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LOWE ALPINE TFX CERRO TORRE 65:85 BACKPACK
Test Series
By Michael Wheiler

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Click Here To Go To The Initial Report: October 24, 2009
Click Here To Go To The Field Report:  January 20, 2009
Click Here To Go To The Long Term Report:  March 16, 2010
Click Here To Go To The Addendum:  Not Yet Available


INITIAL REPORT

Personal Information:

Name:    Michael Wheiler
Age:   53
Gender:   Male
Height:   5'10"  (178 cm)
Weight:   175 lb. (79 kg)
Torso Length:  19 3/4" (50 cm)
Hip Measurement:  34"  (86 cm)
Chest Size:  40" (102 cm)
Location:   Southeast Idaho
Email:   jmwlaw AT ida DOT net

Experience

I have about 41 years experience hiking, camping, and backpacking.  I have been active in the Boy Scout program as a youth and as an adult leader.  In the past five years, I have also done quite a bit of mountaineering with summits on peaks such as Mt. Rainier and the Grand Teton.  I consider myself a mid-weight backpacker working toward carrying a lighter pack to accommodate my aging body but I do carry considerably more weight during winter months.

Field Testing Environment:

Most of my camping, hiking and backpacking occurs in the southeastern Idaho area but spills over into western Wyoming and western Montana.  I occasionally get into the mountains of central Idaho as well.  The areas I frequent generally range from 5,500 ft (1,600 m) to 8,500 ft (2,600 m).  The weather in southeastern Idaho is fairly typical of a high desert plain.

Product:
 
Item:  TFX Cerro Torre 65:85
Manufacturer's Web Site:  http://www.lowealpine.com
Model Year Product:  2010
Date Of Manufacture:  2009
Color:  Terracotta/Grey (also available in Crock Green/Slate Grey)
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price:  U.S. $279.95

This product is so new that information is not available on the general company web site.  It is the new design for model year 2010.  Because I was having trouble finding information on the Lowe Alpine web site that matched the pack I received, I contacted the company by email and received a prompt response which directed me to the 2010 Lowe Alpine on-line catalog.

Product Specifications and Features Per Manufacturer Unless Otherwise Noted:

Pack bag Fabric
NHC330/N630
Volume
Main bag:  4,000 cu. in./65 L
Lid:  1,220 cu. in./20 L
Weight
5 lb. 4 oz. (2.38 kg)
As measured by tester at the US Post Office: 6 lb. 6 oz. (2.9 kg)
Lid
Extendable, removable and converts into a belt pack; 1 internal and 2 external zippered pockets
Frame size
TFX 10 adjustable from small (17"/43 cm) to large (22"/56 cm)
Stabilizers
Radial side compression straps to control the load and create stability
Harness
Body shaped with removable GPS/camera/cell phone pocket attachable to either shoulder strap; sternum strap
Style/Category
Internal Frame; Trekking/Expedition
Load Capacity
55-70 lb/25-32 kg
Feature
"Noggin Notch" created by a removable metal stay for added head space
Feature
Extendable spin drift collar provides an additional 1 ft/30 cm of packable space
Feature
Front and top loader; two compartments in main bag with zip out divider
Feature
AdaptiveFit hip belt
Feature
Two ice axe/trekking pole attachments
Feature
Additional lash points
Feature
Supportive AirChannel back system
Feature
Rain cover stowed in its own zippered exterior pocket; located on the lid
Feature
Two exterior water bottle pockets; one on each side
Feature
Hydration system compatible
Feature
Mitt-friendly zipper pulls
Feature
SOS panel in removable lid
Feature
Key clip inside removable lid
Feature
Rear haul/grasp loop
Length
As measured by tester:  approximately 26 in (66 cm) from the bottom of the bag to the top of the lid without using the extension collar and approximately 38 in (97 cm) from the bottom of the bag to the top of the extension collar.

