Vargo Ti-Arc Pack

1 review
5-star:   0
4-star:   1
3-star:   0
2-star:   0
1-star:   0

Specs

Weight 2 lb 13 oz / 1.28 kg
Volume 36 L / 2,196 cu in
Maximum load capacity 30 lb
Fits torso lengths 20-24 in
Minimum waist size 30 in

Reviews

15

The external frame pack is back! The Ti-Arc is a first…

Rating: rated 4.5 of 5 stars
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps (Sample provided by Vargo for testing and review)

Summary

The external frame pack is back! The Ti-Arc is a first generation backpack from the company that brings us all things titanium. As an initial foray into pack design, the Ti-Arc is a solid first step, merging the best aspects of external and internal frames.

The design is innovative. The comfort is phenomenal. Vargo still has a few kinks to straighten out in the design. However, the Ti-Arc has decisively brought the external frame pack back out of obscurity. This is the pack I want with me on the trail!

Pros

  • One of the lightest external frame Ppacks on the market
  • Quality construction, durable materials
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Fits well
  • Pack rides where it is suppose to
  • Airflow keeps your back cool
  • Clever design negates the top-heavy nature of External Frame Packs

Cons

  • Only 36 liters of internal storage
  • Odd, inefficient top
  • Design prevents use of rain cover
  • Can snag on low hanging vines
  • Needs more straps or more loops to add straps
  • Belt designed for wider-girthed hikers
  • Small front-loading opening
  • Price

Preface: I spend a good portion of this review suggesting areas of improvement. But if I were setting out on the Appalachian Trail today, this is the pack I would be carrying. Yes, it weighs a pound more than my UL internal frame pack, but that is a reasonable tradeoff for the comfort and stability it provides.

The greatest “con” to this pack is I'm not sure I can go back to using another one, knowing how good this one feels.


Testing Conditions

I spent six days hiking 85 miles of the River-to-River Trail in Shawnee National Forest. The Shawnee hills provide continuous elevation change similar to hikes in the Appalachian Mountains (although elevation is, overall, lower). I hiked roughly15-17 miles, most days.

The trail presented scores of stream crossings and climbs over fallen trees. Often times a good “jump” was needed to get across obstacles. Footing ranged from gravel roads to rocky ascents to muddy horse tracks. I set out with a pack weight of 25lbs 3oz, including all consumables.

The Reviewer

I am a 46yo male, standing 6'2” with a 34” waist. Arthritis in both my knees has forced me towards a “Light” (but not a true “Ultra Light”) approach. I have found a baseweight of 13-15lbs keeps me comfortable both on the trail and in the campsite.


Vargo-Ti-Arc-1-.jpg

An UltraLight Pack?

The first argument any ultralightest is going to make is that 2lbs 13oz is on the heavy side for a pack claiming to be “ultralight.” Add to this the fact that Vargo gets to that weight by reducing overall capacity to 36 liters. The Ti-Arc holds to the “old school” mindset that people still want to strap their rolled up sleeping bag to the bottom of the pack.

For my own usage, I had to grab a large compression sack, thread the straps through the frame, and carry my tarp and hammock here. The compression sack weighs in at 6.2oz. So in actuality, my pack weighed 3lbs 3.2oz (versus my 60 liter internal frame pack at 1lb 13oz.)

  • Suggestion #1: Forget about marketing this as UL. Increase the body of the pack to the full length of the frame to increase volume (also makes side pockets deeper). If that is too much of a design change, at least add integrated compression straps to the bottom of the pack so that any stuff sack can be strapped here.


Vargo-Ti-Arc-2-.jpg

Construction & Durability

A second, positive reason this isn't an UL pack is that the materials are too durable. Ultralightests know they sacrifice longevity in the name of saving weight. The Ti-Arc relies on 70 denier ripstop nylon for the bag. This is both light and durable. I never worried about the need to baby this pack to keep from damaging it.

Comfort, Fit & Ride

This is where the Ti-Arc blows away anything else I have ever used. I will gladly sacrifice a full pound from my internal frame pack for the comfort of the Ti-Arc. UL hiking is about feeling comfortable and fresh at the end of the day. The Ti-Arc provided this. There was never a time when I groaned as I put it on. My shoulders and back were never stiff or sore during my six days on the trail.

  • The mesh backing on the frame allowed air to circulate across my back, keeping me from becoming hot and sweaty.

  • The adjustable lumbar support was worth every ounce of weight it adds to the pack. This feature alone was the best selling point of the Ti-Arc!

