Zpack Arc Haul Review – Ultralight Backpack | Average Hiker
Zpack Arc Haul Review
After a few trips, it is time to do a Zpacks Arc Haul Review. This is a solid, comfortable ultra-light backpack that is a great addition to the “Ellie has too much gear” club. I'm always feeding the addiction, and this backpack is one of the newer members of the group.
Earlier this year I did a post on Choosing A Backpack. The post took readers through my thought process around choosing a new backpack, along with my shortlist. The Arc Haul was the overall winner, and it has performed well.
My Backpack Requirements
My backpack requirements for long distance hiking have not changed much over the last few years.
- Light Weight – Light weight is important on long distance hikes. The days are long, so to combat fatigue I keep my backpack light. I want to keep the pack’s weight itself @ less than 2 pounds.
- Durability – There is not a trail where my backpack has not fallen down a mountain. Luckily, the pack has rarely been on me at the time. On the CDT I even had my Osprey run over by a truck. The ability to hold up to rough conditions is important to me.
- Size – I want my pack to be between 55L – 65L, preferably closer to the high end. I usually go into town about every 3-5 days, but I carry a warmer sleeping bag or quilt and cook on my hikes. I need a little more volume.
- Water Resistant – I don’t use a pack cover anymore. The contents of my pack are in waterproof stuff sacks and a compactor bag. It is nice to have a pack that at least repels rain and dries quickly.
- Mesh Pouch – Having a large mesh pocket on the exterior of my pack is important. I carry my tarp-tent in this pocket, and also use it to hold wet gear.
- Frame – Because there may be times where I carry 25 lbs or more, due to large amounts of water, I want a pack with a frame. Carrying 25+ lbs on just my shoulders for 10 hours or more is not comfortable.
- Water Bottle Pockets – I need a water bottle pocket on each side of the pack since I no longer use a hydration bladder and sleeve.
Zpack Arc Haul Review – Quick Specifications
- Pack: 22.6 ounces
- Pack with add-ons: 24.6 ounces
- Fit: Small Backpack & Belt
- Frame Height: Short 19″ (48.3 cm), Medium 21.5″ (54.6 cm), Tall 24″ (61 cm)
- Body dimensions: 8″ x 12.5″ x 30″ (20 cm x 31.8 cm x 76 cm)
- Volume: 62L (49L main body, 2.5L each side pocket, 8L center pocket)
- Price: $299
- Roll-top Closure Snaps: 1 ounce
- Shoulder Pouch: 1 ounce
- 4.85 oz/sqyd Gridstop Fabric
- .3.5 oz/sqyd Mesh – Used on back pocket
- 5.3 oz/sqyd 3D Spacer Mesh – between back & frame for ventilation
Zpacks Arc Haul Review – First Glance
The Arc Haul Backpack was set up well straight out of the box. All straps were in place, the mesh panel was centered, etc. The backpack was ready to load up and go!
As I turned the pack over and admired it, I appreciated the workmanship. Stitching was tight and even, all straps were nice and long in case I needed a little extra, and the taping on the inside of the pack over the seams was even and well placed. They had done a nice job constructing the backpack.
Zpack Arc Haul Review- Components
The Zpack Arc Haul frame is one of the components that sets this backpack apart from it's competitors. The frame is comprised of three metal bars that run horizontally across the backpack and connect to two carbon stays (poles) that run down the side of the pack. A large mesh panel is connected to the corners of the bars and poles with straps.
When the mesh panel straps are tightened, they pull the two carbon poles on the sides into an arc, which you can see in the picture above. This results in a gap between the mesh panel and the backpack. The mesh panel rests against your back and allows air to flow between the users back and the back pack.
I found the arched back comfortable when hiking on trail. The gap definitely kept my back cooler and the mesh panel rested comfortably against my back.
Before adjusting the pack, watch the Zpacks adjustment and fit video. I did not find the backpack difficult to adjust after watching the video, and was quickly able to fit the backpack and adjust the arch.
Backpack Torso Adjustment System
The Zpack Arc Haul's torso height adjustment system make it unique in it's category. This patented system make it easy to adjust for your specific torso length, which offers flexibility, and a specific fit not often found in other backpacks.
The shoulder straps are “S” shaped and have an adequate amount of padding, similar to some of my other packs like the ULA Ohm. They are also attached to the backpack frame and adjustable for your requirements.
The straps are where I struggled. As a female, my shoulders are a little more narrow than some men's. My Ohm's straps are also “S” shaped, but they have more of a curve. I found the Arc Haul's straps too wide and tried to use the sternum strap to pull them in tighter. This made the straps uncomfortable for me, and after a few hours my shoulders became sore if I was carrying a lot of weight.
