ZPacks Arc Blast Backpack Review

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At a mere 16.4 ounces, the ZPacks Arc Blast is an ultralight backpackers dream come true.

The ZPacks Arc Blast is one of the lightest and most comfortable backpacks I’ve ever taken on the trail. Its minimal, carbon fiber frame provides airflow to your back, which is an uncommon benefit for ultralight packs. The design of the pack is simple, making it convenient and easy to use. Large hip-belt pockets and shoulder strap pouches are an additional benefit that should not be passed up. The Arc Blast is an exceptional blend of toughness and simplicity that will greatly reduce your pack weight.

Near mt. st helens
Near mt. st helens

ZPacks owner, Joe Valesko, is a seasoned thru-hiker and triple crown backpacker. He knows his stuff and his company has an excellent reputation for customer service. If you’re an ultralight backpacker in need of a pack upgrade, I highly recommend the ZPacks Arc Blast.

I’ve taken the Arc Blast on a few backpacking trips now, most recently the Collegiate Peaks Loop in Colorado. I’ve covered around 250 trail miles with this pack and I feel comfortable recommending it to lightweight backpackers. I’ve written this review to share my thoughts and opinions about the Arc Blast backpack.  

Texas Lake on the CPL
Texas Lake on the CPL

For starters, here’s a brief list of the pros that I have found with this backpack. I'll break each point down and go into more detail below. 

Summary of pros:

  • Weight – At 16.4oz, this bag is about as light as they get.
  • Comfort – The hip belt and shoulder straps on this bag are well padded and the back support is very comfortable.
  • Airflow – The Arc Blast design leaves room for airflow on your back. That’s a huge benefit that most ultralight backpacks don’t have.
  • Frame – Minimal carbon fiber frame. You won’t need a foam pad for back support with this pack. A great benefit for blow-up pad sleepers.
  • Ease of use – The simple design of this pack makes it convenient to use. There are no unnecessary straps, clips, or pockets to get in the way.  
  • Hip pockets – The optional hip pockets (extra cost) are waterproof and conveniently large.
  • Durability – It’s not a tank, but if treated well, it’ll last a long time.
  • Size – The pack comes in 52L and 60L sizes. A great amount of space for an UL pack.
  • Shoulder Strap Pouch – The optional shoulder strap pouch (extra cost) should not be passed up. It’s the perfect storage area for your camera and sunglasses.
  • Custom Made – ZPacks offers several customizable options, so you can build your pack just the way you want it.
  • Warranty – ZPacks has a 1-year warranty on their packs. They will return or exchange defected gear, even if it is a custom alteration.
arc blast back
arc blast back

Here's the full breakdown: 

This pack is light. And I mean light. 16.4 ounces is featherweight. And it really feels that way on your back.

The shoulder straps and hip belt have excellent padding. They are very comfortable and have added stitching to increase durability. The hip belt on this pack isn't as rigid as many pack belts tend to be. The advantage of this is increased comfort around your waist, but this style won't be ideal for heavy loads and rigid hip support. 

The Arc Blast frame design really is quite smart. It allows for airflow to your back, which will help control your body temperature and reduce back sweat while you hike. You also won't need to rely on a foam pad for back support, like many other UL packs. If you prefer to sleep on air pads, this frame design will help reduce unnecessary back padding weight.

Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens

The clips and straps on this bag are small and light. They seem a lot more minimal than other packs I’ve used and they are probably not as tough. That being said, I think a good balance was struck in this area. If your gear is light, you won’t need heavy straps on your pack. I was worried at first that the straps and clips were too small, but I quickly changed my mind once I got this pack on the trail.

Durability is another area where I think this pack is deceptive. At 16.4oz with a minimal frame and strap design, I was worried that this pack wouldn’t be able to handle the toughness of the trail. So far it has crushed my expectations. I’ve logged about 250 trail miles with this pack and it looks like it has a ton of life left in it. I don’t think it will be as durable as some other UL packs and it definitely won’t be as durable as a traditional backpack, but I would absolutely feel comfortable taking this pack on a thru-hike without hesitation. Treat it with care and it’ll last a long time.

Snow Walking St. Helens
Snow Walking St. Helens

The optional hip belt pockets (extra cost) on this pack are roomy. ZPacks updated their hip pockets in April, so I haven’t had a chance to use the new pocket design, but it looks very similar to the old design with a few improvements. The hip belt pockets are now waterproof, which is a great touch. They are also latched with a simple clip now, which is another improvement.  They are still quite large, which is great for carrying easily accessible gear, but they can get in the way of swinging arms while you hike. I ultimately didn’t find this to be an issue, but it was annoying at first and it took a little while to get used to. I wouldn’t ever backpack with a pack that didn't have hip belt pockets, so I’d definitely recommend adding a pair to your order.

I would also highly recommend adding one shoulder strap pouch (extra cost) to your order. I found wearing one shoulder strap pouch to be incredibly useful. I've been looking for a better spot on my pack to store my camera and sunglasses for a long time. I want them to be easily accessible and always in a safe place, especially when my pack is resting on the ground. I found that adding a shoulder strap pouch was the perfect solution to my problem. My camera and glasses are always safely suspended in an easy to reach position.

hip belt pockets
hip belt pockets

The size of this pack is also quite appropriate for ultralight pack users. It’s a slim pack, so it won’t hold as much gear as other pack designs. I found the 52L model to be an appropriate size for all of my UL gear with five days of supplies and plenty of room to spare. ZPacks also offers a 60L model, which is a bit bigger for users who are concerned with space. If you’re an ultralight backpacker that knows how to pack light, I’d recommend the 52L size. If you’re transitioning to UL backpacking and are nervous about needing more space, get the 60L pack.

