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ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review

At less than four ounces and roomy enough for a weekend of SUL gear (30L), the ZPacks Blast 18 certainly qualifies as "SUL" by the standard set several years ago by the Gossamer Gear G6, but is far more durable (yet has a similar weight as the first G6).


Overall Rating: Recommended

The Blast 18 has everything I want in an SUL weekend pack: durable fabrics, light weight, plenty of capacity extended with outside pockets, and a simple design. The Cubic Tech CT5K.18 fabric is durable, abrasion-resistant, non-absorbent, and offers good seam strength for carrying heavier loads on occasion. The pack could use improved styling, packbag shaping, and finishing, and because it is offered with a drawcord closure, I'd recommend at least offering the option of a sewn-in top flap and/or top pocket for further weather protection and storage space. Relative to its key competitors, the Gossamer Gear Murmur and the Mountain Laurel Designs 2009 Revelation, the Blast 18 competes effectively. The choice of fabric elevates the cost of this pack to a price point $25 higher than the Murmur, and the inexperience in manufacturing and design places it in a styling class one notch below the Revelation. However, if you are looking for an SUL pack that effectively carries a small load for ultralight backpacking with less than 15 pounds, the Blast 18 serves the purpose admirably.

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by Ryan Jordan |


There are two problems with the SuperUltraLight ethic.

The first is that it motivates SUL aficionados to develop throwaway gear that may last a season, if you're lucky. I once used a tarp made of an extremely light Cubic Tech fabric (CT0.3.K08, at 11.4 gsm) that blew up in one unfortunate midsummer wind gust in the shadows of the Tetons, while camping at the uppermost campsite near the treeline in the North Fork of Cascade Canyon. And my every attempt to manufacture, take care of, and otherwise use so-called "SUL" packs (including spinnaker versions of the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet and Gossamer Gear Uberlite G6) made with lightweight spinnaker nylons, polyesters, and Cuben Fibers, has resulted in failure of the fabrics at the seams caused by repetitive stress.

I think SUL gear such as this can serve specialized purposes for the casual hiker, for the hiker who might not care about disposing (and replacing) gear on a regular basis, or for the hiker interested in saving every gram of weight possible for a single expedition (e.g., Andrew Skurka used an ultralight Cubic Tech tarp on his Great Western Loop trek, and I used a Cuben Tech pyramid shelter for the Arctic 1000).

The second problem with the SUL ethic is that it motivates people to apparent insanity, by which every possible bit of function and durability is sacrified for the sake of meeting a weight spec. I'm speaking a bit tongue in cheek about this insanity of course, since I seem to be a regular participant and proponent of it, but I do increasingly value that elusive and ill-defined metric we call the "performance-to-weight ratio".

That's why I was pretty excited when I took my new ZPacks Blast 18 backpack - a heavy duty Cubic Tech weekend pack that weighs a scant 3.3 oz - out of its mailing envelope...

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 1
The ZPacks Blast 18 is made from a stronger, heavier Cubic Tech fabric (CT5K.18), bringing abrasion resistance and strength to SUL packs without adding much weight. The base model as configured here weighs only 3.3 oz.

Durable SUL

Joe Valesko, the designer of the Blast series and the owner of ZPacks, made a prototype out of the same fabric (CTK5.18). He put it to good use, completing the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail with it in 2007.

At less than four ounces and roomy enough for a weekend of SUL gear (30L), the ZPacks Blast 18 certainly qualifies as "SUL" by the standard set several years ago by the Gossamer Gear G6, but is far more durable (yet has a similar weight as the first G6).

So, what might differentiate the Blast 18 from other SUL packs is its durability. Instead of the sub-30 gsm Cubic Tech variants found among manufacturers promoting SUL tarps, stuff sacks, and other gear, the Blast 18 uses Cuben Fiber 5K.18, a 48.4 gsm fabric with a stiff hand that gives the pack robust shape, waterproofness, and outstanding durability in both seam strength and abrasion resistance.

About the Fabric

The primary problem with the use of Cuben Fiber in outdoor gear is its seam strength. The fabric is better characterized as a plastic film reinforced by a low-density fiber matrix than conventional woven outdoor gear fabrics, which are typically high density wovens reinforced by waterproof coatings and/or calendaring.

Cubic Tech CT5K.18 is far more durable than its ultralight cousins (e.g., the model CT2K variants) primarily because of its weight, film thickness, and higher fiber density than CT2K.08.

The bottom line is that CT5K.18 has good tear strength (190 lb/in, vs. 105 lb/in for CT2K.08). And, while I don't have data for seam strength or abrasion resistance, my field testing and inspection of seams under load indicates that CT5K.18 may actually be suitable for long term use and thru-hiking. Don't expect a miracle, however: this fabric is still considered ultralight and won't perform to the strength standards of most heavier woven fabrics. Seams will fail over time if you consistently pack heavy loads in a pack like this (I found seams starting to separate in response to the all-day stress of hiking with 35-lb loads), and the fabric is more subject to punctures from sharp things (e.g., thorns and deadfall), more so than woven nylons such as the 210 Dyneema grid ripstops that have been popular in packs by ULA and others.



1800 cu. in.


3.3 oz (Base Model)


$105 (Base Model)


Cubic Tech CT5K.18

  Shoulder Strap Padding:

1/4" Closed Cell Foam


  • Nonelastic drawcord top closure
  • Two side water bottle pockets with elastic closure
  • Large rear pocket with elastic closure integrated with top side drawcords for compression and securing gear
  • Frameless design, no back padding or other structure
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Optional build-to-order features are available for extra cost and weight. For example, a full featured pack containing a padded wing belt with belt pouches (1.9 oz, $39), sternum strap (0.3 oz, $6), shoulder strap daisy chains (0.2 oz, $8), hydration port ($4), hydration sleeve (0.3 oz, $10), outside shock cord loops that could secure a sleeping pad or tent horizontally (0.4 oz, $7), shock cord compression system (0.4 oz, $9), top strap (0.4 oz, $9), haul loop (0.4 oz, $2), one ice axe loop (0.1 oz, $4), sleeping pad sleeves (0.5 oz, $20), two shoulder pouches (0.6 oz, $28) would come to a weight of 8.8 oz and cost $251.

