Gear Review: ZPacks Arc Haul Backpack and Duplex Tent

I’ve read so many reviews for gear that it almost seemed redundant to do another one myself, but since all the reviews for the Arc Haul and Duplex have been predominantly positive I figured I’d throw my two-cents worth into the pot.

ZPacks Arc Haul

Specs: The base weight for the Arc Haul is 24 oz. Mine weighed in at approximately 31oz with the added belt pouches, lumbar pad, top/side mesh pockets, shock-cord lashing, double top straps and side roll-top closure straps.

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I have now used this pack on four trips. It took most of the first trip up Tongue River Canyon to get the fit dialed in properly which can take a few miles since everything is adjustable and removable. I started with the shoulder straps sitting too low and they would rub my collar bone and pull down with too much weight on my shoulders. A slight adjustment in the strap attachment and they fit great. The other issue was the mesh backing where the top would rub against the bones of my shoulder blades. A few more adjustments to move the mesh upwards towards the top of the pack while still keeping the arc in the frame and it was again comfortable.

I have loved everything about the design and quality of this pack. The 62L capacity (main compartment, mesh back pocket and two side/bottom pockets) was adequate for all my gear and four days of food but I did find that the two side/top mesh pockets to be extremely useful for my water filter/squeeze bag, dog water-bowl and a rain jacket for convenience. I highly recommend them if you buy this pack.

The roll-top closure is very secure and I like the velcro closure aspect of the opening. It is not normal velcro that seems to pick up all kinds of debris and wears out, but some kind of hybrid that feels more durable. I chose to incorporate the side buckle closures on my Arc Haul as I like to carry a sit pad on top of my pack and the standard closure wasn’t going to work for me (plus is could catch overhead branches). I am glad I chose the side closures and they kept the pack closed securely and did not permit the entry of any rain water.

The belt pouches are HUGE and carried all my food for the day (except dinner), my phone, camera, car keys and still had a lot of room left over. The only issue I had was the tape used to seal the seams on the inside started to separate and left a very sticky and hard to remove residue on the screen of my phone. After learning that I made sure to keep my trash or snack bag between my phone and camera and the interior of the pouch (the side that is attached to the belt).  With this one exception, the belt pouches were great and sit comfortably on the belt and hips and don’t get in the way.

The lower side pockets are a perfect size for two 1 liter Smartwater bottles, and while it can be a pain to put them back in, it is possible to remove and return the bottles to the pockets while wearing the pack if you are limber enough. I can also fit my bear spray and bug spray in the side pockets with my 1L Smartwater bottles but that does make it difficult to remove and return the water bottles while wearing the pack…but that is my problem and not an issue with the pack in general. The elastic around the top of the pocket is tight and keeps things secure so I never once worried about a water bottle falling out, even when bending down to pick up a dropped hiking pole.

The only issue I had with this pack is the frame. I had it arced to just below the recommended 2 1/2″, and even with the additional lumbar pad I still had issues with pressure from the lower bar of the frame to which the belt is attached. I could not feel the bar itself, but the rigidity of the frame pushing into my back caused my legs and lower body to fatigue faster. Towards the end of the day I would have to loosen the belt and carry more weight on my shoulders to relieve the lower back pain and give my hips and legs a break.

I seem to be the only one with this issue with the frame and believe it is more to do with my size (very slender with almost no natural cushioning on my hips and back) than it is to do with the pack/frame itself. I have found no other reports or experiences of others having this issue, especially after adding the lumbar pad.

Overall, I have loved everything about this pack, but due to the lumbar/frame issue it is a pack I will have to retire for the foreseeable future. I would, however, recommend this pack to others since no-one else seems to have the issue I do. After contacting ZPacks, and receiving an email directing from Joe who made some suggestions and offered to make a custom belt for me (which I’m not sure would alleviate the problem), it is obvious that their customer service is impeccable. I have constantly been impressed by their responses and attitude to my questions and requests for help.

