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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Lowe Alpine Centro > Test Report by Thomas Vickers

Lowe Alpine AirZone Centro 35 Day Pack

Initial Report - January 5, 2008
Field Test Report - March 11, 2008
Long Term Report - May 6, 2008

Thomas Vickers

40 years old
Male
5 ft 11 in tall (1.8 m)
175 lb (79 kg)
redroach@pobox.com
Southeast Texas, Houston Area


Tester Background:
I grew up in the piney woods of southeast Texas. Camping was a quick trip into the mosquito-infested woods behind the house. My style has evolved and over the last 4 or 5 years, I have begun to take a lighter weight approach to hiking gear (I still use sleeping bags and tents, just lighter versions). While I have flirted with lightweight hiking, I feel that I am more of a mid-weight hiker now. My philosophy is one of comfort, while carrying the lightest load possible.


Initial Report
January 5, 2008

centro1.JPG (28453 bytes)

 

Manufacturer Information:

Manufacturer:Lowe Alpine

Website: http://www.lowealpine.com

Sizes available: One size fits all

Year Manufactured: 2007

MSRP: NA

Capacity: 35 liters (2136 cubic inches)

Information From Tester:
(all measurements approximate)


Color/pattern: Terra Cotta/Slate Grey

Weight : 3 lb  2.5 oz (1.43 kg)

Dimensions: 24 x 12 x 7 in (41 x 23 x 18 cm)

Tester's torso length: 19.5 in (50 cm)

Initial tester expectations:
I was not sure what to expect from this pack. There was no information about it on the website, other than the generic information on how to adjust the torso length using the Centro harness system.  Other than the fact that the AirZone Centro was a 35 liter (2136 cubic inches) daypack with an adjustable torso/harness system I had little information to go on.

Description from the manufacturer:
"• AirZone breathable back maximising airflow. • Torso Fit Centro, adjustable back length/AdaptiveFit hipbelt ensuring the perfect fit and hence most comfortable carry, • Easy access side entry - gives maximum access whilst ensuring the contact areas of the back stay dry and clean, • Large front pocket and expandable volume - giving versatile storage options, Raincover, sternum strap with whistle, side compression, internal zippered pocket, versatile front elastic stowage cradle, secure ice axe/walking pole attachment system, hydration compatible, key clip, large mesh side pockets."

Tester's Description:
The AirZone Centro 35 is a mid-sized day pack that seems packed full of features.   There seems to be just too many items to just outright list, so I am going to attack this description in parts. 

centro2.JPG (22664 bytes)



Centro adjustable length torso:
From what I can gather from the website, the Centro 35 has the ability to adjust to meet the torso length of different wearers. Located at the top of the rear of the pack is a strap. To pull the strap allows me to shorten or lengthen the suspension to better fit my torso.  The strap itself has markings to indicate how far the strap should be pulled or loosened based on your torso length. So all I have to do is figure out if I am a small, medium, or large torso and then tug on the strap till the S, M, or L appears.  I have just played with this feature, but I am hoping that I get everything adjusted correctly before I hit the trail for the first time.

Airzone back system:
From looking at the pack and reading about the system, the Airzone back system utilizes mesh on the front of the pack (part against my back) to create ventilation and limited points of contact with the wearer.  This means that rather than lying flat against my back, the Centro 35 will only make contact with me via the mesh back panel and will allow air to circulate between my back and the pack. This sounds really nice for my climate and I am looking forward to putting this one to the test.

Framesheet:
I didn't see this listed anywhere as a feature, but the front of this pack is stiff and from knocking on it I get the feeling that there is a framesheet inside the Centro 35.   The front of this pack is extremely stiff at all times and I am thoroughly convinced that something is in there.

Shoulder straps:
The shoulder straps start out 2.5 in (6 cm) wide at the top and taper to 2 in (5 cm) wide at the bottom.  They are thinly padded, which isn't a problem since I don't expect to be carrying huge loads in this pack.  At the top of the shoulder straps are load lifter straps which allow me to adjust the way the pack carries while I am wearing the pack. I do like the fact that the load lifter straps are gray and easy to distinguish from the shoulder straps and other straps on the pack. For lack of a better word, there is a 'rail' that runs down the center of each shoulder strap.  The sternum strap attaches to this rail and the system allows me to slide the sternum strap up and down in order to find the best location for me. What I like about this system is that I don't have to unsnap and rethread a strap. It is a simple sliding move that can be done while the pack is being worn.

