Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L Review

I tested the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L backpack and this is my verdict.

February 01, 2023
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The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60 Liter is one of the lightest full-suspension backpacking packs on the market. It has unique curved carbon fiber frame struts and a suspended mesh back panel to let your back breathe. It’s waterproof, very adjustable, and can handle surprisingly heavy loads, but it’s also very expensive.

Product Overview

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L

Price: $399

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L

✅ Ultralight

✅ Breathable back panel

✅ Articulating shoulder straps

✅ Adjustable torso length

✅ Durable

✅ Waterproof


❌ Expensive

❌ Hip belt is not the most comfortable

❌ Water bottle pockets aren’t very big


  • Weight: 1 lb 5.4 oz (Zpacks website); 1 lb 4.4 oz (as tested, short torso length and small waist belt)
  • Weight/Load Capacity: 40 lbs
  • Volume/Carrying Capacity: 60 L
  • Material: Black Ultra 200 fabric
  • Frame: Curved Carbon Fiber Air Stays, horizontal aluminum struts, suspended Lycra back panel
  • Frame Material: Carbon fiber, aluminum, Lycra
  • Suspension System: Arc frame, Lycra mesh back panel, load lifters, padded hip belt, padded shoulder straps, adjustable sternum strap

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L is one of the most popular full-suspension backpacks for ultralight backpacking. It weighs 1 ¼ pounds, is close to fully waterproof, and is extremely adjustable. It has a full suspension frame system that can carry surprisingly heavy loads of up to 40 pounds.

This is an excellent choice for those looking for the lightest full-framed backpacking pack available. If you’re on a budget, though, there are definitely less expensive packs you could buy that will also handle a load like the Arc Haul, but they will weigh more than this pack.

The frame consists of a pair of curved carbon fiber struts that transfer the load from the shoulder straps to the hip belt of the pack. The load is dispersed across a trampoline-style mesh back panel that leaves space between your back and the pack. This gives your back more airflow than it would have with many other ultralight backpacks that rest on your back. The Arc Haul also has a padded hip belt with 2-way adjustment on each side, load lifters, and large padded shoulder straps.

The Arc Haul is the lightest ultralight pack available that features a way to adjust the torso length beyond simply tightening or loosening the shoulder straps. And the hip belt can be swapped for a larger or smaller size, further adding to the adjustability of this pack. However, this is also one of the most expensive packs out there. And it doesn’t come with any hip belt or shoulder strap pockets. So if you want any pockets you can reach while wearing the pack, you’ll have to pay even more for them, not to mention the added weight.

For reviews on other ultralight packs, see our best ultralight backpacks post.

Performance Test Results

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L performance score graph

How We Tested:

I have thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, and Colorado Trail three times, along with countless shorter backpacking trips. I tested the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60 Liter in late fall and winter on a series of backpacking trips and hikes in Colorado. The weather was quite cold, so I needed to carry extra layers and a warmer quilt.

hiker using zpacks arc haul ultra 60l

Weight: 10/10

The Zpacks Arc Haul is one of the lightest packs available with a frame and full suspension system. Most other full-framed packs weigh at least 5-10 ounces more than the Arc Haul 60. For having a full-frame and hip belt, this pack is extremely light.

The pack I tested is a Short torso length (16-19 inches) with a small (26-32 inches) waist belt. On my home scale, this pack weighs 1 pound 4.4 ounces or 20.4 ounces. That’s even less than Zpacks’ claimed weight of 21.4 ounces.

Everything about this pack is designed to be lightweight, from the ultra-thin cord used for compression and lashing to the ½” webbing used throughout the pack. The curved carbon fiber struts for a frame are also significantly lighter than the burlier aluminum frames found on most packs. And, the suspended mesh back panel on the Arc Haul is much lighter than a foam frame sheet, like what is found on most other ultralight framed packs.

This pack still has most of the features you would want on a pack. It has zig-zag side compression cords on either side, a padded hip belt, water bottle pockets, a moveable sternum strap, load lifters, and a large exterior mesh pocket. It does not have a hip belt or shoulder strap pockets, but you can add those. Any added accessories will add weight to the pack, though.

If you want, you can strip the frame, mesh back panel, and hip belt from this pack to save weight. I didn’t strip these elements off of myself, because I was concerned with being able to put the frame back together. But, you could strip this pack to save a lot of weight.

