Kuiu was having a large sale at the end of 2015 and being the backpack nut that I am, I decided to pick up the Ultra 3000 to see how it would perform the next time I headed out on a backcountry trek. Though I'm a diehard fan of my Exo Mountain Gear 3500, I couldn't help but wonder how it compared to Kuiu and I looked forward to finding out.
First Impressions of the Kuiu Ultra 3000
I've only used the pack one time in the field and though some may scoff at my decision to write this without having put it through the rigors of hunting season, I feel like I know enough about how the pack functions to decide whether I like it or not. It pains me to say this, but while the Ultra 3000 may be a nice to look at, I'm just not a fan of how it functions. Sorry Kuiu!
The Kuiu Ultra 3000 is beautiful, well constructed, and looks sharp when packed full of gear. When it came in the mail, I immediately spent a couple hours with it planning out how I would configure a load based on how the pack is designed. Nothing crazy jumped out at me right away but it wasn't until I actually went to use it that I began to run into problems.
**Before you continue reading, please understand that we all have our preferences and just because I don't like something, doesn't mean you won't like it. Take what I write and decide for yourself if what I touch on applies to you or not. There..I've said my peace!**
Packing the Kuiu Ultra 3000 for the First Time
The Ultra 3000 has its limitations. It's not that the pack is poorly designed, in fact it's well thought out, but it's just not built in the way that allows me the pack the way I like to pack. I knew I was in trouble when I'd look over at my Exo 3500 hanging on the wall and think to myself "well, maybe I'll just use that one this time and use the Kuiu for another trip." If that's not a warning sign, I don't know what is! I forced myself to use the Ultra 3000 so I could officially decide whether I liked it or not. The guys at Exo Mountain gear have spoiled me with their design and now I fear that I'm ruined for the foreseeable future.
Rear Vertical Stash Pocket
I thought I would like this feature on the Kuiu design, but after using it, I've decided that I don't. It's usable to an extent, but it's lacking some functionality in my opinion. The fabric has no give to it so you're forced with having to wrestle items in and out of it if it's stuffed full. The pocket is pretty large, but when the main bag is full, you seem to lose valuable real estate in that back vertical pocket. If I had it my way, I'd have it be a stretchy material instead of what it is now.
Horse Shoe Zipper Design
I don't like saying this, but I'm not a fan of this design. I kept finding myself wrestling with the zippers. To get to the middle of the pack, you have to unzip the bag about halfway and what tends to happen is the zippers fall down too far once you start stuffing gear in it or if you have it full already. I would find myself battling between trying to see what I'm doing while at the same trying to prevent the zippers from falling down. It can be really annoying, to say the least. I ended up just trying to stuff everything blindly from the top with the zippers most of the way up. The zipper design is great if you're removing items at the end of the day, but not so much when you're putting things in.
Once the pack is near full, you'll either find that you have enough room, or you don't. There's no forgiveness with the way these packs are designed. Not having a floating lid or draw string type closure means that the only way to secure the main compartment is to zip it up and if you have too much stuff, then you're up a creek without a paddle and have to unload some of your items or lash them to the outside. If you lash them to the top of the pack, then you'll no longer be able to easily access the top zipper pockets. I'm slowly learning that I'm not a huge fan of zippers because of this single reason; you either have enough room or you don't. There's no fudging it.
Lashing and Compression Straps
The compression straps on the Ultra 3000 make it so you can't get into the main bag without loosening them on the sides because they compress the zipper to relieve stress (makes sense). Once you have them loose, you have to basically undo what seems to be the entire pack just to get at something that might be in the stashed in the middle somewhere. Organize your little heart out, but there's always a chance you need something in the middle! The great thing about these straps is that they're easy to take on and off and you can configure them a few different ways, however they way they are configured makes it a little difficult to access the main compartment (at least I think so).
I haven't spent enough time under load with the Kuiu Ultra 3000 to know for sure what I think about it. It's certainly a well riding pack with about 40 lbs. in it. I'm sure it'll do fine with larger loads, but because I'm not too keen on how the Ultra 3000 functions as a pack, I'll likely continue to use my Exo 3500 instead. We all have preferences, and for some, Kuiu works just fine, but for me it doesn't. That's the great part about having so many packs on the market to choose from! There's one for everyone out there.
Kuiu Ultra 3000 Durability
I can't say for certain to what extent the Ultra 3000 is durable, but it seems to be well built and capable of taking a pounding even with the lighter material that it's made of. I wouldn't go sliding down a cliff with it, but it's not going to rip if you happen to snag it on a bush. This pack was built for the ounce counters in mind so if that's you then you know how to take care of delicate equipment. If that's not you, I highly suggest NOT purchasing this pack. Go with the ICON PRO 3200. It's basically the same pack, but with a few more bells and whistles with more durable fabric.
One of the things I do appreciate about the Ultra 3000 is the simplicity of it. It's very streamlined. If you like having a million pockets to choose from then look somewhere else. If you like organizing yourself inside the pack by other means, this pack might be what you're looking for. No frills and thrills on the Ultra.
Only One Side Pocket
I'm not a huge fan of only having only one side pocket on the Ultra 3000. I'm assuming they did this to save weight, but it just doesn't work for me. Give me two side stash pockets and a few more ounces and I'll be much happier.
I'm new to the load shelf game but when you compare how Exo Mountain Gear has their load shelf configured to how Kuiu has theirs, I prefer the Exo way. The main difference is that with Kuiu, you secure the load (or meat) to the pack frame via the common compression straps located on the pack that work with the main bag. On the Exo pack, the frame has its own compression straps for securing the load to the frame. When you go to throw the pack on, you will essentially have two methods of securing that large load to the frame versus the Kuiu way which only has one. If anyone reading this has comments contrary to this, please send them my way!
I had high hopes for the Kuiu Ultra 3000, but because of my personal preferences, it ultimately doesn't work for me. By no means is this a bad pack, it's simply doesn't have the features I've come to enjoy in a backpack and that's totally fine by me. There are tons of great reviews out there on how wonderful the Kuiu Ultra 3000 is and I highly suggest that if you're reading this, you search them out so you can gain a well rounded idea of what is good and what is bad.
I sincerely hope that those reading this review do not consider it a "negative" review. My ultimate goal here is to be open and honest about what works and what doesn't work for me. I have nothing but high praise for Kuiu becausse I've had incredible luck with their rain gear and a number of other items. It doesn't bother me at all that one of their packs didn't pan out for me. It all comes down to personal preference and I think that I owe it to my readers to be real about what I like and what I don't like.
If you have any questions about his pack or designs similar to it, feel free to email me or leave a comment. I'm certain Kuiu will continue to revise these packs but until there is a major design change, I'll continue using my Exo pack which I've come to love.
Thanks for reading, stay safe, and rock on!