Lowe Alpine TFX Appalachian 75:95 XL
This is my initial review of this cavernous pack.
Price Paid: $107 shipped (gift from my father)
This is my initial review of this cavernous pack. I needed a well-rounded, large capacity pack for the long trips I plan for the future, but also to serve as a weekend winter pack to carry the bulk of the equipment for backcountry snow trips with my two children.
Having a pack with a load capacity of 70 pounds provides plenty of flexibility. This was a Christmas gift and so far I couldn't be happier.
This pack is a mid-level model, but is laden with quality and innovative features. The TFX 8 adjustment system was simple and quick. My Torso is 20 1/2", on the smaller end of the frame length adjustment for this extra large-framed backpack. The fit is great across my shoulders, and the waist and shoulder belts move on rockers side to side to allow for a natural gate. I don't have this on my excellent technical pack, but it really helps when climbing steep trail sections carrying 55 plus pounds and using trekking poles.
Speaking of trekking poles, L.A. has a dual pole tip grab system that functions perfectly for storing the poles when not in use (like when using ice axes, which also store when not in use). More on this excellent feature and the people behind it later.
My ultimate test for this pack was to put my 55 pound (w/ clothing and shoes) 7-year-old daughter in this pack for a hike to test. She had remarked at the pack's size and that she thought she could fit in it. She was right, as long as I unzipped the sleeping bag compartment shelf.
With only her head sticking out, I secured her with the compression straps and drawcords (as much as I could) and hiked for 2 1/2 hours up and down some tough terrain. One of the most fun and enjoyable hikes I've had in years. There's nothing like giggles to keep a dad pushing up a tough ascent. Total pack weight w/ 3 liters of water and a few other items was 64 pounds plus the 5 lb 12 oz weight of the pack itself.
The hipbelt and back padding, plus the myriad of cinching adjustments helped control what was easily the most unstable, moving cargo I've ever carried :) And yet the weight was dispersed very well across the hipbelt and shoulder straps. The air channels in back are sufficient enough without loosing stability against the back, something I've experienced with packs having a mostly mesh back panel.
The sleeping bag compartment is huge, with room for a bag, jackets, pillow, and a few other items. The ice axe and trekking pole attachments stay clear of the compartment's access (easy with the huge zipper pulls) just as advertised. The large mesh water bottle pockets on each side could be canted forward a little more for really easy access, but I'm nit-picking here. They easily store 1L bottles plus some other small items.
The bellowed side pockets above them make this a 100L pack and still includes several lashing points for more gear on the outside (dual buckled straps at the bottom for sleeping pad or tent). This is highly useful if you decide to turn your pack into a kid carrier...
Quality reinforced stitching abounds in combination with durable ballistic nylon and double ripstop. The only quality control issue I could find inside or out was that the ripstop panel on the sleeping bag compartment is slightly off (the ripstop grid alignment, not the zippered panel itself). It's not visible except very close up. The rest is very attractive.
The pack is loaded with extras like an excellent included raincover w/ built in storage, a pack notch for your head (great especially when wearing a full-brimmed hat), an SOS panel, key storage clip, a whistle in the sternum strap, 3 liter hydration sleeve and port, and a shoulder strap mounted (but removable), zippered GPS pouch.
There were two features that I wish were included. The first are pockets on the hip-belt. But Lowe Alpine makes accessory pockets that can easily be strapped to the belt, so it's a minor gripe. The other feature (found on L.A.'s most expensive models) is a second ice axe loop and trekking pole grabber. This brings me to Lowe Alpine's customer service.
I plan to own a pair of axe's (I borrow a BD Raven from my brother in-law when I need one) and so I wanted to modify my Appalachian TFX with another webbing loop and pole grabber to match the OEM setup on the other side (which actually includes 2 pole grabbers, allowing storage of a pair of poles on the same side).
I sent an email inquiring about purchasing the parts to install on the pack. Within a day I received a reply requesting my address so they could send the parts free of charge! I had offered to pay and they refused and just thanked me for my business! I received the parts a few days later. Awesome, and not suprising from a subsidiary of Asolo.
I will wait until a 1-2 week heavy backpacking trip before giving this 5 stars, but to date I am thoroughly impressed with the product and the people behind it.