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 2
My favorite "I can't believe I didn't think of that" feature of the Blast 18 is the circumferential compression cord that serves three functions: a strap for securing tall gear extending from the pockets (such as trekking poles), load compression for the upper part of the pack, and the elastic closure for the top of the back pocket.

Load Carrying Capacity

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 3
The base model of the Blast 18 does not include a hip belt, has a narrow profile, and rides high on your back (the nature of most small packs). This creates a bit of bob and wobble, but padded shoulder straps, the narrow design, and high center of gravity makes "heavier" loads (less than 15 lbs) more comfortable than belt-less packs that are fat and short, and ride low.

Assessing the load carrying capacity of a frameless pack, especially one without a waist belt, is sort of a silly exercise. Your ability to carry a load will depend primarily on the strength and conditioning of your trapezius and deltoid muscles. Most casual hikers have not conditioned these muscle groups in a way that is optimized for carrying a heavy load in a frameless pack. In other words, you condition the muscles by carrying the load. My experience tells me that most folks will find 15 pounds acceptable for long distances (e.g., more than six hours of hiking per day), and 20 pounds acceptable for short distances (a few hours of hiking per day). Those with well-conditioned shoulder muscles can usually accomodate 25 to 30 pounds for short distances and 20 to 25 pounds for long distances. Thru-hikers who have been on the trail for several weeks with a frameless pack may find 35 pounds, or more, acceptable at both short and long distances.

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 4
Short shoulder straps on a small pack means that it rides high on your back, which I prefer for small volume packs that do not have a hip belt. It keeps the center of gravity high, which relieves back strain, but demands more from your trapezius and deltoid (shoulder) muscle groups.

I could never recommend a previous SUL pack such as the Gossamer Gear Uberlite (G6) or the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 40 (Spinnaker Version) with weights greater than 25 pounds over long distances and durations. However, I think the Zpacks Blast 18 (even at a similar weight as the other two) would be up to the task, and I'd have no hesitation recommending it for the thru-hiker interested in tackling a Triple Crown Trail, assuming they were intentionally careful with their gear.

Volume Capacity

Eighteen hundred cubic inches is not a lot of capacity.

It's generally accepted by our community that it's just enough for a day or two of food and a simple, ultralight kit of summer gear. My summer ultralight kit easily fits into the Blast 18 without overcompressing insulating gear, and in addition to three days of food, includes a 30-degree synthetic quilt, a torso-sized inflatable sleeping pad, a breathable bivy sack, synthetic insulated jacket, rain jacket, rain pants, a two-person tarp, solo cook kit, and other basic essentials. I keep a windshirt in the back pocket, a water bottle in a side pocket, and lunch in the other side pocket.

In the photos for this article, the Blast 18 is packed with a spring kit for snow cave camping, and includes a 20-degree down sleeping quilt, synthetic insulated jacket and pants, an eVENT bivy sack, a TorsoLite pad, a 3/4-length 5mm foam pad (folded and placed against the back panel), a liquid fuel stove and 1.3L pot, and 1.5 days of food, in addition to basic essentials. My snow shovel and wind jacket (which I'm wearing) go in the back pocket, while food, fuel bottle, and a water bottle get stashed in the sides. The insulation of my sleeping bag, jacket, and puffy pants gets a little more compressed with my spring snow kit, but not enough that I have concern about damaging the insulation.

The outside pockets of the Blast are generously gusseted, so they expand sufficiently for the stowage and retrieval of gear without feeling like you are stuffing your hand into a jar of pudding to find something. The back pocket was plenty big enough to stuff the body of a solo single wall TarpTent into, and the side pockets expanded to easily accomodate a full two-liter Platypus bottle.

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 5
Gusseted pockets provide plenty of width for the stowage of bulky gear, but not much height. I was not comfortable putting in a tall, 2-liter Platypus bottle in the pocket, and it ended up coming out of the pocket while bushwhacking. I didn't really see this as a disadvantage of the pack, so I simply changed my style accordingly and switched to a shorter water bottle. On this trip, I used one packet to pack my lunch and fuel canister (a large Powermax canister), and the other pocket for my water bottle (a 600ml Evernew bottle).

While marketing on the ZPacks website suggests otherwise, items are easier to retrieve out of the side pockets while on the trail than to put back, because of the elastic pocket closures. However, this is no fault of ZPacks in my opinion, but a flawed expectation of the user. With a pack like this, swinging the pack off your back (even while walking, if you have to) and grabbing something out of the side pocket is such a trivial exercise that to belabor the need to access side pocket gear while on the go seems to reflect fundamental incompatibilities with the ultralight ethic. This isn't adventure racing, this isn't an adventure racing pack, and it's not going to be loaded with enough gear that stopping for a moment to remove the pack shouldn't provide great amounts of disruption to your wilderness experience. If it does, then there may be other problems that have nothing to do with the pack!

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 6
When hiking with a pack that weighs only 10 or 12 pounds, swinging the pack off and grabbing the water bottle out of it, rather than inventing new yoga positions to retrieve the bottle from a side pocket, is a preferable modus operandi for me. There is something aesthetically satisfying about tossing a pack on and off your shoulder when everyone else is struggling to load their behemoths to their body.

The Blast 18 will provide enough capacity for overnights and weekend trips for the hiker willing to keep their kit simple and compact, but some discipline will be required in the selection of bulky gear, because volume is limited.

