I have to break up with my Zpacks backpack

People have shared that gear may shift along the course of a thru-hike, but it is not without some sadness that I didn’t get my pack choice right from the start.


I have to break up with my Zpacks Arc-Haul backpack.


Had a bear can in there at this point

It’s not the pack’s fault, per se.  I’ve had it for 4 years, and we’ve had some great trips, all with much shorter mileage.  When it worked, it worked.


But now that I’m 200+ miles into a thru-hike, there are a few big reasons as to why I need to immediately change my pack:


1) adjustments: there are so many straps to tug on and things to adjust (which is normally an advantage), but I have literally had a half a dozen fellow thru-hikers, day-hikers, Boy Scout dads, offer to adjust my pack for me, all with zero luck.  I feel confident that we have tried every possible adjustment scenario.  All the weight ends up in my shoulders and out of my hips  (about 60/40, respectively).

2) fit:  this could be a sub-point of #1, but it’s worth noting separately here.  My body has changed over the past few weeks, and as I have gotten leaner, the hip belt is not staying put!  I have an hour-glass shape, and now that I don’t have the extra cushion on my hips, the hip belt constantly rides up to my waist.  I’m now convinced that this brand (maybe this particular pack) is not friendly for women, especially curvy ones at that.  To give Zpacks credit, I noticed they now make a pack designed specifically for women, so they’re tailoring their product-line.  I, unfortunately, am over them.

3) durability: points 1 & 2 are critical, but this last one is something I am noticing the longer I am on trail.  The buckles are small, and the connection-points aren’t particularly strong.  When I tried to fasten the top buckles down the sides, for example, and I pulled down to tighten, that strap completely snapped.  Now I can only fasten on top (not great in the WA rain).  In fact, I’m noticing considerable  tugging and pulling.  A fellow thru-hiker mentioned that it is because I have too much weight (about 30lbs), and “Zpacks aren’t really designed for more than 25.”  Maybe so; that’s up for debate.

All I do know is that I need to be more comfortable, stat, and at this point, that does not include a Zpacks backpack.  No hard feelings.


I still have over 2,000 miles to go, so I want to get this dialed in.  I have my trail legs, finally, and with regard to everything else, I’m feeling pretty good.  I will need a new 0° sleeping bag once I hit the Sierras, but that was expected.  I’m open to suggestions, if anyone reading here has some!




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Comments 27

  • Mark Penman : Aug 8th

    I just bought the HMG Junction 3400 and it’s an amazing pack I would definitely recommend it if your looking to switch.

    • Ben : Jan 22nd

      I also recently picked up a Junction and am loving it.

  • Burgerfeet : Aug 8th

    Granite Gear, perimeter 50 liter, women’s fit is one great pack. Lots of adjustment points for shoulder straps and the hip belt can be adjusted for loss of weight. Holds up to 35 pounds comfortably and transfers weight to the hips and off the shoulders. Only complaint so far is the lower side stretch pockets, I can not reach them with pack on so did order a bottle holder for shoulder strap from Gossamer Gear.
    Happy trails, nothing but miles and smiles. Burgerfeet

    • Early Riser : Aug 9th

      The first thing I would do is reduce the weight you are carrying. 30lbs is a LOT of weight. I started my AT thru heavy as well. It took me several hundred miles to let go of all the extra crap I didn’t really need, but my mind kept holding onto out of fear. If you can reduce down to just what you need, you won’t be anywhere near 30lbs, even with 6 days of food. Good luck!!??

  • Theresa Conarty : Aug 9th

    I’m curvy too & I LOVE my ULA Circuit!

  • Cheri : Aug 9th

    HMG Southwest 3400, ULA Circuit or Granite Gear Blaze 60. The HMG is about 30 to 32 ounces. The other two will be substantially heavier than your Zpacks. The ULA hip belt is like sleeping on a Tempurpedic mattress compared to a sleazy motel mattress. The GG is not far behind ULA, but their shoulder straps are different from each other. The HMG pack is constructed differently so the entire pack works together for comfort and doesn’t rely on the hipbelt.

    There are others but you would have to wait a few months, the SWD Long haul is one of them. I have the previous design, but the new design has slightly bigger buckles and better water bottle pockets. It feels like my HMG with a more comfortable hip belt.

    Good Luck.

  • Mikeycat : Aug 9th

    Kudos for the ULA circuit. Catalyst if you’re not dumping the pillows. Lol.

