< Go to Ultralight Backpacks

Hands-on Gear Review

ZPacks Arc Blast 55 Review

ZPacks Arc Blast 55
Top Pick Award
Price:   $325 List
Pros:  Lightest pack with a frame, practically waterproof, good external storage, very light!
Cons:  No hip belt pockets (available add on), complicated frame
Editors' Rating:     
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Manufacturer:   ZPacks

Our Verdict

The ZPacks Arc Blast 55 won our Top Pick for Ultralight Enthusiasts. Experienced thru-hikers covet this pack for its class-leading lightweight - just 21.3 ounces. An intricate five-piece carbon frame allows it to carry more weight than you expect given its weight, and the main pack plus exterior pockets are sized just right for long adventures with ultralight loads. Additionally, the hybrid Cuben fiber fabric is both light and practically waterproof. If you are an experienced enthusiast scheming to shave another 8 ounces from your Big Four weight, this is the perfect pack.

The Arc Blast 55 from ZPacks is easily the lightest pack we tested that can carry 25 to 30 pound loads, though we feel its sweet spot for load carrying is 19 pounds or less. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, is more comfortable (and also more featured) when you commonly carry loads in the mid 20s. We also love the Gorilla for light loads too, even though it's a half pound heavier than the Arc Blast. If it's not uncommon for you to carry 30 pounds on your backpacking adventures, you'll be best served by our Best Buy winner, the Osprey Exos 48. The Exos features every pocket and strap you could possibly want and it carries 30 pounds better than any other. That said, it's a full pound heavier than the Arc Blast.

New Version Available — January 2017
ZPacks has made some changes to the new version of this pack, now known as the Arc Blast 55 and pictured above. It was formally the Arc Blast 52. We got the details from ZPacks, so keep reading to find out how this model differs from the original.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ultralight Backpacks for Thru Hikers and Backpackers

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Total Weight Stripped Weight Claimed Volume
85
$245
Editors' Choice Award
29.4 oz 17.5 oz 38 L
77
$210
31.4 oz 20.4 oz 63 L
77
$190
Best Buy Award
37.6 oz 33.9 oz 48 L
75
$325
Top Pick Award
21.3 oz 21.3 oz 52 L
67
$330
32 oz 27.7 oz 55 L
64
$140
18.6 oz 18.6 oz 54 L
60
$160
38.7 oz 35.5 oz 45 L
53
$180
25.9 oz 18.6 oz 30 L
34
$80
27.2 oz 27.2 oz 40 L

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Brandon Lampley
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
January 12, 2017

Share:

Updated Arc Blast 55 vs. Arc Blast 52


ZPacks made a few tweaks to this award-winning pack while maintaining the same price point of $325. It is currently available in four colors: green, grey, black, and blue. Keep reading to see a side-by-side comparison of the new and original Arc Blast and for a full summary of the update.

On the left: the new Arc Blast 55. On the right: the now outdated Arc Blast 52.
ZPacks Arc Blast 55
 

Here's a full summary of updates:
  • Volume — As you may have already gathered, the volume of the pack has increased from 52 to 55 liters.
  • Frame — According to ZPacks, they have updated the way the frame attaches to the pack in order to "address some durability issues." According to their website, the original Arc Blast 52 became uncomfortable with a load of over 30 pounds, though they aimed for comfort up to 35 pounds with this new version. Our reviewers gave the Arc Blast 52 a "Good" for loads up to 30 pounds, so we're excited to see if this update boosts that score to "Great."
  • Buckles — This pack has been updated with stronger buckles on the belt, sternum strap, and top strap.

We like to get our hands on all the products we review, and since we haven't been able to test this new version yet, be aware that the rest of this review reflects the original Arc Blast 52.

Hands-On Review of the Arc Blast 52


The ZPacks Arc Blast 52 earned the fourth-highest overall score in this review, largely due to its class-leading weight-to-volume ratio. It also earned a better than average carrying comfort score. ZPacks sacrificed a complete set of features, as well as durability and adaptability to deliver this pack's feather light weight.

How to Get It:
ZPacks backpacks, shelters, and sleeping bags are not available from traditional retail outlets, and must be ordered directly from the manufacturer in Florida.
Get it online at: ZPacks.com

Banging out 30 mile days on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail  the ZPacks Arc Blast (the lightest pack we tested with a frame) was awesome. Expert ultralight hikers with sub-20 pound loads will love this streamlined pack.
Banging out 30 mile days on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, the ZPacks Arc Blast (the lightest pack we tested with a frame) was awesome. Expert ultralight hikers with sub-20 pound loads will love this streamlined pack.