A Note About Packbag Shape and Dimensions

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 7
The Blast 18 is symmetrical and uniform, making it an ideal pack for rolling a sleeping pad inside for virtual frame structure. My preference is to fold the pad and wear it against the back panel for padding and to provide some shape that gives the pack more contact surface area with your back, which feels better for carrying heavier loads.

The Blast 18 is a nearly perfect cylinder, which makes it an ideal pack for those that like to pack a foam sleeping pad as a cylinder inside the pack, then stash gear into the middle of the cylinder. I'm personally not a fan of this configuration, but have to admit that unlike most other "shaped packbag" packs that are not cylindrically symmetrical, this configuration works well with the Blast 18. As noted below, depending on perspective, you might find this packbag shape appealing or a liability.

In addition, the Blast 18 carries both small and overstuffed loads well (i.e., a load where the top collar is fully extended, as in the photos), because it maintains a thin, tall shape that does not ride low on the back (an important characteristic of a pack without a waist belt).

Final Analysis

What's Hot

  • Durable but ultralight fabric.
  • Simple, symmetrical design.
  • Gusseted outside pockets provide easy access and meaningful capacity.
  • Compression integrated into back pocket closure provides gear security on the sides of the pack as well.
  • Drawcord closure provides better volume utilization for the weight over roll-top models.

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 8
It doesn't get any simpler than this: a drawcord closure provides the best utilization of packbag volume for the weight, allows for fast and easy access to the packbag, and requires little trim and hardware. Unlike a rolltop closure, however, the drawcord style suffers from lesser protection from precipitation, something that could easily be alleviated if the pack had an option to add a sewn-in top flap or pocket. I dealt with the limitation simply by stowing my gear (as you probably will anyways, regardless of closure type) in waterproof bags. Even in heavy precipitation (rain and wet snow), I never really missed having the roll-top, which surprised me.

What's Not

  • Add-on options provide custom build-to-order pack to suit needs but can result in a very expensive pack and can more than double the weight of the base model.
  • No option for a top pocket or flap to extend storage and/or keep water/snow out of the drawcord closure.
  • Drawcord closure string is extremely thin and may cut fabric of extension collar over the long term.
  • Construction techniques and styling reflect classic young cottage "garage manufacturing". The quality is high and the pack is well sewn, but makes use of simple construction techniques that limit shaping and styling options.

Market Comparison

I think it's important to consider the ZPacks Blast 18 in context with its primary competitor, the Gossamer Gear Murmur (Mountain Laurel Designs was not manufacturing a sub-30L SUL pack at the time of this writing, but they were offering a more richly-featured pack also made with Cubic Tech CTK5.18, the 2009 Revelation, which is heavier and more durable than the previous 2006 model that we previously reviewed).

Manufacturer/Model Packbag Volume Weight Relative Durability Suspension Other Features Price
ZPacks Blast 18 1800 cu. in. 3.3 oz  Excellent (1.5 osy Cubic Fiber CT5K.18) padded shoulder straps two side pockets, one back pocket, drawcord closure $105
Gossamer Gear Murmur 1700 cu. in. 7.5 oz Fair (1.1 osy nylon spinnaker) padded shoulder straps, webbing waist belt two side pockets, one back pocket, rolltop closure, pad sleeve, $80
Mountain Laurel Designs 2009 Revelation 2000 cu. in. 6.2 oz Excellent (1.5 osy Cubic Fiber CT5K.18) padded shoulder straps, winged hip belt, sternum strap two side pockets, one back mesh pocket, rolltop closure, cord compression $170

The relative strengths of the Blast 18 are its weight and durability, while the Murmur offers more features at a lower cost. The Revelation offers greater capacity, more refined styling, and when compared to the scenario of adding options to the Blast 18 that match the features of the Revelation, the Revelation comes in slightly less expensive.

Unfortunately, I find it hard to justify spending more than $100 on such a small pack that requires little in the way of sophistication to effectively carry light loads, but in the absence of other options, my personal choices do lean towards the more durable packs, because I'm more confident of their longevity, an important consideration for me as I continue to pursue a lighter and simpler lifestyle.

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 9
The very simple construction techniques of the Blast 18 are both functional and effective, but lack the refined styling and aesthetic of more evolved packs that use more sophisticated manufacturing techniques.


I found myself not wanting much after using this pack. I did replace the drawcord closure with a thicker string because I have found very thin strings abrade and cut through Cubic Tech fabrics over time. The weight penalty for replacing the string was negligible.

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review - 10
The ultra-thin drawcord that ships with the pack feels like a cutting wire. I ended up replacing it with a thicker (2mm) cord, which not only alleviated my fears about the cord cutting into the Cubic Tech fabric, but it made it easier to use while wearing gloves or mittens.

My only complaint with the pack is in its packbag shape. While the sausage design (symmetrical cylinder) works well for enclosing a rolled-perimeter sleeping mat (into the center of which gear is stowed for stability), it's not particularly stylish and doesn't rest against your back when fully loaded as well as it could. Carrying the Blast 18 stuffed to its gills feels a bit like hauling a log on your bag (albeit a soft, light one), because it does sort of roll and bobble here and there. I was able to mitigate this effect somewhat by folding my foam pad into thirds and using it as a virtual frame against the back of the pack, but for this to work most effectively, I would have prefered a slightly wider packbag. In addition, I'm a fan of packbags that taper from a smaller cross section near the bottom to a larger cross section near the top, because they accomodate widely varying load capacities a little better (although, this is less of an issue with such a small volume weekend pack like the Blast 18).

Photos: Ryan and Stephanie Jordan; Olympus E-510 Leica Summilux 25mm/f1.4.


"ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-05-19 00:05:00-06.


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ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/19/2009 16:49:15 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
I love my Blast 18 on 05/19/2009 17:39:52 MDT Print View

it's been my primary go-to pack for weekend trips the last couple of years (I've done 5 one-night and one 2-night trips with it).

