow for a tailored fit. It's built with care here in the US, and designed with only necessary and useful features. When wearing this pack, you can tell that it was designed from use in the field, for use in the field.