Performance Comparison


Check out the following chart to see where the ZPacks Arc Blast, shown in blue, ranks in Overall Performance amongst the other packs in our test.


Weight-to-Volume Ratio


The ZPacks Arc Blast is custom built with many options. Our test model was a 52 liter pack with the medium adjustable torso length. This was mated up with a medium hip belt. This combo fit our 5' 11", 32" waist lead tester well. It did take a little time adjusting the frame for the best fit. Among other adjustments, the partial mesh panel that holds the frame in tension can move up higher or down lower, contacting your back in different spots. This is a pack for expert gear fiddlers.


Weight Bottom Line:
Total Weight with components = 1 lb 5.3 oz

While you could remove the Arc Blast's frame components, we do not recommend this.

More durable fabric side pockets and a stretch mesh front pocket is our preferred combo. The Arc Blast and Gossamer Gear Gorilla have this pocket combination.
More durable fabric side pockets and a stretch mesh front pocket is our preferred combo. The Arc Blast and Gossamer Gear Gorilla have this pocket combination.

OGL Measured Volume Bottom Line:
Total Volume = 50 L
Main Bag = 40 L
Front Pocket = 7 L
Side Pockets = 3 L

At 11 g/L max and stripped, this pack delivers the best average weight-to-volume ratio with the exception of the frameless Granite Gear Virga 2. It's no contest, the Arc Blast has the best weight-to-volume ratio for an ultralight backpack with a frame.

Load Carrying Comfort


We judged the Arc Blast load carrying ability overall to be very good. We awarded it a "Great" score for carrying 15 lb loads, and a "Good" rating for 30 lb loads. Our testers have a variety of body shapes and tolerance for load carrying comfort. Some felt this pack could have earned a "Great" rating for 30 lbs, but our lead tester believes "Good" is more appropriate for these loads. This pack is comfortable enough when carrying 25 pounds. Compared to the other very light contender, the frameless Granite Gear Virga 2, the Arc Blast transfers medium weight loads to your hips much better.


We think this pack is best suited for folks with the experience (and budget) to carry a very light base weight. If your "heavy carries" are rarely more than the mid to low 20s, then this pack is an excellent way to shave weight off your kit.


This pack fit and carried our 25 pound load of gear  food  water  and fuel just fine  but that's about the upper limit for capacity and load carrying comfort.
This pack fit and carried our 25 pound load of gear, food, water, and fuel just fine, but that's about the upper limit for capacity and load carrying comfort.

Features


With a minimal feature set, the ZPacks Arc Blast's focus is on lightweight design and construction. However, many optional features are available if you choose to add them to the basic configuration.


The Arc Blast and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 3400 are the two packs we tested built with waterproof hybrid Cuben fiber. The Arc Blast shoots for the expert user market and the Windrider is more of an old-school workhorse (it's much more durable). If you're after a mostly waterproof pack for very rainy climates, these are the best two choices we tested.

This seamed-taped waterproof fabric pack uses a roll top closure with Velcro and a buckle to complete its enclosed main pack. The main exterior storage is a large mesh main pocket with elastic at the top. The side pockets are built with the same fabric as the main pack with elastic at the top. They aren't as large as the ones on the Gorilla, but just accept a 1 Liter Nalgene bottle. Hip belt pockets are a modular add-on we did not test. Like the ULA Ohm 2.0, the waist belt tightens with two buckles on each side of the padded waist belt, and zig-zag cord down each side forms the compression system. The only additional external lashing points are two cords that allow you to secure a rolled foam pad horizontally to the bottom of the pack.

The best packs provide the ability to scale up and down in volume or carry big light items easily on the exterior. The incredibly light Arc Blast still maintains the important feature of lash straps for a foam pad.
The best packs provide the ability to scale up and down in volume or carry big light items easily on the exterior. The incredibly light Arc Blast still maintains the important feature of lash straps for a foam pad.

The Arc Blast does not have a hydration bladder pocket inside, but does have a small sewn-in loop to hang one and a center port to route the drinking hose over either shoulder. True to the minimalist construction, there are no D-rings on the shoulder straps and no whistle on the sternum strap buckle.

Minimal design: defined. Small cords for compression  simple slanted top side pockets  and no hip belt pockets.
Minimal design: defined. Small cords for compression, simple slanted top side pockets, and no hip belt pockets.

Adaptability


The ZPacks Arc Blast 52 earned one of the lowest adaptability scores. With a frame so intricate, we were sorry we ever disassembled this pack; we don't recommend that you follow our lead. Additionally, this pack has limited exterior lashing options unless you upgrade and customize.