    Vargo-Frame.jpg

  • The titanium frame supported the entire pack to keep it from sagging on my shoulders. This allowed the pack to move with me, rather than push or pull me on hills.
  • External frame packs are known for being top heavy. However, the Ti-Arc was simply perfect. I did not need to lean back on descents or lean forward on ascents in order to maintain my center of gravity. Vargo accomplishes this with a unique approach to attaching the bag to the frame.


    Vargo-top-5-.jpg


    Vargo-top-6-.jpg


    Vargo-top-8-.jpg

  • One “con” on fit is that I nearly bottomed-out the belt with my 34” waist. Vargo's website says this will fit someone down to a 30” waist, but I am a bit skeptical of that claim. Were I to be dropping pounds on the AT, I would be concerned about becoming too skinny for this belt.

  • Suggestion 2: Since the belt is easily removable, offer an optional, smaller belt.

 

Capacity

I've already mention that 36 liters is a bit sparse for the long trail. My first concern was could I really pack a week's worth of gear into this unit? I decided to over-test it, by not only packing what I planned to carry during my 6-day trip, but by adding everything I would take on a six-month trek on the Appalachian Trail.

Here is everything, I would intend to take with me, including a 10-day supply of food for the One Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine.
Vargo-Ti-Arc-1.jpg

And here is what it looks like packed into the Ti-Arc:
Vargo-Ti-Arc-2.jpg

Success! Additionally, I discovered that during my 6-day trek I became more efficient at packing and repacking this unit. By the third day of the trip, I was questioning if I even need the compression sack attached to the bottom—but that was with my food bag half empty.

I listed as a “con” that the front-loading, zippered opening is a bit small. After a couple of days I was no longer noticing this. It may be that I just prefer a top loading pack, where it is easier to stuff things in.

  • Suggestion 3: Make the pack top loading, with a roll top and drawn string (Maybe that's an entirely different model in the Vargo line of packs!).

 

Quirks in the Top Design

The entire top of the pack strikes me as inefficient. As shown previously, the bag slides onto the frame, which is quite clever. But the prongs extend so far above the bag they create two problems.

  1. At one point I snagged on a low hanging vine. This jerked me to an abrupt halt and required a bit of gymnastics to get myself free.

  2. I was unwilling to carry a rain cover, as I believe the prongs would tear a hole in it.

Instead of carrying a rain cover, I simply used a trash compactor bag inside the pack to keep gear dry, but that highlights more of the problems with the top...

Notice the recessed top of the bag. This frustrated me as wasted potential storage space.


Vargo-top-9-.jpg

But in rain, this recessed area simply became a water catch. This insured water would slowly seep into the pack instead of shedding it. A hiking partner sarcastically told me to put a pan inside the top of the pack, and I would have a new style of water filter.


Vargo-Ti-Arc-3-.jpg

I tried to find some use for this top area. However, tie-off points are lacking. One attempt was to place my camp shoes on top and stretch the bungee net over them. However, I found that I maxed out the cord in this attempt. So much so, I was unwilling to put my rain coat under it for fear of snapping it.


Vargo-Ti-Arc-4.jpg

  • Suggestion 4: Shorten the prongs as much as functionally possible to reduce snagging.
  • Suggestion 5: Include a grommetted rain cover that will slide over the prongs
  • Suggestion 6: Either get rid of the recessed area and add volume to internal storage, OR...
  • Suggestion 7: Add a second bungee net to the top of the pack to shove in rain gear, and etc, OR...
  • Suggestion 8: Add a few grosgrain loops to the top of the pack, along the “arc” suspension bar to tie items down

 

Price

Titanium is not cheap. At $300, the Ti-Arc is not the most expensive pack on the market, but it is the most expensive external frame pack I know of, with half the carrying capacity of many packs. My thought is many shoppers will compare a ratio of “cost of pack TO weight saved TO carrying capacity” and look past this pack. I feel that's a shame! Vargo is going to have to aggressively market this pack to overcome that ratio, and that marketing needs to focus on the comfort of the Ti-Arc.

  • Suggestion 9: Sponsor a 46yo, fairly handsome guy with arthritis in his knees to hike long trails and be the spokesman for the comfort of the Ti-Arc. He will gladly quit his day job to do this.

 

Bottom Line

While not a true ultralight pack, the Ti-Arc definitely falls into the category of “light.” It is also the most comfortable pack I have ever used. I expect future versions of the Ti-Arc to continue to improve on the initial design. In its current version, the Ti-Arc is well worth taking on the trail.

It is simply the best pack I have ever used!

pillowthread

Vargo is doing good things; I'm glad to see them pushing the envelope...


4 months ago
Joseph Renow

I have been looking forward to this review...Great job Goose!


4 months ago
Bentbrook

Very informative review, G00SE. I will look forward to watching the product development on this.