Edit 8/31/2016: After a little bit of research, experimenting and crafting I made my own modified lumbar pad that is thicker and slightly larger than the stock pad you can order from ZPacks. It works wonders and feels amazingly comfortable now. My Arc Haul is back on the trail and doing what it is supposed to do very well. Yay!

ZPacks Duplex

Specs: I ordered the Duplex in the heavier-weight 0.74oz spruce green which weighs in at 23.2oz. (This does not include stakes).

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This tent is my first piece of Cuben Fiber gear and I went with the 0.74oz material vs the standard ZPacks 0.52oz CF for the added durability and thickness. It only added $15 to the cost and 2.2oz to the overall weight; I felt that this trade-off was worth it for peace of mind and added life-length since this was a big investment.

I watched the ZPacks Youtube video for how to put this tent up as it is not intuitive, especially using the doors. Joe at ZPacks makes a very good and clear instructional video on how to erect the Duplex which I have linked to at the bottom of the page.

After figuring out how to put the Duplex up I have found that after a few times of practice it goes up very quick and easy. It takes a few adjustments once it is up to get the correct angles on the lines and the roof pitch, but these are often minimal and take just a few seconds.

The fluorescent yellow guy lines are solid and light, but I still manage to trip over them sometimes. Even as bright as they are, yellow still blends in with tall grasses more than pink or red. I have been using some stakes I got with an old Kelty tent and are similar to MSR Groundhog stakes in profile (Y-shaped cross-section), but not as light. I have found they work very well with the guylines and have been far more secure, durable and easier to get into the ground than the U-shaped stakes I had from Six Moon Designs, especially in some of the harder or rockier ground.

The biggest test of the Duplex was in a major thunderstorm the first night of my Walker Prairie hike. I was able to get it up quickly and all my gear and dog inside before it poured down on us. The nice thing about Cuben Fiber is that it is waterproof, not just water resistant. There were no seams or locations that water leaked into the tent during that deluge and my dog, my stuff and me all stayed dry, even when the wind picked up.

There is enough space in the Duplex for me, all my gear and two dogs (if necessary) but it would be a very tight fit. Two people would find it a squeeze and wouldn’t recommend it unless it was an adult and child, and then all gear would have to be left under the awnings which are definitely adequate for dry-storage of gear. Due to the nature of CF I don’t generally have my dogs in the tent with their claws so the storm was an exception to the rule for me, and would be again if conditions necessitated it.

The awnings are spacious and are high enough off the ground to permit a reasonable amount of airflow, but I have found that with two dogs in the tent (the first night in the Black Hills) plus me that I still ended up with a lot of condensation on the inside. Leaving one or both doors open and having the dogs sleep under the awnings makes a big difference in the condensation levels. My one night up in the Little Horn Canyon with one dog and an open door left me with a completely dry tent in the morning. Of course so much of this has a lot to do with campsite location and most of my condensation issues have been due to camping near creeks and at the bottom of valleys. The condensation issue is always going to be one of the trade-offs with a single-wall tent.

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The Duplex has become one of my favorite pieces of backpacking gear so far, and despite the hefty price tag, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it again. I love the space, the design, the ease of putting it up and stowing it away, and I love how much living area I have for the weight. Sitting out the storm was comfortable when you have enough room to move around and organize.

I would like to see ZPacks offer a net tent inner with bathtub floor to go with their Duplex tarp (an option not well known about) as well as the standard model with the attached floor and mesh as I believe this would be a great set up, and even more versatile.

ZPacks now offers a free-standing option for the Duplex tent, but with another hefty price tag for the poles plus a weight gain of 10.2oz which puts in the weight category of other free-standing but less-expensive double-wall tents. It would be a good option for those who don’t use trekking poles. Here is a great review of the Duplex tarp with the freestanding option.

ZPacks Duplex Set-up Video:

 

 

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One thought on “Gear Review: ZPacks Arc Haul Backpack and Duplex Tent

  1. Pingback: Gear Review: 3 Ultralight Backpacks from Gossamer Gear, Hyperlite, and ZPacks – Whatever I know, I build

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