I agree with Ryan about the top closure string diameter being too small & plan to replace mine with a thicker line - the thin line also slips easily in the cordlock & I expect the thicker line will hold better; not a major issue though.

i also got the stripped-down, basic model & wouldn't change much else - i'd upgrade the padding in the straps (the super thin that i have is thinner than those pictured in ryan's review, which is why i think my pack is also a little lighter); the shoulder straps tend to crumple up into very thin, rope-like constrictors.

i'd also get a sternum strap, though the little one i improvised with some cord and a mini beaner works fine.

i don't use a foam pad in mine - i just stuff it full, putting my deflated BA insulated airecore against my back. seems to ride well enough and be comfortable.

it is super cool to be walking around with a pack that weighs less than a tshirt - if empty, can probably tie some string to it & fly it like a kite.

Edited by cbert on 05/19/2009 17:40:43 MDT.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: I love my Blast 18 on 05/19/2009 18:52:32 MDT Print View

Hi Ryan,

Just wanted to say well done on the photos for this review. Not sure who did the photography but kudos for a great effort. Top notch!

Obviously not a point and shoot camera though, and the d.o.f. and field of view would suggest it's not the Sigma DP1. So was someone lugging a dSLR on this trip? If so, I have to chuckle at the thought of one guy hauling around 1.5pound+ dSLR while the other one has his gear in a SUL pack weighing a few ounces.

Anyway, please share on the camera details. Especially if it wasn't a load-monster.

Cheers, Ashley

James Gealy
(surnailz) - F

Locale: White Mountains
Blast Packs (26) on 05/19/2009 19:22:06 MDT Print View

First off, well done review, Ryan! I'm a big fan of my Blast 26 and I'm glad that there is some press on Z-Packs on BPL, finally. My method of padding the load is to use a GG Nightlight with its middle section on my back and its wings to the sides of the pack. Perfect width and section size. After a number of day hikes last year and a couple overnights, the durability has not been an issue at all. Also, I went with the thickest strap padding and have not had any rolling issues. In fact, the straps were a bit stiff at first and dug into my shoulders somewhat, but this has since resolved itself as they see more use. Overall, a great pack that I highly recommend.


(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
ZPacks Blast 18 on 05/19/2009 19:48:25 MDT Print View

Thanks for the clear and thorough review. FWIW, My 2009 MLD Cuben Revelation does NOT feel like hauling a log, and does not roll and bobble, because the sectional shape is rectangular, not tubular. The padded shoulder straps arc inward, minimizing any tendency to slip off the shoulders, and the winged hip belt stabilizes everything. Also, it has outside shock cord loops, and the back pocket is mesh, not solid like the ZPack's, allowing wet items to drain. The top snaps shut, then allows it to be rolled down for water protection.

Joseph Valesko
( - F
ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/20/2009 08:49:42 MDT Print View

Nice Review!

One correction though, the base price of the Blast 18 pack with no options has always been $105, not $130 as given. (I believe Ryan is going to update the article shortly...)

Thanks for the comments, it is great to get feedback! I'll address a couple issues that have been brought up-

Originally the shoulder padding on the Blast 18 was 1/8" thick, but it was increased due to the rolling issue Cary mentioned. If anyone has one of the originals with 1/8" padding I would be happy to add new straps for free, just shoot me an email.

A few of you mentioned the thin draw cord. I know for sure that the thin cord won't cut through the material, but I plan to start using thicker cord from now on for everyone's peace of mind :). The weight is negligable and it will look nicer too.

In response to Robert Tangen-
There is no such thing as a "rectangular" or "tubular" frameless pack. The shape of the pack is entirely determined by what you put in it. FWIW The base of the pack is sewn rectangular.

A webbing belt is a cheap add on ($6) and would solve any wobbling issues. Probably 95% of people add a belt. Mesh pockets are also a free option.

One last thing- the top of the pack does compress down preventing any water from entering. Of course it doesn't work if the pack is loaded all the way to the brim as in Ryan's case. The 2600 ci pack at 3.9 oz would have been a better size for that load!

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/20/2009 09:40:09 MDT Print View

Ryan, nice to see this review. I have a Blast 26 and love it. I want to add the Blast 18 to my pack arsenal but can't justify it right now...I just cinch down my 26 for smaller loads.

I do have to question why you have Joe's pack options listed under the "what's not so good" section? In my mind, this is a huge bonus...customizing a pack to fit your needs is great, they are options can always "opt" out :)

And just to clarify, all of the pockets in the Blast have drain grommets in the bottom so you can put wet stuff in the no problems. Also, I have no problems reaching my water bottles in the side pockets while wearing my pack, but I have 2 elbows on each arm. ;)

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
ZPacks Blast 18 on 05/20/2009 10:38:43 MDT Print View

Re: "In response to Robert Tangen-
There is no such thing as a "rectangular" or "tubular" frameless pack. The shape of the pack is entirely determined by what you put in it. FWIW The base of the pack is sewn rectangular." I BEG TO DIFFER, although I am no expert. I have the old MLD Revelation, which you seem to have copied exactly, except in Cuben fiber. Did you not read Ryan's comment that the pack fills out into the shape of a "log?" That's exactly what happens with the old Revelation, and what does NOT happen with the new one. The new pack has a wide, flat sheet of fabric in front and in back, and a narrow sheet of fabric on each side, with four seams providing a noticeable and effective structure, which the old pack does not have. (I can't speak to the ZPack, just the old Revelation.) Imagine a stuff sack for a shovel, shaped like the big pocket on most packs, but free floating: let's say the front panel is 18" square, as is the back panel, and the 2 side panels and the bottom panel are 2" by 18" are you saying the shape of that bag is totally determined by what's in it? I BEG TO DIFFER.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
blast off! on 05/20/2009 10:44:44 MDT Print View

Joe V., i still have that prototype Blast 16 that you sent me a couple years back... can you believe, after about 100 miles of Superstition shrub live oak, pointleaf manzanita, chainfruit cholla and catsclaw mimosa that little pack is still holding up? i have placed a 2" square of duct tape over one of the pockets and there is some fraying going on with the other pocket, but over all it has been a fun, light pack for summer outings. I took it through the West Fork of Oak Creek with a sub 3lb base last year.
Im using a sitlight pad for a frame. I do find the shoulder straps will fold up but so far it has not been disturbing. I did opt for a waist belt, a little overkill for this pack at 1" wide, but it comes in handy.
would i send it back for new shoulder padding? pro'lly not, if i could get you to make another blast 16 and i could add mesh on the sides and front. viva Zpacks!

