I have become a cuben fiber convert when it comes to outdoor gear. The light weight and durability sold me, and I started purchasing certain cuben products over 3 years ago. Although there are many fine cottage gear companies that make cuben products, I have become a ZPacks regular customer for a couple of reasons. One, Joe Valesko offers incredible customer service, which fortunately is not atypical of the cottage gear industry. And two, he offers the customer the most variety in products at perhaps the most reasonable prices. I'll raise my couple of reasons a few more by adding that I've had custom items made beyond tweaking an existing product, like a 3/4 breathable cuben bivy and a custom front pack that I use for packing cameras. And up front I'll tell you that I've paid for everything listed in this blog article. Lastly, I have ordered a new completely custom front pack and a slightly customized hybrid Arc Slim pack, yet to arrive. I've purchased lots of gear over the decades, with some working out and some that didn't, but everything I have bought from ZPacks I've used to great advantage. Let's begin the ZPacks tour.
The Pocket Tarp is listed on Joe's website as "It is meant to be used as an emergency shelter carried in your day pack. It would also be useful for sitting out rain on day hikes, or nighttime shelter on short ultralight trips." I used it (and am still using it) this season as my shelter of choice. The material is of the very light .34 oz/sqyd cuben fabric, which is why Joe can't endorse this product as a full time shelter; it just doesn't have the tear strength of the denser fabrics. But if you need a 3.1 oz shelter that will keep dew and rain off and block moderate winds, this one is hard to beat. The puny packed size and feather weight makes it hard not to throw into a day pack for "just in case."
Pertex Quantum Bivy
I have used a few configurations under the Pocket Tarp this summer. A mainstay in my quiver is the Poncho/Groundsheet, which I've used as both. As a ground sheet it has the appropriate loops that allow it to be clipped to the Pocket Tarp (or any of the ZPacks tents) to hold it in place and allow the bathtub shape to do its thing in holding ground water at bay. So too does the Quantum bivy, but since I already have the Poncho/Groundsheet I use this to protect the bivy floor. I've been using bivies for many years and can tell you they're not for everyone, and you have to realize their limitations, which I won't get into now. I like the Quantum bivy in that it has a full bathtub floor to keep out splash and ground water, but the Pertex top is very breathable and is not meant as a stand alone system for rain. Since I'm using it under the tarp this is ideal and I've used the bivy to sleep and nap in, so far without a sleeping bag but rather a DIY Momentum 50 envelope. At 6.6 ozs (with removable netting) this bivy will go with me on most outings.
Waterproof Breathable Cuben Jacket
Jackets aren't just for rain, I consider them an essential part of the clothing system to maintain warmth and even for bug protection. What makes this jacket such an improvement over my older Goretex, besides the price, is the weight (5.1 ozs with optional pit zips) and packed size. Most of the time my jacket stays on or in the pack, and the smaller the better. This year I have worn this jacket quite a bit, but never for rain per se. I've had it on for preparing meals whilst being attacked by voracious bugs, at nighttime for warmth and for sleeping without a bag, for two days amidst soaking overhanging brush, and for chilly winds above 7000 feet. The material does not have a pleasant "hand" and will stick to your skin, plus its breathability is not on par with some other jackets (this is a sandwiched eVent membrane). However, if you understand the limitations of this piece of gear and use it wisely, it is hard to beat for packability and weight. Plus, it has an excellent hood that is very wearable and doesn't restrict vision. In short, a finely crafted piece of gear.
CloudKilt Rain Kilt
I have had great results with the Poncho/Groundsheet in both roles. Another invaluable piece of wet weather gear, and notice I didn't say just for rain, is the cuben rain skirt. The newest version comes slightly below my knees and has been invaluable in dealing with wet flora. I've also used it for warmth when chilly winds are blowing as the open bottom allows for complete ventilation, so it doesn't get sweaty. Plus, anything in my pockets remains dry and accessible. An added bonus is the ability to sit on wet logs or even take a cat nap on the ground without soaking your pants. I find this a must piece of gear.
I've been using this XSmall Zero custom pack for 2 years now. With the options I had Joe put on this pack, the weight comes out to 4.7 ozs. It has had heavy use, especially last year when I filmed the entire Wonderland Trail. I've only had one problem with the pack in that I noticed that the upper attach points for my front pack were ripping. I sent the pack back to Joe and they repaired and reinforced these areas, free of charge. Because I sometimes carry heavy camera gear in the front pack, I probably put a fair amount of strain on these points, especially when running or when doffing and donning the pack. Although I was prepared to pay for the repairs, the ZPacks warranty states "a 1 year warranty against defects in materials or workmanship on all gear. If you experience any problems I would be happy to repair or replace your purchase. After one year repairs continue to be free for the reasonable lifetime of all products." This excellent customer service is so valuable, just look at the additional monies I have spent on ZPacks products. But back to the pack, this is one I don't even notice is on my back all day, made easier by its small size...I can't put much in it. I find it perfect for fastpacking, though, and along with the front pack my Zero easily accommodated 3 days worth of food and gear. My satisfaction with this pack is one reason I have ordered an Arc Slim with modifications.
Front Pack (Multipack)
I am a front pack user. So much so that I have ordered a completely custom front pack from Joe. My current front pack was modified in size so that I could carry cameras, and has been a huge success for me. I have used this front pack with the Zero, with a Gossamer Gear Gorilla, and with a Gossamer Gear Mariposa. More recently I removed the DIY insert and used the front pack for food, clothing items, and one small camera. I find the 2.92 oz/sqyd Hybrid Cuben fiber extremely tough...my front pack has spearheaded through brush, both prickly and wet, has endured hours of snot bombing, and has been zipped and unzipped thousands of times. This resilience is another reason I have ordered my new front pack and Arc Slim in this material with complete confidence that it can take abuse.
Cuben Zip Pouches and Stuff Sacks
I also have a variety of ZPacks sacks, including the Pillow Stuff Sack, various sizes of roll top sacks, and the more recent Zip Pouches. My daughter uses the phone pouch and I use the color coded Glasses Pouch and Half Wallet, securing essential cards and some cash for every trip. These small things make big differences when it comes to organizing your gear and properly protecting it. Not shown are other items I have purchased, like shoulder and belt pouches. I modified one belt pouch to snap to the front of my front pack.
You probably won't find cuben products in the big stores, at least not yet. I have had excellent results with this material, especially with my DIY bug protection envelope, the B4 (I bought the cuben from ZPacks). I also own a discontinued Gossamer Gear Cubic Twin tarp and a prototype GG bivy bag. As long as one understands the limitations of the various weights of cuben and has the experience to exercise the proper care in usage, such as with the Pocket Tarp, this material offers superb bang for the buck. This is especially true with ZPacks, a company which makes a variety of cuben products for very reasonable prices. When you consider the expense of some of these materials, I sometimes wonder how Joe can make a profit when one factors in labor. There's a reason that ZPacks has jumped to the forefront in the cottage gear industry: innovation, reasonable prices, superb customer service, customizing, and one off products to name a few. I say, keep up the good work!
I have no professional affiliation with ZPacks, I simply buy their excellent products. Check out all these products at ZPacks.com