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Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra Review

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Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra Backpack in 2022. This backpack comes in several sizes and both a men’s and women’s version.

If you are looking to move into ultralight hiking then a lighter backpack will help you achieve your goal. But not all ultralight backpacks are made the same. So, I going to take a look at the Zpacks Arc Haul Range and see if they deliver as one of the best ultralight backpacks on the market in 2022.

I’ve hiked almost 10000 miles / 16000 km in the last few years on many of the best thru-hiking trails in the world. As a result, I know what separates a good backpack from an average one. So keep reading to find out more about the Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack.

In-Depth Review of Arc Haul Ultra

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 40L

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 40L review

Weight: 19.4 oz / 551 grams (Medium)
Pros:

> Ultralight
> Good weight carrying capacity of up to 40lb
> Waterproof and seam sealed
> Perfect for light and fast overnight or short trips
Cons:
> Not Cheap
> 40L is a bit small for most people

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Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50L

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50L Review

Weight: 21.4 oz / 606 grams (Medium)
Pros:

> Ultralight
> Good weight carrying capacity of up to 40lb
> Editors choice for best men’s ultralight backpack 2022
> Waterproof and seam sealed
> More durable than other ultralight packs
Cons:
> Not Cheap
> Too small for those who have not committed to ultralight and ultra-compact gear for multi-day trips.

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Women’s Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L

Women's Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L Review

Weight: 21.2 oz / 600 grams (Medium)
Pros:

> Comfortable Women’s specific Shoulder Harness
> Ultralight
> Waterproof and seam sealed
> Editors choice for best women’s ultralight backpack 2022
> Perfect for ultralight thru-hikers who have already cut the weight and size of all their gear
Cons:
> Not Cheap

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Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L review

Weight: 21.9 oz / 620 g (Medium)
Pros:

> Ultralight
> The 60L is the best balance between carrying capacity and weight
> Perfect choice for most for thru hikers
> Waterproof and seam sealed
Cons:
> Not Cheap

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Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 70L

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 70L Review

Weight: 22.5 oz / 638 g (Medium)
Pros:

> Ultralight
> Large capacity 70L
> Great for thru-hiking
> Waterproof and seam sealed
> Bearvault 500 fits horizontally which makes this perfectly suited to places such as the JMT and PCT.
Cons:
> Not Cheap
> As this is a larger pack some may try to fill it with gear which defeats the purpose of using an ultralight pack.

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The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is an ultralight backpack best suited for thru-hiking and backpacking trips. When backpackers are looking for an ultralight backpack the Zpacks brand is always right up there as one of the best.

The relatively new Ultra fabric is more abrasion resistant than previously used ultralight fabrics such as Dyneema and still just as waterproof. To assist with water resistance the pack features a roll-top closure. I like roll-top closures because if you need to carry a big load or a small load you can adjust the closure perfectly.

There are two very handy and functional side pockets that are perfect for water bottles and tent poles. The rear mesh pocket is a generous size and perfect for airing out wet rain jackets or socks and for storing items you want quick access to.

The carbon fiber frame is lightweight and the addition of a ventilated mesh back panel adds to the comfort of the pack. It will fit a bear canister when hiking in bear country and the larger 70L version will fit the canister horizontally to ensure plenty of room for other gear.

Overall, ultralight backpackers will naturally be dreaming of using this backpack but keep reading to learn more.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra Backpack

Frame

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra has a ventilated frame design. There is an ultralight removable mesh panel that allows air to circulate between your back and the backpack. The frame is supported by a series of flexible carbon fiber poles and flat bars that allow the pack to keep its shape and stay off your back.

When testing and using the backpack in desert-like heat I found the ventilation to work quite well. But when the backpack is overfilled for a long journey with lots of gear the back panel tends to bulge into your back. Not particularly nice when hard objects like ultralight cooking pots rub on your back. So take note, and pack the backpack with sharp objects away from your back. When I rearranged my pack it worked perfectly and as advertised. When I was carrying a lighter load the pack was not overfilled and this was no longer an issue.