Joseph Valesko
( - F
Circle or Rectangle?? on 05/20/2009 13:46:02 MDT Print View

Try this for example:

Sew 4 pieces of fabric into a rectangle.

Now sew the same 4 pieces into a circle.

It's exactly the same and can be shaped either way depending what you put in it.
(of course the base is sewn as a rectangle but that only affects the bottom.)

Edited by on 05/20/2009 14:28:29 MDT.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/20/2009 14:20:49 MDT Print View

Very nice and informative review, Ryan. I really enjoyed reading it. Joe, I don't own one of your packs, but I plan to in the near future. It looks like a great product at a great value. It seems that for the price, durability and longevity your SUL packs can't be beat. These are three characteristics that I look for in anything that I buy, gear or otherwise. I'm sold.

Oh, and Ryan, I just wanted to second Ashley with regards to the photography in this article. It is really top- notch. He/she caught some really nice moments. Kudos to your photographer.

Edited by socalpacker on 05/20/2009 14:30:47 MDT.

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
ZPacks Blast 18 on 05/20/2009 15:06:30 MDT Print View

Mr. Valesko, Re: circles and rectangles: I'm sorry, I'm not getting a clear visual image of what you described. (PS, I have nothing against you or your packs, and I have no bias in favor of MLD. I'm just trying to be objective.) Are you maintaining that the snow shovel sack I describe has no structure indedpent of what's in it? If structure couldn't be built into pure fabric, then Armani suits wouldn't be more highly valued than cheap Walmart suits.

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
maybe "structure" can be fuzzy on 05/20/2009 15:25:08 MDT Print View

armani and walmart have the same value to me: zero.

Joseph Valesko
( - F
? on 05/20/2009 15:29:06 MDT Print View

If you cram a sleeping bag into your shovel sack, does it hold its 2 x 18 x 18 rectangle shape or does it become more like a ball?

If it stays rectangular it must be incorporating the same expensive magic they use to make Armani suits.

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
ZPacks Blast 18 on 05/20/2009 15:49:37 MDT Print View

Re: stuffing a sleeping bag: I agree it will become more like a ball than when it has plywood in it. But, it won't entirely lose it's 18 X 18 X 2 shape. Right this second I am looking at the old Revelation and the new Revelation, each containing similar stuff, and I swear to God that the new Revelation has a flat back and a flat front, and the old Revelation looks like a sausage. Try it, and report back.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 on 05/20/2009 16:59:21 MDT Print View

increasingly value that elusive and ill-defined metric we call the "performance-to-weight ratio"

Me too

Good review. Performance-to-weight ratio is often missed in our exuberance to lighten up. I'm working on a gear list that I'm calling LUL (luxury ultralight). P-to-W justified!

I don't have the Blast 18, but have enjoyed the Zpacks Z1. Great product from a great company, IMO.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/20/2009 20:03:33 MDT Print View

I recently purchased a Zpacks "Zero" Pack from Joe in a (volume) size Medium, which is essentially a Blast 18, minus the outer pockets. I ordered bungee lashing for wet items and/or shovel, etc. and often use a hydration system instead of water bottles. Removable waist belt and sternum straps, plus a unique (demo) adjustable torso system mean that I can customize this pack to fit all of my kids ages 2-7; or myself or my wife. (see pic below --> ok, maybe not the 2 year old, although don't tell her that!)

zpacks girls

The craftsmanship & value are superb and I rather appreciate the fine 'styling' on this pack over many others. It's simplicty resonates with an authenticity, that I liken to a well-built piece of heirloom furniture, with choice materials rather than something made out of particle board in an overseas sweat shop. The pack comes in at 2.8 oz. minimum, to 4.8 oz. w/ all straps + accoutrements and fits superbly well. The other packs in the picture for reference are a REI Flash UL 18 and an Oware Day Pack Stuff Sack.

I highly recommend both the pack and Joe's amazing creative service!

Edited by biointegra on 05/20/2009 20:33:24 MDT.

Kathleen B

Locale: Pacific Northwest
ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/21/2009 12:43:51 MDT Print View

Aaron - the Zero is a brilliant idea and just what I need to take my grandson on his first backpack trip this July.

Your girls are adorable and good sports for being models!

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/21/2009 13:07:20 MDT Print View

I'm glad to see a review of the Blast line. I've pretty much narrowed it down to a Blast or an MLD Revelation for my graduation to a frameless pack(non-bear cannister trips). One of the most appealing parts of Zpacks is starting with a basic pack and being able to add only the options you want.

Kathleen B

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Joe's Gone Hiking on 05/21/2009 13:25:35 MDT Print View

I just checked Joe is hiking for the summer, so the store is closed until he gets back.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Joe's Gone Hiking on 05/21/2009 16:40:20 MDT Print View

Well Kathleen, you can probably borrow ours if it comes down to it. We will likely only get out for 2 or 3 more trips this year with the kids, since I'm not done building our house yet.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/24/2009 18:57:51 MDT Print View

I'm not a photographer...and even I noticed how nice the photos were. It really makes a difference in the overall look. Nice to see Ryan doing more reviews, and to hear his perspective.

