Last year I decided against the advice of Post Card, a member of the REI Marlton, NJ staff, author and two time AT thru-hiker, to jump into the ultra-lightweight backpack crowd. I just had to have the ZPacks Arc Haul 62. First the Good… I have to admit there are a lot of great features to be found on the Arc Haul and the A’ la carte way of customizing the pack to meet your needs. Things like near water proof fabric,
lightweight compression and accessory straps, off-the-back suspension system, and the fact it weighed in at a measly 29 ounces even after I added a few customizations. What did I add? Two belt pouches a “V” top strap and a chest mounted bottle holder. Now the Bad and the Ugly… The lightweight materials made getting into the belt pouches with one hand near impossible. On-line you can find numerous work arounds and modifications for this but you shouldn’t have to immediately modify your pack to make it “work”. Also, the lightweight straps i.e. the belt and shoulders got uncomfortable quickly on the trail for me. I noticed ZPacks does sell extra padding and others bloggers have added these to make it “work” but again I ask why. Simply put the Arc Haul may be the perfect pack for many, just not for me.
During the off-season I tried out the Gregory Zulu and Paragon, and I have tried to like the Osprey Exo and Levity but never could get the feel I wanted. You know what felt Goooooood though was the Gregory Baltoro and the Osprey Aether. Actually, they felt really good while carrying 30 pounds around the store for 30 minutes or so. But, and there’s always a but, I couldn’t reconcile the six (6) pounds of just pack weight. I thought, I’ll just have to settle with 80-90% of what I want. And what did I want? I want it all basically (lol). Light but not too light, features but not a Swiss Army knife pack, comfortable but not like strapping on an E-Z-Boy. But since I had time I kept looking, when I ran across something called the Aether Pro 70. Looking around the only one I found to try was 500 miles away and I just wasn’t making that drive. So… REI.com it was. I ordered one into the Paramus, NJ store and made an appointment with Kathy, one of their “Pros” to help me with the fitting.
At the store Kathy spent time adjusting the torso, changed the belt, and loaded me up with 15 pounds to start. On the pack went and after a few more adjustments I couldn’t even tell the pack had any weight in it at all. Okay let’s try 30 pounds. Now 30 pounds is more than my total pack weight on the AT last year and would almost have max’d out my ZPack but I figured what the heck… load ‘er up. 30 pounds could be felt, hell I haven’t carried a pack in six months (has it been that long already?) but it carried the weight effortlessly and so did I. A couple more adjustments, another 30 minutes wandering the store where I was forced to spend more money (lol) and I decided this is the pack. Back home we have been taking almost daily walks at Bass River State Forest and I have loaded about 15 pounds of gear into the pack for those walks and each day the pack settles in a little more and with a few extra adjustments it feels like a part of me. And at just over 3 pounds for the pack weight to get the same comfort as the 6-pound packs I’m all in… this is my pack for the AT this year. To check out the pack here are a couple links:
Here are some comparison picks of my 2018 and 2019 AT pack choices.