Lowe Alpine Air Zone Pro 45/55 Rucksack Review
The Air Zone Pro is a fully featured medium capacity backpacking rucksack with an air flow back system, single main compartment, side pocket zip that gives access to the main rucksack, front panel pocket and twin lid pockets. There are two small pockets in the hip belt, a small pocket on the shoulder strap, two stretchy side pockets, side compressions straps, a chest strap, extendable lid, padded hip belt and it has an adjustable back length. Finally, it is hydration system compatible, has a rain cover, ice axe attachment set up, front panel lash system and walking pole attachment points - I did say it was fully featured!
I've been using the Air Zone Pro for 4 months and so, although I don't see this enabling long term conclusions, during this time it has had a lot of use in different contexts. It has been used on a multi day trek in Morocco, for 12 days of trekking in northern Vietnam and for several 2 and 3 day UK backpacking trips. This has also used involved using it in very varied terrain and weather conditions as well as with it holding different amounts of weight (up to 16 kgs).
For medium time scale backpacking trips I have never before, despite using a lot of different sacks, had one that is hillwalking specific. I have a large and well loved Gregory expedition pack but, for shorter or fast and light style walking trips, I have always just used a general purpose mountaineering pack which has included models like the Crux AK47, Black Diamond Speed 40/50, various Deuter guide models and Lowe Alpine Alpine Attack 35/45 or 45/55. These have all followed a similar style which is a simple single compartment with a couple of lid pockets, a decent back panel, padded shoulder straps and padded waist belt (that is often removable for climbing). They all work well enough for backpacking, but I was certainly keen to see if the Air Zone Pro would add any advantages in terms of comfort and function.
Firstly, none of the fine tuning design features will do anything if a rucksack doesn't carry comfortably. The Air Zone has a central mesh back panel with chunky padded lumbar pads and well padded and contoured shoulder straps. The back length can be adjusted with a ladder lock buckle which gives a few inches of travel. Added to this is a well padded and sculpted hip belt and there's a chest strap on the shoulder straps. Getting the fit right took a bit of trial and error but, now it's fine tuned, I have grown to really appreciate the comfort of this sack. Everything has been carefully thought out and so the whole harness system works together brilliantly. The back panel provides good ventilation and the shoulder straps are well padded. I especially like the waist belt which is well shaped and padded enough to be comfortable for long periods while still not being over bulky. I am 5'8" and ended up about in the middle of the adjustment range and so those taller and shorter than me will have some adjustment available. I can't say how it would work for very tall or much shorter people though.
The rest of the rucksack is carefully designed to make the rucksack easy to live out of for many days. At the front there's a single large pocket built into the centre of the front panel. This is large enough to take a map or waterproof but it is shaped so that it doesn't stick out much beyond the rucksacks normal shape. At the side of the main panel there is a zip that gives access into the main body of the rucksack. This also has a mesh pocket built into the back of it. This is really useful for keeping snacks or waterproofs in and the zipper, which is water resistant, seals the main body easily again.
Other than that, on the sides there are compression straps, a single ice axe attachment system along with a system for attaching trekking poles. The trekking pole holder aren't something I particularly anticipate using with this rucksack myself, but they could be handy for some users. There is also a rain cover stored in a small base pocket but again I won't use this as I prefer to focus on waterproofing the contents by using dry bags. The rain cover is easily detachable though - and that's what I did straight away. The other detail down the sides are some stretchy mesh pockets that can be used to store anything like drink bottles or spare clothing. The last main feature on the front is an elastic cord web which could be used to stash other equipment. I haven't had any call to use this yet but if you are pushing the capacity of the Air Zone Pro then it could certainly be useful.
The lid is extendable which accounts for the capacity being from 45 to 55 litres. So, with the lid raised you will of course get an extra 10 litres of capacity. I have used this once when we had to carry spare water during a long trekking day in Vietnam. It worked fine although, like many rucksacks with this feature, having the lid extended makes it harder to tip your head back if you are needing to look up. I would suggest this is best for occasional use and, if you are constantly needing the 55 litres of capacity, you'd be best to choose a bigger rucksack. The Air Zone Pro has a hydration bladder pocket in the back panel and an exit for the tube. I never use these so I can't speak for its effectiveness, but it is the same design as many manufacturers use and so I expect it will work as well as any.
In the lid there is a decent sized top pocket and a smaller under lid pocket that will store small valuables. Lastly, small elasticated pockets on the fins of the hip belt and a small pocket on the left shoulder strap can be useful for keeping small items accessible. The hip belt pockets will store things like trail snacks or maybe something like a pair of liner gloves and the smaller shoulder strap one is probably best left for items like lip salve or a compass.
I applaud the designers of the Air Zone Pro because everything is well thought out and just works efficiently and reliably - which is surely the hallmark of good design. I was initially a little concerned that some of the features felt quite gimmicky (how many pockets does one rucksack need?) but, in fact, I have found a use for all the pockets and over multi day treks I really appreciated the flexibility they offered. I think some of this reluctance came from my background of having rucksacks with minimal pockets as well as liking streamlined uncluttered rucksacks, but once I got used to it it was really beneficial to have the organisational spaces.
The construction and build quality of the Air Zone Pro is excellent. It will be interesting to see what the long term durability is like because, with the many features and mesh back panel, there are potentially quite a lot of potential failure points. However, I have never had a problem with any of the many Lowe Alpine rucksacks and bags I have used, so I am confident that it will stand up well to some intense use.
The majority of days that I have used the Air Zone Pro so far have been dry, but on one monsoon like day in Vietnam and one Snowdonia horizontal rain day the rucksack leaked both times (the top pocket and the sides of the main compartment). I am, though, neither surprised or bothered about this. Rucksacks of this type aren't waterproof and should never be considered so. It's just a case of waterproofing whatever is inside and there are plenty of lightweight dry bags that will happily do this.
For a mid size rucksack the Lowe Alpine designers have managed to create a very sleek profile. It doesn't feel bulky in use and it doesn't look bulky even when fully loaded up. On the Morocco trip this was much appreciated as we climbed narrow scrambly paths through the Middle Atlas mountains and dodging between Vietnamese bamboo plantations wasn't an issue either.
The last thing worth pointing out about the Air Zone Pro is its looks. In reality it would never make sense to prioritise appearance over function but at the end of the day we do want equipment to look good and manufacturers also know users will select equipment partly based on this. On this point, I think the Air Zone Pro is a great looking pack. The model sent to me was a colour called tabasco which, combined with some yellow (amber) contrasting, looks great. There are also more traditional blue, black and green colour options available too.
I really really like the Air Zone Pro. I had high hopes for it and I'm delighted it has delivered on all counts. For short to medium length backpacking or hut to hut trips where users are carrying up to around the 15kg mark then it really is perfect. I have loved using it so far and look forward to many more adventures together. I don't think other users will be disappointed with anything about this rucksack. I understand some updates to these rucksacks are on the way and I look forward to seeing the changes - hopefully a great product will get even better. More details are available from the Lowe Alpine website here and the RRP is around £110.
Posted by Paul
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