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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Lowe Alpine Centro > Test Report by Andrew Buskov
AirZone Centro 35
Lowe Alpine's new overnight 4 season pack for 2008.
Field Report: March 11, 2008
Long Term Report: May 13, 2008
Tester Biographical Information
I started backpacking and quickly became hooked on the outdoors, hiking various environments from the green mountains of the Appalachians to the barren desert of Arizona. I enjoy the solitude of deep backcountry and prefer colder weather and snow. I’m moving toward becoming a light weight hiker, but am still safety conscious and want to be as prepared and comfortable as possible. My goal is to get my pack weight between 15 to 20 lbs (6 and 9 kg), but right now I'm hovering around 25 lbs (11 kg). Additional information about the author can be found at http://www.corridor9.net.
Product Overview:Note: Due to the fact that this is a pre-production 2008 model, manufacturer specs are not available at this time.
The Lowe Alpine AirZone Centro 35 is one of Lowe Alpine's new packs for 2008. It is designed as a small 4 season overnight pack that can also double as a large daypack. It's also designed to be easily adjustable to the user by way of the Torso Fit Centro System. Because of this system, all Centro packs will fit torso sizes between 16 to 21 in (40 to 53 cm) comfortably. There is minimal padding on the back due to an extensive network of breathable mesh backing that helps the pack ride away from the wearer's back. This allows the heat and perspiration to escape rather than building up due to lack of airflow.
The Centro also has an integrated rain cover that folds neatly into a pouch on the bottom of the pack. While technically a top loader, this pack features a large side pocket that allows the user to reach all contents within the main pack body. In addition to the main storage area, there are numerous pockets and pouches for storing gear that may be used more frequently; eight pockets in all including the Hydration pouch and rain cover storage area.
Initial Impression:The pack arrived in good condition with only a few minor flaws. There is a large scratch on the bottom of the pack body. This scratch is roughly 4 in (10 cm) in length, but does not appear to have seriously affected the stability of the weave. There are no holes through this scratched area, nor is there any hanging or ripped threads. In addition to the scratched area, there was a cord that was pulled from its plastic end piece as noted in the picture to the left. Fixing this was relatively easy and I did not encounter any problems when putting this cord back into the plastic locking mechanism. Although there were a few minor cosmetic problems with this pack, it does not appear to have had any previous use in the field. These problems could easily be attributed to new manufacturing techniques since this pack is a completely new design for 2008.
In all, this pack looks very well designed and built. The seams are nice and tight with no hanging threads. There do not appear to be any seams that are pulling free. There are no holes or loose teeth in any of the zippers. All clips and straps function properly; the mesh appears to be attached to the padded lower and upper portions of the back in a sturdy manner. Even the whistle sounds loud, as it should.
When I first removed this pack from the shipping packaging I couldn't help but notice how many bells and whistles this pack has in comparison to other packs I've used. Generally, when I go shopping for a pack I tend to choose minimalistic designs; packs that don't have many exterior pockets, lids, ice pick loops, or extras. I just don't need these things with the type of hiking that I usually do and at times they get in the way more than help out. Having an opportunity to test a pack with as many features as the AirZone Centro 35 is definitely a welcomed change. From the 2 lid pockets, to the wide pouch on the back of the pack, and all the way down to the integrated rain cover I imagine that testing this pack will be a complete joy.
After gawking at all the nice new features I set about getting weights for this pack as per the BackpackGearTest.org guidelines. This pack weighted in at more than 3 lbs (1.3 kg), and I was immediately struck by how heavy this seemed. I remember reading an article a while back that talks about choosing a pack and pack weight. The author of the article mentioned that he never chooses a pack that weights more than 1 lb (.5 kg) per 1000 cu in (16 L). Then I got to thinking about my hiking style and how the other packs I own have scratches, snags, rips, and tears at the seam due to my inattentive hiking style and heavy use. After thinking a bit about my other packs, it was easy to see that the extra weight of this pack is offset by the quality materials that are used. From the heavy duty nylon bottom to the ripstop sides and lid, the strap reinforcements, and even the heavy cinch cords; they all scream durability. In end I realized that I needed durability and quality more than I needed something that was light weight.
In all there are so many things on this pack that it's hard to grasp exactly what this pack offers. As stated above there are a number of pockets and pouches. In addition to the pockets there are clips and adjusting straps all over the pack, an integrated whistle in the chest strap, a daisy chain on the back of the pack, hydration pouch, a hook and loop strap to attach poles or an ice axe (removable if necessary), and even an emergency distress chart describing hand and whistle signals and emergency contact numbers. While the numerous zippers on the pack are nice and tight, the side zipper appears to be the only water resistant type on the pack. The side straps are also reinforced with a black rubberized material to limit stress to the main pack body seams.