General Description:

According to Collin Fletcher, a backpack is more than just the house for the rest of your gear, it is the "crucial interface between you and your load" and is second only to your boots in its ability to "mar your walking."¹  In that regard, Lowe Alpine touts itself as a company of "comfort engineers."  Lowe Alpine claims that the redesigned Cerro Torre is intended for "carrying heavy loads over multiple days" and that the Cerro Torre has "gained its reputation by serving people in extreme situations all over the world.  This year's model is lighter but with increased functionality."  The objectives of the redesign, according to the company, were to "lighten the weight with no loss in durability, to focus on function and to offer a variety of feature options that cater to the differing desires of a broad spectrum of end users."

The only information supplied with the Cerro Torre was contained on a hang tag.  The information on the hang tag was only the product name, color of the product, country of origin (Vietnam), a bar code and warranty information as follows"Lowe Alpine guarantees all of its products against defects in materials and workmanship for the life of the product.  If you are not satisfied with your Lowe Alpine product, return it to the store where it was purchased.  If it is defective, you have certain statutory rights with the store who sold the product to you.  In addition to those rights, if there is a defect in manufacture we will repair or replace the product at our option.  Your statutory rights are not affected by this warranty.  The warranty does not cover damage caused by accidents or misuse, nor does it cover the natural breakdown of materials which occurs over extended use and time (e.g. zipper failure or fabric abrasion).  Repairs due to accident, improper care, negligence or wear and tear, where Lowe Alpine is not at fault, will be made for a reasonable charge.  Fabric guarantees are covered separately, see fabric tag for details."

In its 2010 product catalog, Lowe Alpine states:  "TFX back systems offer superb carrying comfort because they can be tailored precisely to each individual user and have been built to the highest quality.  The pack designs are driven by function, designed by enthusiasts, and only have features that bring benefits to the end users.  The quality of materials/components and construction methods are the very best and have been tried and tested in the world's harshest environments--these are packs you can trust."

Examination:

The Lowe Alpine TFX Cerro Torre 65:85 (hereinafter the "CT" or "Cerro Torre"), arrived in perfect conditionAfter reviewing the 2010 Lowe Alpine on-line catalog, the CT I received looked like what was shown and described in the company catalog.

My initial examination of the Cerro Torre was very enjoyable.  The Cerro Torre is designed with so many cool features.  I will attempt, in this initial report, to describe in word and photograph some of the major features of the CT.

The Frame:  Lowe Alpine uses two 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum stays in the Cerro Torre to direct load transfer onto the hips while, at the same time, "providing a light weight, strong frame which has the ability to be customized by hand without losing the load-transfer properties."   The stays are pre-bent and I will want to check the stays to determine if the shape works with the shape of my back.  The CT also uses the new TFX 10 system which Lowe Alpine claims will provide the user with perfect comfort and load control."   TFX 7  There are no instructions with the CT describing how to use the TFX 10 system.  However, according to the company catalog, Lowe Alpine wanted to design the system to be more user friendly and simpler to use.  Because I own and have extensively used another Lowe Alpine pack with the TFX system, I am very familiar with this system.  Part of the color coded torso sizing for the TFX 10 system is visible above the lumbar pad.  The lumbar pad is secured to the frame by way of a hook and loop closure.  When the lumbar pad is pulled away from the frame, the sizing chart on the TFX 10 system is fully visible (see photograph to right).  The TFX 10 system is color coded and covers a range of torso sizes from small (17"/43 cm) to extra large (22"/56 cm).

Behind the color coded sizing chart is a nylon strap with an adjustable buckle.  By loosening the strap to the desired length, the lumbar pad can be pulled down and then reattached to the hook and loop closure at the appropriate torso size on the color coded chart.  However, to determine which color coded stripe matches with the user's torso size, requires a visit to the company web site. 

