Airzone Pro 45 - 55 litre rucksack
Lightweight and versatile rucksack on test (£120)
International Mountain Guide Steve Long takes this versatile rucksack hiking, ski touring, snow shoeing and cragging. It also doubles as his cabin bag.
Our pros and cons...
- Adjustable and well-ventilated back panel
- Very comfortable for load carrying
- Has many features but is still light
- Elasticated side pockets lack drainage holes
- Rain cover adds weight (but it's removable)
- The back length adjustment is counter-intuitive
About Lowe Alpine
Lowe Alpine was originally founded by the legendary American brothers George, Jeff and Greg - no prizes for guessing their surname! Early experiments in the late 60's led to fully-fledged production and they quickly gained a reputation for innovative and high quality products, brutally field-tested. In 1988 the Lowe brothers sold the company and distribution moved to Europa Sport in Kendal, UK.
The development of rucksacks remained in Colorado for the US market, while clothing and European backpack production moved to Lowe Alpine’s factory in Ireland. Further changes in ownership followed, until 2011 when Lowe Alpine found a home with Derbyshire-based company Equip. Following the acquisition, Lowe Alpine’s base in Kendal once again became the company’s international headquarters for ranges of equipment and clothing.
Lowe Alpine Airzone 45:55 rucksack
Steve testing the Airzone Pro rucksack
Lowe offer a very wide range of rucksacks. As well as the impressive 'Airzone' ventilation system which gives it its name, this model has a plethora of other features and the potential to be used for a wide range of activities from hiking to alpine climbing. This is the larger size available in the 'Airzone' range, and I would recommend this capacity for versatility - you could use it for both day and (minimalist) multi-day outings. The capacity is extendable from 45-55 litres.
- Adaptive Fit
- AirZone breathable back
- Expandable volume
- Hipbelt pockets
- Hydration compatible
- Internal key clip
- Zipped lid pocket
- Phone harness
- Rain cover
- Side entry
- Side pockets
- Stowage cradle
- Walking pole tip grippers
- Zipped front pocket
- Volume 45 litres + 10 litres
- Weight: 1.62kg
- Load Zone: 10-15kg
- Back System: 'Torso Fit Centro' - 46-51cm length
- Fabric: 210 dernier 'Mini Rip'
- More info on the Lowe Alpine website here
These days some rucksacks have a plethora of features. Sometimes I must confess I yearn for a simple box-shaped bag with some straps - and the fact that a lot of climbers have taken to transporting their gear to the crag in a small haul bag shows I'm not alone!
However, not everybody wants to just tip the contents onto the ground, in which case features become an advantage - and it is here that this sack excels. It has so many features that it's quite astounding that the weight is only 1.62kg. And it seems pretty robust as well; it's certainly coped just fine with everything I've thrown it at.
The 'Mini-rip' fabric seems very like classic Ripstop Nylon - reinforcement threads are weaved in at regular intervals - and it seems surprisingly rugged for its weight. There are no signs of wear from snow-shoeing, ski touring, hiking, cabin bag and cragging at Gogarth and slate venues.
Airzone back system in all it's glory
The 'Airzone' back system is aptly named: the ventilation is superb, thanks to a wedge of air between the mesh support and the main bag - and it's easy to adjust for back length. The split hip belt is another neat ventilation solution, bridged on each side by a zipped pocket.
In a similar vein, any strap wide enough to do so holds a feature! There is a phone pocket on the left shoulder strap: unfortunately I'll need to upgrade to an iPhone 5 because old models don't quite fit! Unfortunately it's also too small for my camera.
Any strap wide enough to do so holds a feature!
There are many additional features, see the list above for all of them. As well as being a top-loader this pack has a side-opening. I'm not particularly sold on side-openings on rucksacks, as any zip is a potential failure point, but in inclement conditions the ease of finding buried kit is a boon. The neck is extendable so you can squeeze those last essentials in, and the lid can be easily slid up and down to clamp tightly over it at the additional height. The lid has two pockets: one with a key clasp.
There's also a de-rigeur rain cover: to me this simply states 'this sack leaks!' Most rucksacks aren't waterproof, but I would rather save the weight and pack water-vulnerable items in dry bags, but if you like a rain cover, it's perfectly adequate.
The elastic contraption on the front is very versatile: I stashed a climbing helmet in it for one trip and a snow shovel for another. Stowing crampons is another possibility and I think that it might hold snowshoes also with a bit of experimenting.
Stowing items on the outside
External side attachment points on the Airzone rucksack
The side straps are not as versatile as I would like, because only one of the four has a full-release clasp to allow items to be strapped in place rather than threaded into position. This means, for example, that snowshoes can't be attached to the sides and skis are more awkward to fit and release.
The side straps are not as versatile as I would like
I tested the sack on ski tours in Chamonix and experimented with ways to attach skis. For side fitting, the straps would definitely benefit from buckles that open. I was able to fit the skis diagonally across the sack as practiced by many continentals but it requires some experimentation to prevent the skis projecting too far above the head - my tips kept hitting the gully sides on the approach to the Col du Passon.
There is a pair of rings on one side of the pack: a plastic holster to hold normal walking pole tips and elastic for larger spike ends. An elastic loop with quick release clasp supports the other end of the poles, or perhaps an avalanche probe tucked into one of the stretchy bottle holders on either side. These bottle pockets have a drawback though: they lack drainage holes so can fill with snow.
Airzone rucksack out in winter conditions
For load carrying the pack is really comfortable, and let's not forget that's the most important feature of all!
For load carrying the pack is really comfortable, and let's not forget that's the most important feature of all! It also has every feature I would want, and a few extra! My only real complaint is that three of the four side straps don't unclip completely, making it harder (but not impossible) to stow items like skis or snowshoes.