The rain cover is just like any other standard rain cover. There is an elastic band running around the edges of the cover that slips over the body of the pack. There is also a cord lock and clip attached to the elastic band. This clip slides behind the mesh that rides against the back and attaches to the cord again through a reinforced hole on the other side of the cover. The only thing that makes it integrated really is the fact that there is a special pouch near the bottom of the pack for the folded raincover to stuff into. In addition to the pouch, there is a piece of hook and loop material on both the pack and the raincover that keeps the raincover from being left behind somewhere on the trail if it happens to drop out of the pouch. This seems like a very remote possibility though as the hook and loop closure on the pouch is very tight.
The pack came shipped to me adjusted for a person with a torso around 18 in (45 cm). Because I top out at the high end of the adjustable range, and nowhere near the middle, my first priority was adjusting the pack to fit me best. I had never been exposed to the Torso Fit system before and honestly was at a loss for how to adjust this. I went about opening the internals of the pack, where the adjustment mechanism is, looking for a way to adjust the straps. I saw the strap located in the front of the pack around the neck area that was labeled "CentroAdjust" so I played around with it for a while. I could get the strap up to the large range, but couldn't figure out why it wasn't tight and why the shoulder straps didn't move. Unfortunately most of the Lowe Alpine website was not informative on the adjustment process. I spent nearly an hour playing with the pack, searching the net, and trying to find more documentation on the Lowe Alpine site before I ran across a single picture buried in the technical pages on the Torso Fit system. It was then that I realized the shoulder straps were designed to be pulled out from the interior of the pack to lengthen them. After tugging on the shoulder straps a bit I noticed that the adjustment strap at the neck area was now tight and the pack fit like a glove. In the age of internet shopping, I would suggest that the documentation on pack adjustment be made more easily available to the end user. It would be especially nice if this were made available in the packaging so the need for a computer and internet connection is not necessary.
When I initially applied for this test I thought we would be testing the AirZone Centro 35+10; another new pack for 2008 that has roughly 2700 cu in (44 l). Due to circumstances beyond the control of BackpackGearTest.org, the Centro 35 was the pack that we received. Based on the documentation available, and a bit of calculating, it appears that this pack is roughly 2100 cu in (34 l). After hearing that we were getting this smaller pack I didn't know if I would be able to adequately test it, especially during the cold winter season when more gear is needed for survival. I seriously debated about letting someone else test this; someone who would have a better opportunity to give this test the review that it deserved.
That was until I realized exactly how much stuff I can cram into a pack this size. I decided that the best way to see whether this pack would have enough room for me was to pack it as full as I could get it with everything I thought I might need during a 2 night outing. After about 10 minutes of packing, I still had room. It seemed as if this was some sort of magical Bag of Holding as it kept swallowing up everything that I was feeding it. After about 20 minutes I finally had a pack filled with the following items:
In short... this thing holds a lot! In addition to the above contents I had a 3 lb (1.4 kg) tent, 1 extra set of clothing, and an extra Nalgene bottle in my 4800 cu in (79 l) pack just 2 weeks ago on an overnight. I don't know if the pack design was causing me problems or what, but I had more trouble loading that pack than I did the AirZone Centro 35. I'll definitely be taking another picture of the contents for an actual trip in the near future to show exactly what I fit in the pack on various outings.
All things considered, I am definitely pleased to be testing this pack. The quality workmanship, numerous features, adjustability, fit, and sheer volume of this pack make it a very appealing pack. I'd like to thank Lowe Alpine and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the AirZone Centro 35 backpack.
Field Report: March 11, 2008
Field Locations:During this testing phase, I was able to use this pack for a couple of day hikes. Both hikes were in the Pennyrile State Forest, a 14,000 a (5600 ha) section of forest that has roughly 23 mi (37 km) of trails. The elevation for the area is between 400 -700 ft (122 - 213 m) with slow rolling hills and steep cliffs in some areas. Both hikes were around relatively small loops. The first I took with my daughter around the Cane Trial. The precipitation was in the form of snow. There were big flakes falling during the start of out outing, but most of the snow was blowing off the trees as opposed to falling from the sky. While it was only a 1.75 mi (2.82 km) loop, it took us almost 2.5 hours since we were taking our time for her first hike. The area was fairly hilly with moderate climbs. We had to stop and catch our breath halfway up a few of the hills due to the steep angle. The second trip was around the Lake Trail this past weekend. We received an unusual amount of snow fall, 8+ in (20+ cm), the night before so this was quite an opportunity for me. However, there was no precipitation that day. The trail was roughly 3 miles in total with gentle rolling hills as the trail wound around the lake and not really any steep sections to get tired on. While it took us 3 hours to complete the loop, there was a good deal of downtime as we setup my hammock for the first time in the field.
