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ZPacks Arc Blast Backpack

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Author and hiker, John Abela, wearing a ZPacks Arc Blast backpack.

Author and hiker, John Abela, wearing a ZPacks Arc Blast backpack.

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 MariposaULA CatalystMountain 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.

Features of the Arc Blast

Features of the Arc Blast – ZPacks LLC Photograph

Features:

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.

Doing some beach hiking in April of 2013 in Northern California.

Doing some beach hiking in April of 2013 in Northern California.

Back Draft:

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:

Author and hiker, John Abela, wearing a Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket, Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants, Headsweats Long Bill Hat, and ZPacks Arc Blast backpack.

Author and hiker, John Abela, wearing a the ZPacks Arc Blast backpack in a logged old growth section of the Redwoods of Northern California.

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.

Durability:

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:

zpacks_arc_blast_location_0

PCT Northern California

zpacks_arc_blast_location_1

California Coastal Trail

zpacks_arc_blast_location_2

Eastern Death Valley

zpacks_arc_blast_location_3

Joshua Tree National Park

zpacks_arc_blast_location_4

South Fork Eel River, California

zpacks_arc_blast_location_5

Trinity River, California

zpacks_arc_blast_location_7

South Western Death Valley

zpacks_arc_blast_location_8

Redwoods, Northern California

It Comes In Orange Too!

It Comes In Orange Too!

What Others Are Saying:

Keith “Fozzie” Foskett – http://www.keithfoskett.com/usa-1-rest-of-the-world-0-the-zpacks-arc-blast-pack-review/

Chad “Stick” – http://sticksblog.com/2013/11/08/first-look-my-zpacks-arc-blast-backpack/

Adam “Angiosperm” Criswell – http://danceswithangiosperms.blogspot.com/2013/09/zpacks-arc-blast-review.html

In Closing

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.

Thank you,
+John Abela
HikeLighter.Com


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.

On October 8, 2013, ZPacks gave this article some love via their Facebook page - Thanks ZPacks!

On October 8, 2013, ZPacks gave this article some love via their Facebook page – Thanks ZPacks!

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Written by John B. Abela

September 11, 2013 at 6:22 am

23 Responses

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  1. John
    Excellent and objective as always. Enjoyed seeing the word Monsterious for the first time. Will have to see if I can drop that into a conversation sometime and gauge the reaction.

    So how much did the fully equipped 2nd pack weigh?

    Thanks
    JD
    Raleigh

    JD

    September 11, 2013 at 7:11 am

    • Hey JD,

      Not including the multi-pack, I think it is somewhere around the 560 gram mark. That is with just about every option available plus a couple of extras that I added. Mine is a bit lighter than the ones available now as my older version does not have the cross-top-bar that ZPacks has since added to the exo-frame.

      Yeah, every so often I enjoy using a made-up word :-D

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment!

      John B. Abela

      September 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm

  2. I agree with you – this is a fine piece of kit. I have found I do end up with a sweaty back so I am going to see if I can tweak that out with the frame adjustments on my upcoming hike in Ireland next week. I just have the shoulder and top side pockets as I try to keep stuff put away in the pack. I use the cuben stuff liner and then two of Zpacks bear food bags for consumables. They were super on a recent hike in bear country here in Canada. The mesh pocket is used to keep my raingear in a ziplock. Sadly I don’t have a zpacks rain jacket yet but as soon as herself cuts me some budget slack I will get one. I also want a Zpacks Duomid tent! Joe and his team at Zpacks make great gear and can provide helpful advice as well when needed.

    dara ohuiginn

    September 11, 2013 at 7:42 am

    • Hey dara,

      Yeah I gave a great deal of consideration to whether or not to add the front mesh pocket to mine. In the end I decided to keep it. The idea behind this backpack, for me, was to have a larger winter season backpack, and as you well know, having a front pocket can be invaluable in the rain and snow.

      Have an awesome time in Ireland!

      John B. Abela

      September 11, 2013 at 12:52 pm

  3. Don’t worry about the pricing. A comparable Mchale made the same size with the same fabric would have you over $1000. I am very tempted by the Arc. Thanks for writing this.

    Dave

    September 11, 2013 at 10:56 am

    • Totally agree Dave. $300 or even $400 bucks for a backpack is nothing compared to some of the backpacks out there, including the Mchale backpacks as you mention. When you factor in that this is an external frame backpack and is one of those backpacks tough enough to last a long time, the pricing is inconsequential. There is just something about an external backpack and having one made of carbon fiber and not heavy aluminium round tube, well, priceless.

