ULA CDT Review (54 L Backpack)

An extremely well-made frameless pack that's lightweight and ultra-reliable.

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ULA CDT Backpack
ULA CDT Pack Front
ULA CDT Backpack Side
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 Summary

  • The ULA CDT is a frameless, ultralight backpack that’s great for day hikes, short backpacking trips, and traveling adventures.
  • The 54-liter capacity is distributed between its main compartment, rear mesh pockets, two side pockets, and two (optional) hip belts. The wide array of storage options allows you to distribute your gear optimally and offers quick access to your most critical items.
  • ULA offers wide choices for customization of the CDT, ensuring that the pack you receive will be tailor-made for your particular body shape and size.
  • Without a rigid frame, the CDT provides no load transferring mechanism. This means that packing the CDT will have to be done strategically. Although the CDT advertises a maximum capacity of 18 pounds, we find that limiting the load weight to within 10 to 12 pounds keeps the CDT comfortable even for longer hikes.

 Reviews by our Readers


Introduction

MAKE:
ULA Equipment
MODEL:
CDT
TYPE:
Frameless ultralight pack
MSRP PRICE:
$145
RECOMMENDED FOR:
Camping, hiking, thru-hiking, day hikes, travel
WARRANTY:
Lifetime (original owner)
MODEL YEAR:
2019
WHERE TO BUY IT:
ULA Equipment’s Website

Pack Details

WEIGHT:
24 ounces
LOAD CAPACITY:
18 lbs
VOLUME:
54 L
AVAILABLE COLORS:
Black, Blue Blaze, Original Green, Grey, Multicam Camo, Orange, Purple, Red, Teal, Custom

Written Review

Despite the fact that they specialize in ultralight backpacks, ULA’s lineup is not the lightest on the market, mainly due to the company’s focus on comfort and customization. Although this design principle appeals to many, the packs may still be too heavy and unnecessarily bulky for more experienced ultralight backpackers. If you want a pack with a high-volume capacity but light as possible without sacrificing comfort, then the 54-liter ULA CDT pack might be exactly what you’re looking for.

The CDT is manufactured by Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA), a small company in Utah which is one of the few remaining US-based backpack manufacturing companies. ULA has a reputation for being highly responsive and adaptable to their customer’s needs. Much like the other packs offered by ULA, the CDT is available with a huge variety of customizable options. With four options for torso lengths, four options for hip belt sizes, two shoulder strap shapes, and a wide range of colors, you can be sure that your CDT will fit your personality, body shape, and size.

The ULA CDT is a frameless ultralight backpack that’s smaller and significantly lighter than the ULA Circuit. Despite its huge volume capacity, ULA recommends loading it with a base weight of just 10 to 12 pounds and a maximum load of 18 pounds. The pack weighs between 19 to 24 ounces but is extremely durable, making it an excellent choice for short backpacking trips and day hikes. Being a frameless pack, the CDT is also great for traveling as it can breeze through airport security and should easily fit into the plane’s overhead bins.

Most of the components of the CDT are made of 210 Robic nylon, painstakingly hand sewn by ULA’s team of professionals. Robic nylon is 50% stronger than regular nylon and is designed with a diagonal woven ripstop and treated with a polyurethane and durable water repellent (DWR) coating for water resistance. However, Robic is not waterproof. You might need to augment the CDT with a pack cover or a waterproof inner liner should you find yourself in a serious downpour.

The main compartment of the CDT accounts for 36 liters of its total capacity. It has a long extension collar which provides extra storage space. The standard CDT comes with a simple drawstring closure which may be rolled up and compressed with a single top webbing loop if the pack’s not too full. If you want better rain protection and compression, you can opt for the roll-top closure upgrade for an additional $15.

The two optional internal pockets of the CDT – one for a hydration pack and a smaller one for personal effects – can be removed non-destructively and attached by a pair of plastic clips.

Being a frameless pack, the main compartment of the CDT merely conforms to the shape of its contents. If you want to have a compressed pack that won’t collapse inwards, then you might need to pack the main compartment with a rolled-up foam mat. Aside from making the pack more stable, this strategy may also provide additional comfort and cushioning for your gear.

The pockets on either side of the CDT are large enough to fit a 1-liter water bottle. Should you need to store smaller items, the top of each side pocket cord that can be cinched closed and secured with a cord lock. The side pockets are slightly angled towards the front, making it so you can reach your water bottle without removing the pack. The pockets are made from a solid material (not mesh) and reinforced at the bottom with an additional layer of 210 Robic, giving them a good amount of protection from abrasion and tearing. Like the other ULA packs, the side pockets of the CDT have small holes where the shoulder straps terminate, so storing certain items in these holes is not recommended.