We rated the Arc Blast 52's compatibility with a BV500 bear canister "just ok." It fits vertically but packs poorly. A custom option of two over-the-top straps for securing the can outside on top is the best idea.

We would love to completely remove the frame and waist belt for short trips that are super light, but we found we needed to tie knots in the cords used to tension the frame. Over the course of a long day, these cords always slipped a little through the cord locks that secure them, loosening the frame tension. Due to the slippage, a knot in the cord, or a safety pin, that acts as a positive stop against the cord lock, is necessary if you want to achieve the perfect frame Arc and have it stay put. Finally, it is one of the least adaptable in terms of load carrying comfort. While packs like Exos have a carrying range of about 15 pounds in which it's comfortable, the Arc Blast is most comfortable between just 10 and 20 pounds.

Because of the relatively wide tensioned frame  this pack doesn't scale down in main compartment volume very well.
Because of the relatively wide tensioned frame, this pack doesn't scale down in main compartment volume very well.

Durability


While this pack's hybrid Cuben fiber fabric with a polyester face is more durable than other non-faced Cuben fabrics, it is not as abrasion resistant over time as the heavier nylon ripstops used by competitors. But that's OK, this pack is designed for the user that prioritizes light weight over durability. You'll want to treat this pack's carbon frame with kid gloves; no sitting on your loaded pack or tossing it into the back of a truck.


Best Applications


The ZPacks Arc Blast 52 with its class-leading low weight is best used by experienced ultralight backpackers. Two of our testers, who travel with 7 to 9 pound base weights, have used this pack for many thousands of miles thru-hiking and loved it. If you've logged the mileage to know exactly what feature set you want, and you want the lightest pack with the most custom options, this pack is perfect. While we found other packs more comfortable carrying loads into the mid and upper 20s, many hardcore users feel this pack is "comfortable enough" for those heavier loads.

Value


Retailing for $325, and even more expensive if you want to add modular hip pockets or custom features, this is one of the most expensive packs we tested. We recommend it to experienced and expert ultralight backpackers who are willing to pay the premium to save 8 ounces. Treated with care, this pack will last for many thousands of miles.

Arrival at the summit of Springer Mountain on New Year's Eve. Brandon blasted off the next morning for a 250-mile chunk of the Appalachian Trail. The Arc Blast carried his initial 20 pound load perfectly.
Arrival at the summit of Springer Mountain on New Year's Eve. Brandon blasted off the next morning for a 250-mile chunk of the Appalachian Trail. The Arc Blast carried his initial 20 pound load perfectly.

Conclusion


The ZPacks Arc Blast 52, which is a full half pound lighter than any of the other top scoring ultralight packs, is our Top Pick for Ultralight Enthusiasts. If your total weight carried rarely exceeds 20 pounds, you'll love this pack. The frame is a little tricky to adjust, but carries well relative to the light weight. This is the pack you want if your primary desire is the lightest possible ultralight backpack with a frame.

Sizing, Accessories, & Other Versions


As with all products from ZPacks, the Arc Blast is available with myriad sizing options and custom components, both of which make it a perfect choice for the detail-oriented expert user. The main pack is available in 40, 52, and 60 liter versions. Each is available in a variety of torso lengths, or adjustable torso length. Three waist belt sizes are available, as well as modular add-on hip belt and shoulder strap pockets. Just about any add on you can imagine is available, including straps specifically designed to carry a bear canister on top of the pack.

The ZPacks Arc Haul is nearly identical to the Arc Blast, but only built in the 60 liter size and with heavier Dyneema X Gridstop nylon fabric. It is a better choice for loads above the mid 20s and will more easily accept a bear canister inside the pack.

Not that you really need a pack cover for this pack, but want one just in case check out the Sea to Summit Pack Cover. Also, if you are in need of some stuff sacks check out the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks.
Brandon Lampley

  • Share this article:
You Might Also Like

OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: February 5, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (5.0)

100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
3 Total Ratings
5 star: 100%  (3)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Sort 2 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
Write a Review on this Gear

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Feb 3, 2016 - 10:56pm
Gordon · Backpacker
I have both this pack and the Ohm 2.0, which I got first. The Ohm is a really great pack, but I decided I preferred a "trampoline"-style suspension. For that reason, I initially tried the Exos 58 (I found the 48 a wee bit small), but returned it because it was several ounces heaver than the claimed weight. Also, with the Exos pack, the suspension tension cannot be released, making the pack effectively thicker than just the filled thickness of the main compartment. This can be an issue with some airlines' carry-on baggage limits.

