Greetings Hikers, Runners, Alpinists, Adventure Racers, And Other Outdoor Fans!
Does your list-wish for a backpack include an external support frame, high volume capacities, super tough fabric, and be sub 20 ounces (566 grams)?
If so, the ZPacks Arc Blast backpack is going to be the backpack that you will want at the top of your list.
The “Arc Blast” from ZPacks LLC, based out of Florida USA, features a flat carbon fiber support system, three different volume capacities (45 Liters up to 60 liters [2,750 – 3650 cubic inches]), is made from a cuben fiber and nylon fabric, and starts off at a meer 454 grams (16 ounces) on the scale!
Two hiking seasons have passed, since the Arc Blast was released and it has been great to start seeing some reviews show up on the internet about this backpack, including an excellent write-up by Keith “Fozzie” Foskett, and I figured it was about time for me to write up my thoughts on this backpack.
I purchased my first Arc Blast in November of 2012. I have since ordered a second one with a few extra features, and even sent my second one back for some additional modifications – one of the truly great aspects of ZPacks LLC – and the Arc Blast has, unquestionably, become my go-to backpack when I need a pack with a lot of volume. As I head into the winter hiking season the Arc Blast will be the only backpack I will be using due to the need for extra room for a winter sleeping bag and winter garments.
For me, by the time I factor in all the extras I have added to it, my Arc Blast and accompanying multi-pack are a bit over 4,350 cubic inches (71 Liters) – and that is just a monsterious backpack in my world of hiking. This starts putting the ZPacks Arc Blast up there with the likes of the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, ULA Catalyst, Mountain Laurel Designs ARK, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter Pack, Six Moon Designs Starlite, and other big boy backpacks in the UL world of backpacks.
The decked out Arc Blast and multi-pack combo weigh in at around 660 grams (~23 ounces).
Without a doubt the thing that sets the Arc Blast apart from the rest is the use of an external frame. The frame is made from flat pieces of carbon fiber. For old school hikers this has a certain unique appeal – merging together the old external frame aluminium tube backpacks with the advances in more recent technology. Perhaps the only more unique backpack out there is the LuxuryLite StackPack. You either like external frames or you do not, I am not going to get into that whole discussion/argument/flamewar. I remember back 30-odd years ago when I use to hike using the old external frame aluminium tube backpacks and my thoughts were never happy thoughts regarding those backpacks, so for me to go out and buy an external frame backpack is likely what made me hold off for over a year post-release of buying one of these. Having now used the Arc Blast for a fair amount of mileage, the best way to describe it is: I am a convert.
I am not going to go into all of the feature available for the ZPacks Arc Blast, you can easily do that yourself by visiting the ZPacks Arc Blast website. What I do want to do is highlight some of the features and how I put them into use.
My backpack is what ZPacks now calls their “52L Pack Size (the original default size)”.
Base straps – I use this feature to attach either a 1/8th pad or a Z-Lite to put under my Therm-a-Rest XTherm.
Side Compression Straps – the old style, using nylon webbing, not the new Dyneema cord straps.
Belt Pouches – I use both the new style and the old style (one of each).
Shoulder Pouches – I use these to carry my GPS, PLB, iPhone, SteriPen, compass, and other random small items.
Multi-Pack – I wear this around my waist and do not attach it to the backpack. I typically store my primary water bottle, rain jacket, wind jacket, and a snack bar in it.
Top Side Pockets – I normally place my wet cloths (rain jacket, socks, etc) in one of these, and my cooking setup in the other side.
Bottom Side Pockets – I place a 1 liter water bottle in one side, and an umbrella (and sometimes hiking pole) in the other side pocket.
Load Lifter Straps – I find these to be rather helpful for when I am doing 8-15 day trips without resupply and have a fair amount of food weight.
About the only time that the front mesh pocket gets used is if my shelter is wet, I will shove it down inside of the front mesh pocket in hopes it will dry out.
Of the dozens (not dozen, but dozens) of hikers around the world that have asked if I am ever going to write an article on the ZPacks Arc Blast, I would say a good third of them want to know my thoughts on if the arc design actually keeps your back from sweating. I think my usual response to this question has been “I rarely sweat on my back, so I do not really know”. I am just going to have to stick with that answer. Between the fact that I typically hike in cool to cold weather and (typically, but not always) stay away from the trail when it is 90f (32c) or hotter. Once it starts getting over 85f or so, I am just seeking out cooler places to hike.
Day to day hiking for me just does not seem to result in me getting a sweaty back, regardless of what backpack I use. The appeal of this backpack, for me, was the need to have a larger backpack to carry more food than my usual backpacks, and for using during the winter season.
I would love to be able to help out those of you in crazy hot locations around the world that have asked me if the arc design performs well at helping you keep a dry backpack, but sadly this is just not a question I can properly answer, sorry. I have taken it with me to Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley, and a few sections of the PCT in Southern California, but it was never so hot that I found my back getting sweaty.
How It Carries A Load:
The ZPacks Arc Blast is designed to carry loads up to 30 lbs (14 kg).
