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Zpacks Arc Blast

photo: Zpacks Arc Blast weekend pack (50-69l)

Specs

Price MSRP: $325.00
Reviewers Paid: $279.00
Weight 20.2 oz / 573 g

Reviews

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

This is a great UL pack that is smartly designed, comfortable within its load limits, customizable, and about as light as you will find in a framed midsized backpack. Cuben and carbon fiber construction keep the weight at around one pound.

Pros

  • Ultra lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • Comfortable
  • Arc frame creates an open gap for airflow across your back
  • Customizable

Cons

  • None really — it isn't designed to be a load-hauler, so don't expect it to be able to
  • Likewise, it isn't designed to be the most durable, but still is plenty durable for a thru-hike
  • It isn't a cushy, padded ride, but again it isn't designed to be

This is a review of the Zpacks Arc Blast backpack. I purchased one in late Spring 2014 and have had the opportunity to put a couple hundred miles on it by now. I am not associated with Zpacks in any way.

This is probably the lightest framed mid-size backpack on the planet, thanks to the use of cuben fabric, carbon frame rods, and minimalist design. The 52L model, which is what I have, specs at only 16.5 ounces. It easily holds a full-sized bear canister along with all my gear. Load capacity is stated at up to 30 pounds, and I found this to be accurate when carrying up to about 28 lbs and started to feel the comfort decline. The pack could haul more than that but comfort will suffer.

The pack fabric is a cuben hybrid, which is a layer of cuben on the inside for tear strength bonded to a thin 50d polyester outer layer that protects from abrasion and provides color and opacity. Currently the pack is offered in six colors – orange, blue, gray, green, black, and camo.

Because of its use of cuben fabric and UL construction, this pack is not going to be the most durable, but Zpacks states that it should last for at least one long thru-hike (AT/PCT/etc).

Rather than coming in S/M/L torso sizes, the Arc Blast is custom-made to fit you. Their website has instructions how you should measure yourself, and the torso will be sized to you, in one-inch increments. Manufacturing can take 2-6 weeks, depending how busy they are, so if you want one for a specific trip be sure to plan ahead.

The Arc Blast has fully taped seams and a roll-top closure, so the pack is waterproof. This further saves weight by eliminating the need for a liner or pack cover, though certainly continue to use one if that makes you more comfortable. FWIW I've been caught in a couple of steady rains without any liner or cover and the inside of the pack stayed completely dry.

The pack's frame is made from four feather-light carbon fiber rods, two placed vertically for support and weight transfer and two horizontally for stability and better structure. The rods are held in place by "sleeves" that they fit into, so they can be taken out if you prefer. Overall the pack does a decent job of transferring weight to the hip belt.

A distinguishing feature of this pack is the "arc" that gives it its name – the carbon rods can be flexed to form an arc that leaves an air gap across your back. I happen to love this feature, though I recognize that some people do not want their pack pulled away from their body.

You can adjust how much flex you want, including having none at all, but keep in mind that the pack was designed to be optimally comfortable with a flexed arc setup. To me it carries extremely well — airflow through the arc gap means no more "sweaty back", and the load still holds an overall tight center of gravity.

Padding on the Arc Blast is decent, somewhat thin and dense foam is inside the shoulder straps and inside the hip belt. The shoulder straps and hip belt are stitched with daisy-chain loops for attaching accessories. The sternum strap buckle does not include a signal whistle.

The standard configuration includes two side pockets made of cuben fiber with angled openings and elastic at the top, and one large mesh front pocket. Zpacks is glad to change this configuration and materials if you want. I have found the side pockets to be fairly easy for taking out and, more to the point, putting back a water bottle while wearing the pack. The pack does not come with hip belt pockets, though these can be purchased separately. Nor does it come with any inside storage pocket, though again Zpacks will add one to your specs if you like.

EDIT: I want to add that, while I found the pack to be waterproof, the Zpacks hip belt pockets are only water resistant. I think it is because the zippers (which are listed as "waterproof" zippers BTW) face straight up/skyward, allowing the rain fall directly on them. In steady rain the insides of my belt pockets got a little wet, definitely not soaked. I had my camera in there and it was fine, but after the first time this happened I now also carry a little ziploc bag in there as well, so when it rains I put the camera inside the zip bag and then I am confident that is safe inside the belt pocket.

The pack also includes a top strap and a pair of bottom straps for lashing on something like a sleeping pad. The sides of the pack are zigzagged with thin (approx 2mm) cord to provide compression and help hold tall or loose items on the sides. You can add similar cord to the back for more load control, though I have not found it necessary.

As configured the 52L option is $279, also available is a "slim" 45L model ($275) and a wider 60L ($289). All three pack bodies are the same height, it is variations in the front-to-back depth that provides the different capacities. There also is a zippered model in 3 different sizes that opens like a panel loader, if that is your preference.

I modded mine a bit, opting to not have a hydration tube port and adding hip belt pockets, lumbar pad, and load lifters. I chose a pair of the Zpacks hip belt pockets (0.75 oz each, $22 for one or $42 for a pair). These pockets are huge, about one full liter per pocket. I load them up with all the little ditty stuff that would have gone into little pockets or sacks on the inside of my pack, now they are at my fingertips – camera, PLB, first-aid, snacks, pencil and paper, headlamp, head net, etc.

They do bulge out when stuffed full like that, but I have found that having everything at my fingertips, without having to take off the pack, is well worth it. I do keep the pockets clipped as far to the front of the hip belt as possible so that they aren't in the way of my swinging arms.