The hip belt weighs 3.7 ounces, and based on the weight of the Zpacks Nero 38L pack (10.5 ounces), I imagine the frame weighs around 5 ounces. I don’t recommend stripping the frame off this pack, but you could save eight or nine ounces if you did. Instead, I’d recommend buying a Nero if you want a frameless version of this pack.

weighing the zpacks arc haul ultra 60l

The Arc Haul Ultra 60L weighs 1 lb 5.4 oz according to Zpacks. I also weighed the pack myself and it's 1 lb 4.4 oz (short torso length and small waist belt).

Price: 5/10

The Arc Haul is very expensive. I’m repeatedly shocked whenever I see the price of this pack. It may be the most expensive non-custom ultralight backpacking pack available. This pack costs nearly twice as much as some comparable ultralight packs.

However, this is also one of the lightest full-suspension backpacking packs available. And it is the only ultralight pack that comes with an arc-shaped frame. This is also one of the only backpacks with a carbon fiber frame, arc-shaped or not. Finally, this pack uses the very expensive Ultra 200 Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) fabric. All these factors contribute to the high price of the pack.

While this pack has many unique features that contribute to the high price, I’m not sure if it’s that much better than some less expensive packs. Yes, it has a full frame and hip belt, and a frame shape to maximize airflow to your back. But besides the arc frame, this is just an ultralight pack that costs more than most other packs.

If you’re really concerned with weight savings and like the idea of the arced frame, this may be worth the price. But if you’re really concerned with saving weight, I’m not convinced that you need a framed pack at all because your pack will be lightweight. Then again, any other pack will probably result in a sweatier back than this one, and that’s probably worth the price for many hikers.

Another thing to consider in terms of price is that this pack doesn’t come standard with hip belt or shoulder strap pockets. You can add those to the pack, but you’ll have to buy them separately.

hiker with zpacks arc haul 60l

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L costs $399 and is at the expensive side of ultralight backpacks.

Storage and Capacity: 9/10

The weight capacity of the Arc Haul is 40 pounds, according to Zpacks. I found this pack to be comfortable up to 35 pounds, but it was tolerable at higher weights. With a 60-liter volume capacity, 35-40 pounds is the most you should expect to carry, too.

This pack has a higher weight capacity than most comparable ultralight packs on the market. Most ultralight backpacks have a weight capacity of 30-35 pounds, but the Arc Haul can carry a few more pounds.

I don’t think many ultralight backpackers ever need to carry 35-40 pounds unless they plan to carry a week’s worth of food. But, with a 12-pound base weight, this pack allows you to carry 20 pounds worth of food. At 2 pounds of food per day, that’s 10 days’ worth of food. That’s a long time between resupplies.

This pack can carry a lot of bulky items, too. It can fit a full-sized bear canister horizontally. With a bear canister inside the pack, there is enough room for a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and clothing layers as long as you don’t have a particularly bulky setup.

zpacks arc haul ultra 60l features close up

A full-sized bear canister can fit into the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L and there'd still be room for other gears.

The weight-to-volume ratio of this pack is quite high. Most packs that weigh close to a pound don’t have this much volume or weight capacity. And since the pack is significantly lighter than most full-framed packs, more of the weight capacity is available for the gear you’re putting inside the pack instead of being taken up by the pack itself.

This pack has four compartments. The main body pocket is 47 liters. This is where you’ll put most of your gear–sleeping bag or quilt, tent, sleeping pad, extra layers, tools, and food. The back mesh pocket is eight liters. In this pocket, you’ll carry items you’ll need to quickly grab, such as a rain jacket, maps, snacks, water filter, potty kit, etc. You can also keep items you want to dry in this mesh pocket. The side pockets of this pack are 2.5 liters each. Most people carry water bottles in these pockets.

I think this pack would be improved if the side water bottle pockets were slightly bigger. These pockets are barely big enough for two 1-liter Smart Water bottles or a single larger bottle. You can’t fit a 1.5-liter Smart Water or Nalgene bottle with another bottle, no matter how small that other bottle is. This isn’t an issue in most cases, but for the long water carries where you might want to cram 5 liters of water into the side pockets, it is. Also, fitting your second 1-liter bottle into one of the side pockets is more difficult with this pack than with many ultralight backpacking packs, which is annoying if you like to drink water while you’re hiking.

zpacks arc haul ultra 60l features close up

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L can carry up to 35-40 pounds; a higher weight capacity compared to competitors, which can only carry 30-35 pounds of weight.

Internal Frame: 8/10

The Arc Haul has a full suspension frame system. It has a frame, load lifters, padded shoulder straps, and a padded hipbelt with two adjustment points on each side that can be adjusted independently. This suspension system distributes the pack's weight between the hips, shoulders, and back.

