ZPacks “Arc Zip” Backpack

ZPacks "Arc Zip" Backpack
ZPacks “Arc Zip” Backpack

Greetings Hikers,

Very happy to share the news that ZPacks has released the “Arc Zip” backpack, which has been a collaborated design involving myself and Joe Valesko, the owner of ZPacks, since I initially approached him with the idea of working together to build a front panel cuben fiber backpack, back in September of 2012.

The “Arc Zip” is a fully featured backpack that utilizes an old fashion front panel loading design. Simply put, it was time to bring an old school design into the world of new school fabric and modern day lightweight backpacks!

The “Arc Zip” is being offered in three different volume sizes:

A 47L (2,850 cubic inches) weighing only 19.0 ounces (539 grams).

A 54L (3,300 cubic inches) weighing only 19.5 ounces (553 grams).

A 62L (3,800 cubic inches) weighing only 20 ounces (567 grams).

The Arc Zip features a traditional full-U shaped zipper making up the front panel loading pocket. Sitting on top of the front panel is a high volume ‘front pocket’ that is solid fabric giving it a very clean look. Designed without a roll top closure, it uses a top compression system that allows you to compress down the top of your pack as you eat through your food or if you just do not need the extra volume. It features two internal compression straps to help keep your gear in place and give the pack extra durability for those times when you have to carry a lot of gear.

The Arc Zip, like all of the Arc backpacks designed by ZPacks, includes the Patent Pending Flexed Arc carbon fiber frame, solid fabric side pockets (5 Liters / 300 cubic inches), side compression straps, top and bottom straps, hydration ports.

Front Panel:

The heart of the “Arc Zip” is of course the front panel. A traditional fold over design that has stood the test of time, though sadly has faded into history over the last decade, but being brought back into the spotlight by yours truly. A front panel loading backpack allows a hiker to very quickly and easily access any piece of gear in their pack. Simply unzip the main zipper and you have access to all of your gear – that is what a front panel loading backpack is all about. Through the use of hybrid (cuben fiber and nylon) [2.92 oz/sqyd] it allows for the “Arc Zip” to have a large #5 YKK waterproof zipper, for a higher level of durability over smaller and weaker zippers. The same #5 zipper is also used on the front pocket.

Front Pocket:

The front pocket was one of the last features that we focused on building. It is rather massive at 10 liters (600 cubic inches) – think almost three of the ZPacks Multipacks! By going with solid fabric for the front pocket we allowed the “Arc Zip” to stay in traditional fashion, while also allowing this pocket to be used for gear that you might traditional keep inside the pack in order to protect them from the elements. The solid fabric front pocket also makes the “Arc Zip” look amazing. The most important reason for going with solid fabric for the front pocket, is, of course, because it is a front loading backpack – which means every time you open up the main front panel, if the front pocket was mesh all of your gear would fall out when you open the front panel, as mesh front pockets have no solid closure system.

Internal Compression Straps:

Internal compression straps are key to the long term durability of front panel loading backpacks. The high stress that can be placed on the main zipper of the front panel often leads to zippers pulling apart, snagging and eventually failing. While most of this is just a matter of not over stuffing the backpack, there are times when it is just unavoidable, such as on very long sections of trails without resupply. Through the use of two internal straps with a small buckle – called ‘internal compression straps’ because they help compress the two sides of the front panel together – it helps relieve pressures placed on the main body zipper, and thereby reduce long-term zipper failures. This has long been one of the high failure points of front panel backpacks since they first came into use, yet it is so easily solved by just adding internal compression straps, which we have done with the “Arc Zip”. The location, and distance apart from each other, play a vital and key role in reducing the zipper stress. It took us many revisions to get them set at the perfect distance. The key to the long term durability and reliability of a front panel loader is the international compress straps, and after over a year of my testing and retesting just this one aspect of the Arc Zip during development, and I am really happy to say that we nailed this from the very get-go. As long as you do not over-stuff this backpack to a point where the internal compression straps are overstressed themselves, a hiker should not have any issues with the main zipper having failures.

Top Compression:

Hopefully you are able to find yourself in a situation where your backpack is not stuffed to the brim. That is the goal of lightweight backpack after all. During the final development of the “Arc Zip” I realized, that as I consumed food, the top of the backpack would start flapping around because there was nothing to hold it in place. To solve this Joe had the idea to attach top compression straps which connect to the side of the backpack. This proved to be a really good way to solve this issue, and they not only to help secure the top of the backpack, but they also provide another method of having pack compression. The advantages of this over a roll-top closure are rather significant… not to mention a front panel loader with a roll-top is just wrong in so many ways ;)

Standard Features:

All of the standard features of the other ZPacks Arc series backpacks are included with the “Arc Zip”. This includes side pockets, top straps, base straps, side compression straps, sternum straps, and a hydration port.

