- Buyer's Guide
Arc’teryx Granville Zip 16 Backpack: Drive By
Meet new contributor Jason Adams: Jason lives in the Boston area, does Global Security for a large tech company and travels extensively. An EDC connoisseur with discerning carry taste, J is always searching for new gear where form and function intersect. Welcome to the team!
A “grail” is defined as something that is being earnestly pursued or sought after. If you love baseball, your grail might be a trip to Fenway Park. To the carry enthusiast, your grail very well may be the Arc’teryx Nomin, widely recognized as one of the carry world’s most coveted packs. The Granville Zip 16 clearly shares a similar design aesthetic with the Nomin. However, an area where the Zip 16 differs from the aforementioned white whale of carry is in its price tag. The Nomin is cost prohibitive for many of us. But the Zip 16 may be an attempt to provide a pack of similar style and quality to a broader spectrum of the carry community. At $249, the Zip 16 is by no means cheap, but it is an unquestionably awesome backpack that can perform in the boardroom and trailhead with equal proficiency. To use another baseball metaphor, Arc’teryx hit the proverbial home run here.
I have been a huge fan of Arc’teryx for some time. Founded in 1989 and located in North Vancouver, British Columbia, the company formerly known as “Rock Solid” makes some of the highest quality outdoor kit on the market. The name “Arc’teryx” refers to Archaeopteryx which is one of the earliest known birds and the logo is a nod to the skeleton of said long-dead bird. They have a Veilance product line which began in 2009 and is focused on high-luxury performance goods and a LEAF line which stands for Law Enforcement and Armed Forces. With these two seemingly diametrically opposed target markets, Arc’teryx produces top-tier goods across the entire spectrum, ensuring the now ubiquitous dead bird logo can be observed from the slopes of Aspen to the deserts of Fallujah. Despite the diversity of their customer base, there are a few consistencies generally found in their products. Quality, innovation and price tag. I have owned several pieces of their gear, including several packs, and each item has been high quality and performed well in their intended purpose. While I feel strongly that you can’t effectively discuss cost without also looking at value, I think most of us would also agree the majority of Arc’teryx gear has a relatively hefty price tag. With that said, when gear is being designed and manufactured for customers whose use case can be a matter of life and death, it is easier to understand the price.
Who It Suits
The Zip 16 most likely won’t be carried into war zones or on the back of alpine explorers but I do believe its high quality and fantastic materials would allow it to perform admirably in any role in-between. This bag resides firmly in the category of “Crossover Pack”, which has been a pretty exciting segment of the carry community as of late. Triple Aught Design, Alchemy Equipment, Prometheus Design Werx, EVERGOODS and many others have recent offerings marketed towards this customer base. The customer who wants a backpack they can feel comfortable carrying into a business casual office setting and confident carrying down the trail. Anyone seeking to carry a beautiful pack that will stand up to the elements, exudes quality and provides all-day comfort will find the Zip 16 VERY suitable.
“The Zip 16 is by no means cheap, but it is an unquestionably awesome backpack that can perform in the boardroom and trailhead with equal proficiency.”
While it is offered in Black and Pilot (grey), I carried their Bushwhack colorway. It is essentially a really amazing version of the old OD green. I have been and will continue to be partial to black or grey packs (as they are most acceptable in an office EDC role) but the Bushwhack color is pretty stunning. It somehow is able to be both different and discreet at the same time. It stands out but it doesn’t. It is vibrant but also subdued. I really, really like it.
Who It Doesn’t
If you are a person who prefers the tactical look and needs a highly compartmentalized carry, you likely need not apply. This pack has no PALS webbing, doesn’t use Cordura and has no load lifters. To me, these could all be considered positive traits in its favor, but your mileage may vary. This pack also may not be your go-to bag if you tend to over-pack. While the pack has capacity that clearly exceeds the 16L moniker, it is still not a large pack and due to the rigidity of the exterior fabric, it really doesn’t allow the user to over-pack.
