Year, 1979. Rob Kaplan was probably lounging in flip flops and boardshorts after a “totally radical” Maui windsurfing session. His gear; neon green leash, banana colored seat harness, and adjustable pink footstraps wasn’t up to the abuse he was subjecting it to day in and out. Obvious next step, build his own.
Year, 1996, Kaplan’s company, Dakine, has settled in Hood River (windsurfing mecca post neon era) and they release the first minimalist, budget minded pack to the snowsports world. The Heli pack, complete with shovel holder, ski straps, and additional webbing would secure anything you dared to haul. Many, including myself, have thrown one of these packs over our shoulders in the 90’s.
Another fourteen years pass and Dakine is still one of the world’s leaders in durable technical backpacks. With their newest pack, the Arc 34L, they have taken many years of successful pack design and stripped it to the bare basics.
When I mean “stripped,” they removed anything unnecessary that was hanging or dangling from the pack. What straps Dakine left all can be nicely tucked away: A-frame straps, shoulder stabilization straps, waist belt stabilization straps, deployable helmet pocket — have their own pockets to prevent them from flapping into your face/torso during high winds or speedy descents.
The Arc is partitioned into two separate compartments (three if you count the designated fleece lined goggle/glasses pocket).
The main compartment consists of an upper mesh zipper closure pocket, lower fabric covered zipper pocket, and hydration bladder sleeve. The best thing I like about the main compartment was the rear access zipper which allowed the main compartment to be totally exposed. For me this minimized spillage as well as forced organization. Packing can still be accomplished by standard top loading zipper.
The secondary compartment (or snowtool pocket) features three pre-stitched sleeves for shovel handle, probe, and saw. A variety of shovel blades also fit nicely in a zipper compartment. A feature I liked here was that the zipper only goes from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock so nothing had a chance of accidentally slipping out.
Retractable cable diagonal ski strap with adjustable and stowable top straps made ski attachments easy, and knowing that my skis were attached via metal versus nylon always has a subtle calming effect. The cable strap easily stretched over skis with tips 140mm or wider. The standard A-frame ski carrier with identical matching buckles also handled beefier skis.
A dedicated ice tool carrier is located beneath the right under arm side of the A-frame ski holder, held in place by stowable buckle. Opposite side, under left arm, features a water bottle holder zip panel. I was able to fit 24 ounce cycling bottles, standard Sig bottles, and even Uncle Dom’s nice Italian sandwich. The zippable feature seemed to provide insulation as well as keeping the lines of the pack clean.
Frontside, the 34L features a waist belt pocket on your right hip. An iPhone just barely fits inside without a protective case. It would be more suitable for a small AA battery powered headlamp.
Hip stabilization, foam padded shoulder, back, and chest straps adorned the front. All buckles were neon green in the charcoal version of my pack.
The Dakine 34L was my go to pack this ski season. I found it to be extremely stable, no noticeable side to side movement when either touring or skiing. A feature I really liked was the slim design of the pack (almost rectangular dimensions) that didn’t allow it to expand but held its shape regardless of being fully stuffed or nearly empty. I’m 6’1″ and many packs are simply too small for me — this pack (in one size only) with a perfect 21″ length along the torso left plenty of room for shoulder adjustment under a variety of clothing. I took a few “planned” tumbles this season and I cannot report one rip, tear, or pulled thread on this entire pack. “Ballistic” nylon? Not really, but it was good enough to save my spine from a few nicks.
I have one gripe with this pack: the zippers. Faulty zippers can put you at risk — causing many issues if one or all should fail. In this case the problem was a factory defect in the Arc 34L that was present on every zipper.
I wish I would have discovered this defect before packing and retrieving gear from my bag only to lose several pull strings in extremely cold conditions. Not a major cause for panic but had I lost a jacket things would have been different.
Dakine’s Arc 34L is a superbly durable backcountry day pack with clean lines, well thought out features, and no frills. With a simple zipper amendment it is practically bombproof. I enjoyed using this pack through the winter and I see no reason to stop using it in the summer.
2200 cu. inches of internal space.
21 x 11 x 9 inch dimensions
3 lbs. advertised 1480 grams or 52.2oz Verified via Wildsnow.com
1260D Ballistic nylon
Retractable cable ski carry including dedicated A-frame ski carry
Deployable helmet pocket
Top load and back panel
Fleece lined goggle pocket
Insulated hydro sleeve
Side water bottle pocket(zippable)
Compression straps(2 only)
Rescue buckle whistle
Available in charcoal, black, and red late summer 2012.