    I have a bad shoulder and it helps distribute weight to my hips. Plenty of pockets. Added a shoulder pouch too. And they come in robic or xpac

  • Chris : Aug 9th

    ULA Circuit all the way.

  • Kelly : Aug 9th

    Check out Lite AF. Great pack. Very durable. Super wide check shoulder straps. Rides nicely on hips.

  • Raymond Upchurch : Aug 9th

    Janine-on high$ side, Feathered Friends & Western Mountaineering are the Primo brands in DOWN…KeltyCosmic 0 &20 are great for the $…Duck Down…if you are going to trash it anyway. I own OR GoreTex AlpineBivy. I attended NCOBS in 1970@TablerockMt; RockClimber for 22years…Always have roll Pink Survey Ribbon…Rescue Mirror…MagFireStick..Good light& knife…ALWAYS…..see book When You Find My Body…oh yea..love my Luc I Light…has SOS…I laid on CrowsNest for 5hours bleeding to death, 80ft up…1975…Godspeed…R.C. Upchurch

  • Raymond Upchurch : Aug 9th

    Janine…Always have a whistle on neck lanyard…Dixie wears a Neck Knife…see CRKT FOLTS designs@Wal-Mart…nice @$20

  • Raymond Upchurch : Aug 9th

    Janine- explore all EXPED Gear…Great Gear…love their Stuff Sacks…seek Nick or Dave in Washington State location…Great customer service….God Bless you on your journeys…R.C.Upchurch

  • Lando : Aug 11th

    If it doesn’t fit get rid of it and get into anything that does ASAP! Or get that pack under 20lbs and accept a belt free hike…

    If it was me I’d be looking at ula or one of the many gregory or osprey choices since this needs to be swapped now. If having comfort issues with the arc haul, don’t go with something similar. Go beefier. Even if it’s a pound or 2 heavier, you can 100% shave that off your current setup if that’s a concern.

    Something that might help in the meantime, assuming you have a sit pad/flip flops/anything foam, shove that between the belt and your hips to at least get that thing on tight enough for now.

  • Heat Lightning : Aug 12th

    Yeah. I feel this. Mine disintegrated after about 500 miles of usage. Got a granite gear which is another 1lb but is way more durable and comfortable and cheaper for most of the same features

  • Chumly : Aug 13th

    From your description I’d say you have the WRONG SIZE PACK, and it’s not going to fit no matter what you do to adjust straps (I have a Z-Packs Arc Blast and it is most comfortable because it fits). I went through many years and many packs that were ill fitting because the initial salesman mismeasured my torso length – he declared it to be 21″. Finally, after much pain and frustration, I had an REI salesperson remeasure the torso length and we found it to be 18 1/2″ to 19″! That meant what I needed was a size medium pack and not a large, as originally told. I have since acquired an assortment of packs, and here are the best for comfort: REI Flash 55 (available in a women’s model), Sierra Designs capacitor ( can carry super heavy loads), Gregory Octal (that’s the women’s model), Osprey Lumina (that’s the women’s model in 45 or 60; similar weight to your z-Pack and requires careful handling; the Eja is sturdier). There are other brands that that you should look at like Granite Gear, Six Moon Designs, and Gossamer Gear. All but the last two can be found when available at REI Used Gear at considerable savings, and the packs, shoes, ursack, etc. that I’ve purchased there have all been in excellent to like-new condition. Get your torso measured by someone who knows what they’re doing, I can’t overemphasize that point! Happy Trails!

  • Randy Lovas : Aug 15th

    Proper gear is definitely a must if you’re to survive and thrive on trail. Hyperlite makes awesome lightweight backpacks and as a side sleeper look to get a quilt. I bought a UGQ 20 degree with extra fill in the foot box and a Cacoon silk liner which gives an extra 7 degree warmth to the setup. I fought getting a quilt but absolutely love it! I’ve used my setup down into the teen temps and stayed toasty warm. Good luck fine tuning your gear! All the best Janine!?

  • JoeH : Aug 16th

    Janine – I suggest you *try* three packs: a Gregory, a ULA, and a Mystery Ranch. Yes, the MR will be a tad heavier but you will not regret the comfort especially after your suffering with the ZPacks. The ULA is well-recommended (see all those entries). The Gregory will likely be a good compromise and is as durable as the MR. For a sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering if you are always cold, a Nemo spoon bag if you’re a side sleeper. Happy trails!

  • joan : Aug 17th

    Gossamer gear mariposa 60, 28oz, very comfy.