The greatest amount of weight that I have carried with the ZPacks Arc Blast is just under 20 pounds (9 kg). It was around 6 pounds of gear, 2 pounds of electronics (Iridium Extreme SatPhone, Garmin GPSMAP 62S, ACR ResQLink 406 PLB, iPhone), and 12 pounds of food.
While this is significantly more weight than what I am use to, the Arc Blast carried it very well. Every time I put on the backpack my brain kept telling me that I was missing something, as it felt like the backpack was consecutively 6-8 pounds lighter from what it actually was. That of course is the result of a solid external frame system – and brought back memories of childhood hiking with aluminium external frame backpacks, only now I was enjoying it.
For loads under ten pounds, it hardly even feels like there is anything in the backpack. I have done a fair number of hikes with this backpack with sub 10 pound loads and I all but forgot I even had a backpack on. It felt a bit silly to be out hiking with a 4000+ cubic inch backpack with sub ten pounds TPW, but it was really nice having such an amazing load distribution system to help make those ten pounds fill like three or four. It was like some of my XUL summer hikes where I use a 1000 cubic inch backpack, only with four times the weight and another 3000 cubic inches of backpack.
On the impressive scale, I would put the load carrying abilities of the ZPacks Arc Blast, for loads in the sub 20 range, at exceptional.
Pricing / Value:
A backpack is one of the most expensive pieces of gear that we will buy. Typically winter sleeping bags and SUL shelters are the only two pieces of gear (not counting electronics) that can be more expensive than a top-end backpack.
In the world of backpacks, the ZPacks Arc Blast is by no means the most expensive backpack, yet it is not the least expensive on the market – remember though, this is an external frame backpack, and it is only 16 ounces!
While you can get this backpack for under $300 dollars, by the time you add on all of the extras that every other backpack includes within their base price, the Arc Blast can increase in price by an additional hundred-plus dollars. It will cost an additional $115 bucks for hip pockets, shoulder pockets and top-side pockets. Throw in another $20 bucks for load lifters and a lumbar pad, and another $40 bucks if you want to add in a multi-pack to gain an additional 215 cubic inches (3.5 liters) of bulk space.
I hike too much to worry about the cost of gear. I am lucky in that. I fully realize and understand that I am an exception in this matter.
And, as my longtime readers know, I place a high value on the cottage industry. ZPacks is a company producing gear that nobody else in the entire world is producing. They gained my respect years ago and if an extra hundred here or there over the course of my hiking career can go a little way in helping keep companies like ZPacks and around building the lightest of the lightest, doing custom work at the level that they do, and producing gear that nobody else in the industry does or can reach the same level of – well, all that just goes into the equation for me.
The ZPacks Arc Blast is the second backpack I have owned that uses the Nylon/Cuben fiber (aka: hybrid) fabric, the first being an original HMG Windrider.
This material and been tried and tested by long distance hikers for almost half a decade now – it has proven to be a solid fabric for backpacks.
Of all the backpacks that I have owned over the last few years, this is the only backpack that I have never been worried about doing damage to the fabric. Even when I had a ULA backpack I was constantly worried about doing damage to the fabric of the backpack. That has just not been the case with this nylon/cf fabric.
And, I have to say, that is kind of nice… to have the ability to just go head-first into the craziest of backwoods under growth, power my way through blackberry bushes (the thing I hate the most), or the material destroying 6 foot tall ferns we have growing here in the Redwoods, or even scampering through greasewood bushes and cactus of Southern California in Death Valley and along the PCT. I have put this backpack through just about every type of condition that I can and I have not had a single failure with the fabric.
One of the aspects of durability I have not been able to test is how the flat carbon fiber handles super cold conditions. I have never had the chance to hike in sub ten degree fahrenheit (-23 celsius) weather conditions. I do not have any data on what kind of temperatures this flat carbon fiber can handle, I would love to know if anybody has hard-data on such. I have twisted, pulled, pushed, bent, and tweaked these pieces of flat carbon fiber in all different directions and have never broken them. I was very happy to see ZPacks move away from the tube carbon fiber they used in their first generation Arc Blasts, it scared me. When they switched to the flat carbon fiber is when I bought my second Arc Blast. I have complete confidence in this flat carbon fiber of holding up to anything I can throw at it.
Here are some of just a few places that the backpack has been to:
What Others Are Saying:
Keith “Fozzie” Foskett – http://www.keithfoskett.com/usa-1-rest-of-the-world-0-the-zpacks-arc-blast-pack-review/
Adam “Angiosperm” Criswell – http://danceswithangiosperms.blogspot.com/2013/09/zpacks-arc-blast-review.html
So a few final thoughts to wrap up this review that I know a lot of people have been waiting for:
The ZPacks Arc Blast has absolutely proven itself to me.
Its ability to carry loads and make them feel less than what you are carrying was beyond what I was expecting.
The fabric durability has crazy impressive.
The pricing is justifiable – a few of the add-on features can add up quickly.
The external flat carbon fiber frame has proven to be excellent and not prone to breaking.
There are very few pieces of gear that I have given a five-star rating too over the years that I have been writing articles and reviewing gear – the ZPacks Arc Blast has made it onto the list.
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell America, Gossamer Gear, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.