Overall, the frame of the Zpacks is good and allows this pack to stand out from other frameless backpacks. Few packs have ventilation on the back that works well, and those that do weigh twice as much or more. Therefore, this pack works well as an ultralight framed backpack.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra frame and ventilation on the back
Carbon Fiber Frame and Ventilation

Harness

The Zpacks Arc Haul uses a lightweight harness that is fully adjustable. The harness can be adjusted up or down to make it longer or shorter in back length. As well as having a sternum strap and load lifters.

The harness comes with a couple of added extras if you choose to order them at the time of checkout. These include a hiking umbrella holder. If you have never used an umbrella when hiking then here is your chance. They work well and are highly recommended. There are also options for water bottle pockets and shoulder pouches and more.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra harness and frame

Hip Belt

The hip belt is comfortable and comes in a choice of several sizes to ensure it will custom-fit you. It is also replaceable should you gain or lose weight and find the hip belt no longer fits you. It is lightweight and comfortable but lacks pockets as standard, they must be added as an extra. These days most people prefer hip belt pockets, myself included, so consider ordering these when purchasing the pack.


Weight

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra range of backpacks are some of the lightest on the market in 2022. Not only are they some of the lightest backpacking backpacks but they offer a level of comfort that many others can’t, especially when carrying a slightly heavier load. Overall, they are one of the best in class for weight.

Weight Specs:

  • Arc Haul Ultra 40L – 19.4 oz / 551 grams (Medium)
  • Arc Haul Ultra 50L – 21.4 oz / 606 grams (Medium)
  • Arc Haul Ultra 60L – 21.9 oz / 620 g (Medium)
  • Women’s Arc Haul Ultra 60L – 21.2 oz / 600 grams (Medium)
  • Arc Haul Ultra 70L – 22.5 oz / 638 g (Medium)

Carrying Capacity and Size

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultras capacity ranges from 40 Liters to 70 Liters. During the testing of this gear, I used the 50L version and found that sufficient for my ultralight setup. I am confident that I can fit all my gear, 4L of water, and 5-7 days worth of food. Not everyone will be able to do this which is why most people will like the slightly extra size of the 60L version.

The 40L, 50L, and 60L will fit a standard-sized bear canister vertically inside the pack. But the best option is to get top straps which Zpacks sell separately and carry the canister on the top of the pack. This is my preferred option for the 40L, 50L and 60L versions.

The 70L version is a little too much for most people and in most situations, let’s face it, you are buying a backpack like this because you are wanting to be ultralight and carry less gear. Having said that, the 70L backpack is able to fit a bear canister horizontally making it a good choice for the Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or trips in Canada and Alaska.

The capacity of each of the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra backpacks is as follows:

  • Arc Haul Ultra 40L
    Main Compartment 28L
    Outer Pockets 8L
    Side Pockets 2L
  • Arc Haul Ultra 50L
    Main Compartment 37L
    Outer Pockets 8L
    Side Pockets 2.5L
  • Arc Haul Ultra 60L
    Main Compartment – 47L
    Outer Pockets – 8L
    Side Pockets – 2.5L
  • Women’s Arc Haul Ultra 60L
    Main Compartment – 47L
    Outer Pockets – 8L
    Side Pockets – 2.5L
  • Arc Haul Ultra 70L
    Main Compartment – 57L
    Outer Pockets – 8L
    Side Pockets – 2.5L
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50L backpack

Material and Durability

The newish ultra fabric used on the Arc Haul is very abrasion resistant but is still strong and lightweight. Add to that the fact that it is also very tear-resistant, UV-resistant and water-resistant. It is this combination that has Ultra as the newest favorite product among ultralight backpack manufacturers including Zpacks. Ultra is certainly more durable and abrasion resistant than the other lightweight material, Dyneema. But how does it stack up after being used and abused.


Water Resistance

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is made with Ultra fabric that comes with a bonded waterproof layer that is highly water resistant. All the stitching seams have been factory sealed. All this means you essentially have a waterproof backpack. In practice when testing this backpack I found that it was not only waterproof but I was so confident in how waterproof it was that I no longer bother packing spare clothes in a waterproof stuff sack. Those days are gone when you use this pack. The fact that the pack is waterproof will allow you to reduce the number of stuff sacks or nasty plastic bags that you take with you into the backcountry. Despite being waterproof, I would still recommend a decent waterproof stuff sack for your sleeping bag. Never know when you might make a hole in the pack and end up with a wet sleeping bag.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra water resistance test

Sizes and Fit

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is available in a range of back lengths ranging from XS to XL in men and a short torso length of between 15-19 inches / 38 to 48 cm in women’s size.

