In late 2013 I was “talked into” buying a new Zpacks Arc Blast backpack. As it turned out, that pack ended up being the best pack I have ever used. Sure, it was a 60 liter backpack, so not really a small backpack, but I found that I was reaching for it on any hike I went on that wasn’t in the dead of summer (which for these hikes, even my XS Zero backpack can be too big… lol!) The Arc Blast backpack fit me like a glove and it was comfortable (even with total pack weights reaching into the mid 20’s). It had all the features I needed and wanted, and none that I didn’t want (I’m looking at you hydration port). For me, it just worked. I loved that backpack, but in time I came to find one small issue with it, which ultimately would make the pack unusable for me…
Back then, the Arc line of backpacks were built a bit differently from today’s Arc line of backpacks. Most notably (in my case), the hip belts on the older packs were actually 2 wings that were sewn directly to the pack, as opposed to the one piece hip belts that can now be changed out like on the current model. My problem was that I was quite a bit heavier when I bought my Arc Blast in 2013, and now today my waist is a bit slimmer. This meant that the hip belt on my Arc Blast was now almost too big to be useable, but not able to be changed out. What’s funny though, is that while on another hike, just last month, I was again “talked into” buying another new Zpacks backpack…
While it’s true, soon enough the hip belt on my Arc Blast would simply be too big for me to use correctly, I didn’t actually have any plans on buying a new pack just yet… And truth be told, I still could have waited a bit longer before buying a new pack (especially with the summer months coming up), but I got the bug… So now here I am, the owner of a brand spanking new Zpacks Arc Haul backpack!
When I got back home from the Fiery Gizzard hike last month, I grabbed my computer and clicked on the ever-so-convenient Zpacks bookmark, and started looking at the different backpacks (like I didn’t already know…) The thing about Zpacks now versus back when I bought my Arc Blast backpack, is that “customizations” or “requests” are no longer an option. Now, items are ordered as they appear on the site, and no different. (Saying that, Zpacks does still offer a number of add-on options for their packs, so in a way, they are still customizable… just not to the same degree that they used to be.) As it turned out, it was a pretty easy decision as to which pack I would have to get based on my needs and what they offer…
The only 2 packs that I really considered was the Arc Blast (55L and in DCF) and the Arc Haul (62L and in gridstop*). I did not consider either of the Zip models because I prefer a mesh front pocket as opposed to their solid, non-breathable front pockets. And being that I didn’t want to go smaller than 60L (based on the fact that I will be carrying a Bearikade Weekender in this pack for an upcoming JMT hike), this knocked the Arc Blast out and left only the Arc Haul. So like I said, it was an easy decision…
So, here are some initial (pre-purchase) thoughts I had about the Arc Haul backpack:
- My first thought was the material… While I really wanted to stick with DCF (or the “hybrid cuben/nylon material”), the Arc Haul is only offered in the gridstop material. My thoughts were that the DCF material is actually waterproof, where as I assumed that the gridstop material was not as waterproof as DCF. I also assumed that the gridstop material may absorb more water than the DCF material, which is a concern for me since I store my backpack inside my tent with me at camp, so naturally I would like my pack to stay as dry as possible. As well, DCF does weigh a bit less than gridstop, which would result in an overall lighter weight backpack. On the flip-side, gridstop is a more durable material, especially when it comes to abrasion resistance, which also means that I don’t have to worry so much about the backpack, and that it will very likely last longer than one made from DCF.
- Weight. This thought was very much on the heels of material choices (or lack thereof…) The Arc Haul has a listed base weight of 24 oz! This is heavy considering that my older Arc Blast backpack weighed less than 21 oz with a lumbar pad, a shoulder pouch, 2 hip belt pockets, and a few other small DIY add on’s. I knew that I would also be adding 2 hip belt pockets, and the lumbar pad to the new Arc Haul, so these weights would be in addition to the above listed 24 oz (which would now bring the total expected weight to 26.5 oz). This means that the new backpack would weigh 5+ oz more than my Arc Blast… that was something to think about for sure!
- Size. Sure, it was only 2 liters more than my Arc Blast, which already seemed like a large-ish backpack, but I knew that I wanted to stick with at least a 60L backpack, so while size was something that crossed my mind, it wasn’t as loud as the material and weight option’s were.
So, early on a Tuesday morning I submitted my order for a new Arc Haul backpack with a small torso length and a medium waist belt, and of course the 2 gridstop hip belt pockets and the lumbar pad too. And I am happy to say that on that Friday afternoon, it was already sitting on my doorstep! (This speedy turn over time is a result of doing away with all the customizations and moving towards “off the shelf” products.) I anxiously snatched the box off the porch, ran inside and opened it up, then I just sat there with it in my lap and marveled at its beauty! After a bit I grabbed all of my gear that I plan on packing for my upcoming JMT hike and loaded it all up, including my Bearikade Weekender bear can! The pack swallowed the gear whole, then I slung it on my back. This is when I realized that the small torso may actually be just a little too small for me…
After fiddling with the straps, and making readjustments here and there, I realized that I did in fact need the medium torso height as opposed to the small. When I measured myself (according to Zpacks instructions) I found that my torso was actually closer to 20″, so it wasn’t really a big surprise that the small was just a hair too small. Not to worry though… I was actually planning to drive to Miami soon, so this was the perfect reason for me to stop in at Zpacks (like I really needed a reason… lol)!
Once I made it to Zpacks I was able to compare the (new) small size torso (which is now about an inch longer than the one I received), and the medium size torso lengths. As I expected, I ended up coming home with the medium length. And while I did go with the black backpack at first, and despite that while on the (long) drive there I was thinking that I would end up coming home with the blue one, I actually ended up coming home with the green one (which my wife had to pick out for me since I couldn’t decide at the time… lol!)