THe one poster mentioned that his pack was still going after "100 miles." Did he mean "1000," because 100 isn't long enough to say anything.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/24/2009 19:02:57 MDT Print View

So Ryan... the camera used was? (I'm curious to know whether it is a 4/3rds, or a plain old canikon).

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
zpacks blast on 05/24/2009 21:45:52 MDT Print View

"THe one poster mentioned that his pack was still going after "100 miles." Did he mean "1000," because 100 isn't long enough to say anything."

you better think again.. 100 miles of Superstition Wilderness bushwhacking would kick your ass, i promise you that.
100 miles there is plenty to make an assertion of the pack's durability.

Edited by mikeinfhaz on 05/24/2009 21:47:11 MDT.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: zpacks blast on 05/25/2009 05:31:33 MDT Print View

OK, thanks for the clarification.

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Experience with the Blasts on 05/25/2009 19:57:33 MDT Print View

I have used the Blast 18 and 32 extensively (50 days total use) and with varying loads and have a few comments:

"Drawcord closure string is extremely thin and may cut fabric of extension collar over the long term."

Surprisingly, it actually doesn't.

I also have a MLD Zip (2008) and would say the Zip has roughly 250 days of trail life in it, whereas the Blasts have about 150. Structural weak spots on the Blasts over the long term seem to be:

- seam loosening over time on the insides of the shoulder strap attachment seam (where it's sewn onto the back)

- tearing over time on the bottom of the pack from setting it on the ground (some abrasion is unavoidable no matter how careful you are)

Maybe a double layer of fabric on the bottom (or an even thicker version of the cuben) could solve the second issue, and some kind of additional reinforcement of the shoulder strap attachment pieces could remove these issues, perhaps increasing the life expectancy of the Blast to about that of the Zip and other nylon-based packs.

I would recommend the Blasts as a way to jump to an SUL pack while still retaining a reasonable amount of durability.

And nice article, Ryan!

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Photos too nice?? on 05/26/2009 14:49:51 MDT Print View

I know a couple of you have mentioned the photos, but they look so good I sort of feel like I'm being shown a catalog. And I rarely trust a photo from a catalog. Maybe its just me.

In short, the photos look so nice I sort of feel like the author is trying to sell me something rather than provide a review. I'd even say a couple of the photos are almost creepy.

Eric Fredricksen
(efredricksen) - MLife

Locale: Silicon Valley
GG Murmur is larger than stated on 05/26/2009 20:12:44 MDT Print View

The Gossamer Gear website lists the Murmur's capacity as 2200 ci, not the 1700 given in the table, making it the largest of the three. ...Unless GG is the one that has it wrong.

I have one so I hope the Blast doesn't blast it out of the water on *all* counts. :)

donald buckner

Locale: Southeast U.S.
z packs on 05/26/2009 20:26:20 MDT Print View

Red Rock Canyon, NVI just wanted to say that I love my Zpacks 18 in sil nylon. I have the waist belt and shoulder pouch options and I felt the price was very reasonable. Joe is one great guy to deal with and the pack is a great 1-3 day hauler. I brag about my 4oz pack to everyone.

Edited by toomanyarrows on 05/26/2009 20:31:20 MDT.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
blasted photos on 05/26/2009 20:54:27 MDT Print View

this was when the pack was bran'new. its so shiny!
it doesnt look so pretty anymore, but its holding up. no loose threads. this was my first sub-5 trip, thanks Joe for helping me reach that milestone!


John Brochu
(JohnnyBgood4) - F

Locale: New Hampshire
re: "ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review" on 05/29/2009 11:46:18 MDT Print View

I've got the Blast 18 in cuben with the winged hipbelt and pockets, extra padding in the shoulders, and the shock-cord lashing. It weighs 6.1 ounces.

I haven't used it enough yet to give it a full review, but so far I love it and I don't think my opinion is likely to change.

Joe also made me a cuben cat tarp that weighs 3.3 ounces and a cuben rain skirt that weighs 0.8 ounces.

Great products at fair prices with excellent customer service imo.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/30/2009 09:39:02 MDT Print View

"The Blast 18 has everything I want in an SUL weekend pack: durable fabrics, light weight, plenty of capacity extended with outside pockets, and a simple design."

I don't get this SUL weekend kit idea. I fully agree of course that a lighter pack makes your outdoor experience much more enjoyable. Currently my 5 day/4 night pack weighs about 16# loaded with all my gear, food and water. Sure I have done the SUL weekend trip, sleeping on some bubble wrap and sleeping under some toilet paper :D, it is doable, but it does not make my outdoor experience much more enjoyable.

Lately I find that when I go out for a weekend bash of the Belgian hills I prefer to take more rather than less stuff. As long as my pack stays under 20# I find that I am a happy hiker and I find that I'm a less happy hiker if my pack is under 5#. Apparently there's a parabola shaped curve in my hiking happiness plotted against my pack weight. As pack weight goes down (x-axis), my happiness goes up (y-axis), but it seems that after a certain pack weight my happiness goes down again. Am I alone in this or am I just not skilled enough for SUL hiking?

Lately when I go on these weekend trips with my friend I find myself putting some more comfort items in my pack. I mean depending on the season my base weight lingers around eight#, so I find that adding some powdered coffee for in the eve or morning, adding a small bottle of good whisky and eating some fresh(er) food rather than these freeze dried meals (although there's a particular brand of these dried meals that I find taste very good) adds to having a nice weekend. Additionally on longer trips I like to cook on esbit tabs since these have a considerable weight advantage over a gas canister stove, but on these weekend trips I quite like the ease of a canister stove over the hassle of esbit tabs.

So to summarize, I only understand that on longer trips one wants to analyze every gram that has to come along on the trip, but once your weekend kit list drops below 15# or even 10#, do those last few ounces really count? Or do they start to become a disadvantage, taking away from you hiking joy? I do like the idea that the pack on my back weighs a ridiculously scant 5#, but when I wake up in the morning I really wish I had taken a few # more.

