Vargo ‘Ti-Arc’ Backpack

Vargo 'Ti-Arc' Backpack

Greetings Adventurers!

Over the last  year I have been using the Vargo ‘Ti-Arc‘ Backpack and I have to say, I have pretty much fallen in love with it.

The ‘Ti-Arc‘ is an external titanium frame backpack, so, old school style meets up with new school hardware.

Yes, you read that right, I have fallen in love with an external frame backpack!


There are a few really big stand-out features of the Vargo ‘Ti-Arc’ backpack, let us take a look at some of them:

  • Obviously the biggest one is the titanium external frame. As our grandpas knew and understood all too well, when it comes time to carry big loads, the exo-frame is where it is all at. If you have been following me for any length of time you have probably seen me use the term load weight distribution – thereby meaning “distributing the load weight of the backpack down to your hips” – and nothing does that better than external frames. Read more on this below in the section ‘comparing exo frame backpacks‘. Simply put, the Vargo Ti-Arc has the best load weight distribution of any backpack I have used in the last decade. Exceptional, truly exceptional.
  • 3/4 length bag. This is also a standout feature of the Ti-Arc. It is also cause for a lot of discussion by folks who see me using the Ti-Arc. Most folks just do not “get it” and thankfully it takes very little explaining before they do. By going with a 3/4 length bag/pack you have the ability to attach a bear canister outside of your backpack (and at the very bottom, so the 10+ pounds of weight for canister+food are as close to the hips as possible!), or if you have a larger volume sleeping pad (thinking of you Therm-a-rest Ridgeline) or maybe you have one of those tents that takes up the size of the Houston Astrodome, this would be the spot to store it! Check out the video at the bottom of this article to see my tiny tarp+groundsheet attached to this area of the pack – it looks goofy, admittedly, but it also makes for a really good spot for any wet gear to be stored at.
  • Front Panel Loader. Yeah, you know it. Old school all the way. Not just an external frame, but a Front Panel Loader (FPL) too! There is no secret I have a special place in my heart for any front panel loader backpack. I am not sure what first caught my eye when I saw the Vargo Ti-Arc… the exo frame or the FPL. Can a guy really be made this happy?
  • CF and non-CF packs. The Ti-Arc is available with a cuben fiber bag and a non-cuben fiber bag. The non-CF is 1077 grams and the CF is 879 grams, so a 198 gram (6.98 oz) difference. The price tag for the non-cf is $299.99 and the cf is priced at $399.99. I think that works out to $1.98 per gram difference between the two. The non-CF version also has two additional top-side pockets. I have both and have put a fair amount of miles on the CF bag, and more recently have been using the non-CF bag (they are interchangeable on the frame) and my vote goes to the non-cuben fiber bag. I feel the extra durability of the fabric, the top side pockets, the less expensive option, and the fact that this is an external frame pack – thereby making 7 ounces totally inconsequential – all just make the non-cuben fiber bag the better option of the two.

Usage & Thoughts:

I have used the Ti-Arc with loads up to 32 pounds and did not have any issues with it. The load weight distribution made it feel in the low to mid teens TPW. The vast majority of the time I wear it so that the shoulder straps are doing nothing more than keeping the pack from tilting backwards – able to get one or two hands under the straps – yeah, the load weight distribution is that good! Full weight is driving down onto my hips. That aspect is key for those hikers with bad/injured necks or backs, be it upper, mid, or lower back injuries. Not an issue I have, but a fair amount of people have asked me about that issue with this specific backpack – and never had anybody ask me about that with any other backpack. For those with thick necks, the shoulder straps are fairly wide apart, wide enough that they do not cause me issues, and almost every backpack I have used the last five years has caused me problems with pinching my neck because of the straps being too close together.

The shoulder straps could seriously use some additional padding. My recommendation is buy a pair of these shoulder strap pads and add them onto the Vargo Ti-Arc shoulder straps.

One interesting thing is that the hip belt pockets are all mesh on the outside. Very unusual for packs these days. They are constantly reminding me of the Matt Kirk Sub60 pack. Whether this is a positive or a negative really comes down to you and what you use your hip belt pockets for. I like the ability to look down and see exactly where something is.

