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ZPacks Arc Blast 55 Review

ZPacks Arc Blast 55
Top Pick Award
Price:   $325 List
Pros:  Lightest pack with a frame, nearly waterproof, ample external storage, very light!
Cons:  Overly complicated frame, no hip belt pockets (available add on)
Bottom line:  This is hands down the lightest pack in the fleet, while still having the capabilities of a full frame pack - the ultralight backpacker's dream!
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   ZPacks

Our Verdict

The ZPacks Arc Blast 55 is the proud winner of our Top Pick for Ultralight Enthusiasts award. Experienced thru-hikers drool over this pack for its class-leading lightweight design - 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 provide just enough space 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 it really shines when carrying loads that are 19 pounds or less. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, is more comfortable (and also more featured) when you commonly carry loads in the mid-20s. We also love the Mariposa and 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 2017


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Brandon Lampley

Last Updated:
Thursday
January 12, 2017

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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 is the now outdated Arc Blast 52.
ZPacks Arc Blast 55
 

Here's a full summary of updates:
  • Volume — 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 rating chart above to see where the ZPacks Arc Blast ranks in Overall Performance amongst the other packs in our test.

Weight-to-Volume Ratio


The 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 fits our 5' 11", 32" waist lead tester well and 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 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 and 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, and will only accept a one-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 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 the Exos have a carrying range of about 15 pounds in which it's comfortable, the Arc Blast is most comfortable between 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 ripstop 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 Arc Blast 52, with its class-leading low weight, is best used by experienced ultralight backpackers. Two of our testers, who travel with seven to nine-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 were more comfortable when 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, 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 eight 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.
Brandon Lampley

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Most recent review: January 12, 2017
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