4 months ago
Alicia TRAILSPACE STAFF

I've been very curious about this ti external frame too. Vargo tends to be a forward-thinking company. Thanks for testing this out, G00SE.


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

My PLEASURE, Alicia.


4 months ago
Daniel Oates

Hmm, it's true that you really don't hear much about external frame packs anymore. Great suggestions, the addition really helps the review and will be something that Vargo should take to heart. Seems like some die-hard external frame fans will be enjoying this! Thumbs up G00SE!


4 months ago
soleful2001

Love your review. I have to admit when I saw this pack a couple months ago I was excited to see how it would be reviewed.



For what it's worth, I was put off by the price more than anything else.
I also found your suggestions to be spot on for this new product.


4 months ago
Ashleigh MODERATOR

This is a really great reivew, Goose. I've been very interested to see this reviewed for quite some time now. I am glad to see that Vargo is bringing the external frame pack back for those who prefer them.


4 months ago
pillowthread

Even better than a roll top, in my opinion, would be an optional lid...in this way one can separate wet/dirty stuff, while still keeping out water...


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

I thought about that. Lids add weight. So I steered clear of that suggestion. Vargo could keep the exact same frame and offer a variety of bags to slip onto it. I could see a bigger/longer bag for winter, shorter bag for summer. Roll top, lid top. So many options. I heard somewhere about a possible cuben fiber bag. A person could conceivably keep the frame for the rest of his life and just switch bags.


4 months ago
Barbara Matthews

Thanks so much for this in depth review Goose! I have been waiting to hear about this pack in use since I first saw the ads for it. I contacted them about where and how you could attach a bear can for my JMT hike and they posted up an example photo with it strapped to the bottom. I am curious if you think that would be a viable option? I considered it seriously as my AT thru hike pack for next year but the it was just a little too small and I was concerned about the curved recessed top in the rain. You addressed my concerns in this review, I hope Vargo is listening to your suggestions. I think they have a great thing going here, just a few adjustments needed.


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Barbara, you could strap the bear can there. But I'm not sure you could get the rest of your gear into the bag. If I were heading out on my thru-hike today, this is the pack I would grab over any pack I have ever used in my life. BTW, the compression sack at the bottom had plenty of room left in it. So I could have added quite a bit more to what I was carrying.


4 months ago
Seth Levy TRAILSPACE STAFF

I've been waiting to read this for a while. Great review G00SE!


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Good to know. Thanks, Brentbrook!


4 months ago
Donna

Hi Goose thanks for great review. I'm curious to know whether you have used other external frame packs in the past, or whether you are only comparing this with internal frame packs (in terms of comfort). thanks Donna


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Hi Donna. Yes! Growing up in Boy Scouts, everything was external frame. Personally, I find EF to be more comfortable--cooler, no sagging, etc. Before switching to internal frames to shave weight, I was primarily using a Mountainsmith Master External Frame Pack (no longer made). Comparing the two, I liked the greater volume of the Master and Mountainsmith had a heavy-duty mesh net at the bottom to hold gear (similar to the MS Scout: http://www.trailspace.com/gear/mountainsmith/youth-scout/ ). The Ti-arc is half the weight of the Master. It's smaller size rides better. The lumbar support is fantastic. In fact, the lumbar support is what makes this pack superior to anything else I have carried, internal or external.


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

@Donna, I just looked at your profile and saw you are using a Kelty Trekker. Very similar to the Moutainsmith Master. You'll be sacrificing volume with the Ti-Arc, but gaining that lovely lumbar support.


4 months ago
Donna

Thank you Goose! I think I might wait until they come out with something bigger volume and I also quite like to carry the weight up highish seems to work better for me. It's exciting though to see innovations in external frame packs. So many people think they are just old fashioned and don't realize they have definite advantages!


4 months ago
Bill "L.Dog" Garlinghouse

Thanks Goose. I might have to give this a try. I note my ULA Ohm 2 internal compartment is 34 L, and up to 42 with the collar stuffed. It's pretty much perfect for me on the AT with my summer load and 5 days of food. For shoulder seasons, and up to 8 days of food (100 mi Wilderness), I used my Circuit which has up to 46L in the internal compartment with collar extended. I'm guessing a 13L S2S dry sack (8.5 dia x 21 inches) would fit nicely under the pack? That effectively gives one 49L. And when you get to that AT shelter, you can get to your sleeping bag without emptying your pack! Besides, external-framed packs are retro-groovy!