The frame is made of two curved carbon fiber struts with aluminum crossbars and a trampoline-style back panel made of stretch Lycra mesh and nylon webbing. The stretch mesh panel suspends the pack to allow air to flow between your back and the pack.

Overall, this suspension system gives very good support. During testing, I found the suspension system allowed me to control how much weight was on my hips and how much was on my shoulders.

It does not transfer the weight of the pack to the hips as well as some packs, but it does a decent job at this. And, the ventilation on my back made it more comfortable than most ultralight backpacks.

zpacks arc haul ultra 60l features close up

By loosening the load lifters, more weight transfers to the hip belt, thus giving my shoulders a break. This is an indicator that the load lifters are working as they should. Tightening the load lifters does the opposite. When I tighten the load lifters, I immediately feel more weight on my shoulders. This effect is not as noticeable as on some full-suspension packs, but the load lifters do work.

When I unclip the hip belt, I immediately feel more weight on my shoulders. From this test I estimate the hip belt supports about a third of the pack’s weight, which is less than the ideal 50/50 split. But the frame and hip belt do work to transfer some of the weight onto the hips.

The shoulder straps are attached to the pack with a small strip of webbing. On most packs, the shoulder straps are sewn directly into the back panel. I find the way the Arc Haul’s shoulder straps are attached allows for more articulation, making them more likely to fit more shoulder shapes. And, the shoulder straps have a subtle S-curve to them, which better hugs the shoulders and upper back. These factors mean that the shoulder straps are likely to work well for male and female hikers. But, every body is different, and nothing will work for everybody.

zpacks arc haul ultra 60l features close up

Hipbelt of Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L.

Comfort: 7/10

The Arc Haul’s mesh back panel and generously-cushioned shoulder straps make it a very comfortable pack. I find this pack comfortable while wearing it all day, especially these shoulder straps and back panel.

The shoulder straps are padded with ⅜-inch (0.375-inch) thick foam and are 2 ¾ (2.75) inches wide. They also have 3-D spacer mesh inside to aid in breathability and padding. These are some of the most comfortable should straps I’ve ever worn on any pack.

The suspended mesh back panel on this pack is also extremely comfortable. On hot days, getting a breeze on your back is much more comfortable than the sweaty back that results from most other backpacks. Also, this suspended back panel makes it so you can’t feel any lumps in the pack itself.

This pack has seriously no uncomfortable aspects, but it isn’t perfect, either. The most uncomfortable part of this pack is the hip belt, specifically where it attaches to an aluminum strut that’s part of the frame. This strut runs parallel to the hip belt and connects to the main carbon frame struts. This aluminum strut is important to how well the pack handles heavier loads, but I can also feel it through the hip belt.

zpacks arc haul ultra 60l features close up

I wore this pack for several long days. At first, I didn’t notice that I felt this aluminum strut through the waist belt on my lower back. But once I realized it was there, I couldn’t stop feeling it. It’s not terribly uncomfortable, but after a long day wearing the pack, my lower back is sore from the strut pressing into my back. This might not even be noticeable to everyone, but it certainly is to me. Even after taking the pack off, I can feel the spot where this horizontal strut was resting on my back. It feels like I was just leaning on a metal post, but the metal post was leaning on me in this case.

Besides this one uncomfortable element, this pack causes no chaffing or other discomforts. I know another hiker who found the hip belt caused chafing on her hips, but I didn’t have any issues with chafing. Everyone is different, and some people absolutely love how this pack feels. But, there are others, like myself and my other hiker friend, who don’t love how this pack feels.

Compared to other ultralight packs, there are no other available packs with a suspended mesh back panel like this one. This back panel is extremely comfortable, and the pack is comfortable overall, I just wish there were more padding in the lumbar area.

hiker using zpacks arc haul ultra 60l

Features: 8/10

The Arc Haul is not a feature-heavy backpack. In fact, this pack has the bare minimum features you would want in a backpack for thru-hiking and ultralight backpacking. Compared with other ultralight packs, this bag has some of the least features of any of its competitors.

This pack has the following features:

  • Zig-zag side compression cords. These can also secure tall items in the side water bottle pockets
  • Cord and line lock adjusters on the bottom of the pack to secure a sleeping pad
  • Two side water bottle pockets
  • Roll-top closure
  • Front outside mesh pocket
  • Torso length adjuster straps
  • Suspended mesh back panel
  • Moveable sternum strap

There are a lot of other features that can be added to this pack, but no others come with the pack. And, adding features will add weight and price to the pack.