The titanium frame has some extra titanium at the very top and curved parts on the very bottom. These ‘antenna’ are my biggest issue with the Ti-Arc. They also seem to annoy other Ti-Arc owners. Thankfully they are being removed in a future update of the Ti-Arc. They are by no means a deal-breaker, something that would keep me from buying the Ti-Arc, but they are something that you always have to keep in the back of your mind… especially those of us with cuben fiber gear. For example, if you have a cf tent floor, you want to be careful you do not drop the backpack, antenna-pointed-downwards, into your cf floor, or get them caught onto the netting while you are getting out of your tent.

Besides the above antenna design, the only other feature I would like to see changed would be to have longer zippers on the front panel. They are, simply put, about 3 or 4 inches too short. In my four years of developing my own FPL backpack (the zpacks zip) an insane amount of man hours of R&D went into the front panel zipper. The shortness of the Ti-Arc front zipper is just annoying to me. By no means it is too short to make it non-usable, I can easily get a winter sleeping bag inside of a stuff sack through the front panel… it would just be nice, well, for it to be longer.

The side mesh pockets are good. Never had any issue with them. Neither too short nor too tall. As for getting water bottles out of them while the backpack is on… my standard response to that is “I do not own a backpack that I can get bottles out of the side pockets on… not because of the backpacks, but because I cannot get my arms back there to reach them!” So, consider this a YMMV issue. I envy those that can.

Top side pockets. As mentioned above, the non-CF version bag offers top side pockets. These are zippered pockets. I really like them. Strangely, one of the primary purposes I like the non-cf bag over the cf version of the bag. Seems like such a small thing, but whatever it is, I just like having them. In one of them I keep my highly accessed garments (wind jacket, wind pants, beanie) and on the opposite side I keep my ditty stuff.

Being a Front Panel Loader backpack, it does not — and properly so, if I may say so — have a front mesh pocket. That could be why I seem to enjoy the top side pockets so much. Somewhere to stuff that stuff. It does have the standard elastic cordage, but like every backpack that has them, I have yet to actually use it. I do not get those elastic straps… why would I want to take the risk of a piece of my clothing getting lost (falling off) while I am hiking on down the trail. Shrugs. Big kudos to Vargo for not designing a FPL backpack with a front mesh pocket! That’s wrong… I’m telling ya… just wrong!! (lol)


Comparing Exo Frame Backpacks:

Ok, let me just talk about this, as I know folks are going to want to know what I have to say about it…

In recent years a number of backpack designers have been playing around with what I can only think to call hybrid exo-frames.

Currently a small handful of external frame backpacks are within the cottage industry, or perhaps it is better to say, the non-big-brand companies.

In many ways the Six Moon Designs ‘Fusion 65‘, which I gave my 2015 Backpack Gear of the Year award too, is a hybrid exo-frame backpack. Some might call it a full external frame if you take the bag itself away – which has no structural support (minus the delron internal shafts which provide lateral stability – only on the Fusion 65) because all of the structural support is handled by the yoke->spine->hipbelt design. The max-load-weight of the SMD Fusion 65 basically goes as such, “if you can fit it in there, it can carry it“, and I have found that to be absolutely true! What sets the SMD backpacks apart from the rest is the yoke->spine->hipbelt approach – it works, and works very well for both load weight distribution and allowing a very wide range of torso heights. I have carried significantly more weight (water for very long water sections of trail) with my Fusion 65 than I have the Ti-Arc, but that is because the max volume of the Fusion 65 is twice that of the Vargo Ti-Arc.