The Zpack Arc Haul hip belt has V-Style webbing that allows you to adjust the top and bottom of the belt. The hip belt can also be removed if you lose or gain weight. I found the hip belt comfortable and appreciate the flexibility of this component of the backpack.
The side pockets are made of the same material as the backpack, and have elastic around the top to hold water bottles tight. The pockets were a little too small and shallow for me. They were tall enough, but too tight, and my bottles would pop out when I was climbing or scrambling. The bottles were also yanked out by a couple of snags.
It is also tough to get the bottles into and out of the pockets when you are wearing the pack. If there is anything else in the pockets then you better have tiny water bottles. Loosing water bottles is not good in a dry environment, especially if you don't hear them fall!
Zpack Arc Haul Review – Materials
The backpack fabric is made of 4.85 oz/sqyd Gridstop Fabric. This HDPE fabric is durable and holds up well in off trail hiking. I've used the backpack during some bush wacking and have had no tears or abrasions.
The inside of the pack has polyurethane coating and the seams are well taped. This makes the pack highly water resistant, but I still use a compactor bag for my quilt and clothing.
The pockets are made from the same exterior fabric, instead of mesh. I prefer this for off trail backpacking. It's no fun to realize an hour later that your water bottle is gone.
The large mesh pocket on the back of the panel is made of .3.5 oz/sqyd mesh. At first glance I thought it seemed a little flimsy, but in some pretty tough off trail conditions this mesh has held up well. It has yet to get any tears or snags.
This same mesh is used on the front of the shoulder pouch where I keep my Garmin InReach Mini. This particular sleeve is perfect for the little GPS device. Keep in mind that their is an extra charge for their pockets and pouches.
Zpack Arc Haul Review – Additional Components
The Arc Haul provides additional standard components that further support the flexibility theme of the pack. Daisy chains on both the shoulder straps and hip belt allow you to adjust straps (sternum) or add pouches and pockets.
Side compression straps and a long top strap make it easy to adjust the Arc Haul for larger or smaller capacity hauls. This and the long top sleeve will allow you to carry a bear canister if needed. The long top sleeve and straps on the bottom of the pack also allow you to increase the size of your carrying capacity by strapping on items if needed.
Zpack Arc Haul Review – Add-Ons
I have two add-on components for my Zpack Arc Haul. One of these is the shoulder pouch above. What I really like about the shoulder pouch is the small mesh sleeve on the front of it. It is PERFECT for my Garmin InReach Mini. The mesh sleeve is tight and holds the GPS unit snug when I'm scrambling or bush wacking.
What I don't like about the shoulder pouch is that it is a cinch sack and not water proof. This means I cannot keep my phone in it when it is raining. It is also not deep enough for my iphone, and I have one of the smaller phones.
There is another picture above of the ULA shoulder pouch. This pouch is waterproof and the perfect size for my iphone. The only issue is that there is no place for the InReach Mini. If I could merge both pouches, I would have the perfect shoulder pouch!
The other component is the roll-top closure straps which you can see on the side of the pack in the picture above. These are a must have for me on all my roll-top packs, and I was surprised they were not standard on a pack with such a long top sleeve, especially at the price point.
Zpack Arc Haul Review – Final Thoughts
The Zpack Arc Haul Backpack has a lot of positive attributes. There are some things I would tweak, but as long as I keep my weight light it is a comfortable and versatile backpack.
I have an upcoming Colorado Trail hike in August. My plan right now is to take the Arc Haul with me. There is another hike for the end of the year that will require large water carries, and for this hike I will need to carry more weight, so I will probably carry my ULA Ohm.
- The Zpack Arc Haul backpack is a very comfortable backpack when hiking on established trail. It definitely keeps me cooler and is comfortable against my back.
- The pack offers a lot of flexibility in my ability to adjust for my load size. I can cinch it tighter or expand for heavier carries.
- The pack is made of quality materials, and it is a well made pack. The materials are durable, and it is highly water resistant.
- The Shoulder straps are too far apart for my shoulders. Although the straps are S shaped, the tops of the straps do not curve in enough and my shoulders become sore if I'm carrying a lot of weight.
- I keep the weight at 25 pounds or less with this backpack. Anything more and the backpack is uncomfortable. Zpacks states it will carry up to 40 pounds, and I believe it will, just not comfortably on me.
- The side pockets are a little shallow and tight. It would be nice to have them a little looser, especially since the bottom of the pack pushes out to the sides more than some others I have used.
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