      John B. Abela

      September 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm

  4. Excellent article/review John. This is the pack that I’ve thought most about in moving away from my 3 lb GoLite Quest. The Quest has a great internal frame and with 15 pounds it fells like you describe the Arc Blast does under 10 lbs. Though I’m always under 30 lbs on day one, usually 27-29 lbs, I really like a pack with a frame and this one sounds like it is the one. I could drop about 2 lbs. just going to this pack and that’s certainly one of the key factors for me. Have you ever tried a bear canister in this pack? I use both the smaller one and the larger Bear Vault depending on length of trip and whether I am partnering with someone and need the bigger can.

    Thirty+ years ago I also had an external aluminum-frame pack. No matter how it was adjusted, it was never comfortable. Glad that all the advancements over the years have made todays packs so much better.

    Warren

    September 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    • Hello Warren, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      I have not yet to carry a bear canister inside of the Arc Blast. I suspect that sometime over the next few months I will be out on a trail where I will be required to use one, so I will be using the Bare Boxer and do not see any reason why it would not work.

      You might find this interesting… it was a custom-made feature that somebody (I have no idea who) had ZPacks make for their Arc Blast (or maybe it was a R&D idea??)… but it is one of those “that is a really cool idea” things and saved the photograph when I saw it.

      John B. Abela

      September 11, 2013 at 7:01 pm

      • John – I noticed your reference to the Bare Boxer. May I assume if you were to purchase a bear container it’d be the Contender? Relative to the Bearikade Scout, the Scout is nearly 4-times the money and 2-2.5 ounces more but the Scout allows 500-cubic inches vs. the Contender’s 275. I have the Scout and while I abhor the size, weight and yes cost, I wouldn’t have been able to spend the 10-days I enjoyed last Fall at RMNP using the Windrider. If I were to do the JMT again this next summer, I’d do better with volume the expensive Scout affords. JD

        jdrower

        September 12, 2013 at 4:27 am

        • Hey JD,

          The Contender is all about the size… it is just a perfect little thing for a solo weekend or overnighter.

          I still think the Bearikade is the top bear canister out there, but the Contender is just a sweet size for a night or two – 3 if you don’t eat a lot.

          John B. Abela

          September 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm

        • Hello chaps:
          Having canoed all over Canada including the far north I find:
          1. Bear interactions with food are fairly rare. I have yet to meet anyone who has had a significant interaction.
          2. Keeping the campsite free of food odours and keeping dishes clean is essential to keep away all pests..
          3. Hanging in trees versus putting stuff 100 M away from the site is a personal choice. We often put the food canoeing barrels away from the campsite and so far never had a bear issue.
          4. Hanging is usually a problem to find the right tree just when you are usually trying to get to bed.
          5. I used the Zpacks bear food bags and think they are probably a good option and weigh just a few grams compared to almost a Kilo for a Scout for example. Also with the dymo string it was easy to hang them.

          Does anyone know of particulars of actual bear and food container interactions and what the contributing factors may have been. So many myths and such so it is hard to decide but for now I will stick with the Zpacks bear food bags kit given the weight benefit.

          dara ohuiginn

          September 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

          • Dara – I would never use a bear canister by choice. Many US National Parks require ‘approved’ bear canisters subject to a fine and expulsion from the Trail if caught without one.

            Otherwise tree hanging or the PCT method that assumes a thru-hikers feet odor in the footbox of a sleeping bag/quilt overwhelms food etc.odors is my preferred method and one that hasn’t let me down in several decades of the outdoor life. However, I am behind the statement that a “fed bear is a dead bear” and adhere to local regulations when required.

            I was visited by Orange 13 and two of her cubs at the Half Dome trail off the JMT in Yosemite back in ’02. (I could show you a photo of the claw marks through the tent and this was after my son and I complied with all the regs). After the Rangers moved her and her male cub 100-miles away and having them return in less than 2-days, they were euthenized. They had developed behaviors borne of finding human food easier than hunting in the wild. They still talk of her in that Park. JD

            jdrower

            September 12, 2013 at 4:13 pm

          • We always bring cans of bear spray. One for each canoe or one for each two hikers. The one significant bear interaction I had did not involve food . I just talked to the bear to keep myself calm and he went off up the woods. But other than that nothing but visible scat and prints etc. I feel safe with the spray handy.

            dara ohuiginn

            September 12, 2013 at 5:08 pm

          • Dara – I feel very strongly that our time in the wilderness, on land or water, provides definition that we probably wouldn’t otherwise have. Somehow it feels more human to find forms of expression that allow that self-definition. Have to say that last Mexican beer was tasty. Regards, JD

            jdrower

            September 12, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      • John, I think I’ve seen that photo before. Neat idea but puts all the weight in what I’d consider to be the wrong place. I guess I should just call Joe and find out what the circumference of the pack is and see if it’ll fit.

