Rating: 5 / 5
I was looking for a weekend pack and the price and the weight of the Zilch made it a pack I just couldn't pass up.
I purchased a customized Zilch from ZPacks about a year ago (4/2007). In addition to some standard options I also had the pack made out of SpinnTex. (The SpinnTex fabric was a customization that was available at the time - this was before the Cuben Fiber Blast packs were available. You will need to contact Joe at ZPacks to see if this customization currently supported.)
In addition to the custom fabric, I also purchased some of the standard options.
Options and weights are listed below.
The workmanship is great (I still stop to admire the clean, double stitching), the color is exactly what I wanted, and - of course - it's amazingly light (it's been great seeing the look on the faces of other hikers, disbelief pretty much sums it up). The SpinnTex has gotten quite a bit quieter and all of the closure systems have been a real pleasure to work with - I find them both ingenious and efficient in operation.
The exterior pockets have been pretty much all that I want for in a pack. The front pocket has plenty of room for wet gear and closes securely. The 2 side pockets are an ideal size and also very securely hold their contents. (I sometimes wish that the side pockets had a slant opening to make it easier to retrieve my water bottle. At least I think a slant opening would make it easier. But I don't think the pocket should be made any smaller, the volume is pretty darn handy as it is.) All pockets have drain holes.
The compression system works well and is elegant in its simplicity and in how it also serves to close the front pocket.
Top closure is also quite elegant. I originally thought that it should have 2 cord locks: 1 to keep the top cinched and 1 to anchor the cord in the "button" loop. But the design is correct, only 1 is needed. The "button" loop captures the cord lock very securely and the pack remains closed. (The "button" loop is not needed when the pack is fully loaded. Just chinch the pack closed and tuck the cord into the pack or the front pocket.)
Removable Webbing Waist Belt
Removable Sternum Strap
Daisy Chain on Shoulder Straps
Base Webbing traps (ZPacks now offers lighter shock cord loops instead)
I purchased both the removable waist belt and sternum strap. I wasn't sure which would work better for the pack and, since both would be removable, I decided to try out both options. The intent, of either, was to keep the pack stable while scrambling
I have ended up using the waist belt but not the sternum strap - that's just what works for me. My advice is to pick one (if any). You'll save a few grams and the implementation is cleaner.
Note that the optional waist belt is no longer offered in a removable version. (I do wish I had ordered my pack this way.)
The daisy chains on the shoulder straps have been useful for attaching a shoulder pouch (see below) and for securing the hose of my hydration bladder.
I use the base straps to secure a 1/8 inch Gossamer Gear ThinLight pad. (I sleep cold so the extra insulation can make or break a good night's sleep. It also provides a non-slip surface for my pad and bag.) Yes, these straps are a bit of a luxury addition but it's worked out well for me.
SpinnTex Fabric (Grey)
Honestly, this started out as a color modification. The fact that it was lighter than the standard silnylon was a real bonus. But had the Cuben Fiber been available, I probably would have chosen that instead.
Basic Pack as Purchased: 3.4 oz.
Removable Waist Belt: 1.2 oz.
Removable Sternum Strap: 0.5 oz.
Total Weight as Purchased: 5.1 oz.
Total Weight as Used: 4.6 oz. (no Sternum Strap)
A back injury has limited me to mostly day hikes but I have been able to recently get back to weekend hikes (2 - 3 days, 1 - 2 nights).
As a day pack it's been great. I always carry the "10 Essentials"; add a water bottle or two and a light jacket for late Fall to early Spring and I still forget that I'm carrying anything. The side pockets securely hold a 1 pint bottle but will accommodate up to a 1 liter container. The elastic at the top of the pockets also secure small items that I want close at hand. The side pockets are sized and placed so that retrieving items from them is trivial. The large front pocket is perfect for rain wear.
It's the perfect size (for me) for weekend hikes. I deflate my Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 Short, roll it loosely, and place it in the pack to form the frame. Sleeping bag and clothes go on the bottom. Tarp, cook kit, first aide kit, repair kit, and food go in afterwards. I will inflate the pad - to remove any unused space - if that's necessary. Stakes, ground cover, rain gear, and toiletries go into the front pocket.
I have a UL load (8.5 lb. base weight) so that limits the pack to weekend trips - since there's only room for 3 days of food. Going cookless or SUL should allow me to extend trips to at least 5 days, particularly in the Summer. It's really something to get so many days out of an 1,800 cubic inch pack (at least for me).
Note that these are weekend trips in the California coastal ranges within 50 miles of the San Francisco Bay Area. No bear canister is needed and clothing and shelter requirements are minimal.
After a year of use there are no issues with either the material or workmanship. I'm easy on my gear but it's clear that I'll be using this pack for years.
Working with Joe was great! He very patiently answered my questions and was happy to work with me on the customization. The pack was delivered on schedule and follow up emails have also been quickly answered.
I have also placed other orders with him. All were delivered on time and without issue.
I highly recommend buying from ZPacks.
Addition (Purchased Later)
Shoulder Strap Pouch: 0.3 oz.
Not, strictly speaking, part of the pack and it was purchased some time later. But I *REALLY* like the shoulder strap pouch. The size is excellent, not too large to invite stupid loads but large enough for me to easily store and retrieve my camera (Pentax Optio W30) quickly. The outer mesh pocket, with elastic closure, is where my clip-on sunglasses live - safely - when on the trail. The whole thing just works!