With the Arc Blast, the tension can be completely released, and the bag lays flat; that is the way I carry it while travelling by bus, boat, or airplane. I do not find it difficult to retension the suspension when it comes time to hike, but the bag does need to be empty when doing that. The review makes slippage of the tensioning cords seem like something of an issue. Once the desired tension is reached, I have had no problems with slippage of the tensioning cords if I simply loop the cords back over their cord locks and pull them tight. I do not find adjusting the Arc Blast all that difficult, and I am not someone with a thousand miles of backpacking experience.

Oh, and this thing is crazy light! ;-)

I originally thought that I would sell the Ohm 2.0, but for now I am hanging on to it because it has larger side pockets, and a much larger front pocket, than the Arc Blast. Both packs have a four buckle hip belt tightening system, which I prefer to the more common two-point systems. The Ohm might possibly be a better pack for fall or spring, but in the heat of summer the Arc Blast wins big.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Feb 5, 2017 - 12:33am
Alexander Persons · Backpacker · Baltimore
This is a review not of my own Arc Blast, but a friend's. He got it, then blew out his knee real bad, but didn't want to get rid of the pack, so I've had it on loan for a while. And let me give a shout out to Zpacks and their customer service! I ordered a used Arc Blast around Christmas, and it got lost in the mail. USPS said it got delivered, but I never got it. Maybe stolen, maybe lost in the mountains of holiday mail. Anyway, I told Zpacks and they refunded my money immediately. They absolutely did not have to do that! It was USPS fault, not Zpacks. Straight up good-hearted people running the company! Those funds got spent on holiday gift-buying, so I never got my own pack, but as soon as I get the funds, I'm getting one for my friend and keeping his!

The pack is crazy light. My usual pack weight, including water, food, and fuel, is about 22 pounds for a four day trip, and my big four weight is about 5.6 pounds (hammock, tarp, suspension-26oz; under and top quilts-40oz; Arc Blast w/xtras-24oz). I have used the Arc Blast in winter, with full hammock setup including 20-degree quilts, and in summer with lighter-weight sleep system. Since it's not my pack, I try to go easy on it, but I've had no issues with the frame, durability, or comfort. It's not a bombproof, bush-ripping, off-trail pack, but seriously, how many of us need that? Most of us stay on trails, and are out for maybe 5-6 days at most. I'm not an expert, nor a hard-core thru-hiker, but I know what I'm doing, and so the Arc Blast is great for me. My journey from heavy-as-hell gear to lightweight has been a revelation, and this pack is amazing for lightweight gear loads. If you're making the switch and don't have your pack weight down to about 25 pounds max, this pack might not be for you…yet. The pack actually forced me to rethink my gear, and realize that I didn't need a bunch of stuff I was lugging around. I used to never even consider a pack less than 65 liters, but now I would never go over 50-55. I realized that if I had all that space I would end up filling it with redundant gear. But now by the last day of a four day trip my pack weight is down to about 16 pounds! I used to go out on an overnight with 35-40 pounds, and was miserable. Now hiking long miles is awesome! I've seen lots of people on the AT with this pack, many hardcore thru-hikers, and they all love it! When I see folks like this on the trail I grill them about their gear, and take what they do and carry seriously. Thru-hikers don't mess with crappy gear! I bought the hip pockets and the extra upper side pockets, and my gear storage system is amazing now, and the pack weighs in at about a little under 24 ounces. My cooking gear and fuel, hammock and tarp and suspension, rain gear and extra thermal layer, day-snacks, phone, Spot3, knife, headlamp, and water are all on the outside. I don't open the pack until I'm in camp and my tarp and hammock are hung…great for crappy weather with down quilts. I just keep all that goose-down in trash bags inside…just in case…but there's never really been the need to. The cuben fiber is waterproof.

So the pack is great, maybe not for everyone, but I absolutely love it! The used one I bought (but sadly never got) was $270 I think. Pricey, yes, but a solid, comfy, feather-light piece of gear certainly great up to 25 pounds in my humble opinion. I'm going to load it up to 30 this spring to see how it does. Bigger picture, these smaller, non-mainstream companies are really pushing the envelope on gear. I feel strongly about supporting companies like Zpacks so we have alternatives to the Ospreys, Patagonias, and Gregorys.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No


Have you used the ZPacks Arc Blast 55?
Don't hold back. Share your viewpoint by posting a review with your thoughts...

Write a Review on this Gear
 

Follow Us


Unbiased.