I think this pack could be improved with hip belt or shoulder strap pockets as a standard feature. I think most hikers want at least one or two pockets for small items that they always want to have within reach. Yes, you can buy and add them yourself, but the pack is already expensive without extra pockets.

zpacks arc haul ultra

Adjustability: 9/10

Compared to other ultralight backpacking packs, the Arc Haul is one of the most adjustable packs available. There aren’t any other ultralight packs out there that actually allow you to adjust the torso length like this pack does.

Most other ultralight packs rely on multiple torso sizes and adjusting the shoulder strap length to adjust the torso size. But, the Arc Haul lets you further dial the fit at the torso. It features a simple yet elegant ladder lock buckle and webbing system to adjust the torso length by three inches.

You can buy the Arc Haul in three torso sizes:

  • Short (16-19 inch)
  • Medium (19-23 inch)
  • Tall (23-26 inch)
zpacks arc haul ultra 60l features close up

You can also buy five sizes of hip belt:

  • Extra Small (24-30 inch)
  • Small (26-32 inch)
  • Medium (30-36 inch)
  • Large (34-40 inch)
  • Extra Large (38-44 inch)

The hip belt is also replaceable. If you gain or lose weight, you can swap it out for another size. Each side of the hip belt has 9 inches of adjustability and has two buckles per side to adjust the angle of the belt.

The shoulder straps are also adjustable by 16 inches of webbing via a ladder lock buckle. The shoulder straps can also be adjusted with the load lifter straps, which allow you to move the pack closer or farther from your back.

The sternum strap is adjustable, but you can’t simply slide it up and down the shoulder straps like on some packs. To reposition the sternum strap, you have to feed the sternum strap webbing out through a tri-glide buckle, place it on another position in the daisy-chained webbing on the shoulder straps, then rethread the sternum strap through the tri-glide buckle. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. Granted, you don’t have to adjust the sternum strap height very often, but I think there could be a better solution than this.

zpacks arc haul ultra 60l features close up

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L is one of the most adjustable ultralight backpacks available today.

Waterproofing/Resistance: 9/10

The Arc Haul is a waterproof pack. The Ultra 200 material is waterproof. Zpacks tapes all the seams after sewing this pack as well. I would still use a lightweight waterproof pack liner just to be safe, but this pack is almost as waterproof as a dry bag.

I performed a waterproof test on this pack by stuffing it full of tissue paper and leaving it under constant rain in a shower for 3 minutes. After a constant “downpour” for three minutes, the Arc Haul had only let a few drops of water in through the roll-top closure.

Since tissue paper is less dense than the gear you would actually put in this pack, the paper compressed under the pressure of the water. Once the top layer of paper was compressed, water pooled on top of the pack. Some of the water eventually found its way through the roll-top opening. Under normal conditions, not even this small amount of water would have made it into the pack.

This is one of the most waterproof packs available of all the ultralight packs. There are other packs made with fully waterproof materials with taped seams, but only a few.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L waterproof test

I waterproof-tested the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L and I can say that this pack is one of the most waterproof ultralight backpacks in the market.

Durability: 9/10

The Arc Haul 60L is very durable. The Ultra 200 UHMWPE fabric used on this pack is much more durable than the Dyneema Composite Fabric Zpacks previously used on their Arc packs. I’m happy that Zpacks has moved away from using DCF on their packs, and I think their pack durability has great improved now that they’ve moved away from DCF.

Though Dyneema is strong, it doesn’t do well with abrasions. For this reason, it’s not the best material for backpacks. The Ultra 200 material used on the Arc Haul and other comparable packs is much more abrasion resistant.

Everything else about this pack is built to last as well. The construction is solid, the pack feels sturdy, and it shows no signs of wear after two months of testing.

I expect this pack to last for multiple thru-hikes. The exterior mesh pocket will probably last without repairs for one thru-hike, but everything else on the pack should last much longer. I also wouldn’t expect the pack to stay 100% waterproof for multiple thru-hikes, but this is common with any waterproof gear.

Compared with other ultralight packs, this is about as durable as other packs made with non-DCF materials, especially those made with Ultra fabric like the Arc Haul.

hiker using zpacks arc haul ultra 60l

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About Sam Schild

By Sam Schild (aka “Sia,” pronounced sigh): Sam is a writer, thru-hiker, and bikepacker. You can find him in Denver when he’s not out exploring in the mountains somewhere..

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