Pros and Cons
Filed under:Backpacking, Backpacks, Gear reviews, backpacks, Lowe Alpine, trekking packs
Jon Doran gives us the low-down on the super-versatile new Altus 42:47 from Lowe Alpine...
I’ve been using the Altus 42:47 ever since Lowe Alpine launched the pack last summer in the Austrian Alps and it’s rapidly become my default, ‘go to’, medium capacity mountain-walking pack.
It’s brilliant for everything from lightweight weekend wild camping trips through to hut-to-hut overnighters and does a nice sideline in hoiking photographic kit up hills as well. Everything about it works and works well: the compression system is effective enough that it can do occasional double service as a daypack, without feeling like an underloaded behemoth. There are pockets for everything. And the detailing is excellent.
What makes it interesting, at a time when packs seem to be getting lighter and lighter regardless of function, is that Lowe Alpine has achieved a happy medium, where unlike some lightweight alternatives, the Altus can cope with heavier loads without compromising comfort and support. But doesn’t feel restrictive and over-built. Slightly ironically, given that the one thing the Altus doesn’t really do, is technical mountaineering. The main activity on the launch event was via ferrata, but hey, the Altus coped fine with that too.
It doesn’t matter how neat the lid fits or how many artfully concealed pockets it boasts, the key to a good pack is that it carries well and the Altus does exactly that. The visible bit is the smoothly curved, engineered foam o the Air Contour, length-adjustable back system complete with carefully contoured lumbar pad and integral, wrap-around hip-belt. The women’s ND version features, in particular, a lumbar pad that’s been carefully developed to suit the different contours of the female body.
Not outwardly apparent though is an internal tubed frame, which feeds loads into the wrap-around padded hip-belt and lumbar pad. It comes into its own with heavier loads when there’s plenty of support, but with enough flexibility in the back system and enough movement in the hip-belt that you never feel splinted or restricted in the way that some structured packs do. Back-length is adjustable too, so you can get the fit just right. The Altus 52 gets slightly denser foam here to cope with heavier loads, but the 42:47 never felt flimsy even when extended and loaded up for a weekend on the hills.
What’s equally impressive is that with a relatively small day-walk load, the pack never felt too big or too rigid. It doesn’t have quite the lightweight, invisible ease of Lowe’s own Aeon lightweights, but mostly it’s just not really noticeable, even on via ferratas. Finally, the foam back-pad incorporates cut-away ventilation channels, covered by mesh in a nod to trampoline-style back systems. All I can say is that despite temperatures in the mid 20s, the pack stayed bearably comfortable.
Pockets and more
It’s the details that make the difference between a really good pack and an okay one and Lowe Alpine has put a lot of work into getting all those basics right. Take the storage: there’s always somewhere to stow whatever it is you want to stash away from the big bucket on the front of the pack – ideal for wet kit or dry – via stretch side mesh ones through to twin lid items. Want easy access on the go? No problem, there are twin zipped hip-belt pockets that’ll swallow snacks and sundries. The big main compartment has a zip-out divider, that I personally never use and a big zip-opening U-flap, which I do. It’s ideal for rescuing deep-buried kit without the whole lid-up, deep excavation scenario. And if you do need more space, a couple of buckles let you raise the lid for an additional five litres of expansion, plus there are carry straps under the reinforced base where you can stow a sleeping mat or tent.
It’s all been properly thoroughly engineered too. The mesh side pockets have an outer of pack body fabric to ward off abrasion and eventual disintegration and the top of the bucket pocket is foam stiffened so it holds its shape and allows smooth access. Last but not least, the main pack opening has twin ‘pull to open’ cord locks and a neat cover-flap that just works better than the standard strap on its own closure. Hell, if you find yourself in an emergency, just pop the lid open and follow the multi-lingual mountain distress instructions.
More, you want more? How about neat axe and trekking pole attachments, though the latter aren’t as quick to access as Osprey’s system and while minimal, aren’t instantly intuitive. And finally, if it’s rude enough to rain on you, there’s a tethered rain-cover folded into a zipped pocket at the base of the pack. Its a one-minute job to pull it out, anchor at two points and adjust the perimeter draw-cord.
If you build it…
The whole pack has a feel of refined quality. They main body fabric is a lightweight but not flimsy 210D rip-stop, while the base is a heavier duty 420D material to cope with increased wear in the area. Nice that the side-pockets get the heavy-duty reinforced side fabric too – mesh gets trashed easily on lightweight packs. All the zip-pulls and cord-grips turned out to be useable with gloved hands too, though the pole/axe attachments can be fiddly. Finally neat details like the SOS instructions on the underside of the lid and stiffened top compression flap just feel, well, nice. Like you’ve invested in a top quality item. The downside of that, the multiple pockets, reinforced fabrics and supportive back system is that the pack is heavier than some of its lightweight rivals – an Osprey Exos 48 for example, is approximately 500 grammes lighter than the Altus – but the pay-off for that is a sturdier, less flimsy carry with weightier loads plus, we suspect, greater long-term durability.
In a world where outdoors kit seems to be getting lighter and lighter and more and more specialised, it’s refreshing that Lowe Alpine has taken a step back and built a pack that doesn’t sacrifice comfort and support to gramme-saving minimalism. It does mean that the Altus is slightly heavier than some of its rivals, but the pay-off is a brilliant mix of comfort, support and do everything functionality. It’s an ideal pack for everything from hut-to-hut or tea-house trekking through to weekend wild camping. And while it’s supportive enough to cope with those mid-weight loads, it’ll also compress down neatly enough to work for day-walks without flapping around like a deflated beach ball. Build quality and design are both exceptional too and the pack has a slick, finished feel that inspires real confidence. Sure, you pay for this level of competence, but the result is probably the best mid-capacity pack I’ve ever used.
More info at: www.lowealpine.com