The ULA CDT also features a huge rear mesh pocket that’s ideal for storing wet gear or items that you want to be able to access easily. A wet tent or your rain gear will fit right into this mesh pocket. A very fine mesh design gives this pocket good durability. Despite these measures, the rear mesh pocket might not be durable enough for off-trail bushwhacking.

The hip belt of the CDT is optional – you can choose to forego it when you order the pack which will save you $10 (also check out the 45 L ULA Fastpack which eliminates the hip belt entirely). Unlike the Circuit or the Catalyst, the hip belt of the CDT is sewn directly to the pack so you don’t have the benefit of adjusting its height. The hip belt of the CDT is also a little narrower than those found in the ULA Catalyst, Circuit, and Ohm 2.0. Still, we find the narrow hip belt to be just fitting of a small pack such as the CDT.

The narrower hip belt makes the hip belt pockets of the CDT smaller. They are roomy enough for a point-and-shoot camera or a few snacks, but it can be a tight fit. No compromises were made on durability, though, as the hip belt pockets still come with hard front-face and heavy-duty zippers.

The shoulder straps of the CDT are available in both J-shape and S-shape variants, made to accommodate users with breasts or barrel chests. Since the pack has no frame, the shoulders straps do not come with load lifters. The CDT still retains a set of removable bungee cords in the shoulder straps meant for quick access of a pint-sized water bottle.

The CDT achieves its exceptionally lightweight build by being frameless. This means that it does not have any mechanism to transfer the weight of the load to your hips, which may be problematic if you intend to use the CDT for several days and it’s loaded near its maximum capacity. We find that it’s best to pack the CDT to 10 or 12 pounds to avoid back and shoulder strain. The wide shoulder straps and hip belt help to keep the CDT comfortable, despite its lack of a rigid frame. The CDT also comes with a removable foam back panel that keeps sharp items in the main compartment from poking your back.

In terms of price, the CDT is one of the most affordable ultralight backpacks when compared with other packs of similar capacity. By keeping the design free of unnecessary bells and whistles, ULA has managed to keep the price of the CDT much lower than their Circuit or Ohm 2.0 packs.

 Warranty

ULA guarantees that the CDT, along with all of their other bags, are manufactured according to the highest standards and will be delivered to you in perfect condition. If you find that the ULA pack you received has failed to meet your expectations due to a defect in the material or workmanship, ULA will gladly repair or replacement services at no cost. This warranty policy doesn’t cover damage due to improper use, accidents, or general wear and tear. Should you intend to send a pack in to ULA for repair or replacement, you’ll just need to make sure that it’s been recently cleaned.

Pros:

  • The CDT is one of the lightest packs from ULA, foregoing some of the features found in the Ohm 2.0 and Circuit packs. Despite being lightweight, the CDT is sufficiently durable and water resistant.
  • The CDT is available with a wide range of customization options. With different torso sizes, hip belt lengths, and shoulder strap shapes, the CDT pack you receive will be tailor-fit to your body shape and size.
  • The huge capacity of the CDT is distributed between its main compartment, the rear mesh pocket, side pockets, and hip belt pockets. The flexible storage options allow you to store wet items from your usual gear separately and offer several quick-access slots.

Cons:

  • The lack of a rigid frame makes the CDT inappropriate for exceptionally heavy loads. Without a load transfer mechanism, loading the DT near its maximum capacity can result in shoulder and back strain.
  • Keeping the CDT comfortable means limiting the weight of the load to around 10 to 12 pounds. This might not be an option for long backpacking trips. Novice ultralight backpackers may also find it difficult to keep the weight of the pack under 12 pounds.
  • Although durable and water-resistant, the Robic nylon fabric is still not waterproof. If you want to make sure that your gear will remain dry even when it rains, you’ll have to pack a rain cover or internally line the main compartment with a waterproof material.

 Final Thoughts

The ULA CDT is a lightweight pack that will probably end up being the workhorse of your backpacking gear. It is an excellent pack for day hikes and short backpacking trips where you won’t need to pack a lot of heavy gear. We especially like how large the rear mesh pocket is, although the mesh fabric probably won’t withstand more rigorous hikes with off-trail bushwhacking.

Being frameless, using the CDT will require a bit more foresight in packing strategy. You might need to line the main compartment with a rolled-up foam pad to keep the pack from collapsing. Although the CDT has an advertised 18-pound maximum capacity, we find that the lack of a frame puts a lot of strain on the shoulders and back. For best results, we recommend keeping the load of the CDT between 10 and 12 pounds.

Despite its limitations, the CDT still offers great value for money and we love its large volume capacity and excellent durability. We highly recommend the CDT for experienced ultralight backpackers who are looking to further trim down the weight of their packs.

Click Here to Buy ULA’s CDT Pack

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