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Zpacks NERO: Initial Review and First Hands-On Feelings

Read Time: Approximately 7 minutes

I wanted to have a Dyneema backpack around the 40-liter size and I decided to purchase a NERO from Zpacks. My delivery just came and I wanted to go over my initial thoughts and after the trek, my full Zpacks NERO review once I am back from the Ouachita Trail in June over my 9-day trip.

Image of my personal Zpacks Nero on the grass to show in my Zpacks Nero Review

I am taking my hammock setup with me on this trip and I needed to find something that would be a perfect fit that helped me manage the lower internal space when I removed the tent from my gear list, my lighterpack for this trip is here if interested.

I wanted to bring the hammock gear along as the Ouachita forest has loads of trees and I can get quality sleep without having to manage to find a flat spot for my camp which is difficult in the mountains unless you focus on only staying at shelters, but we all know they don’t always have the best views!

Zpacks Nero Review

Overall before use I love the lightweight pack, it feels very comfortable with 18 pounds of test fill to see how it fits but the real story will be after my long trip, for now pulling out water from the side pocket was easy while it was on me and it is very comfortable.

My Backpack Requirements

I was looking for something in the sub-one pound weight that would work for my summer hikes and hopefully, more three-season hikes as my kit becomes lighter and more compact.

The two that I had come down to were this and the Waymark EVLV, but the EVLV was undergoing a transition and so it left me with some uncertainty.

The NERO has a long track record of being solid for all uses, from thru-hiking to just being an overnight pack. The ease of being one size fits all, large stretch back pocket, and 2 large side pockets made it perfect for my Ouachita Trail hike.

Pros

There are a few things I find that are impressive and reasons why I am very excited with the NERO as a new pack for my trips, let’s dive in!

Ultralight Weight

There are very few backpack options that have a decent amount of space while coming in just over a half-pound, this pack is just amazingly lightweight and my wife thought it was empty when she picked up the delivery box from Zpacks!

Build Quality

The stitching and quality of the materials and workmanship is outstanding and I can see why so many people can continue to use these packs for years through multiple thru-hikes without ever having their backpack fail!

Built-In Sit Pad

Personally, this just helps me remove another piece of gear I would usually carry as now it is part of the backpack itself. For most backpackers, this will fit their needs for a sit when taking a break or meal giving you back some space from the mesh or lycra front pocket.

Cons

As with any gear, there will be some benefits and some drawbacks, let’s go over the things so far that I think could bother someone, this way you are buying with a sense of how you will manage these problem areas.

Low Max Weight

To be fair the pack weighs under 11 ounces, it will have to have a lower weight threshold than most other packs as it rides without a frame.

This means you must have a shorter trip planned or a very good dialed-in kit, or perhaps both, to get the maximum value from this you would really want to have a base weight of under ten pounds.

Low Internal Volume Capacity

Paired with the above this is going to mean that your gear to be carried is very small or can compress very small, you will need down and preferably higher fill power to ensure you don’t use the space up wastefully.

You need to have a plan and fill all the gaps between gear with clothing and other gear to efficiently fill this.

Lack of Load Lifters

While many competitors have begun adding load lifters to all their ultralight packs, like the EVLV, Zpacks is not adding them onto the NERO at this point and I would love to have them to help get the load right overall.

Zpacks Nero First Glance

The package came well protected and in one piece to my home, once opened it slid out easy and was all tightly buckled and strapped. I unstrapped everything and pushed the inside out to get to the normal-looking form to look at how all the straps and buckles would lay and began to fill with my sleeping quilt to fill internal space with ease.

The straps are all attached well, the sewing is tight and aligned well and the pockets will easily hold water bottles without any issue. At first glance and first test wearing it is very comfortable and feels like it will do me well when carrying a loadout with 3-5 days of food.

Zpack Nero Components

The Zpacks backpack is pretty limited in overall components to keep the weight down so don’t expect the bling factor more about form and function.

Shoulder Straps & Sternum Strap

The main straps are about an inch and a half wide and very comfortable, the sternum strap is a nice touch and can be stowed out of the way when not in use. The webbing on all the straps is high-quality and has good bartack stitching to reduce the chance of failure or tearing.

Hip Belt

This is more a general belt to hold the pack against you to stop bouncing but it offers zero help in terms of weight-bearing as it is not padded at all.

Back Panel

The back panel is a single piece of closed-cell foam that offers some stiffness and protection from the elements but nothing like you would find in a traditional backpack.

Frame & Suspension

There is no suspension on this pack so if you are looking for something to help with an unruly or overly large load you will be sorely disappointed.

Side Pockets

These are well placed and allow easy access for me while actively wearing the pack, they are quite roomy and can hold a lot more than you might first think.

I was able to get two 1-liter SmartWater bottles on each side with ease and had no problem accessing them on the move.

Zpack Nero – Materials

The Zpacks NERO comes in two options DCF and ROBIC, I bought the DCF (Dyneema Composite Fiber) pack as that is what I believe will be the longest lasting and most beneficial for me over time.

The front pocket can be made from 4-way stretch Lycra or mesh, I went with the Lycra option as it offers a good ability to hold more gear outside, like my tarp, while mesh can provide you better breathability and will dry out fast if things get wet.

Zpack Nero – Additional Options, Add-Ons, and Components

Zpacks offers a huge array of options you can add to help make the backpack truly fit your needs from water bottle shoulder sleeves to bear canister holders. If you are needing something you more than likely can already find it offered on their accessories page!

Additional Frequently Asked Questions

Is Zpacks Nero too Small for Appalachian Trail?

While it may seem like a very small backpack, there are numerous people on the trail each year using this pack to complete an AT thru-hike successfully. This small backpack does require a very dialed-in kit that is able to fit in a much smaller space, many moving to 900FP gear and smaller tents with less clothing will love this!

Adding a Frame to a Zpacks Nero

For most, you would not need a frame as the weight is low enough to not need a transfer, for those who want something akin to a frame many speak about using carbon stays that could be taped to the back but most people looking for rigidity will use a sleeping pad laid flat against the back to gain structure.

Zpack Nero – Final Thoughts

The Zpacks Nero is a great backpack and will easily become a favorite for those who have a need or desire for an ultralight frame-less backpack, click here to check it out now on Zpacks.

For those looking to save weight but still want some of the features and benefits of a more traditional backpack, this may not be the best option.

This backpack is best suited for someone with a base weight of 10 pounds or less and/or someone who is very comfortable with ultralight backpacking in general.

With that being said, this backpack is of great value and should last many years with proper care.