The Lowe Alpine AirZone Pro 35:45 (yep, not the most dainty of names), is a feature-rich mid-sized trekking pack. Its major thing is the AirZone back one of those cutaway, suspended back systems that mean there is surprisingly little material touching you between your shoulders and waist, allowing for air to flow and sweat to evaporate. The AirZone Pro has the additional feature of having an adjustable back, meaning you can get it dialled in for your particular back length.
The downside of both adjustable back systems and airzone back systems on rucksacks has traditionally been weight. Both require many extra bits of frame, webbing, mesh and other widgets in comparison to plain non-adjustable backs. Either adjustability or air-flow, let alone both, can easily add half a kilo to a rucksacks weight in comparison to a plain-back pack of a similar size. So while the AirZone Pro 35:45 is far from lightweight at 1.57 kgs, it isnt actually too bad considering that it has both the adjustability and the anti-sweat airzone suspension. The moderate weight of the pack is even more noticeable when you consider that the AirZone Pro is a pack with a lot of interesting and useful features including a detachable, zip-away rain cover. Take that off and you lose another couple of hundred grams.
"The moderate weight of the pack is notable when you consider that the Airzone Pro has a lot of interesting and useful features"
So whats the pack for? It is an unapologetic hiking pack the suspended back system tends to make packs like the Airzone somewhat unstable for climbing. Having scrambled up some rocky edges while wearing it, it is actually fine for that, but you want the hip belt done up to keep it stable something I generally dont want when wearing a harness and doing any technical climbing. Anyway Lowe Alpine make lots of great climbing packs; get one of them if you are off on a climbing trip.
Ive found the AirZone 35:45 to be a good size for a variety of uses. It's fine for more gear-hungry day hikes (particularly when I've been carrying gear and food for my family in addition to my own stuff for instance). Ive also easily fitted overnight gear in for weekend backpacking, for which Ive done trips both with just a tarp and with a lightweight one-man tent. It has come up a Munro with me and been carried over miles of Peak District high moorland. Ive also been using it to drag my climbing kit to crags this isnt really what the pack is designed for but actually with a zip-entry on one side and a comfortable back system even when stuffed with 10 or more kilos of rope and rack, it works rather well and this use has shown the pack to be pretty tough as well.
People looking for the perfect alpine pack often talk about how great it is to find a rucksack with virtually no features on it. American designed packs, hiking and alpine, are sometimes criticized for having loads of unnecessary bells and whistles on them (literally, I suppose, now that a whistle on the chest strap buckle has become a norm) but Ive had a couple of Osprey packs which have been great in part because they have some really smart and useful widgets and features on them.
The (British-designed) AirZone Pro is rather like that: the rain cover I could take or leave, but the elastic cradle on the front holds a helmet or a sodden tarp well. The elastic side pockets are easy to stuff things in whilst on the move. The hip belt pockets hold my little camera and monocular, meaning I can get to them easily on the move. The lid pockets work well there is a little key clip which you can pass into either the inside or outside zip pocket. You can use the pack easily with a hydration system and there are little widgets that hold walking poles securely on the side of the pack. The safety features are a nice touch too; both the aforementioned whistle on the chest buckle and some printed info inside the lid on how to get yourself rescued!
Weight versus comfort
The big question is does the AirZone back justify the extra weight (and slightly higher price than many comparably sized packs)?
Using the pack on a cold windy day back in April it was quite a strange feeling having a cold back whilst wearing a rucksack this showed me that it really does work in terms of getting airflow there. In warmer weather I still get a sweaty t-shirt under the pack, but not as much as with normal packs, and it dries much quicker. You also dont get that disgusting feeling of picking a pack up with a sweat-soaked back system and needing to put it back on.
Overall the AirZone Pro 35-45 is a smart, well designed rucksack for day or weekend hikes and backpacks, or indeed just ugging your rack to the crag. Ive found it comfortable to carry and appreciate the clever, usable features on it like the hip belt pockets and side entry zip. The packs back system with its attendant increase in weight will put off ultralight hikers and backpackers, but if you want a cooler back for hiking in hotter places or times of the year, the AirZone Pro is well worthy of consideration. It is an easy rucksack to like once you are out on the trail (or even well off-trail!) with it.
- The Airzone Pro also comes in a female specific version (the AirZone Pro ND 33:40 - see here) and is available too in a larger size 45:55 (see here), so there's a pack in the range for most users.
Lowe Alpine say:
AirZone technology is one of the most breathable air-back systems in the world, and is designed for trekking and hiking throughout the seasons. This incredible concept and best-selling pack has been redesigned from the ground up, and is now more comfortable, breathable and even lighter than ever before.
The all-new AirZone mesh has been reduced to an absolute minimum, which in turn has maximised the air space and breathability. The contact mesh has been tensioned and is anatomically shaped, removing the need for additional reinforcing parts without compromising on comfort and support.
A new wrap around harness and hip belt has increased the stability of the pack ensuring prolonged comfort during long days in the mountains.
This well-established, bench mark pack is a must have for hiking and backpacking in 2016.
- Breathable AirZone back system
- Tensioned, anatomically shaped mesh
- New wrap around harness and hipbelt
- Large hip belt pockets
- Unique Tip Grippers and walking pole/ice axe loop
- Stretch side pockets
- Integrated and detachable rain cover
For more info see lowealpine.com