The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Lowe Alpine Air Zone Centro 35+10: Desert Trekker
Posted on: February 25, 2008
Weight: 3 Pounds, 9 Ounces
Frequently I am accused of being a pack snob. It started way back in college when I had a part-time job sewing backpacks for a small outdoor company in Bellingham, WA. The owner and I would stay late tweaking, modifying and otherwise trying to improve the current line of packs as well as our personal climbing packs. Whether building custom packs, bringing old, well loved packs back to life, or modifying brand new packs, it was rare that I saw a pack that didn't need some improvement.
The Lowe Alpine Air Zone Centro 35+10 is no different. When I received the pack for testing I was immediately struck by how light and small it was. While every company has their own method of measuring pack volume, this pack is certainly on the small side for 35 liters. But its light weight is accomplished by a number of unique and clever designs. The material is a combination of ripstop and coated packcloths. All of the buckles and webbing are extremely lightweight, and the suspension is stripped down to bare bones. The suspension is quite unusual, incorporating a lightweight frame sheet held in place by two tiny aluminum rods. The Air Zone portion of the suspension is a taut mesh that sits several inches off of the back of the pack, allowing air to circulate between your back and the pack.
Escaping the shoulder season in the Pacific Northwest, I decided to test the pack during several weeks of climbing in Red Rocks. I used the pack to haul gear on approaches and to carry gear on some longer climbs. The pack worked fairly well on approaches, as it provided great ventilation for desert hiking, but when the loads were heavy, the suspension wasn't adequate.
The pack sat high enough for me to reach gear on the back of my harness or dip into my chalk bag with ease. The pack also has a secret compartment at the bottom that stores a silicone-impregnated nylon pack cover that can be pulled out during wet weather. Lowe Alpine was thoughtful enough to make this pack cover removable, and I used this stash pocket to store some webbing and a quicklink for backing up rap anchors.
As a climbing pack, I found it a bit too stiff. I prefer a soft climbing pack that clings to my back and moves with my body. This one felt more like a mini backboard. The top lid is also a bit small and when packed with a hat, some climbing tape and sunscreen it was difficult to find anything in there at all. While it does have some nice features, I feel like this pack is better suited for desert trekking than for climbing. If, however, you are looking for a lightweight pack that doesn't get you soaked with sweat on the approach, this one is worth checking out.
Pros: Lightweight; good ventilation; didn't interfere with accessing climbing gear; secret compartment stores a standard (but removable) silicone-impregnated nylon pack cover or other small necessities.
Cons: Small for 35 liters; stiff for climbing; inadequate suspension for heavy loads.