The Cerro Torre was adjusted to a size medium (the yellow stripe) when I received it.  According to the sizing chart on the company web site, I needed a size between the  medium and large.  By simply pulling on the buckle and loosening the strap which is attached to the bottom of a pad (the gray colored pad just under the strap with the color coded stripes) which is also connected to the upper shoulder straps, I was easily able to change to the unmarked orange stripe between the medium and large thereby extending the torso length of the pack. 

By pulling upward on the strap, I was easily able to decrease the torso length of the pack to a small.  I then readjusted the torso length to my size, folded the lumbar pad back into place, tucked the thinner upper portion of the lumbar pad under the AirCooled back pad in the center of the pack, and resecured the lumbar pad to the hook and loop closure.  I then tried on the empty pack and the fit seemed perfect, though I will want to add some weight before determining if this is the best fit. 

Adjusting the torso length of the CT is simple and easy but slightly different than the TFX 9 system on my Summit pack.  To me, the TFX 10 system seems a bit less secure than the TFX 9 system in that the TFX 10 adjustable color coded chart is more easily removed from the mechanisms securing it to the pack.  However, it is also much easier to use and see than the TFX 9 system which was the stated intent of creating the new system.

Lumbar Padding and Back Panel:  Lowe Alpine used rebound foam in the TFX 10 system.  Rebound foam "is a very resilient foam designed to return to its original shape after being constantly deformed over long periods.  It is perfect for extended carrying with heavy weights and offers great support and comfort.   Another unique and cool feature of the Cerro Torre is the Supportive AirChannel back pad which is a white colored padding consisting of several ridges and covered with mesh.  It is positioned in the center of back pad.  See above photograph.  The rest of the back panel appears to be a soft covered foam.

Shoulder Straps:  The shoulder straps are formed to fit the body.  I found a removable zippered GPS/camera/cell phone pocket in the detachable lid.  This pocket can be attached to either shoulder strap  (see photograph below).  My Garmin Vista GPS, or cell phone or Olympus digital camera each fit easily into the pocket.  A handheld radio made by Motorola fit snugly into the pocket but I couldn't zip the pocket closed all the way because the antenna was too long.  The shoulder straps are approximately 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick.  Load stabilizer straps are attached near the top of each shoulder strap.  Shoulder harness adjustment straps are also located at the bottom of each strap.  All of these straps, upon initial examination without a loaded pack, pull and release easily for quick adjustment.

Removable GPS Pocket
The Removable GPS/Cell Phone/Camera Pocket.

The Hip Belt:  Lowe Alpine uses a stiffer closed-cell foam laminated to a softer open-cell foam in the waist belt on the CT. The TorsoMotion hip belt is designed to "ensure comfort and stability when moving through tricky terrain."  It is part of the TorsoMotion system which allows the torso to twist and the hip belt to rotate and thereby accommodating the body's natural movement.  The belt is approximately 12 inches (30 cm) long on each side and tapers from approximately 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) in width at the hip to approximately 3 inches (8 cm) at the end (near where it buckles).  The thickness of the padding varies but is generally between 1/2 inch (1 cm) and 1 inch (2.5 cm).  There are right and left hand hip belt stabilizer straps.  There is a second set of straps on each side to pull the lower portion of the pack bag close to the pad or allow it to pull away from the hip belt by several inches.  This is a new feature for me and I will need to play with it some before commenting on its usefulness.

Head Comfort:  The CT uses Lowe Alpine's "Noggin Notch" to provide more head space.  This appears to be simply a "u-shaped" cut-out in the plastic frame near the top of the pack which is stabilized by a removable metal stay.  This feature provides the user's head with additional space so as to avoid banging the user's head on the back of the pack and to relieve neck strain.

Load Control:  The Cerro Torre is designed with "radial side compression" straps and load lifter straps to assist with load control and stability.

Pack Bag Material and Webbing:  The pack bag is made of NHC330/N630 material.  It looks like the base of the bag is reinforced with a double layer of fabric to reduce long term wear and tear.  Lowe Alpine also reports that it double stitches the major seams and provides the "best quality webbing" and "buckles that perform best in tandem with the webbing."  Lowe Alpine apparently tests its buckles by freezing them in dry ice and then subjecting them to load testing.