The patented ZPacks backpacks are also external frames, however one has to remember that the best way to have load weight distribution is with straight downward weight force. So in order to have the best load weight distribution of the ZPacks backpacks, you have to remove any ‘arc’ from the frame, otherwise you are having the load weight distributed into a backwards direction, not a straight downwards direction – this is something I have spoken of in the past, and somebody nobody else seems to really want to acknowledge or talk about. Think of it like this: an arch door works great in a house for load bearing, but it does not work when you are trying to have downward weight distribution and the arch is pointing in a direction other than downwards. Of course, the design of the ‘arc’ is to allow airflow between your back and the fabric of the backpack, so we have to keep that in mind, but if you do own a ZPacks backpack and you find yourself with a heavier load, the wisest thing you can do is just deal with some back sweat and reduce, or totally remove, the tension on the downwards stays, so you get a straight-down load weight distribution. In doing so, you do end up with a good load weight distribution frame design. It is not designed to handle the total pack weight of what the Ti-Arc can handle, so allowances must be made and accepted. I have thousands of miles with the ZPack patented frame and it has proven to be a solid design, especially when you allow the frame to handle the load weight distribution by not having the arch in it.

I think those two backpacks are the two primary backpacks that folks are going to be comparing to the Vargo Ti-Arc when it comes to the external (hybrid?) frame backpacks that are currently being used by the vast majority of the ultralight hikers. So it is absolutely worth talking about them in the scope of this third external frame backpack, the Ti-Arc.

The Ti-Arc offers something the other two mentioned packs just do not… cannot… offer… better load weight distribution.

That is not to say the ZPacks or the Six Moon Design backpacks are poorer performers – far from it – rather it is that they are sort of in a different classification of backpacks. It would be like trying to compare the Varo Ti-Arc, or any of these three, to the KUIU Icon Pro 7200, which has a freaking awesome solid carbon fiber backframe. The KUIU is a pack that just outclasses these other backpacks. No fault blame anywhere, or with any of them, just different classes of backpacks. Classification goes in the other direction too. One would not compare any of these external/hybrid frame backpacks to a non framed backpack. Again, two different classifications of backpacks.

Thankfully I do not have to pick just one of these packs to use, as I own a framed ZPacks Zip backpack, a SMD Fusion 65 (and Flight 30) and the Vargo Ti-Arc (cf and non-cf) so I am really able to grab the backpack I need for the given trip/adventure I am taking. When people ask me which one to buy, I always answer “buy whichever one best matches up with your average total pack weight“. Why overbuy, or worse, underby and thus deal with pain.



Next Generation:

It was recently revealed that Vargo is planning their next/second generation of the Ti-Arc.

It has some changes to it that might appeal to the larger/mass population of hikers.

Being a sponsored hiker of Vargo Outdoors has allowed me the opportunity to do a pre-release ‘Interview/Q&A’ with Vargo on this next generation backpack, which you can read by going to this article of mine.


Where To Buy:

You can buy the Vargo ‘Ti-Arc’ backpacks directly from the Vargo website:

Non-CF Version:

Cuben Fiber Version:


And from Amazon.Com too! (affiliate links, hey, help the cause!)

Non-CF Version:

Cuben Fiber Version:


Thanks everybody,
+John Abela

Disclaimer: As of the time of this being published I am proudly sponsored by Vargo Outdoors. I typically buy all of the gear that I use, even when I am sponsored by a company, and I receive zero commission nor payments for any products that I (co)design and which companies manufacture. I do not work for anybody, or any company, within the outdoor industry. I am just a regular guy that uses gear and writes about it.

6 thoughts on “Vargo ‘Ti-Arc’ Backpack

  1. Hi John
    I’m 65 years old and want to try to thru-hike the PCT in 2017 with my wife. I’ll be carrying more of the weight as my wife has a back problem. I was wondering which you think might carry heavier loads better – the Vargo ExoTi50 or SixMoons Fusion60. We have base weights usually under 15lbs each. Typically for a week I’ll carry 25-30 lbs and my wife Jan will carry up to 24 lbs. I’m concerned about the weight of extra water in the desert sections and extra gear in the high Sierras. Any thoughts which pack might work best with the heavier loads?

    Thanks for all your articles, they have helped us reduce our weights a LOT. Last time we did 100 miles in the 3 sisters area we each had 60+ lbs packs. (15 years ago)


    1. Hello Rob,

      Very kind of you.

      Not having had a chance to see the 2017 ExoTi50 in person yet, going to be hard to compare it. Without knowing how the shoulder straps are going to be designed (angles, width, thickness, how they are attached to the frame, and such) just makes it next to impossible to really say. Trust me when I say the ExoTi50 is probably the one backpack I am looking forward to getting my hands on. I truly do hope they do both make improvements to the harness system, as well as do not screw it up.