Performance:I'm not sure if it was due to the light 20 lb (9 kg) weight I was carrying, the design of the Lowe Alpine AirZone Centro 35 itself, or a combination of the two but I do remember a defining moment that I had about 35 minutes into my first hike that I have never had before; I forgot I was even wearing a pack. I'm serious, because I was so comfortable and at ease with the way this pack rode on my back, I honestly forgot that I had it on! I went to lean up against a tree and slipped off due to the bulkiness I had on my back, but I was at no time in any discomfort or pain during the hikes. I have never felt this comfortable wearing a pack of any kind, much less one that I had crammed with 2 days worth of supplies. This pack is easily one of the most comfortable packs I have ever worn. It rode nice and tight to my back without restricting my movement or causing me to overheat.
During both hikes I wore nothing more than a synthetic breathable long sleeve tee shirt, a fleece vest, and either a down or fleece jacket. I needed the down jacket during my hike with my daughter because I wasn't moving fast enough to generate heat. However, I didn't overheat at all on either trip which was very exciting for me. Because I sweat quite a bit, my back is almost constantly soaking no matter how few layers I have on. Even in the winter I've found myself sweating on my back side while I was shivering from the cold my arms and chest were feeling. It was so nice to be able to wear a pack that allowed my back to breathe.
I've found out that I don't need to adjust the AirZone Centro 35 at all while I'm walking. It stays right where I put it no matter how much I move around. I've also found that I am most comfortable with the shoulder straps extended to their longest setting, but I'm not confined by a lack of additional adjustments. The belt is soft, and while it's not bulky it does provide enough cushion to ride nicely during the day. It didn't loosen up at all, nor did it cut into my hips or stomach at any time. Even the chest strap felt nice, and I'm not usually one who likes a strap across my chest. I found that it helped keep the pack in place and prevented the pack from shifting side to side.
In the Initial Report I talked about the vast amount of stuff that the AirZone Centro 35 could hold. However, as I noted toward the end of the Initial Report, I had yet to pack any sort of shelter. Being as how I don't own a bivy, and don't really see myself comfortably sleeping in a bivy anytime soon, I was worried about whether I would even be able to use this on an overnight trip. Packing a tent, even a lightweight tent like the REI QuarterDome that I have, is not possible in such a small pack during the winter months. There is simply too much space taken up by the cold weather sleeping bag, cold weather air mattress, and additional cold weather clothing to allow room for a full size tent. Had I a solo tent, this may not have been a problem, but I do not have access to a solo tent at this time.
In the end, I found it a good opportunity to acquire more gear. I have been wanting to get a hammock for some time so for an early birthday present I purchased a Hennessey Expedition Asym. I've found that while using the Snake Skins with the Hennessey, I am now able to lash the hammock to the ladder on the front of the pack without adding too much bulk to the outside or changing my center of gravity too much. When I tried lashing my tent in this fashion, I found that the pack was swaying side to side more than I liked due to the bulk of the tent being farther away from my back.
Even though the Lowe Alpine AirZone Centro 35 is technically classified as a 3 or 4 season daypack, now that I had a shelter I was really hoping to get at least one overnight with this pack. Unfortunately I was unable to accomplish this during the Field Report testing phase. However, I was able to pack everything that I might use during an overnight trip and head out for a couple of dayhikes. While I didn't try to stuff the pack with gear like I did during the Initial Report phase, I did pack most of the equipment I would use overnight including: 15 F (-9 C) down sleeping bag in compression sack, air mattress, JetBoil PCS, 2 days of food, full 2 L ( 2.1 qt) hydration bladder, toiletries, misc (flashlight, compass, lighter, whistle), and hammock strapped to back.