Pack Bag Capacity and Accessibility:  According to Lowe Alpine, the CT, has a 4,000 + 1,220 cubic inch (65:85 L) capacity with lid and collar extension.  The name on the pack is Cerro Torre 65:85.  The first figure refers to the volume of the pack with the lid in its normal position, i.e., 65 liters.  The second figure references the volume of the pack when the lid is extended allowing additional volume, i.e., 85 liters.  It also has an internal hydration sleeve.  The CT does have two compartments with a zip-out divider and top, front, and bottom loading capacities for easier access to gear (see photographs below).  However, the zipper for the divider shelf can only be used from inside the lower compartment as the pull only hangs down into the lower compartment.

With Collar Extended
                                                                                   The Cerro Torre With Collar Open and Extended

Front Load Pocket
                                                                The Cerro Torre's Front Load Pocket With Side Compression Straps.

Removable Lid:  The Cerro Torre comes with a lid which is removable.  The lid has 1 internal and 2 external zippered pockets.  One of the external zippered pockets holds the rain cover.  The lid can be detached from the pack bag and used as a belt pack.  However, there are no instructions for detaching the lid or attaching it to the user's belt.  Removal essentially requires the user to completely undo the three rear straps (the center strap detaches by sliding an oval shaped plastic piece through the plastic tab attached to the lid).  The lid also contains a key clip and SOS instructions in case of an emergency.

Removable Lid
The Underside of the Removable Lid with the Interior Pocket Shown.

Tuck Away Pockets:
   There are open stretch pockets on both sides of the pack bag just above where the hip belt attaches to the frame.  I can insert a 1L Nalgene water bottle into each pocket.

Zippers and Zipper Pulls:  The zippers on the Cerro Torre open and close easily.  To me, the zipper pulls (both the thin nylon cord and the attached plastic pull) look and feel a bit flimsy.  I will keep an eye on the zipper pulls and report any problems.  See the photograph of the removable GPS pocket for an example.

Trekking Pole/Ice Axe Loops and Attachment:  The Cerro Torre has trekking pole/ice axe loops with pole holder attachments consisting of a plastic piece attached to the nylon webbing loop with an x-shaped slot cut into the center for the tip of the trekking pole.  The pole holder attachment is shown in the photograph below.

Hiking Pole Attachment
The Lower Portion of the Hiking Pole/Ice Axe Attachment.

Initial Impressions
The Cerro Torre appears to be well constructed and designed.  The pack has many very cool features and lots of  room to carry gear.  Adjusting for torso length is quick and easy.  The next step is to get this pack loaded and into the field to see just how comfortable it is to wear and how well all of these cool features actually work.  I am looking forward to testing this pack.


FIELD REPORT

During the last 2 1/2 months, I was able to use the Cerro Torre on two separate trips.  The first trip was Thanksgiving weekend near Palisades, Idaho.  For this trip I took a four season tent, a sleeping bag rated to 20 F/-7 C, one closed cell foam pad, one self inflating pad, a ground cloth,  food for two meals, snacks, a head lamp, a back-up flash light, a windproof lighter, a screw on propane stove, one canister of fuel, two liters of water, a water filter, a titanium pot, a spork, a spice container, extra socks, a map, bear spray, a GPS, extra batteries, small first aid kit, hand warmers, fleece pants, a down parka, a wool hat, and rain pants.  All of this equipment fit into the Cerro Torre with room to spare.  My total pack weight was 40.5 lbs/18 kg.  I carried hiking sticks the entire trip.

