Firstly, about Z Packs. To be frank I had never heard of them until this May. Their founder, Joe Valesko, was on the TGO Challenge, and I heard a few people mention this. On my last day on the Challenge I was on top of the cliffs at St Cyrus and heard Joe shrieking as he waded semi-clothed into the cold North Sea with his two colleagues. I also shared a bus with these guys to Montrose and was amazed at how small their packs were. It made me think. So I checked out their website, and thus began my purchases, funded partly through some active recent selling of a number of pieces of surplus gear on Outdoor Magic and E Bay.
There are four things I want to mention about this company. Firstly, they make some incredibly lightweight gear, seem to specialise in cuben fibre, and the prices seem to compare well with other firms working in this same expensive material. Secondly, much of their stuff is customisable, which is really useful if you are very tall/short/fat/thin/blue eyed or whatever. Thirdly, they appear to have an extremely good reputation with US backpackers. I do a lot of googling before buying and it was hard to find anything negative about them or their products. Finally, they are very customer focused, with great service and you can easily talk with (well e-mail) Joe himself in advance of your purchases to make sure you get the right product for your needs. I stress I have no personal incentive to be be so positive but they deserve this praise. I want good companies to prosper so compliments should be given when they are earned. This company knows how to deal with people, and they know their backpacking.
The Arc Blast Pack
I ordered a 60 litre pack with the following additions: two hip pockets, one shoulder strap pocket, walking pole and ice axe loops, and extra lumbar support. It is made of cuben fibre but has an outer covering of polyester to add durability (several colours available). With these additions, and the longer back (see below) mine weighs in at just 590 grams. That weight is pretty incredible.
The pack has a clever frame which you must put under tension before use by pulling tight the cord on 4 linelocks (see third photo below). This creates some air flow between your back and the pack. When ordering I wanted a longer back than any of the advertised lengths. This was no problem, and was at no extra cost. For me this was one of the most important reasons I chose this pack. The hip belt sits properly on my hips.
|The Z Packs Arc Blast, 60 litres - the pack closes very neatly and securely - I hadn't fastened it properly when I took this photo. Nor is the pack properly filled - I had just bunged a sleeping bag in it to fill it up a bit.|
|Rear view showing the added extras of additional lumbar padding, two hip pockets and one shoulder strap pocket|
|Close up of frame - the idea is you tighten the four line locks. The tension then curves the frame, creating a gap between frame and mesh to allow some airflow to your back|
I have only used the pack for a few days, carrying a load of about 10.5kg including food and fuel. It was a very comfortable carry. I found the system to tension the frame difficult until I realised that this is straightforward if you do it when the pack is empty. When full it is was problematic, needing a lot of effort, and the thin cord cut into my hands. Lesson learnt. Clearly, I can not comment on durability but reviews from US hikers and comments from long distance backpacker Keith Foskett have not raised any concerns. The mesh outer does not appear that robust to me, but I haven't tested it. I think it will need to be treated with care. The hip pockets are of a good size, as is the shoulder strap pocket. The two lower open side pockets are reasonable, but I'm not certain I could use these for my shelter - they may be a little narrow. I would like one to have been wider and deeper. I wonder if that would have been possible if I had asked before purchase? I like the roll top closure. It's similar to that system on other packs I've had (eg a Golite Pinnacle and ULA Catalyst) but also has a full length velcro fastening which seems to make it easier to close effectively and securely. As I wrote above, I bought the 60 litres size (they also do a 45 litre and a 52 litre) and it doesn't feel a generous 60 litres, so if you are buying, and in doubt about the volume to choose, I would size up. The additional weight for the larger size is miniscule. On a very superficial note I love my choice of colour and the fact that the various add on pockets are also in this rather nice shade of green.
The thing I will come back to again and again, though, is the incredibly light weight for a 60 litre pack with a frame.
The Challenger Jacket
All I had originally intended to purchase from Z packs was a lightweight jacket, promised me by my wife as a birthday present. Again, I couldn't quite get my head around the advertised weight of the Challenger Jacket which is 180 gr in the XL size. That's about 350 gr lighter than my Goretex Berghaus Paclite jacket which is the lightest waterproof I had previously owned. You pick this thing up and it almost seems to float off into the heavens. I quite bored my long suffering wife by handing it to her and saying "here, hold this, isn't it light?" I had the additional pit zips to improve breathability.
The jacket is made of a hybrid E Vent / cuben fibre material with a thin outer layer of nylon which, the company says, makes it more durable and allows it to be given a solid black colour. As you would expect from the weight it is minimalist in design. It has one chest pocket - which is not big enough to take an OS map. I really like the simple wrist and hem closures which seem very easy and effective to use. There is no storm flap on the zip, which is supposed to be waterproof. The hood is very comfortable, just the right size for me, and it has a slightly stiffened peak. It can be rolled and fastened away. The whole jacket packs very small. To my intense annoyance (!!!) it has hardly rained since the jacket has arrived, so any comments about whether it is fit for its main purpose can not be given now. I have high hopes of it, and if it does breathe as well as claimed it will eliminate the need to carry a separate wind shirt, meaning an even greater weight saving.
|The Z packs Challenger Rain Jacket - it is not as shiny as this photo makes it seem|
|The Challenger Jacket - showing the rather dapper mottled white inner|
|As one blogger has questioned the hood this photo is to show that it is more than adequate|
Afternote (28/09/14): one reader in the comments asked for photos of where the hood volume adjuster is attached. Those that follow are for those who want this sort of detail!
|Hood volume adjuster (1)|
|Hood volume adjuster (2)|
|Inside fastner for rolling up hood (the strap on the rear fastens into this)|