Lowe Alpine AT90 Kitbag Group Test
Duffels have become standard travel baggage for many expeditions. A durable nylon tube that can store everything from spare clothes to crampons, survive being portered by animals or humans in all weathers, be shaped so the contents are easy to manage and yet still be durable enough for international travel - they are perfect travel companions and it is little wonder you see them everywhere from airport carousels to winding their way through the Khumbu Valley tied to a yak.
For our recent Trek and Mountain Stok Kangri expedition they were again going to be the perfect choice and Lowe Alpine kindly supplied all the team with one of their recently released AT90 kitbags. The rigours of a Himalayan expedition provided the perfect testing ground......
The AT90 is a cuboid shaped duffel style bag with a wide zip top opening. The base fabric is called Travelshield and the sides and top are made from a material called N630. Lowe Alpine designed the bag to have minimal seams to improve both durability and water resistance. I'm a bit of a construction nerd and like to investigate the ways sewn objects are put together (I know I need to get out more!). I was pleased to see seams that were bound, reinforced stitching on key load bearing straps and interior reinforcement patches in other high load areas. The AT90 is certainly made for durability.
It is also packed with travel or expedition friendly features including zip away shoulder straps, a robust 2 way lockable zipper, an under lid mesh pocket, 2 small side pockets, internal compression straps, a zip cover that is secured by 4 corner buckles, lashing points for attaching items to the bag or for connecting straps to lash the bag to everything from a vehicle to a pack mule and handles on 3 sides for carrying the bag either alone or shared between 2. Given the name it is probably no surprise that the AT90 is 90 litres in capacity. The bags come in both Atlantic Blue and Anthracite (grey) colours and they have Lowe Alpine logos on the top and sides. Oh yes......it comes with a luggage tag too!
Our Stok Kangri expedition was the ideal trip for a very thorough test. All team members used them throughout the whole adventure giving over 200 days of use. This involved collectively checking their AT90's onto 56 separate flights, strapping them onto mules everyday for the best part of a fortnight, loading them into and out of taxis, carrying them on the roof racks of four wheel drive vehicles, carting them into and out of tents at different camp sites every night and using them for several nights in hotels. While the bags were attached to mules the Ladakh climate also threw some of everything at us ranging from intense sunlight to rain and snow.
I was surprised, as were some other team members, at the size of the parcel my AT90 was delivered in because, while other 90 litre duffel bags I've used have been very bulky, the AT90 package appeared rather small - could this parcel really contain an expedition worthy 90 litre kit bag? When I opened the package up I could see why it was so compact. The bag fabric appears quite thin and the cuboid shape means it can be squashed up quite flat. I was intrigued, given this first impression, to see how it faired in use carrying heavy weights and being used in challenging conditions. Well, given the rough treatment these bags received on expedition I'm pleased to say I needn't have worried. All the teams bags stood up to everything that was thrown at them without any problem and still, apart from an occasional scuff mark, looked in great condition after 2 very full on weeks.
The bags features are really carefully thought out. With this sort of bag you may well find yourself carrying it some distance and both the side handles (one at each end and and one along one side) are made from webbing material covered with a length of colour coordinated alloy tubing. This looks great as well as making them very comfortable to hold. The only downside to this is that the paint on the alloy tubing gets scratched quite easily. This doesn't affect the function at all but if the appearance bothers you it is something worth noting.
In addition, the bag has padded shoulder straps that make the bag a doddle to carry and the straps can be tucked in a zipped top pocket when not needed. It is surprising how often we found ourselves carrying the bags up to hotel rooms or across airports and these shoulder straps were indispensable and could be deployed in an instant. Of course, being able to tuck them away is also really useful when throwing them at the mercy of airline baggage systems or handing them to muleteers. I have used various duffel bags with shoulder straps but this is the most user friendly system I've come across.
The wide top opening lid makes the bags very easy to live out of. Unzip them at your campsite or in your hotel room and you can get to the contents really easily. This is further aided by a light coloured liner fabric which, as well as improving durability, helps when finding things lurking in the depths of the bag. Added to this are the useful pockets which again aid organisation. There's a large zipped mesh pocket under the lid and 2 small pockets on the outside at each end. The mesh pocket is suitable for everything from dirty clothing to documents and the end pockets can store smaller niknaks although, if you were travelling by air, you'd need to be careful what you stored in these because they can't be locked in any way. I haven't had a duffel with outer pockets like this and found them really useful to stow small items I needed in my tent like a headtorch or lip salve. Across the top of the inside of the bag there are also 2 compression straps that allow you to squash the contents in before zipping it up. It is always easy to strain zips on bags of this type if they are stuffed too full and so this feature works really well and was universally loved by the team.
The entry zip is robust and allows a padlock to be used for security. It also features a brilliant anti-tamper feature that adds both more security and, as was tested on our expedition, an extra level of weatherproofing. When the zip is fastened a fabric flap can be pulled over the entire zip and secured with alloy buckles. It looks stylish as well as functioning brilliantly. An added bonus is that, because the straps are stitched into the bottom of the bag, this system also allows the bag to be compressed if it isn't fully packed. Lowe Alpine have used their popular Load Locker buckles on these straps which, as well as being easy to fasten, are very secure and durable.
Some team members commented that, when they first started packing for the expedition, they were worried they wouldn't fit everything in because the bags shape make them look quite small. However, the cuboid shape actually makes them deceptively spacious and, with a bit of care when packing, they fit a surprisingly large amount in. I would still like to see Lowe Alpine bring out a larger model though as I think that more space would be needed on some trips.
Despite being dragged around, over loaded, used in all weathers, lived out of for several weeks and generally thoroughly tested, these bags have taken the hits with aplomb. They look great and perform great. Every team member has raved about them and I have no hesitation in recommending them for general travel and expedition use. A big thanks to Lowe Alpine for supplying them and well done to the designers.
Posted by Paul