All in all this is a great UL pack that is smartly designed, comfortable within its load limits, customizable, and about as light as you will find in a framed midsized backpack.


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Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $279 before options

Alicia MacLeay TRAILSPACE STAFF

Thanks for sharing this very helpful review of your Arc Blast, JRinGeorgia.


6 years ago
JRinGeorgia

Thanks Alicia, glad to share my thoughts. I was surprised no one else had yet written about this pack. It was featured in Backpacker Magazine (Jan 2015) in a brief section on UL equipment. Hope others benefit from the write-up, and in particular would be glad to see additional reviews/commentary.


6 years ago
Alicia MacLeay TRAILSPACE STAFF

Thanks for taking the initiative, JR!


6 years ago
Ashleigh RETAILER

Thanks for the helpful review, JR! I am sure you have made all of the ultralighters on here drool! What types of hikes do you use it for? Overnighters, weeklongers? Have you had any durability issues yourself? How long have you had it? Sorry for all the questions, I am really interested because I've never seen a pack that large that is so light. Thanks for including the picture! Is there any chance that you could add one of the hip belt, shoulder straps, and arc?


6 years ago
Bill "L.Dog" Garlinghouse

Great review! I saw several of these on the AT last year. It's taken all my willpower not to push the button to use on a 2 month AT section this year!


6 years ago
DonP

Hey JRinGerogia! Great review and I've got the 60L version and love it. I'd review it, but the only differences in the packs is exactly like you said. The size. the base configuration is the same. On mine, I also got the lumbar pad and load lifter straps, but I did not get the hip belt pockets, opting for the lid/chest pack and upper mesh pockets. I would highly recommend these as they add a good deal of storage. The best part of the pack is that it's waterproof. If what's on the outside can get wet, you don't need any form of pack cover. For those who are interested there are reviews about these packs on Chad Poindexter and Will Wood's YouTube channels and Chad reviews the 60L on STick's Blog as well. Will used his 52L for a thru of the AT this past year.


6 years ago
JRinGeorgia

Thanks Alicia, Ashleigh, L.Dog and Don, glad you found the review helpful. I have posted more pics in order to show the shoulder straps and hip belt more clearly and also the "arc" across the back. As for the types of trips I take, it's a combination of mostly 1-3 nighters here in the Southeast along with at least one big trip out West each summer up to 9 days. Been trying to work in a medium-long trip during Thanksgiving or winter break as well to somewhere like Big Bend, Joshua Tree, etc. My daughter is now at an age where we can do some serious backpacking together so taking her to Yosemite this coming summer for 7 days and hoping to do more trips with her along the AT, up to GSMNP, etc.


6 years ago
Ashleigh RETAILER

Thanks so much for the update, JR. Now I really get a good feel for the pack. Considering it only weighs 1 lb, the hip belt and shoulder pads don't look too bad! I hope you and your daughter have a great time in Yosemite. It is amazing there!


6 years ago
JRinGeorgia

Oh I know, we've been before (and I've BP'd before). Going to take her from TM down to Waterwheel Falls and back, then through Cathedral to Sunrise to top of Clouds Rest and Half Dome.


6 years ago
Alicia MacLeay TRAILSPACE STAFF

Thanks for the update, JR.


6 years ago
denis daly

So I have to say this is the Best review I have seen on this pack..I have some questions tho.1) Do you have any wear around the shoulder straps? 2) How are the shoulder straps any give or wear? 3) You say you have had this at 28 pounds and think 30 is the max how many miles? 4) Are you having any abrasion issues with the exterior of the pack? Thanks JR it is the best review I have seen written and the pic's are really good thanks for adding those...


6 years ago
JRinGeorgia

Thanks Denis, glad you found the review helpful. I have not experienced any wea



So I have to say this is the Best review I have seen on this pack..I have some questions tho.1) Do you have any wear around the shoulder straps? 2) How are the shoulder straps any give or wear? 3) You say you have had this at 28 pounds and think 30 is the max how many miles? 4) Are you having any abrasion issues with the exterior of the pack? Thanks JR it is the best review I have seen written and the pic's are really good thanks for adding those...


6 years ago
JRinGeorgia

Ugh...I cut and pasted your response so that I could reply to your various questions, hit "enter" accidentally, and thus the above post. I was going to say that I have not yet experienced any wear on the pack fabric, so shoulder straps, pack bottom, etc all are in excellent shape. Only wear I have experienced is the large front mesh pocket has gotten a couple of minor snags, not affecting performance at all. I do tend to be careful with my gear, I don't feel I'm "babying" it just my general approach with all gear. And I don't do a ton of scrambling that would heavily abrade the pack, so it's holding up well. I couldn't tell you how long the pack will last under heavier loads, my typical carry is under 20 lb with consumables and I only carried up to about 28 lb when I was starting a trip so was heavy on food and also had a dry camp so was heavy on water. I could feel the comfort starting to compromise but don't have a sense of how long the pack would actually hold up when used like that. I have heard reports that the stitching where the shoulder straps attach to the pack at the top can start to pull away under continued heavy loads, if that helps.


6 years ago
denis daly

Jr thanks for being candid.Yes I have seen and heard just that.This is a UL pack. The max I believe in my opinion and others is this is a wish...The 20 is true load out for this pack and like you have heard the shoulder straps are the give out on the pack..That's why I focused on them..


6 years ago

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