There is a natural hot spring which flows into Bear Creek through Warm Springs Creek.  The trial head starts at 5,800 ft/1,768 m.  The main trail goes up Bear Creek.  There are trails that fork up Muddy Creek and Currant Creek which eventually lead to Warm Springs Creek.  The hot spring is located near the top of Warm Springs Creek and can be accessed by a trail up Warm Springs Creek but I wanted to put in some miles with the Cerro Torre so I chose to go up Muddy Creek trail which would result in approximately an 8 mile/13 km round trip hike with some significant elevation gain.  To access Muddy Creek, I had to cross Bear Creek and it took some doing to find a spot shallow enough to cross without getting water in my boots.  Even though I undid the hip belt and loosened the shoulder straps, the Cerro Torre did not cause any balance problems while crossing the creek.

There was very little snow at the trail head but it got deeper as I gained elevation.  Although there was never enough snow to need snowshoes, the snow was deep enough in places that it became difficult to find the trail and I had to wander around looking for any signs of the trail.  As such, I spent a good amount of time off trail where I tripped on snow covered rocks and stumbled over snow covered branches.  Even while I was on the trail, I found myself slipping and sliding on the steeper portions.  At those times, I was very grateful for the ability to tighten and adjust the Cerro Torre to fit snugly with my back and shoulders.  When I tightened it up, there was no sway in the pack.  The Cerro Torre conformed nicely to my body and helped me retain a good sense of balance during the entire trek.  The only difficulty I had with the Cerro Torre was getting the water bottle out of the exterior pocket to get a drink.  I had to take the pack off to remove and replace the bottle.  My other Lowe Alpine pack has a water bottle carrier that makes it easy to access the bottle while hiking so I guess I am a bit spoiled.  I used the removable pocket to carry my point and shoot digital camera and I was able to access the camera with ease.

On the Ridge
On the ridge during a snack break.

Despite the arduous climb, the Cerro Torre was as comfortable as any pack I have used carrying that amount of weight.  I eventually reached an elevation of 7,910 ft/2,411 m but could not find the hot spring where I had planned to camp.  So I backtracked to a level spot on the ridge and set up camp.  The temperature was around 36 F/2 C.  The temperature the next morning was 29 F/-2 C.  The hike out the next day on the Currant Creek Trail was uneventful except for stepping into a  hole while recrossing Bear Creek which was deep enough that water ran into my boots.  Thankfully, I was only 2.5 miles/4 km from my vehicle at that time.  The Cerro Torre handled this trip marvelously.

In December, I attempted to do a snowshoe hike near Kelley Canyon Ski Resort near Ririe, Idaho (elevation at the trail head was 5,150 ft/1,570 m).  Unfortunately, there was not enough snow to make using the snowshoes worthwhile.  The temperature was around 31 F/-0.5 C.  I hiked up one of my favorite snowshoe trails carrying the Cerro Torre packed identically to the Bear Creek trip.  According to my GPS, I ultimately reached an elevation of 6,574 ft/2,004 m before turning around.  Although I carried enough gear to stay over night, I had commitments the next morning which prevented me from doing so.  This hike covered approximately 4 miles/6 km.  While climbing or descending steeper portions of the trail, it was easy to adjust the Cerro Torre's hip belt and should straps to create a more snug fit with my body and maximize my balance while carrying over 40 lbs/18 kg.  Again, the Cerro Torre was comfortable even under a significant load.  I had no difficulty operating zippers or buckles in the cold temperatures.

Likes:
  • The Cerro Torre has massive load carrying capacity both on the interior and exterior.
  • Adjusting the pack on the go is easy.
  • The pack can conform to my body when necessary to assist with balance.
  • It is comfortable even when loaded with a large amount of gear.
Dislikes:
  • This is just a small gripe but I have been spoiled by an easy access water bottle holder on my other Lowe Alpine pack and it would be nice if this one had that same feature.