The waist belts come in XS to XL which ranges from 24 inches to 44 inches, so there is no excuse for not finding a pack that fits properly. If you put on weight or lose weight and need to change your hipbelt that is no issue, just order a new size and fit it yourself.

Before purchasing be sure to check their handy sizing guide on the same page as the purchase page on their website. If you find that you have lost or gained weight over time it is reassuring to know that you can purchase a replacement hip belt at any time and fit it to the backpack yourself. This might be handy for backpackers who lose a lot of weight while thru-hiking, or have taken up backpacking while a bit overweight and lose weight over time.


Carrying Water and Side pockets

There are large pockets on either side of the main compartment. These are capable of carrying 2 x 1L water bottles each for a total of 4L of water carrying capacity and still have enough room for a hiking umbrella and tent poles if needed. I was able to load a 3L water bottle into the side pockets but it was a tight squeeze and involved moving around some of the items in the main compartment to make room. Might be good to know if you are hiking in a dry desert or somewhere you need a large amount of water-carrying capacity. Of note, it wasn’t possible to remove the 3L water bottle without taking off the pack or getting someone else to take it out and put it back in! 6 liters is a lot of water, and a lot of weight! I’m sure Zpacks would not recommend doing such a thing but some of those long water carries on the PCT or CDT might make it a good option.

The side pockets are sloped slightly forward to make reaching them easier but I still found it a little hard to access them. Also note that there is no hydration bladder sleeve inside the pack and no way to hang one inside, so leave that at home.

Overall, the side pockets work well for water carrying but I found it hard to consistently access them while walking. Some other packs make better side pockets for accessing water bottles.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra side pockets
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra with 1.5L waterbottle

Backpack vs other backpacks

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is the best ultralight backpack on the market in 2022.

Compared to the Osprey range of backpacks this is not as comfortable but significantly lighter. Compared to the nearest competitor the Hyperlite Mountain Gear range of packs the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is lighter and feels a bit more comfortable to use. Read more in the full comparison review of the Best Backpacks 2022.

Read the full reviews of the Best Ultralight Backpacks 

Price

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is not the cheapest backpack on the market. There are some that are cheaper out there but not many will be as lightweight as this and able to carry up to 40 lb in weight. Although I would recommend that you keep your pack base weight below that.


Conclusion

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is an ultralight backpack that is quite durable and comfortable, it just works. You can find more comfortable backpacks that weigh more than twice the weight of these packs but that is not why you buy an ultralight backpack. You buy this backpack because you are committing to also taking an ultralight tent and other ultralight gear with you.

Overall, this is my favorite ultralight backpack and it is the current editor’s choice as the best ultralight backpack. If you choose to get one, just be sure to make the commitment to try your best to have a base weight of less than 10 lb / 4.5 kg. If you do, this pack will be perfect for you. If you can keep your pack below 20 lb / 9 kg then this backpack will help you move into ultralight backpacking. Highly rated and a very good buy.

Another one of the Best Hiking Gear Reviews from BikeHikeSafari.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra backpack any good?

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra backpack is the current Editor’s Choice at BikeHikeSafari as the Best Ultralight Backpack. Not only is it lightweight but durable, waterproof and comfortable enough for anything from overnight to week-long backpacking trips. It is a favorite among thru-hikers.



Zpacks Arc Haul ULtra Pin

BikeHikeSafari Gear Review Process

The author, Brad McCartney from BikeHikeSafari is a small independent adventurer and outdoor gear tester who owns and runs BikeHikeSafari.com.

BikeHikeSafari is not part of a large blog network and is proudly independent. All reviews on this site are independent and honest gear reviews of outdoor products by the author.

The author, Brad McCartney is a very experienced triple crown thru-hiker, adventurer, and bike tourer having spent 1000s of nights sleeping in a tent and sleeping bag (Read more). He was a manager of an outdoor retail store and is very experienced in what is important when using and testing gear for reviews like this.

BikeHikeSafari will never receive any money for reviews and they do not accept sponsored reviews on this website. All the comments about the gear reviews are from the author based on his years of experience. Hope this independent review was helpful for you.

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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