      Now, what I can do is compare the Ti-Arc to the SMD Fusion 65.

      I have used both of them at 60+ pounds TPW. Neither of them were fun at that weight, but they both did the job.

      Thinking back on both of them, here is what I think would be worth sharing:

      Ti-Arc: (positive) The Load Weight Distribution was exceptional, as one would dang well expect on an external outer frame. (negative) The shoulder straps (on the Ti-Arc) as I think I mentioned in my article, were rather lacking in support (padding) and I did not like the angle coming around my neck.

      Fusion 65 (positive) Slightly less Load Weight Distribution than the Ti-Arc, but that is to be expected as we are comparing a full external frame with a hybrid frame. What the Fusion 65 offers in exchange for a slightly different frame/harness system, is the ability to dial the backpack right into a form factor that will fit for you. It also offers a significantly more comfy ride. (negative) well, the fusion 65 is not the lightest pack out there, it is 14 ounces heavier than the Ti-Arc if I remember correctly. Almost an entire pound heavier. This forces you to decide if an extra pound for the significantly better ride, is worth it.

      Thankfully (hopefully) there should never be a time out on the PCT when you have a 60+ pound TPW. If you are, you are doing something horribly horribly wrong.

      I think at the 30 pound TPW that you mentioned, both of these backpacks can handle that weight without a second thought, or even a hint, of issues in the Load Weight Distribution equation. So than it would all just come down to the weight of the pack in exchange for a less, or greater, comfortable ride.

      Perhaps if you could get your Total Pack Volume Requirements down from the 65 liter volume to the 50 liter volume, you could knock off an additional three ounces of pack weight (yeah, not a lot) or if you could get down to the 40 liter volume world, going with the SMD Flight 40 would give you a significantly lighter weight backpack, yet still have all the awesomeness of the SMD Comfort Fit Harness, which as I have been saying for a few years, is, I feel, the best harness system that exists.

      But, all that said, if you can hold off a month or two and hopefully Vargo Outdoors is able to get their ExoTi50 on market by than, we can start to see how the bag is going to be in a full size, and how the harness / shoulder straps are going to be.

      But, that said, if you really need to buy a backpack right now, and it is between the Vargo Ti-Arc and the SMD Fusion 65, as much as the Ti-Arc is a great and unique backpack, I think if I could only pick from those two backpacks, I would rather have the SMD Fusion with me out on the trail, despite out heavy it is.

      But, that said, if/when Vargo is able to get the ExoTi50 onto the market, that choice could change. It is just an unknown at this point in time.

  2. Thank you John for taking the time to for such a detailed and well thought out reply. I’ll probably wait a while so I can get a better idea of the volume of the gear we’ll be carrying. I’ll look forward to your first impression of the ExoTi50 when you get one.


  3. I bought the Vargo Ti Arc, after first hearing about it here. I tried several of the suggestions that you made. Cut off the protruding tops of the frame. Sewed on a loop at the midpoint of the arc, and ran shock cord to the from two corners of the top of the frame. This created functional storage space on top of the pack. I carried my shelter in the storage space on top. Orr another time, I carried a ground cloth and sit pad with rain gear up in that space. I would be glad to include a photo, but I don’t see how right here.

    The other mod that I made was to take a section of the front shock cord, and repurpose it for a couple side straps above the lower pockets. This allowed me to use a one liter smart water bottle in either pocket without fear of them falling out, Again, I have a photo to show this, and this has worked really well.

    Also, I wanted to share a very successful combination between this pack and a bear canister. It is the Lighter1 at 7″ wide and 9″ tall. I was able to get five days food in it. And it was easy to slip in and out of the front loading Ti Arc. Whereas, my wider Bearakade was a bit of a struggle with the opening on the Ti Arc.

    I took your suggestion to get the pads for the shoulder straps from Z-PAcks. That was a good call for me, even though this pack has excellent weight transfer to the hips. I really love this pack, and have about 300 trial miles so far. When I did have a reason to contact tech support, I found the support staff to be super helpful and responsive, Thanks for another great recommendation, John!

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