  • Emily Anderson : Aug 27th

    Hopefully you have already replaced the pack with something that fits better, but just in case you haven’t, I thought I’d comment on what I could see in the photo. It’s true that it’s sometimes hard to find packs that fit women– the shoulder straps are often too far apart for me for instance, but that may not actually be the problem with your pack. From what I can see in the photo, the torso-length of your pack is too short for you. The shoulder straps should be coming off of the pack level with or slightly below the top of your shoulder and the load lifter straps should be above your shoulder. All the weight is on your shoulders because the frame is too short to pick it up off of them and carry it down to your hipbelt. I hiked the AT a long time ago when I was younger, and I grew about an inch during the hike, which caused me to grow out of my backpack. The exact same things you are describing happened to me until I got a new, taller backpack.

    Whenever you buy a new pack, no matter what torso size it claims to be, you have to make sure the shoulder straps are high enough that they aren’t hanging down off of your shoulders like in that picture! People with big shoulders/strong upper bodies can get away with that but it would be so uncomfortable for me. My torso measures at the top end of SM in most packs but I always have to get a MED so I get enough lift off of my shoulders. Also don’t listen to anything sales people tell you at REI or similar places, it’s very rare that any of them know what they are talking about. For specific recommendations, I have a ULA that I like, I like gregory packs, and I just used my husband’s Seek Outside Divide (it has adjustable torso length) for a really heavy carry that had 12 days of food. The Seek Outside was incredibly comfortable, but it’s also incredibly expensive and heavy-ish so I probably won’t be replacing my ULA with one any time soon. Specific recommendations don’t matter much though, whatever feels good to you is right.

    For what it’s worth I also agree with the person who told you that you are carrying too much weight for your zpack. With an light pack like that I’d try to be below 25 and ideally below 20lbs. I know lots of those light packs claim they can carry all kinds of weight but… IMO many of them are too small/lightly framed for the varying conditions on the PCT. When I was hiking it I had to carry 15+ lbs of water at some points and you also need room to add cold weather gear if you need it. You need a fairly beefy frame to carry all that water weight. Idk, an extra 1/2 lb of backpack weight always seems like a good deal to me if it meant my shoulders wouldn’t hurt all day. Though to be fair I hiked a thousand PCT miles with someone who carried a completely frameless pack made out of mesh and it seemed great for him. He had much larger shoulders than me though!

  • WD : Sep 19th

    Well, being about a month late to this post it looks like you made your switch. I switched from Zpacks in 2019 to Hyperlight in 2021, for similar reasons (netting tears, fiber rod pocket tears, straps twisting, etc). So much simpler, and reliable.

  • BSZ : Nov 4th

    I’ve owned a few Zpacks packs, and while withbsome changes they could be the best UL or long distance packs on the market, the poor interfacing to the body has always been a problem. On all the models I’ve tried over the years, the shoulder straps were too straight, needing some curvature for an ergonomic fit. Also, the sternum strap has always been way too high. The waist belts were afterthoughts, thin, and too vertical…even for men there should be a slightly conical profile, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom, so that most of the pack weight rests on your hips. I don’t see how a woman could use these. I think Joe’s philosophy, and one shared with others in the UL community, is that if your pack weight is low enough, shoulder strap and waist belt comfort don’t matter, or that waist belts are almost superfluous. I do not agree. I’m an ultralighter myself, but in my opinion, the weight should still be mostly born on the hips. It also doesn’t account for scenarios where you need to increase your “wet” weight, such as when needing to carry extra food on stretches where resupply isn’t available, or where you need to haul extra water, such as on the PCT in desert sections or north of Lassen (water haulage is only going to become a bigger problem with Western droughts). It’s a shame, because Joe has some great ideas for packs, notable the carbon stays and mesh back panels for ventilation on the Arc series. And I love DCF as a pack fabric. I’m all about thin, light, simple packs, but the straps and belt are not the place to compromise. My ideal pack would be a Frankenstein of the Zpacks Arc Air, maybe with some of the doodads removed, with an Osprey waist belt and the shoulder straps from the Mountainsmith Zerk 40. One can dream…

    • Janine Abdallah : Nov 6th

      Really insightful observations. I see your points and agree. I just do not think Zpacks are best for a woman’s build, especially mine, and for the kind of weight I carry. You should consider designing something 😉

  • Edawg : May 30th

    ULA Circuit is awesome. I recently got one and it is one of the most comfortable packs I’ve ever owned. Fully packed, it carries like a dream.


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