4 months ago
Bill "L.Dog" Garlinghouse

Oh, and that 100 mile wilderness load? Pretty uncomfortable till I ate a few days worth of food. Lightweight internals like the ULAs are comfy within their load specs. My Ohm 2 is sweet at 25 lbs. But anything over 30 lbs, and the weight just is not being shifted to, or supported by the hip belt. Will the Tri-Arc comfortably handle 35 - 40 lbs?


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Bill, the Ti Arc is rated up to 30lbs. I didn't load it past 25lbs.


4 months ago
Bill "L.Dog" Garlinghouse

Sounds like you made an impact! I replied to the Trailspace tweet on this review, saying "I echo Goose's rec to make a roll-top pack for your Titanium Tri-Arc frame. I'd buy it today!" They replied "You got it! Fortunately the Ti-Arc frame allows for lots of different bag modifications." https://twitter.com/VargoOutdoors/status/465858672921288704


4 months ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Yeah, there is a lot they can do with that frame! I'd love to see them extend the bag into a full 50-60L and ditch the bottom strap area.


4 months ago
Bill "L.Dog" Garlinghouse

Yo Goose! SectionHiker reported on the Tri-Arc at the OR Trade Show and reported "An updated model with a cuben fiber packbag is in the works." http://sectionhiker.com/outdoor-retailer-summer-2014-trade-show-gear-orgy/


18 days ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Woo Hoo! I'd be all for testing that!


18 days ago
Bill "L.Dog" Garlinghouse

Ok, I saw a pic, and am disappointed in that it's not a roll-top ... http://www.carryology.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ORSM14005.jpg


13 days ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Yeah, it's identical to the unit I tested, only in Cuben. However, design roll outs take time. I bet this version was nearly ready for when I posted this review in May. It wouldn't surprise me to see design changes in the years to come.


13 days ago
G00SE MODERATOR

I'll add I was out with this thing again last weekend. Again, I kept thinking, "I could cut 2lbs off my pack weight going with my internal frame UL pack, but it's just TOO COMFORTABLE not to carry it." I do wish I had another 10-15L of volume in the main compartment.


13 days ago
Donna

Goose hi again, it looks from your photos like the shoulder straps join the frame onto the same horizontal level/bar as the load lifter straps? Would that be right? I think one of the things that makes external frame packs more comfy for me carrying a heavy load (and 35lbs is heavy for me!) is that the load lifter straps are usually a lot higher attached than the main shoulder straps, so I don't get the downward pull on the tops of my trapezius muscles which aggravates my damaged lower cervical spine. I have never found an internal frame pack that does this. (- the shoulder straps on my Kelty mostly function to pull/balance the pack to my back and any pressure I feel is across the chest strap and in the front of the shoulders, but it's pretty minimal - it really transfers almost 100% of the load to my pelvis!) Am I seeing it right? Thanks, so glad you are still enjoying the pack!


5 days ago
G00SE MODERATOR

Donna, the load lifters are attached to the frame. The shoulder straps are sewn on that mesh panel in the 3rd picture. That panel is adjustable. Keep in mind, I'm 6'2", and I maxed out this size frame. A smaller individual is going to adjust it so the shoulder straps are lower. Even in my rig, the weight is on my hips, not my shoulders.


4 days ago
Donna

Oh that explains it well. Thanks Goose.


3 days ago

Where to Buy

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Manufacturer's Description

Finally, the next step in external frame backpack evolution—an ultralight pack with traditional external frame support. The Vargo Ti-Arc and Ti-Arc CF ultralight external frame backpacks combine the best features of internal and external frames for an unparalleled support-to-weight ratio of any pack.

At its core is a formfitting titanium alloy frame with an ergonomically designed lumber plate to provide excellent load transfer to the hips and sag-free comfort. A streamlined 36 L “Arc” bag in either ripstop nylon or cuben fiber (CF models) holds plenty of gear while leaving room for attaching bulky items to the frame. Ventilated mesh shoulder harness is fully adjustable for various torso lengths and dialing in fit. Additional pockets and options allow for greater organization and carry.

Features

  • Titanium alloy external frame
  • Ergonomic lumbar support plate
  • Streamlined "Arc" suspension bar
  • Adjustable mesh shoulder harness
  • External pockets
  • Elastic compression straps
  • Hip belt pockets
  • Water bottle pockets

Visit Vargo's Ti-Arc Pack page.

Retailers' Descriptions

Here's what other sites are saying:

The Vargo TI-ARC Backpack is the next step in external frame backpack evolution, an ultralight pack with traditional external frame support. It combines the best features of internal and external frames for an unparalleled support-to-weight ratio of any pack. The form-fitting titanium alloy frame with ergonomically designed lumber plate provides excellent load transfer to the hip and sag-free comfort.

- CampSaver.com