SO am I alone in this matter or are there more people that find this strange curve of declining pack weight vs hiking happiness?


Ali e
(barefootnavigator) - F

Locale: Outside
"ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review" on 05/30/2009 09:51:55 MDT Print View

I dont know a huge amount about cloth but I wonder if they would make one in A Dyneema grid stop pattern. My pack gets used 365 days per year reguardless of where I am. I live out of my pack and this appears to be my dream design and size but I doubt Cuben or whatever it is would last. I would definately throw down the cash for a prototype. Ali

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: ZPacks Blast 18 Backpack Review on 05/30/2009 12:09:42 MDT Print View


You've got it right!!!
Maybe that's why they call you "Einstein." :-)

mark henley
(flash582) - F
packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 05/30/2009 12:35:05 MDT Print View

It all depends on the trip.

Are you doing more camping or more hiking?

For me, if I'm going to spend a lot of time in camp I like to take my creature comforts. If I'm going to spend more time hiking, I'll leave the extras at home.

Good example .... one of the places I love to hike is a 26 mile loop around a lake just north of Austin, Texas. If I go out on my own I like to do the whole 26 miles over two days, and I pack SUL.

If I go out with friends we tend to hike in 5 miles and camp for the weekend, I like to go UL instead, and carry more comforts and even a paperback for the weekend, perhaps even a fishing setup and a nice scotch.

Pack weight should vary based on the goals of your trip. It should not be a one size fits all thing.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 05/31/2009 09:25:16 MDT Print View

My typical weekend will look like this: Saturday early in the morning (between 7 and 8) my friend will pick me up at home. Than we'll drive 3 to 4 hours depending on where we plan to hike, arrive in a nice Belgian village, park the car, enter pub/restaurant/cafe, have something to eat.

Than the rest of the day until dark we hike, depending on the season we can stop as early as 17h or hike until 20h, whenever the sun is setting and there are still a few minutes of light left to pitch the tarp.

The next day we try to wake up before dark (but we don't always succeed) and start hiking at the first light of day. Than we hike back to the car, where we try to arrive around lunch time (13h) and have lunch in the pub/restaurant/cafe again and drive back because we both enjoy our Sunday evenings at home, to unpack, kiss the girl friend and relax a bit before work starts again the next day.

This is anything but a wilderness trip of course, but there is none of that close to where I live, but it doesn't really matter because the Ardennes hills are still a great place for a hike and I really don't mind passing through a village after two or three hours on the trail and have myself some coffee and apple pie. :D

So I agree Mark, pack weight should vary based on the goals of your trip and indeed my pack weight certainly does. Still I see little point in carrying a sub 3 # pack on a high mileage weekend trip, but sleeping uncomfortably. I'd rather add half a pound and sleep more comfortable.

However I have no doubt that any sub 5 pounders here on this forum sleeps perfectly well on such a trip. Maybe I still have to figure out how. But typically my weekend pack weighs less than 10 # (and this is no base weight, this includes water, the fresh(er) food, canister stove and the trekking poles that spend most of their time strapped on my pack, tho it does not include the whisky cuz that's my friends job). And I find it perfectly comfortable at that weight and find no need for it to weigh even less other than the kick of knowing your pack is ridiculously light.

Last Easter I did a lake loop as well (in Luxembourg). This trip we did in three days and is about 44 miles and about 11,300 feet elevation gain, which I did with my UL kit and at the end of these tough days i was really happy with my 'luxurious' TAR Z-Rest cut off. I think that with a lighter mat I would have not gotten the needed rest at night, but as I said before, maybe I still have to learn.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 06/02/2009 02:47:17 MDT Print View

X -

Some excellent comments. I guess each hike is different. If you need to carry a lot of water, lets say 4 liters, then you are already > 9lbs of water only. If you are hiking steep rough trails, then weight becomes more critical.

If you are hiking rather flat trails with lots of availabe water, then a different situation.

Sleeping pads - you can get conditioned to a very light and thin pad, especially if you can find soft places to sleep. People tend to sleep in areas that are packed down hard, where everyone has camped prior to them. If allowed, camp away from these spots. When I was younger, I could sleep all night without waking on a 3/8" Ensolite pad. Now that is difficult, unless I am on a longer trip, takes a couple nights to get conditioned. If I do several trips close together, my body gets used to the thin pads. Plus, I am a heavy sleeper. If I am really tired, I sleep well... again it is different for everyone. I have several pads for different trips and for my current state of "sleeping conditioning." Most of my trips are done with a base weight above 5lbs, but some require a lower weight or the hike itself is too demanding. So back to the OP, the Blast looks to be a great pack for some hikes. But equipment needs always vary according to the hike. I guess that is what keeps these companies in business, a lot of us have several packs, bags/quilts, pads, etc.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: Re: Re: packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 06/02/2009 03:38:11 MDT Print View

"Sleeping pads - you can get conditioned to a very light and thin pad, especially if you can find soft places to sleep."

That might also be an issue. I always camp wild and I like to camp late, since where I camp it is illegal to camp wild. You should use campsites. So I don't always have the luxury to find the perfect spot, either in time, or either cuz the hidden spot isn't the most comfy. I did however found a few sweet spots that were great indeed.


btw am I hijacking this thread too much?

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Re: packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 06/02/2009 15:03:00 MDT Print View

I agree with X. Most of my weekend trips are 'social' trips, and my base weight is low enough that the extra luxuries are worth it for me to carry. I really enjoy these trips and am not at all encumbered by the extra weight. My pack is still below 10kg, water included. Maybe I could get it down to 8kg by scrimping, but then how much fun would it be to watch everyone else wolf down appetizers, wine and cheese, fresh dinner and dessert? On longer trips where food and fuel weight go up, that's when I really start to scrutinise every gram. 1800 cu in would only just qualify as a day pack for me!