I personally recommend adding load lifter straps and a lumbar pad (or two) and of course belt pouches.

Frameless Backpack:

Originally I set out to build a front panel loading backpack that was frameless. However after using the “Arc Blast” for a few seasons (read my review of the Arc Blast) I came to realize there was something about the Flexed Arc carbon fiber frame that really made the decision to turn the “Arc Zip” into a full framed backpack. By making the backpack part of the “Arc” series we were able to gain not only the frame system, but the heavier duty nylon/cuben fiber fabric, which allowed us to use a #5 zipper rather than a #3 zipper for much better durability. One of the really nice aspects of the Flexed Arc frame is the ability to remove it. Many times over the last year I have taken the prototype packs off the frame and used the pack in a frameless mode. By removing the flat carbon fiber supports you are able to save 63 grams (2.22 ounces) and allow the pack to fit snug against your body like most traditional frameless packs.

Pricing / Availability:

The pricing of the three different sizes of the “Arc Zip” are, as of the time of this article being published:

47 liter – $300

54 liter – $310

62 liter – $320

The slightly higher cost of these over a standard “Arc Blast” are a result of the extra fabric, the use of #5 waterproof zippers, internal compression straps and the extra time it takes to build the “Arc Zip” over a traditional non front panel loading backpack. For those who love and desire front panel loading backpacks, I am sure that the extra few dollars will mean very little to have one of these amazing backpacks!

For those wondering if I will receive any compensation for being the primary designer of this backpack, the answer to that is no. I have over a dozen products on the market right now that I have either completely designed, or in the case of the “Arc Zip” have co-designed, and I do not take a penny from any of these products being sold. Should I? Perhaps. But I have chosen not too.

The pack is available right now, right here!

Insights as a co-designer:

First off let me just say a huge “thank you” to Joe Valesko of ZPacks for allowing me the opportunity to work with him to bring another piece of gear to market. My first email to him about building a front panel loader was on September 10, 2012 and over the course of the last two years we have had over 50 emails back and forth on the development of this backpack. We have built two prototypes along the way and the have been mailed back and forth over the last two years a number of times.

The very first design I approached him with started off with the pack being made in some light weight fabric so we could nail down the design without spending a lot of money. I used the first prototype for a few months and mailed it back to Joe with a list of suggested changes. Over the next year the prototype pack went through a number of modifications. Issues such as how many internal compression straps was a huge issue – and probably the most important aspect of the entire design – for without them, the ability to have long term durability and not have zipper failures was going to make it so it could never be brought to market. We went from one internal strap to three and eventually settled on two of them strategically placed.

My original design of the pack included an ‘internal pocket’ rather than an external pocket (aka: front pocket). This caused a fair amount of discussion back and forth and two or three design changes. Initially the internal pocket was zipperless and just had some elastic at the top. That proved to not be a good idea as anytime the front panel was opened small heavy items (such as headlamps) in the internal pocket would go flying out. So we had to go back to the drawing board. Switching out the elastic to a zipper was an option, but it would present manufacturing difficulties, and my job as the pack designer was to make a pack that was usable for hikers *and* a pack that ZPacks could make without complications and still make money – a business has to make money after all, to pay for all those awesome people making our gear – that is just part of being a responsible gear designer. A lot of this issue with the internal/external front pocket was solved when we made the switch to using the Arc design. The more durable fabric allowed us to move the pocket to the outside, make the pocket bigger and thus more overall volume (an internal pocket, after all, consumes volume from the inside of the pack) and make it a lot easier to access the gear that is stored inside of it, by not having to open the front panel to access.

We also spent time talking about outside pockets. Should they even be on the pack? Do they go against all that is sacred about a front panel loader? How will overloading them add stress to the front panel zippers? Should they be faced upwards when wearing the pack or when the pack is on the ground? (that was a headscratcher, but eventually we went with the standard design as that is what hikers are use too).

This is the very first backpack that I have been involved in building and I have to say it has been fun. When Joe hand delivered to me the final prototype at the 2014 PCT Kickoff, I think all of us were pretty amazed at just how awesome it looks. We went with the “All Green with black accents” and with the design of the zipper arch, and the front pocket, its just one amazing looking backpack. Over the last six months since I received the final prototype I put some miles on it just to make sure all was good-to-go. I recently sent it back to Joe and the photo at the top of this article is the final pack design. What a hot looking backpack!!