With the configuration and supplies listed above, the pack rode nice and tight, Even though there are no internal compression straps, I did not feel any shifting of equipment throughout the day, nor did I notice things migrated much when I unpacked the pack at the end of the day. As I like to have access to water throughout the day while hiking, I've found that hiking without a water bladder will likely not be an opportunity for me. The mesh side pockets are simply not large enough to store anything more than a few snacks or a map when the pack is filled with equipment. They are nice and relaxed though, so I don't have to worry about my granola bar turning into granola crumbs after a few hours in the pocket.
In short, I'm completely pleased with the Lowe Alpine AirZone Centro 35 pack. Some of the things that have especially caught my eye so far are the design of the back padding and the breathability, the ample pockets, and stability while walking. I do wish that there was a bit more room in the pockets for a larger bottle, and a bit more length to the Centro Torso Fit system would be nice.
Long Term Report: May 13, 2008
Field Locations:Once again, all of my use came from my trips to the Pennyrile State Forest area, a 14,000 a (5600 ha) section of forest that has roughly 23 mi (37 km) of trails. The elevation for the area is between 400 -700 ft (122 - 213 m). I was able to get in two additional day hikes during this time frame, but was unable to get in any overnight hikes due to family circumstances. There was no precipitation during either of these trips, and the temperatures were mid 60's F (18 C). I also stuffed it approximately 20 times full of clothing to be packed back and forth to my wife during her hospital stay. Throughout the life of the test, I've used this pack roughly 10 days in total.
Performance:I am still exceptionally pleased with the performance of the Lowe Alpine Airzone Centro 35. The pack rides exceptionally nice, even when overstuffed with gear for an overnight experience. The integrated, adjustable sternum strap was entirely too cool. Having the ability to raise or lower the strap depending on the amount of weight I was carrying, the temperature, or just to relieve a chafed area was wonderful! I found that after adjusting the strap, the pack felt "different". This was especially great after rest stops as it almost felt like a new pack each time I adjusted the straps. This made my treks that much more enjoyable.
During the trips this phase I actually loaded it with stuff for a day hike rather than trying to overload it to see if I could get an overnight out of the pack. I ended up having plenty of room for my style of day hiking, but did like having that bit of extra space left over for when I do longer day hikes. I found that the pack still rode nice and tight to my back even when it wasn't filled with equipment. There was a bit of shifting, but it wasn't enough that I was bothered, and it certainly wasn't enough that I was able to feel my gear sloshing back and forth in my pack while I was hiking.
I found over the life of the test that the breathable back design works really well. Only a few times did I feel that my back was getting hot, but considering the fact that I get hot on pretty much all the hikes I do I didn't attribute this to lack of functionality in the Airzone Centro. However, I did notice that my back was considerably cooler during hikes where I didn't generate as much heat. I found that the breathable fabrics I wore tended not to be as sweaty, and there wasn't a large sweat ring on my jacket when hiking in cooler weather.
Throughout the entire testing phase the Airzone Centro's Torso Fit System stayed rock solid. Not once did it slip or slide out of adjustment during the testing period. I did adjust the pack to a larger size when I ditched my jacket during the spring months just to get the pack to sit a bit closer to my hips. I thought it was riding a bit high during the Field Report phase, but as it was so comfortable I didn't feel any need to adjust it.
While I never needed it, having the integrated raincover and pocket gave me a better sense of security when trekking in inclement weather. I did use the raincover a couple of times to keep the pack from getting wet in the wet grass, but did not need to break it out during times of rain or snow. The cover did a good job of protecting the pack from getting wet, and has yet to show any signs of creasing. All the coating on the inside of the pack still appears to be pliable and well adhered to the material. I did take the time to refold the raincover in a different configuration when stowing it again, and I will probably stow the raincover inside the main compartment when shelving the pack to prevent any degradation in the coating.
I found the pack very functional over the life of the test. While on the trail I found that the Airzone Centro held all the equipment I would need for an extended day hike. It also has the ability to hold all the overnight gear I would need for a lightweight hiking trip. The numerous pockets allowed me to stash gear in specific places so I wouldn't need to dig through my pack in the middle of the night to find a headlamp or something like I did with my previous pack.
The pole attachment system was quite unique to anything I'd experienced before and did a wonderful job of holding my poles without allowing them to slap against my back with ever step I took. The side pockets allowed me to store granola bars, rice krispy treats, and trail mix without generating crumbs from too much compression in the pocket area due to an overstuffed pack. I did find that the pockets are big enough to hold a wide mouth, Nalgene style, bottle but only if the pack isn't overstuffed.
I would like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and Lowe Alpine for allowing me to participate in the testing of the Airzone Centro 35.
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