When I got my new Arc Haul backpack home I immediately loaded all my gear into the pack again… but this time I found the fit was much better. In fact, after adjusting everything to suit me, it felt just like I was wearing my old Arc Blast! So while I was still quite bummed that I was replacing my old Arc Blast with a non cuben fiber backpack, at least I now knew that the Arc Haul fit me just as good as my Arc Blast! As for the material, well I figure I will grow to love it too…
So, here are some of my thoughts now that I have the pack in my possession (but still not with any actual use):
- Material. I am still a bit bummed that I am not using a cuben fiber pack, but as I said above, this Gridstop material is more durable than DCF and will ultimately result in a longer life. As well, when rolling the collar down and buckling it closed, I found that it is actually more difficult to push any remaining air out of the pack than I thought it would be. This means that it is more air tight (and water tight) than I thought it might be. This makes me happier, but I am still curious to see how the material does when exposed to the rain. At this point, I am planning to forego my beloved pack cover just to see how I like going without it, so the backpack will be completely exposed to any rain that falls… On with the trials!
- Weight. My exact pack now is the Arc Haul with a medium torso and a medium hip belt, and also includes the lumbar pad and 2 gridstop hip belt pockets. The combined weight of these pieces comes in at 26.7 oz on my scale at home (which is only 0.2 oz more than spec’d, and in my opinion is pretty impressive considering all the different sizes available). I have also added small loops for my DIY water bottle holder on the shoulder straps, which now brings the total weight of the backpack to 26.8 oz. Now, this number is still larger than I am used to, but when I consider everything that this backpack actually is, I admit that it is still a rather low number… just not as low as I am used to. I will get over this in time I think. If not, well I still have 3 other Zpacks Zero backpacks to choose from for any hikes that do not require all of my cold weather gear and a bear can!
- Size. Wow, this backpack is only 2 liters bigger than my Arc Blast, but it actually seems like it is so much bigger than that! I can actually lay my Bearikade Weekender sideways inside the pack (see photo below), which I couldn’t do at all in my older (smaller) Arc Blast. This really is a big backpack… Considering the size of it, along with the weight, there is a good chance that this pack won’t get as much use as my Arc Blast did, even though I (will probably) like the way it rides so much! I’ll see though… I didn’t expect to use my Arc Blast so much at first either…
- Other considerations: I do like that the straps are more of an “S” shape as opposed to a “J” shape. While I haven’t actually used the backpack yet, at this point I do like the way these new straps hug my shoulders better. As for the new padding material on the shoulder straps and hip belt, well, I never had an issue with the older, foam wrapped in cuben fiber style… Maybe these new ones will be more comfortable? I don’t know. I also like that they have decided to go with a dual “V” strap on the hip belt as opposed to just a single strap, however, I have found that as my waist line slimmed down over time, this wasn’t as significant for me. When I was rounder around the waist and belly, a “V” strap was nice because I could cinch the bottom straps more than the top, which made the belt cradle my belly rather than just squeezing it. With a slimmer waist line though, I have found that this just doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue for me any more. And of course, while I can’t tell any difference yet, I am glad that the shoulder straps and load lifters are now attached to the frame itself, and that the hip belt is now integrated with the frame. Not to mention that I now have the option of changing out hip belts if I ever need too again!
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some things about this backpack that I am not super excited about too, although, these things are not necessarily deal breakers… For one, I wish the pack body was all the same color. This was the reason I chose black the first time I ordered it. When I first saw the green color gridstop at the ATKO this year, I really, really liked it, but I also really wanted a backpack that was all the same color (at least the body – I rather like that the side pockets are black). As it turned out though (or, with my wife’s help) I ended up with the green backpack anyway, and I admit that I am pretty happy about it. Another hang up is that I do not care for hydration ports, and wish that my pack didn’t have one. For me, it’s just unnecessary extra material, which is unnecessary extra weight, but even more so, it’s just a big unnecessary hole in the back of my backpack. Sure, I can tape it up from the inside, but that’s not what I want to do either… I would prefer a back panel with no holes in it whatsoever, just solid. Unfortunately, both of these hang ups qualify as customizations, which Zpacks no longer does anymore. Despite these things though, (and more importantly) this pack fits me well, and overall is what I want in a backpack. This is ultimately why I chose to stay with the Arc line of backpacks from Zpacks for my new backpack.
At this point, I am (obviously) pretty excited about my new Arc Haul backpack. The sad thing is, it will be several months before I get to take it out on its first real journey… like around Thanksgiving time! I have a hike coming up in a few weeks, but it will be way to hot for me to need such a large pack… After that, it will likely be Thanksgiving before I am able to get out for another hike… (I know, it’s sad…) Besides this though, I am pretty confident/excited about using this backpack on my JMT hike next year, and while #icantbelieveitsnotcubenfiber, I’ll admit that it is a little nice knowing that this is just a tougher, more durable backpack… Now if I could just get a smaller Arc Blast… lol!
So, until I actually get some use in with this pack, thanks for stopping by!
Disclaimer: I paid for this pack with my own money, however, I did get a 14% discount off the total price. I am not sponsored by, nor affiliated with Zpacks in any way, other than the fact that I have bought and used a lot of their gear in the last 6+ years. I am not obligated to share my thoughts on this pack, or advertise this pack in any way. I published this post because I wanted to share this information, and my opinions of this pack. Again, I am not being paid in any way for publishing this article.
*For more information about the “gridstop” material, check out the “materials” page on the Zpacks website.