For all of you out there, whether an old timer who understands what front panel loaders are all about, or a younger hiker such as myself who even at 40 years of age I’m still a bit too young to really remember the hay-days of front panel packs, or whether you are a fast moving 20-something looking for something unique and something that gives you access to all of your gear with utter simplicity, I really do hope that you will find this new “Arc Zip” something of value and something that gets to see some amazing places and a whole lot of trail-time!

Thank you,
+John Abela

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, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.

28 thoughts on “ZPacks “Arc Zip” Backpack

  1. Hi John First of all, thank you for sharing your passion and thoughts on all the super lightweight gear. I am poised to buy either the klymit 35 per your excitement about the comfort or the zip blast. I like front loading. Any further advice regarding which might be the better pack? Thanks Laura

    1. Hey Laura, sorry for the late response. My brain just seems to stop working sometimes.

      I would say they are two different packs all together. The Arc Zip is totally targeted towards long distance hikers and those with larger loads. The Klymit Motion is about having a comfortable pack for short little hikes. I just do not see the Klymit Motion being a pack that could handle 3000 miles.

      Overall durability of the Arc Zip is miles beyond the Motion. Better fabric, better zippers, internal compression straps, so on and so forth. Not to say the Motion is poorly built… by no means. It is just not a ‘long distance’ backpack.

  2. John, that is a very good looking pack, looks very comfortable for larger loads. Thank you to both you and Joe for designing and producing it.

  3. John:

    And perfect timing too, since Six Moon Designs discontinued their panel loader – the Traveler – when they brought out their new pack line. I was able to buy the next to last copy (they kept the last one for archive purposes) to go with the two we already have. Like you, my wife and I are big time fans of panel loaders. I think yours is the only US panel loader left on the market. ULA used to make one before Brian Frankle joined SMD, but I don’t think it’s still offered.

    Well done!


    1. Hello Bob, wow, thank you! I have been waiting for this day for a long time.

      Very sweet to hear you got that Traveler! I wanted to get one myself and then ‘poof’ away went their entire lineup. I just had to wait until after this pack was released before I could buy it, so nobody could say “well, you took so-and-so’s design”. Haven’t owned any modern front panel loader, so not like I’ve taken anybodies design. So yeah, bummed now that this is finally on the market and SMD is no longer selling the Traveler.

      ULA, as you mentioned, did make one but I seem to recall reading about folks having zipper problems, which is one of the reasons I pushed so hard to really nail the perfect internal compression system of this new pack.

      The guys at ULA saw the final prototype at the 2014 PCT kick off and I think it might have rekindled a flame in them… I would not be surprised if you see a ULA front panel loader at some point in the future. This new pack is just so amazingly beautiful, and of course, functional to the core, that it would not surprise me if ULA does introduce a new version.

      I am not aware of anybody else in the USA making a front panel loader (actually manufactured in the usa) and huge thanks goes out to Joe for taking a risk on bringing this new pack into their lineup. I hope all the efforts we’ve put out result in some folks buying one.

      Great to hear from a fellow pane loader!!

  4. Hi John,

    I like front loaders because I can access gear easily. I have a few and most are old day packs or somewhat larger packs that you can use to travel with on road trips or airplanes. I love the fact you don’t have to empty the pack to find something that moved and is lost in all your other gear.

    I noticed that in the photos that the pack is quite a bit taller (extending above the shoulder line). Yet the specs on the Zpacks website say that the pack body is the same dimensions as the Arc Blast. I was thinking that the pack was a bit narrower and that’s why it is taller in the photos. Also, the Arc Zip packs are two liters larger yet have the same pack body dimensions. I assume this may be up to the front pocket?

    I do like this pack but am a bit concerned about how high it is above the shoulder line. Can you comment on that?

    I assume this pack can handle a bear canister like the Bear Vaults?

    Thanks to you and Joe for collaborating on a front loader. They make life so much easier.


    1. Hey Warren, yeah absolutely happy to address these issues.

      The three sizes of the Arc Zip are the same dimensions as the Arc Blasts. It appears to be taller in the photos but that is just the photos. Another contributing factor is that the Arc Zip does not have the roll-top closure, so you get that extra volume that the roll-top normally takes up (because of needing to roll it over on itself a few times) as actual usable volume. One of the few reasons why I designed it without a roll-top, even when I had a few folks pressuring me to add it.

      The extra volume of the Arc Zip over the other Arc series backpacks is the massive front pocket that was designed. Combined together with, as explained above, not losing volume due to not being a roll-top closure.

