ZPacks Arc Haul Ultra 60 Review
I‘m not an ultralight hiker, but even I couldn’t resist a chance to test out the all-new Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra. Zpacks just revamped the Arc Haul with cutting-edge Ultra 200 fabric, making it stronger and lighter than ever without sacrificing its comfort, load-bearing capacity, or characteristic curved frame.
So what’s changed about the new Haul and what’s stayed the same? Can this newfangled pack live up to the ultralight legacy of its forebears? I’ve been testing this pack for the past month to find out if it lives up to the hype. Let’s dive right in.
- MSRP: $399
- Weight: 19.5 oz
- Materials: Ultra 200 (main body), Lycra mesh (rear pocket), carbon fiber (frame)
- Frame sizes: 17″ (short), 20″ (medium), 23″ (tall)
- Volume: 60L
Circumstances of Review
I tested the Arc Haul in Pennsylvania and Vermont this January. My base weight during testing hovered around 17 pounds, owing to the extra clothing, fuel, double sleeping pads, etc. that are par for the course for winter hiking. Fully loaded with food and water, my pack weight was roughly 23-26 pounds.
This pack is ideal for thru-hikers, minimalists, ultralight enthusiasts, and confident beginners. Using this backpack isn’t rocket science. The design is simple and intuitive, and its generous 40-pound weight capacity makes it a realistic choice for the majority of backpackers, not just cut-up-toothbrush-wielding gram counters.
You do need to be sufficiently passionate about mountains to justify the steep $400 investment in this pack. Also, understand that the Arc Haul is truly minimalist in design. You must be willing to forgo the luxurious padding and convenient organizational features of a heavier, built-out pack.
What the Heck Is Ultra 200?
The latest Arc Haul is made of Ultra 200 fabric? That’s SO COOL! … Actually wait what does that mean?
In the world of cutting-edge ultralight fabrics, Ecopak EPL Ultra 200 is the new kid on the block. It’s 200-denier ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) with a recycled polyester backing. UHMWPE is essentially unbranded Dyneema, but the particular configuration of face fabrics in Ultra 200 set it apart from the Dyneema that’s traditionally used in packs.
Ultra 200 weighs about the same as backpack-strength Dyneema, and like Dyneema, it’s inherently waterproof. But despite those similarities, Ultra has far more tear strength and abrasion resistance than Dyneema—the heretofore champion of high-strength low-weight fabrics—which hopefully will translate into greater longevity. Per their website, Ultra 200 is now the strongest material Zpacks offers.
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra vs. Arc Haul vs. Arc Blast
Previous versions of the Arc Haul featured ultralight Gridstop fabric with a waterproof urethane coating on the inside. The Gridstop Arc Haul was the somewhat more durable counterpart to Zpacks’ popular, Dyneema-based Arc Blast—it was a few ounces heavier than the blast but could carry a heavier load.
The Arc Haul Ultra combines the best features of the traditional Haul and the Arc Blast: it’s even more durable than Gridstop but is far lighter, bringing the pack’s total weight more in line with that of the Blast without sacrificing volume or carrying capacity.
Unlike the original Haul, the Ultra doesn’t have a hydration port. Also, the back pocket is now made with stretchy Lycra mesh. While the OG Haul used Zpacks’ Flexed Arc frame, the Arc Haul Ultra uses the company’s Curved Carbon Air Stays. According to Zpacks, the stays are easier to use, more durable, and hold the shape of the pack better than the original frame.
The company plans to continue to sell Gridstop Arc Hauls until their inventory runs out and then shift to exclusively selling the new Ultra 200 version.
Ultra 200 fabric: This 200d fabric is the Arc Haul Ultra’s claim to fame. The updated Haul is now three ounces lighter thanks to this cutting-edge material, which is stronger than Dyneema and just as light. Note: I tested the standard black backpack, which is 100% 200d Ultra. The grey option weighs 0.5 ounces less because the grey accents are weight-saving Ultra 100 fabric.
EPL Ultra is also inherently waterproof, and Zpacks taped all the seams. Coupled with the pack’s Velcro-reinforced roll-top closure, that means the pack is water-resistant enough to ditch the heavy pack cover. (I will probably still use a garbage bag liner in wet conditions as a backup).
40-pound load-carrying capacity: The fact that the Arc Haul is one of the lightest packs on the market, yet has best-in-class load-bearing capacity, has always been a huge selling point. The newest Haul continues to live up to that legacy, with most of the same load-carrying features as the previous version (and some improvements, notably the switch to Curved Carbon Fiber Air Stays for the frame).
Side compression straps: Simple shock cord straps on either side of the pack allow you to cinch down the material for carrying smaller loads. They’re also useful for securing tall items like trekking poles in the water bottle pockets.