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 06/02/2009 19:57:40 MDT Print View

That was my point exactly Lynn. I'm glad I'm not alone in this matter cuz I was already affraid I'd lose my BPL ranking after my posts that I don't (yet) like going SUL :D


Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 06/03/2009 09:44:42 MDT Print View

I see where you guys are coming from, but there are people who definitely like to go as light as possible 'most' of the time, even for an overnighter. As a matter of fact, I usually hit the trails for only a night when going really light to test conditions against gear - I have yet to complete a Sub 5lb trip longer then 3 days but hope to this summer.

It also depends on personal comfort. What I consider to be comfortable may be pure agony to others and vice versa. For summer where the temps are nice, I would have a hard time bringing MORE then 6-7 pounds...unless I'm with my girlfriend, which doesn't count because the red wine alone is enough to break a gorillas back. :)

Sooo, since this is the Blast 18 review, I'll just say that this pack has a market - I've got the 24 version, and a number of people on this site also own them. It's got to be one of the most feature (all optional) rich packs at such a low weight.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: Re: packweight should vary depending on the goals of the trip on 06/04/2009 10:45:45 MDT Print View

"Sooo, since this is the Blast 18 review, I'll just say that this pack has a market - I've got the 24 version, and a number of people on this site also own them. It's got to be one of the most feature (all optional) rich packs at such a low weight."

Oh I definetaly agree that there's a market for the Blast packs. I own a GG whisper and what I don't like about it is the lack of pockets on the thing. So if I'd be looking for a new SUL pack I'd definitally have a look at Z-packs. I'm still not sure about Cuben fiber tho, for some reason a woven fabric seems more natural than a fiber reinforced film. I would however love to take a CF Blast on a hike. Can someone lend me one???


te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
i thot SUL meant "six ul packs" on 06/04/2009 11:07:11 MDT Print View

but Eins, how can you have just one SUL pack? you need six of them!

for instance... i have a Blast 16 that i use for low weight, low bulk kits. but for high bulk, low weight it doesnt have the room for my un-stuff-sacked quilts. (i like to let 'em loft up inside the pack-adds potentially years of life believe it or not)
for the high bulk trip, i may use either the Conduit or the Fanatic Fringe Thompson Peak. FF makes a smaller pack called the Alpine Trail @ 6 ounces if you cannot make the leap to Cuben.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: i thot SUL meant "six ul packs" on 06/05/2009 04:36:51 MDT Print View

"but Eins, how can you have just one SUL pack? you need six of them!"

Oh yes I agree, but it all has to do with the $$$. This month I bought my 13th pack (I think, could also be my 14th); a really nice Osprey travel bag (with wheels) cuz I needed wheels for my job. And since at the moment I don't need a new hiking pack and really really needed wheels the Osprey got priority. However for this years fall hike I do need a lighter 4 nights/5 days pack,my standard light kit. It should be a lighter version of my home made pack, which you can see in my avatar pic <<==. But I will have to make one, cuz my specific design is not on available on the market, but I'm affraid I won't have (or want to make) time for making a backpack. This job is taking up too much time :(


Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Re: i thot SUL meant "six ul packs" on 06/05/2009 07:53:19 MDT Print View

This month I bought my 13th pack

You have 13 packs but no z-pack blast!?!? Shame on you Eins.... ;)

Edwin Short
( - F
Z pac on 06/08/2009 21:40:24 MDT Print View

I have one that I modified (I always modify!) added a about 12 in collarn now I tie a simple overhand knot to close, water tight and increased capacity, I took thelarge back pocket off, (I hang my tarp and raingear off the bottom, I seam sealed all the seams, now it is fairly close to water resistant. other than thaat a great light and tough pack. most folkd don't believe how tough cuben is! gnome

jeffrey rumbles
(jsrumb) - F

Locale: southern, ca
Blast 18 on 08/28/2009 07:49:44 MDT Print View

I have been using my blast 18 with hip belt for about a year and a half now. It has been on trips between one and four days duration, with quite a bit of bushwacking thrown in. I have been very impressed with the comfort and durability of the cuben fiber. My wife has the same pack in sil-nylon and it has not fared as well(but the stitching is doing fine!).
Joe (z-packs) was a great help in the purchase process, and always had the time to answer my questions.
Z-packs has won my future business, and my recommendation!

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Einstein on 10/24/2009 22:43:29 MDT Print View

I am not SUL, but a cuben fibre pack appeals to me because having a heavier pack does pretty much nothing to increase my enjoyment of the trip. A heavier pack might be more durable, but at the kind of weights I am carrying it won't be significantly more comfortable. So would I rather carry an extra pound so my pack lasts longer? Or would I rather carry an extra pound of luxuries like fresh foods or spirits? As long as the pack is reasonable durable, I will choose the lighter pack and extra luxuries.

These 1.5 cuben packs seem to be a great blend between durability and lightweight. I do not want disposable gear, which I why I'm glad to hear that with reasonable care 150 days should be achieveable. That's quite a few years of hiking for me.

Edited by dandydan on 12/09/2009 22:38:05 MST.

Jeff Antig

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Einstein on 10/25/2009 01:08:04 MDT Print View

Hopefully this material is considerably stronger than regular cuben fiber. I'm not a big fan of cuben fiber because it is so thin that it makes me nervous. That being said, I would still buy the pack if it was made looks very easy to DIY as it is now.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Einstein on 10/25/2009 07:16:12 MDT Print View

Hopefully this material is considerably stronger than regular cuben fiber.

Cuben Tech lists about 30 different product weights, almost all of them heavier than the products typically discussed on this forum. The 1.5oz/sailmaker's-yard stuff used in Zpack's Blast packs is tough stuff. I wouldn't hesitate to use it in a pack.