LONG TERM REPORT
(March 16, 2010)

Bear Gulch
Hiking Near Bear Gulch

Over the last two months, I used the Cerro Torre on two more outings for a total of five trips during the test period.  The first outing was on snowshoes in early February near Bear Gulch which is a few miles northeast of Ashton, Idaho (elevation 6,000 ft/1,829 m).  There was plenty of firm snow pack for my snow shoes.  The temperatures were brisk (21 F/-6 C) during the day and cold during the night (16 F/-9 C).  I was packing 46 pounds (21 kg) in the Cerro Torre which included the base gear identified in my Field Report with additional cold weather clothing, a candle lantern, a small coffee pot for hot chocolate or herbal tea, and an extra liter of water.  Even with all this gear, I still had room to pack more stuff and I didn't have any gear strapped to the exterior of the pack--this pack is a monster gear eater!

After arriving at the Bear Gulch parking lot, I hiked in about 3 miles (5 km) and set up camp.  As I hiked, I fiddled with making adjustments to the Cerro Torre.  I was able to quickly and easily adjust the weight on my hips and my shoulders and/or suck the pack in close to my back or create some space between the back panel and my back for air circulation.  Although the way I packed the gear in the pack has a lot to do with balance and comfort, the Cerro Torre was as comfortable for me as any other pack in which I have carried 46 pounds (21 kg) and was more comfortable than others.  When I needed extra balance while traveling up or down a steep slope, I just had to tug on the load adjustment straps and cinch the pack down.

While hiking to the planned campsite, I did try to remove the water bottle from its holder to get a drink but couldn't do it.  While I was able to get the bottle out of the exterior holder, I had to take the pack off to get the bottle back in its home.  Once I arrived at my campsite, I was able to access the gear I needed without dumping it all out on the ground.  I was able to work the zippers with gloved hands and the zippers worked smoothly.

Harriman
Snowshoeing Along the Snake River in Harriman State Park

The next trek with the Cerro Torre took me along the Snake River in Harriman State Park, near Island Park, Idaho (elevation 6,120 ft/1,865 m).  The temperature during the hike was a pretty steady 33 F/0.6 C.  Snow conditions were soft but there was enough snow with a solid base to make using the snowshoes worthwhile.  I got a great workout and the spectacular scenery made the trip very enjoyable.  It is days like these that remind me with crystal clarity why I live in Idaho!  I did a loop hike of approximately 5.3 miles/9 km (the Ranch Loop trail).  I carried a bit lighter pack (38 pounds/17 kg) because I was just planning to do a day hike but carried enough gear that I could stay overnight if necessary.

As it had on my previous outings, the Cerro Torre performed flawlessly.  I was able to adjust the pack at will.  The pack was balanced and  provided a fairly comfortable union between my body and the gear I was carrying. 

After arriving at home, I unloaded my gear and inspected the Cerro Torre.  I found no signs of wear or tear on or in the pack.  The zippers worked without difficulty.  All draw cords and buckles functioned properly.  Nothing was broken.  In fact, the pack looks almost like new.

Regretfully, I was not able to get the Cerro Torre out on a multi-day backpacking trip or during warm weather.  However, I will be backpacking into Alaska Basin in the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness area of Wyoming for an assault on the South Teton the third week of July.  We are planning four days for this trip.  The weather should be warm to very warm.  I will use the Cerro Torre on that outing and will attach an addendum to this report so as to provide my perspective on how the pack fares on a multi-day warm weather trip.

Likes:
  • This pack has massive load carrying capacity.
  • Adjusting the pack on the go is simple and easy.
  • The pack can be adjusted to fit closer to my body when necessary to assist with balance.
  • The Cerro Torre is fairly comfortable even when loaded with a lot of gear.
  • Very durable.
Dislikes:
  • I really couldn't find anything I disliked about the Cerro Torre.  I would like an easy access water bottle holder like the one on my other Lowe Alpine pack but the lack of that feature wouldn't stop me from buying this pack.
My thanks to Lowe Alpine and BackpackGearTest.org for giving me the opportunity to test the TFX Cerro Torre 65:85 backpack.

¹  The Complete Walker IV, Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins, page 125 (2003).


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