Technically Lowe Alpine's completely redesigned range of AirZone packs isn't due out until spring 2013, but Cotswold Outdoor already has early, exclusive stock of the packs including this, the Lowe Alpine AirZone Pro 35:45, an impressively well-specced, all-year, all-round, mountain-walking sac.
Top Of The Range
The Pro is, as you might have guessed, the top of the new AirZone range and features all of the major upgrades to the existing range of trampolene-backed walking packs. What makes it interesting is that with its 35-45-litre capacity it's large enough both for winter day-walks and lightweight weekend-packing trips.
Not only that, it looks discretely contemporary thanks to a restyle and, whereas walking packs have often been a sort of poor relation to more technical mountain sacs, the AirZone Pro has clearly occupied a lot of pack-designing brain cells for some time - there's a lot going on...
Obvious changes from the past include new fabrics - a 210d nylon 6 base fabric with a 6.6 mini-ripstop grid mix and a PU coating - which apparently gives a killer mix of lightness and tear resistance. Softer body-contact mesh for the revised back system and Lowe Alpine's proven adaptive fit straps and hip-belts which use swan-necked attachments to allow the pack to adapt to different body shapes and still sit naturally.
On top of that, the Pro model here has a Centro adjustable length back system which allows quick and easy back-length adjustment using a single strap and buckle arrangement. An unusual touch with a trampolene-style vented back system like this.
Mucho Stashage Options
Those are the basics and, as we'd expect from Lowe, build quality looks top notch with double-stitched bound seams and an all-round solid feel. On top of that, the designers have gone to town with stowage optons and neat little touches.
Those include hip-belt pockets, lid pockets, a big front pocket, a mobile phone stretch pocket on the lefthand shoulder strap, neat pole and ice axe attachment points, a rope strap under the lid plus two adventure race-style stash pockets on the side of the pack.
And that's just the start of it. In addition to the conventional top-lid access, there's also a large side panel opening to the lower area of the pack, which is positioned on the side deliberately to avoid you having to lay the back system down on the ground. There's a waterproof rain cover stowed in the base. And compression straps.
Two other clever bits are the shock-corded stowage net on the back of the pack which has been designed to allow multiple options and looks ideal for carrying anything from a wet waterproof jacket through to a climbing helmet. Also neat, is the sternum strap, which clips onto a shock-corded attachment point and should allow better mobility and whopping great deep breaths.
So that's all quite impressive. As is the weight reduction over the current equivalent models - the Pro weighs in at 1570g compared to the Centro 35+10 at 1700g.
Recommended load range is 10-15kg or 22-33lb, which with modern lightweight kit makes it eminently backpacking friendly and while we haven't loaded it up properly yet, an experimental try-on suggests that, with a light load at least, it fits really well and comfortably and sits close to the back with no feeling of the pack levering away.
Packs like the AirZone Pro may not look as sexy as gnarly, minimalist, technical mountain packs, but in reality, the multiple stowage options, easier access and vented backs plus Lowe Alpine's excellent adaptive fit mean that for all-round walking use, they're often a better choice.
And while at £100 the pack isn't cheap, the combination of build quality and all-round useability means it should make an excellent mountain walking go to choice.