There is a ton to love about this backpack, very little wrong with it and I will spare you the suspense, there is nothing ugly about it. No deal breakers or weird character flaws that would force this pack to the dark cavernous graveyard where average packs go to die (aka the back of the closet). Aesthetically, it is beautiful. Now, looks are arguably the most subjective and hotly debated aspect to gear so let me describe what I personally look for in a bag. I prefer visually slick bags in the 20-26L capacity that don’t scream tactical, are devoid of superfluous external branding and buckles, have a dedicated laptop compartment and carry high on the back. The Zip 16 checks these boxes for sure.
At the current $249 price point, one should expect a certain level of quality construction and Arc’teryx nailed it. It is constructed with water-resistant AC² (Advanced Composite Construction) technology to protect your gear from the elements. I managed to get caught in a pretty severe rainstorm with this bag and it was exposed to torrential downpour for at least 25 minutes. Not even the slightest hint of water on the inside of this bag. The most important and expensive part of my carry, my MBP 15″, sat safely tucked away in its protected laptop sleeve safe and dry until it was pulled from its slumber and called into action. The AC² material is an exquisite and in my opinion tactilely pleasing material that just looks fantastic. If ballistic nylon and X-PAC had a love child, this laminated material could potentially be the beautiful offspring. They say every time a new pack is created in AC², an angel gets its wings. They don’t actually say that, I don’t think. But it sounds right. I will also say that this material holds up really well to scuffs, dust, hair and all manner of things. I have been using mine daily for some time and it still looks virtually new.
There are three main compartments which are all externally accessible, a trait which I really appreciate. They also utilize a WaterTight™ zipper and from experience, I can say the WaterTight title appears to be well earned and accurate. You may have read about these zippers before as it is a card carrying and first ballet member of the Carryology Hall of Fame. This urethane-coated zipper took years of testing but has been a mainstay since its 1999 inception. I will also add that the Arc’teryx-branded custom zipper pulls are perfect. They look and feel great in the hand and are relatively quiet. I find quality zipper pulls are one of the most overlooked elements of packs and also one of the first things a user customizes (generally due to an issue with either the aforementioned looks, feel or sounds). The pack also includes a removable HDPE frame sheet to give it some structural integrity. The inclusion of at least a semi-rigid frame is something I consider crucial to carry comfort with any load that exceeds 10 pounds. It also gives a pack nice structure when even partially packed and helps it to stand up straight. It certainly does all three as it not only has structure and carries fantastic, but it also stands up on its own. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The material, zippers and frame sheet add up to an extremely svelte 26 oz (1.625 lbs). This is pretty phenomenal when you consider anything under 2.5-3 lbs to be relatively lightweight for a crossover pack. Awesome.
As I mentioned previously, there are three main compartments. Starting from closest to the back panel, you have the largest compartment. This area includes a suspended and well padded laptop pocket that can hold up to a 15″ computer. It swallows my 15″ MBP perfectly and with room to spare.
“There are three main compartments which are all externally accessible.”
The well designed laptop pocket sits on top of a thin sleeve that is supposed to be a document holder (although you can also fit an iPad). This is where you will find my first callout regarding this pack. If they had only made this pocket 0.25″ wider or added small gussets, it would be great for carrying all your documents including the ubiquitous “manilla folders” that many people carry. However, as it exists now, it is just too small. You can absolutely fit documents, but it is difficult, crammed and in many cases you are forced to fold something you may have not wanted to fold. On the outside of the laptop compartment is a zippered pouch made of a very fine and semi-transparent mesh. It doesn’t feel all that robust, but so far it has held up well so no complaints as to the material itself.
There is one other zipper in the main compartment that is across from the laptop compartment (on the side opposite of the back panel). This opening is an internal access point to the second main compartment (that can also be accessed from the outside of the pack via a vertical side zipper). I love this and think more packs should incorporate it. This compartment does have dedicated volume so you can stuff it pretty good and not encroach on the primary compartment’s volume. In my opinion, the ability to fill a compartment without stealing space elsewhere is extremely important. I tend to compartmentalize my work and play gear so the main compartment is where I kept everything for work (laptop, chargers, cables, documents, pens, etc.) and this second compartment is where I kept everything else (glasses, sunglasses, shemagh, small EDC/Boo Boo kit, a couple snack bars and Yeti Tumbler). You could easily fit an outer layer here such as a soft-shell or rain jacket.