Hip belt:
The hip belt starts out  5 in (13 cm) wide and tapers to  3 in (8 cm) wide where the quick release buckle attaches to it.  The hipbelt is interesting because rather than being one solid padded belt, there is a cut out that runs down the center of each side of the hipbelt.  I am assuming that this cut out is present to improve ventilation and to help reduce pack weight as well.  

Shove it pocket:
The shove it pocket on the back of the pack is attached to the main pack body by a fold of cloth on both sides. This makes it more of a true pocket and not a floppy piece of material added so that I can shove something into it. The top of the shove it is attached to the pack by a length of shock cord.  The top of the shove it can be tightened by pulling the shockcord through a toggle located at the top center of the shove it pocket.   There is also a zippered pocket built into the outside of the shove it.  The pocket is accessed via an 8 in (20 cm) long zipper. I am going to be very interested to see how useful this extra pocket is when the shove it is full of a jacket or other items.

Top lid:
The inside of the top lid has a "mountain  distress signal" panel. This panel gives instructions on how to call for help using a whistle, or if there is an air search going on.  It also lists  emergency phone numbers for Europe, the UK, United States, New Zealand, and Australia.  Under the distress panel is an interior pocket on the top lid.  This pocket is accessed via a bright orange zipper and measures 7.5 x 6.5 in (19 x 17 cm). The inside of this pocket contains a lanyard for keys or other small items.  The exterior of the top lid has the "Lowe Alpine" logo sewn into it and contains another storage pocket. This pocket is also accessed via a zipper on the front (facing my back) of the top pocket.   This pocket measures 9 x 8.5 in (23 x 22 cm). 

Main compartment:
The main compartment of the Centro 35 has a mesh side pocket on both sides of the main pack bag.  They can not be cinched closed and are topped by a piece of elastic. On the left hand side (while being worn) of the main compartment is a crescent shaped zipper that runs down almost the entire side of the pack. This is for side entry to the main compartment without having to open the compression straps and pulling the top lid out of the way.  The top of the main compartment is accessed/sealed with a length of shock cord and a plastic toggle.  On the right side, near the top, of the main compartment is a hydration port.  Inside the main compartment is a hydration pocket and above that is an access point for the suspension. When I opened the flap I saw portions of the Centro suspension and the framesheet that I felt from the outside of the pack.

Rain cover:
A great surprise for me was what I found on the outside of the main compartment, at the bottom. There was a pocket closed by hook and loop fastener and when I opened it, I found that the Centro 35 has a built in rain cover. The cover is bright orange and pulled out to cover the entire pack very well. It can not be removed from the pack, but it tucks very nicely back into its storage pocket. If I hadn't been going over this pack so closely, I would never have even known it was there. This was definitely a good surprise.

Impressions:
I had expected much less out of this pack. After going over it really carefully I am very intrigued. Lowe Alpine appears to have taken full sized packs full of nice features and found a way to transfer these features to a series of day packs.  What this means is that rather than being a 'bag with shoulder straps', the Centro 35 is a well thought out and full featured day pack that is well engineered. Most importantly to me, the over engineering of this daypack all seems to be for one reason and that is to increase my comfort while wearing the Centro 35.  I will be very interested to see if the Centro 35 lives up to its engineering and design expectations.

Test Strategy:
I will assess the AirZone Centro 35   based on the following criteria for
each load:

1. Load Contents
2. Load Weight
3. Length of Hike
4. How the load was packed in the pack

Here are some additional questions that I plan on using as a guide for my testing of AirZone Centro 35:

Fit:
1. How easy is it to adjust the harness system to my torso?

2. Is there a wide range of adjustment for the harness? Is the Adjustable back length/adaptive fit hipbelt good for a wide range of sizes? Does it fit me?


3. How well does the AirZone carry a small load? Does it compress to a manageable size when empty?

4. How wide are the chest straps?

5. How thick is the waistbelt?

6. Is there a sternum strap on this pack?

Use:
1. How easy is it to pack the AirZone Centro?

