I challenged The North Face Zealot 85 (big brother of Zealot 70) to carry bulky loads over 50 lbs. comfortably in wintry weather. It delivered.
All of my gear–tent, fishing pole, snowshoes, crampons, ice axe, two sleeping pads, two stoves, three days of food, heavy reading material–and a bundle of local wood fit in the cavernous Zealot 85.
As I scrambled over rocks, logs and snow, the frame pivoted on an axis positioned near the middle of my back and kept me balanced. I used the adjustable frame and straps to dial in a snug fit.
I managed to carry 62 lbs. climbing off trail up steep Gunsight Ridge in the Badger Creek Wilderness, but I was happier when I kept the load under 55 lbs.
The sleeping bag compartment easily fit my 10-degree down quilt, pad, and extra can of fuel. It would easily fit a much larger four-season sleeping bag.
The lid is the biggest I’ve seen and holds its shape while you pack thanks to the stiff, durable ripstop fabric. The lid held a rain jacket, lunch, headlamp, and stuff sack of snacks and other essentials.
While the 315-denier fabric (also used in auto airbags) makes the pack heavier (5 lbs., 15 oz.. size M), it endures abuse and saves the weight and trouble of a pack cover or multiple waterproof sacks.
Snowshoes fit in the shovel pocket or strapped to the side or bottom compression straps. The ice axe loop held mine secure and away from other gear. A built-in water bottle holder with draw-cord keeps liquids secure and accessible on the move.
Even packed in the main body, your lunch, stove, extra layers or books are easily accessible using the zippered side pocket. And a zippered shovel pocket holds maps, compass, and more snacks.
The North Face Zealot 85
Weight: 5 lbs., 14 oz.
Text and photos by Dan Larson