      The top of the bag can easily be compressed down with the top compression straps, so if all of your gear fits below the shoulder level, its not sticking up above your shoulders. Think roll-top closure, except without the rolling and instead using compression straps. Another reason I was against a roll-top closure is it could cause people to roll-up where the zipper is at and cause the zipper to fail. By going with a pull-down compression system it means there is no way for folks to roll-over the zipper on itself and cause it to have an early end-of-life.

      Yes, the Arc Blast can fit most of the bear canisters out there. Might take the normal tweaking that front panel loaders require to get them to fit in there and have proper center-of-gravity, but it is possible to get a canister in there without CoG issues.

      Great to hear your interest in this pack! It is a happy day for me and hopefully my fellow front panel loaders are going to buy one of these! A fully featured exo-frame front panel at 19 ounces is something pretty amazing!

      1. Are there any pictures of how the pack looks when compressed down? I’m a short guy and was also wondering how high up this would come up to on me.

          1. Ah, I see – so the straps are compressed as far as they go in this picture right? Not having seen the bag it was a bit difficult to tell how it worked, but I think I get it now. Do you know by any chance what the height is from bottom of hip belt to the top of the bag when fully compressed?

            Very impressed with the idea and design! I have a Blast on order, might have to switch…

          2. I I do not remember it off the top of my head and ZPacks has my personal pack to take photos for the release of the product. (Mine is that hot looking green/black one). When I get it back I can measure that for you… too many numbers still rattling around in my brain to remember the height of the collar.

  5. Are there pictures available to see how the internal compression straps are built in? I’m curious to see how they work in connection with the front panel. You recommend the the load lifter straps. Are they not part of the pack?

    1. Hey Renee, zpacks has one photo on their website that shows the pack opened. I have taken probably a dozen photos of my pack trying to get a good shot of the straps and its just a bugger of a picture to try to take and actually make it make sense. This one is about the best I have gotten.

      Load lifters are considered an add-on feature to ZPacks. As are hip pockets. Never understood why. I am not normally a load lifter fan, or rather, I tend to never use them even with packs that do have them, but being a front panel loader, and the slightly different approach to loading the pack, having the load lifters just make it ride a smidgen better… could just be me.

  6. I was about to pull the trigger on a Arc Blast and am now probably going to switch to the Arc Zip. One question for you: I usually put my quilts (I’m a hanger) in the bottom of my pack (a GG Murmur or SMD Swift) loose and then put everything else on top of them. That way they compress only as much as they need to (versus putting them in a stuff sack).

    With the panel loader should I plan to put my quilts in a stuff sack or will my “leave it loose” process still work?

    1. Hey Keven,

      I have no idea, you did not indicate the volume of your backpack.

      If it is not a huge volume sleeping bag, it might fit into the top most part of the pack without getting in the way of the zipper, but this is not really something I could answer. I understand what you do, and do it myself at times, but too many variables to say “yes” and then you go and buy the pack and your bag doesn’t fit up there and you’d be pissed at me… so, I just have to say “not really something I can answer” ;)

      1. Makes sense – I’m going to order one and give it a go. My stuff is pretty low volume so I’m not too concerned about the space.

        1. I bought the Arc Zip and used it on a trip in November where it got down to 17 degrees. I have to tell you that the Arc Zip is probably the perfect backpack for those of us who sleep in hammocks. It was so easy to lay the backpack down in the hammock and load it exactly how I wanted to – with my top-loading backpacks there’s no advantage to putting your backpack in the hammock.

          I put my top quilt in the bottom of the pack and stuffed my underquilt in the expandable top of the pack. Put in the rest of my gear and then compressed the top portion of my pack as much as I could…It was really perfect!

  7. I love regular Arc Blast, but I’ve actually thought about adding this model to my lineup recently. The JMT was great with my Arc Blast, but with the bear can, I really wished I could access the bottom half without constantly having to take that beast out every single time and the lack of annoying mesh pocket on the outside makes me very happy. :)

  8. Love my Arc Zip 54. Front loading is the best for me. I can fit my bv450 in it no problem but prefer my urs sack. I keep my sleeping bag in the bottom of the pack and only compress it enough that I keep the volume of my pack full. I sometimes even inflate my pillow and put it inside the top of my pack to extend it above my shoulders, giving me added shade for my neck. Thank you for such a great pack.

  9. I tried on one of these arc packs, max weight of 35 lbs, (maybe) combined with little to no support and the fabric is so thin it feels like it could shred on any tree branch. Its basically like a plastic bag with a flimsy frame….that costs 500 bucks

    Try a kuiu ultra 6000.

    For a measly extra 2lbs, you get over 90L of space and a suspension capable of holding 250+ lbs.

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