The final compartment is a horizontal zipper at the top of the pack that is essentially a top stash pocket. It also has dedicated capacity and was designed to hold keys, a wallet, phone or the like. It is devoid of organization other than a red tether with a hook clip that I used to secure my keychain and key fob for air travel. The only other area of the pack to mention is the tiny black strap area at the front base of the pack where the wearer could attach a carabiner or bike light. I won’t use it, but I do like the look of it and since this pack is otherwise devoid of attachment points, I suppose it is good to have in a pinch.
“If they had only made the document pocket 0.25″ wider or added small gussets, it would be great for carrying all your documents including the ubiquitous “manilla folders” that many people carry. However, as it exists now, it is just too small.”
All of these compartments supposedly add up to 16L and I just find that way hard to believe. This pack feels and carries like a 22L pack. So, please do not let the published capacity prevent you from purchasing it if your primary concern is that it may be too small. I assure you, this pack is more in line with what other popular companies call 20-24L. With all that said, I wouldn’t turn down a couple extra liters.
As for looks and carry comfort, this pack is pretty amazing. From a looks perspective, it is right in my wheelhouse. Slick, sleek and exudes quality. Not a stitch out of place and hugs the back perfectly. It carries great and travels even better. I used the Zip 16 on several trips from Boston to SF and a couple international trips and it was a fantastic companion. It rode under the seat like a champ and felt amazing on my back during the countless miles I put on it. The black low profile straps offer just the right amount of padding while in no way being bulky. Arc’teryx seems to excel at this. The pack includes a sternum strap which I only use periodically, but absolutely feel all packs should include. This one is adjustable and works well. No issues.
The Not So Good
My first of two gripes with the outside of this pack is the lack of strap management. Not a huge deal, but inexcusable for a pack of this price point. It would have been simple to include and would have gone a long way. My ONLY other gripe about this bag is the “Made in the Philippines” tag that sits where the shoulder straps meet the back panel. Why in the world they would choose this location to display the tab is beyond me. It may be nitpicking, but for this price point the tag should be hidden so as not to stain what is an otherwise slick bag.
As for the pack’s internals, there are only a few things I didn’t love or wished had been executed differently. Clearly what someone qualifies as a miss is relative to their use case but I do think the majority of users will likely agree with these. First, I found myself wishing it had an extra 1.5″ in depth. This wouldn’t have affected the overall look or weight but I do think would lend itself well to the overall layout. The second area I wish had been done differently, and arguably my biggest issue with the pack, is the zippered semi-transparent pocket on the outside of the laptop pocket. The issue here is the capacity. If Arc’teryx had only given this pocket its own capacity via gussets, it would be the perfect place to carry your MBP charger, spare cords or anything else you may want to access easily. Unfortunately, they did not. While it is still functional, it does make the retrieval of said items challenging and it’s difficult to store anything on the thick side. My last issue is the outside “stash pocket” and the complete lack of organization. This pocket is perfectly adequate from a size perspective but I really wish they had included some kind of organization. Two medium-sized pockets and a couple pen slots would have been perfect.
“My first of two gripes with the outside of this pack is the lack of strap management. Not a huge deal, but inexcusable for a pack of this price point.”
The Arc’teryx website states “The Granville Zip 16 Backpack was created to carry a laptop and daily essentials in a slim, urban profile.” And it absolutely achieved that. It’s a beautiful pack created with fantastic material and carries like a dream. I would have to imagine Arc’teryx intended on building a Nomin-like pack at a price point that would be more realistic for most people. I think they absolutely nailed it and really hope they produce a second version.
To make a comparison, Triple Aught Design created the Axiom 25 which was a fantastic pack. It then evolved into the Axiom 24 which incorporated a few small pieces of feedback and is now a FAR superior pack. If the Granville Zip 16 had a tiny bit of admin organization, a larger document pocket, a gusseted internal zip compartment and perhaps an extra 1.5″ in overall depth, it would pretty much be the pack of my dreams. These small critiques are relatively minor and I will certainly continue to use the pack. If they do eventually create a v2.0 I truly believe this already great backpack will move from really great to PERFECT, aka Grail.