        Thanks again.

        Warren

        September 12, 2013 at 7:43 pm

  5. I just finished hiking on the Wicklow Way with my ArcBlast – of course. It confirms everything side- a solid part of my core equipment. Now to get my Zpacks raingear and tent and I will be fine.
    Food is much more a weight issue than the equipment. With all the equipment down to almost SUL weight there is not much to gain at the margin. What is giving me grief is the weight of the pantry – the FOOD! I always seem to have too much and end up with up to a Kg left over. Perhaps if I start a target total grams per day max and work on making that the highest nutrition possible I will make progress but it is a frustration. Any ideas you have on shifting the approach will be wonderful.
    Dara

    dara ohuiginn

    October 4, 2013 at 11:08 am

  6. […] Ron has. In my opinion the best “mid weight” backpack on the planet right now is the ZPacks Arc Blast. If anything could possible knock the Arc off the top pedestal it could be whatever these two guys […]

  7. The biggest factor for this backpack is the weight one will routinely be carrying. I just finished about 300 miles of the high Sierra and southern Oregon. Without food and water my pack weight was about 15 pounds. Because many sections of the PCT require it, carrying extra food and water is a must. Doing so pushed my pack weight past 40 pounds.

    The Arc Blast is not designed to comfortably carry such weights. I found the shoulder straps not sufficiently padded, and the waist strap unable to adequately carry such weights. For long distance hikers who must carry extra food and water thereby pushing the pack weight past 30 pounds, in my opinion this is not the pack for you. My shoulders ached constantly, as did my mid-back. I just asked this pack to do more than it was designed to do.

    Walt

    June 27, 2014 at 10:16 am

    • Hey Walt. Totally agree. And so does ZPacks, as they say on their website, the Arc Blast is designed to “handle loads up to 30 lbs (14 kg).” I find that anything much over 26-28 pounds and it starts to having buckling issues. Thankfully these days I never push that much weight, but totally understand the need to do so. If I had to have a TPW of 25+ pounds I would likely be giving the new SMD Fusion 50 a try.

      How was the trail between Etna and Seiad Valley??

      John B. Abela

      June 27, 2014 at 10:22 am

      • Hi John. Im keeping the pack because i frequently do weekend and similar jaunts where carrying 25 pounds or less is usual. This pack excels in that parameter. But I’ll be getting a different pack for longer hikes.

        I cannot answer your query. I hiked from Kennedy Meadows to Whitney Portal in the early part of May when all water sources were wet, but had to exit to attend a family to-do. I then started again at the southern Oregon border and hiked to Crater Lake, when I ran out of time. Again, all listed water sources are wet, but I wouldn’t count on the seasonal streams as the summer progresses

        Walt

        June 27, 2014 at 10:39 am

  8. I got this web site from my buddy who shared with me concerning this web site and now this time I am browsing this site and reading very
    informative articles at this time.

    antwan

    November 20, 2016 at 3:44 am

  9. Several years later… It seems the Arc Blast has become heavier since you did this review. Originally 16oz, now they’re 21oz. That’s a 30% increase, which is huge, but on the other hand 5oz for a real difference in comfort can be worth it. So… Have you had a chance to look at the new ones, and does your review change at all?

    Kevin

    March 6, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    • Hello Kevin,

      My reviews and statements of the Arc Blast played a major role in Zpacks developing the newer “haul” version of the backpack. It resolved the ‘free floating’ frame (load weight distribution) that I was rather critical towards, as well as a better amount of cushion comfort, so while I have not (for some odd reason) reviewed the newer ‘haul’ version of the backpack, while it did increase in weight, it did so in a way that really mattered – but resolving issues.

      Only you are really going to know what is going to work for you. Factors such as TPW, locations of where you adventure at, the type of adventures you go on, how much pack volume your gear consumes, how much food and water you need to carry, and numerous other factors, all have to be taken into account. I personally feel that if you can keep your TPW at under 20 pounds, then the Arc Haul is going to be a great backpack for the 24oz range of backpacks on the market. If you are looking for something that can do a bit more of a load, check out the new Vargo ExtoTi 50 and the Six Moon Designs Fusion 65.

      John B. Abela

      March 6, 2017 at 3:47 pm


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