Update: September 2019: Zpacks has updated the Nero with a new buckle system for the roll-top and other minor issues. See this post for further information.
The sub 2268 hiking world went a little berserk back in January (2017) when they noticed that the Zpacks Zero and XS-Zero backpacks were no longer being offered.
Today, Zpacks has unveiled the reason: the brand new Zpacks Nero backpack!
In the words of Zpacks:
If you can’t take a Zero take a Nero! The Nero is an ultralight frameless backpack stripped down to only the most popular features. This compact backpack has no frame aside from a closed cell foam sit-pad for cushioning. It is best suited for hardcore long distance hikers with base weights around 5-6 lbs (2.5 kg) and maximum loads up to 20 lbs (9 kg).
What It Is, What It Is Not:
Over the years I have owned, well, too many to count, Zpacks Zero backpacks of different configurations, as well as a handful of their previous ‘XS Zero’, probably one of the all time quintessential examples of what a ‘bag with straps’ (to famously quote Henry Shires) should be.
But things change. Companies grow up. Zpacks is one of those. About two years ago when Zpacks rebranded themselves, doing away with the “custom ultralight gear”, the key word there being ‘custom‘, it represented Zpacks making the transition to no longer offering the type of custom gear manufacturing that had been the hallmark of what their company represented. Eventually, for those companies lucky enough to grow, moving away from custom made gear just becomes a necessity. Eventually they have to stick to their templates/patterns and push out as many products, all built exactly the same, as they possible can to meet market demand.
So it stands to reason that at some point Zpacks was going to need to put the axe to the Zero backpack, which from day one was designed to be a bag with straps, that customers could add accessories/features onto, if they wanted too. It truly represented one of the best “customize to your needs” backpack that existed within the cottage industry. While it was sad to see those two backpacks no longer offered by Zpacks, it was not a huge surprise to myself and other (xs)Zero users that I have talked with over the last two months.
So what the new Zpacks Nero backpack is not is a customizable backpack, but in many ways that is perfectly acceptable. The Nero has pretty much the standard features that the vast majority of people ordered on the old Zero. That being, side pockets and a mesh front pocket.
Something else that the new Zpacks Nero backpack is not is a backpack that is made with the lighter weight DCF fabric. No longer even an option. Out the door and bye-bye gone forever. The new Zpacks Nero backpack is now rocking the way more durable DCF that Zpacks has been using across their Arc backpacks for many years now, what we use to call ‘hybrid’. The 2.92 oz/sqyd stuff that is pretty much the default standard within the industry (zpacks/hmg/mld/etc).
So what are some things that the Zpacks Nero backpack is?
Simple, the next adaptation of the streamlined minimalist Zpacks designed backpack.
And to many, that is exactly what they want and exactly what they need.
The Nero, like the previous (xs)Zero was a niche market backpack. So too will the Nero be. While the world of sub 2268 hikers is growing every year, I am confident that the Nero is going to be one of those backpacks that becomes a defacto backpack, especially for those working their way into the sub 2268 world of hiking, as it really does offer all of the features that they need and expect, and being in that pack volume size that is a critical point.
What the Nero also is, and probably most importantly for Zpacks, is a frameless backpack. By keeping the Nero as a frameless backpack it keeps them in that market. The popularity of their Arc Frame backpacks is outstanding. It would not have been all that hard for Zpacks to simply move away from the frameless backpack market and have it hurt them in any way whatsoever. So we need to keep in mind that Zpacks did not simply decide to throw in the towel on the frameless market, but instead try to offer something that they can produce in quantity, using templates/patterns, that has the most popular features that are used by those of us within the sub 2268 world of hiking.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about a strange new design that Zpacks has done for a vertical hip belt adjustment system. Take a look at the below photograph to see what Zpacks has designed to help them allow hikers to adjust the hip belt vertically. You will see that they have attached vertical webbing, with some tiny loops, onto both sides of the panel. The hip belt has attachment hardware that goes through those loops, at whatever height you might want/need your hip belt at. An interesting approach to having an adjustable torso height. And yes, this also makes it so that the Nero can be a hip beltless backpack.
All of the specs for the Nero is, of course, on the Zpacks website, but here are the key points that I want to point out.
First, the weight. The Nero is hitting the scales at 309 grams (10.9 ounces) according to Zpacks. The switch to the significantly more durable DCF accounts for a good percentage of the weight over the previous Zero backpacks with comparable features. Also note additional weight of the foam pad, talked about below.
Volume. I have been talking and talking (writing) the last few years how backpack volume has become the important factor to me. Simply put, the less gear I take, the smaller backpack I need. Likewise, the smaller my gear can compress, the smaller backpack that I need. The overall pack volume, with the collar (roll top) all the way extended is 40 liters. With the collar folded down to the top of the bag, it is rated at 38 liters. The center pocket and side pockets account for 13L of those.
Lastly, the max load weight (capacity) is being listed at 20 lbs (9 kg). I have always thought Zpacks over lists their max load weight – or it could just be because I am a sissy and do not like my shoulders to ache. From lots of experiences with backpacks of this volume I would say like to say that 20 pound mark is probably pushing the absolute limits of a backpack of this design. YMMV. But let us just keep one thing in mind, the Nero is, as Zpacks states, “best suited for hardcore long distance hikers with base weights around 5-6 lbs (2.5 kg)“. With that being the target market, even at a 6p BPW, add in four days of food (at the standard 1.2PPPPD) and you are at 10.8 pounds, add in another two liters of water at 4.6 pounds, and you are at a TPW of 15.4 pounds. That places you right at 5 pounds below the MLW of the Nero, so this backpack should not have any issues when used within the scope/market that it is designed for.
Lastly, the foam pad that is used as a back support (and sit pad) is included with the purchase of the backpack and weighs in at, I am told, 1.0 ounce. Zpacks does not include the weight of the foam pad (or does not as of time of this publication) in the overall total pack weight.
Well, for now, given that this backpack just hit the market about an hour ago, and I have been sitting here typing all of this up, I suppose that is about all there is to share on this new backpack. It is going to be really neat seeing other hikers (especially sub 2268 hikers) ordering one of these new Zpacks Nero backpacks, getting some miles on them, and reporting back their thoughts.
While we knew that Zpacks had something in the works the last few weeks, we had no idea what the actual name, features, and specs of it was going to be. I have said it before and will say it again: the cottage industry sees very few new products hitting the market these days, so it is always an exciting day when that happens!
In the months ahead, as I get a chance to put some miles onto my Nero backpack, I will post other updates. For now, here is an initial walk around video of the Nero backpack.
Where To Buy:
Thanks for reading,
I am a member of #TeamZpacks, and while nobody is exactly sure what that means, it is always great to be able to share about a new Zpacks product!