I was hoping to make this a very comprehensive review of this pack but...
I received the pack from Joe & company with expedited delivery so that I could take it on a 10 day, High Sierra Trail trip. They were awesome and got the pack to me in plenty of time to test it out a couple of times before the trip. I loaded it up with about 27 lbs. and took it for a test spin around town. Truly it felt like all I had on my back was a day pack. I have been using a very heavy and ill-fitting Mountain Smith maverick pack (listed at 4.5 lbs but after 11 years of use weighs closer to 6).
I had lost nearly 20 lbs, of personal weight so for the first time in my backpacking career I actually had hip bones for a waist belt to hold onto. The design of the Hauls belt (upper and lower adjustment straps) allowed it to rest firmly and comfortably on my hip bones rather than hang down to my butt. The load lifter sit at about a 45* angle up so that it takes all the load off the top of my shoulders.
I was to leave for the trip on Sunday and on the Friday I finally had all my food together so I set to try the pack with a full load (around 34-35 lbs). As I was setting the ark in the stays there was a loud pop and one of the vertical Carbon fiber stays broke right in the middle. I had no doubt that had they been opened they would have overnighted a replacement to me but unfortunately they were not opened so heart broken, I put everything back in the old pack and did the trip, pain and all. If I did not know what a well made properly fitting pack felt like it might not have been so bad but I just it's better that the thing broke at home than on the trail.
I have seen the video of that stay being bent to 180* so I am sure that there was a flaw in that stay. When I got home there was an Email (they don't do phone) from Zpack apologizing and wanting to know where to send a replacement. Then something happened that sort of surprised me. I got an Email from Joe himself. He wanted to know how the stay broke as that had never happened since they changed from the flat stays to the round ones. We determined that it had to of been a bad stay and he said he would send me out 2 replacements as they were both most likely from the same lot. I mentioned to him how disappointed I was that I could not take the pack on what may be the longest trip I will ever take (hope not, but you never know) and that the only complaint I had was that the Ark sat so much higher on me that I had trouble reaching the side pocket for my gorp so he said he would also send out a hip belt pouch at no charge. While that is not a huge thing, it let me know that he stands behind his products and also that he is truly interested in continually improving them.
I got another chance to load up the pack with the same 26-27 lbs. today and take a short hike. It was not a long hike, just went down to what is suppose to be the bottom of New Melones lake to check out the old bridge that should be under about 100ft of water right now. Only went about 3 miles but we were poking around checking out the remains of old structures and stuff for more than 2 hours and I actually forgot I had the pack on. At 27 lbs. total weight, this 26oz. (pack is 24 plus top side pockets, waist pouch and trekking pole holders) pack transfers the weight to the hips perfectly, while allowing the pack to move with you. This thing felt like it was a part of me.
I will be loading it up with more weight in the next few days to see how it would have performed with 10 days worth of food but I suspect that it will do good up to 35-40 lbs as is listed. Hoping to be able to get out for at least an overnighter in the near future to see how it all goes in the real world, but I think I found a keeper.
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