Lake Ann Pass
Lake Ann Pass

Like all backpacking gear, the Arc Blast does have some downsides. Here’s a list of the cons that I found with this pack. I'll break each point down and go into more detail below. 

Summary of cons:

  • Price – The Arc Blast is sold at a very fair price for a featherweight cuben fiber UL backpack. It is well worth the investment for thru-hikers and those that backpack a lot. Please visit ZPacks for specific pricing information.   
  • Heavy loads – This pack is designed to carry ultralight gear comfortably. Its recommended max weight is 30lbs, so if you’re planning to carry heavy loads, I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Back comfort – Thought the Arc Blast design does provide space between your back and the bag, you’ll still need to pack your equipment carefully to avoid gear poking into your back. This is easy to do.
  • Water bottle holders – This is a completely personal beef, but I wish the water bottle holders were made of tough mesh, and were slightly larger. Mesh wouldn't collect rain and might be more appropriate for different bottle sizes. 
  • Style – Again, a totally personal beef. I think that the style of this bag is slightly lacking for me. That being said, the new colors do add a lot of personality and the bag is highly functional, which is more important in my opinion.
  • Shoulder strap twists – The shoulder straps of this bag sometimes twist while you’re putting it on and need to be adjusted. Not a big deal at all.
  • Water Performance – The Arc Blast that I tested didn’t have taped seams like the new bags do. For that reason, it didn’t perform well in the rain. The new bags with taped seams should be better.  
  • Wait time – Because ZPacks is a small company that builds gear on demand, their products can sometimes have a wait time of a few weeks. Check the top of their website for current delays. 
Colorado rockies backpacking view
Colorado rockies backpacking view

Here's the full breakdown: 

All backpacking gear has downsides. That’s just the nature of gear. I found the Arc Blast downsides to be few and far between, but I think it’s still important to share them.

The main downside to this bag is probably the price. Cuben fiber is an excellent material to use for UL backpacking gear, but it is very expensive. One of the main reasons that this bag is so light is because it’s constructed with cuben fiber. So, there’s really nothing that ZPacks can do about the price, it's just the tradeoff for working with UL materials. Though it will surely be too expensive for some, I still think it’s well worth the investment.

top view
top view

Another downside to the Arc Blast is its size and load carrying ability. This is not a downside for most ultralight backpackers; in fact, it’s exactly what we’re looking for. But for traditional backpackers, an ultralight bag can sometimes be a tough transition. The Acr Blast will carry a light load exceptionally well, but if you’re planning on carrying a lot of weight, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The design of the Arc Blast is great for increasing airflow to your back while you hike. This is an important feature, especially if you sweat a lot on the trail. You will still have to pack your bag carefully because poorly packed equipment can poke you in the back while you hike. The Arc Blast now has two horizontal bars on the frame, which will help provide more space than the model I am using.

Annie in Colorado
Annie in Colorado

The Arc Blast pack I tested was not seam-taped for water protection, but cuben fiber is a waterproof material. When it rained, water would run through the seams (especially through the bottle holders) and get into the bag. It’s uncommon to find waterproof backpacks, so this wasn’t the biggest deal to me. I almost always line the inside of my pack with a trash bag when it’s raining, even if my backpack claims to be waterproof. It’s just not worth the risk of getting your gear wet. Now ZPacks tapes the seams of the Arc Blast for added water protection. My guess is that this makes a big improvement, but I would probably still line the inside of my bag in a rainstorm.

Arc Blast in the rain
Arc Blast in the rain

ZPacks is a small company, which comes with certain advantages and disadvantages. They build their products on demand, constantly innovate, and do excellent custom work. The downside is that they often have long wait times for their products. The current wait time for this pack is 4-5 weeks. It’s not always that long and they will do their best to get you your gear ASAP. Joe is very good at responding to personal requests, so don't hesitate to send them an email if you have questions. I think their products are well worth the wait and I enjoy supporting small businesses that are doing good work. 

I don’t often find backpacks that are extremely light, comfortable, and tough. That’s why I feel so confident about recommending the ZPacks Arc Blast. Head over to their site and check them out if you’re in the market for a new bag. As always, if you have any comments or questions, fill out the form below and I’ll be happy to respond. Thanks for reading! 

Sincerely,

Dave Collins

The ZPacks Arc Blast is one of CleverHiker's 2013 Top Picks for backpacks. To see our other 2013 picks for backpacks, shelters, sleeping bags, stoves, and more, check out our lightweight backpacking ebook and video series

Dave finishing the Collegiate Peaks Loop
Dave finishing the Collegiate Peaks Loop

Disclaimer: ZPacks sent me an Arc Blast backpack for testing, but I am under no obligation to give them a positive review. The thoughts and opinions in this post come directly from my trail experience with this product. 

* All prices listed are current as of this posting. They may change over time.