Large water bottle pockets: The side pockets are big enough to carry two 1L Smartwater bottles or a Smartwater plus an umbrella. They’re made of Ultra 200 and have elastic along the top to secure contents. The pockets feature an angled cut that’s lower toward the back, making it easier to grab your bottle. Each pocket has a tiny drain hole in the bottom to prevent them from flooding during rainstorms.
Worth noting: I still found the pockets fairly awkward compared to other backpacks I’ve used, though it got somewhat easier once I adjusted the torso length.
Lycra mesh center pocket: The Arc Haul Ultra now uses Lycra mesh for the back pockets, rather than the more porous mesh used in the traditional Haul and the Arc Blast. The pocket is low-profile but stretchy enough to provide ample room for stuffing snacks and spare clothing. It’s a much tighter mesh than the previous version, but still porous enough to dry wet gear.
Top and bottom straps: Two shock cord straps at the bottom of the pack are perfect for securing a foam sleeping pad. On my pack, the tensioners are fairly stiff, but I’m hoping they’ll ease up with continued use. Meanwhile, a single webbing strap buckles from front to back across the top of the pack, providing additional structure and a place to stuff a jacket or a bag of chips.
Adjustable torso: The pack is available in three size ranges: 16-19, 19-23, and 23-26 inches. You can manually adjust the torso even further to get the perfect fit for your body. It’s easy to adjust, so you can mess around with it until you dial in the fit.
Dual-adjustable / removable hip belt: You can get a perfect fit by individually tensioning the top and bottom of the hip belt. You can also remove the hip belt altogether if that’s your jam.
Arc Haul Ultra Pros
Ultralight: This 60L pack weighs just 19.5 ounces, making it one of the lightest packs on the market. These incredible weight savings will likely be the biggest selling point for most thru-hikers. But it’s more than just that. With 40 pounds of carrying capacity, it’s an ultralight pack that’s capable of hauling decidedly non-ultralight loads. You don’t have to be an ounce counter to avail yourself of this comfy, lightweight pack.
Modular and highly adjustable: Just about every feature (other than the sewn-on rear and side pockets) can be adjusted or removed altogether, allowing you to fine-tune the fit and weight of your pack.
The ability to replace components will be especially important now that the Haul is being made with durable Ultra 200. I could see the main body of the pack far outlasting the shoulder straps, hip belt, and suspension system. But if I snap a stay, tear a back panel, or wear out the padding, I should be able to easily replace those parts, hopefully extending the pack’s lifespan by many years.
Comfy: I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable this pack is—not just lightweight, but truly ergonomic, and supportive. The curved stays keep the pack off my back and do a great job of transferring the load to my hips. Meanwhile, the hip belt wraps around snugly for a secure fit. The 3D mesh cushioning in the hips and shoulders is very firm but quite comfortable. I’ve never struggled with sore hips or shoulders or felt the straps were digging in at all.
This is the first pack I’ve encountered with a trampoline-style suspension system that I didn’t hate. The Lycra back panel is lightweight and breathable. The stays curve the pack away from your back to create generous airspace. I have yet to test this pack above freezing, but I’m sure that when summer rolls around I’ll appreciate the cross-breeze against my back.
Arc Haul Ultra Cons
No hip belt pocket: More and more packs are going pocketless these days, but I just can’t get on board with the trend. Where am I supposed to put my snacks?!
You can order shoulder and belt pouches separately from Zpacks or go with a fanny pack. But paying extra for an accessory that used to come standard on most packs is a bitter pill for a stick in the mud like me.
No internal pockets/brain: This won’t be a big deal to anyone who’s already bought into the ultralight backpack craze. However, if you’re upgrading from a fully-featured pack, you’re going to miss all those handy compartments.
Price: At nearly $400 MSRP, this is one of the most expensive thru-hiking packs on the market. I can’t think of many packs with a base price as high as this one. It’s $50 more than the original, Gridstop Arc Haul as well. Hopefully, Ultra 200’s superior durability will mean this pack lasts for years. Still, it’s a pretty hefty up-front investment.
I really like this pack and can’t wait to hit the trails with it in milder weather for a change. The cost will be an issue for many people, but if you can swing the price tag, the comfort and functionality are absolutely worth it. With any luck, the pack’s superior durability will make it a cost-effective option in the long run.
If you’re already a Zpacks devotee, the Arc Haul Ultra is much like the original Haul but better. It’s more durable and slightly (but significantly) lighter without sacrificing any of the original’s beloved features. For relative newcomers, it’s just an all-around great pack. It’s reasonably sized, lighter and tougher than most, and versatile enough to appeal to just about every type of backpacker, from weekend warriors to hardcore thru-hikers.
- MSRP: $349
- Weight: 22 oz
- MSRP: $375
- Weight: 20 oz
- MSRP: $240
- Weight: 17 oz
The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra was donated for purpose of review.
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