Rating: 5 / 5
The Zpacks Z1 backpack (www.zpacks.com) is a no-frills, ultralight (6 oz.), frameless pack ideally suited to long weekend trips. Made of silnylon, it competes with small packs of similar weight made by Gossamer Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs, and Fanatic Fringe. It stood out for me by virtue of its relatively low cost ($70), reasonably large size (2,600 cu. in.), and simple design. I tested it on a recent trip with a base weight of about 7.5 lbs. and a total weight of about 12.5 lbs.
Unlike some competitors, the pack is large enough to accommodate a bear cannister, making it usable in the Sierra. It’s also big enough to carry a lightweight sleeping bag without stuffing it down to the size of a lemon. At the same time, the Z1 is small enough that I never felt the need for a compression system (although a draw cord does let you shrink the bag’s capacity).
Lacking a frame, the pack uses your sleeping pad, inserted as a cylinder into the main body of the pack, for structure and support. (My pack carried very comfortably with a MontBell UL 90 pad and short piece of foam as the “frame.”) Two side pockets are placed just right to let you grab a water bottle or camera while walking, but without interfering with normal arm motion. The hip belt shifts considerable weight off your shoulders, a necessity in my view for any pack over about 12 lbs. The 2.5” wide, padded shoulder straps are extremely comfortable. There is no sternum strap, but I never missed it. (Like most artisan designers, Joe Valesko will customize the pack to include additional features at the buyer’s request.)
I’m no expert, but the stitching looked solid and the bag is reinforced at the bottom and other strategic points with heavier (2.4 oz.) silnylon. I haven’t taken the Z1 on any long trips so I can’t vouch for its ultimate durability, but it looks like it will hold up with due care.