2. Can I use stuff sacks or will too many "lumps form" and make the AirZone Centro uncomfortable?

3. How well does it load without stuff sacks? I prefer the "Stuff it all in" method which doesn't use any stuff sacks.

4. How well does the suspension work/feel under heavy loads (25-30 lbs/11-14 kg) that are still within the recommend weights for this pack?

5. How well does the AirZone back panel ventilate? Will I still get a sweaty back in cooler temperatures with this pack?

6. How does this pack feel and respond while loaded? Does it feel "heavy" or is it comfortable to wear?

7. How easy is it to get this pack on and off while loaded?



Durability:
1. How well do the zippers work? Are they really water resistant or do they leak?

2. How durable is the fabric used on the Centro?

3. Will the pack material abrade from normal use? Will it hold up for the entire test period?

4. How well do the buckles and sliders on this pack work? Will they crack or break after prolonged use? How easy is it to work the buckles with gloves on?



Field Test Report
March 11, 2008

Test location: W.G. Jones State Park
Testing Activities: Dayhiking
Days used: 6
Temperatures: 40 - 65 F (4 - 18 C)
Miles carried: 22 miles (35 km)

Fitting it right:
The first thing I did was adjust the torso length on the Centro to medium, which is the recommended setting for my torso size (19.5 in/50 cm). It took some tugging and pulling, but I got the strap in the center of the pack to adjust. It was a difficult thing for me and being cautious was probably part of the trouble. The last thing I wanted to do was break the Centro before I ever got it out on the trail. After I got the torso adjusted I put the pack on and played with the shoulder, waist and sternum straps.  The waist and shoulder straps were easy to adjust and went without any issues.  The sternum strap was a different story though. I have a 38 in (97 cm) chest (circumference) and the sternum strap was not easy to adjust. It was tight against my chest and as I raised it to make it fit better, it reached a point where I felt it was too high up on my chest. After a few moments though, I soon figured out that there was plenty of extra webbing in the strap and I could loosen the strap till I could wear it low enough and loose enough to be comfortable.  Sometimes I just need to think and look a littler more rather freak out when things don't go my way instantly.

Getting outside:

Weather and illness have conspired to keep me from any overnight trips so far in this test and that is more than annoying to me. The good news is that I was able to get out and start getting in shape for serious hiking weather by loading the Centro up and hitting the trails for several short (3-4 mile/5-6 km) hikes.

My load has varied and it was based more on the weight that I wanted to carry rather than what I needed or could fit in the pack.  If I felt pretty good about the weather and my health, then I stuff a sleeping bag, hammock, cookset, rain gear, water filter and food into the Centro and off I went.  My loads varied from light(10 lb/4.5 kg) to heavy (15 lb/7 kg).  The goal here was to get the pack out on the trail with different weights in it to see how well it was going to handle.  Since my schedule is slowing down and there will be some overnight trips on the next phase of the trip, I will pay a lot more attention to what I carry in the Centro as opposed to how much.

Pack on my back:
The good news is that the Centro fits like a charm and felt great on my back. I am firm believer in framesheets and the Centro's feels great. It gives the pack some shape and support and I never felt like I was wearing a limp sack on my back. The framesheet was sturdy and gave me just the kind of rigid support along my back that I really enjoy. It also kept any pointy items from poking my in my back while I hiked. I definitely have to give the Centro's framesheet a big thumbs up. 

The shoulder straps and waist belt also felt good while on the move and didn't bite or dig at any time. I came away pretty unscathed as far as bruises or pinches are concerned which is a good sign. I had no trouble adjusted the pack while it was on my back, no matter if I was adjusting the waistbelt or shoulder straps. When moving quickly (usually how I am with daypacks) I have a bad tendency to yank all the available straps down tight to secure the pack and off I go.  This leads to a hunched over posture before too long and a lot of soreness and pain if I don't catch on quickly.  I probably did this every single time I wore the Centro because it feels so good cinched down tight against me, but after awhile I learned that I could easily relax the load lifter straps, let the pack ease away from my back, and I was walking upright and comfortably without any waggle in the pack.  It is nice to see that a pack is engineered well enough to be easily adjusted while on the move, especially when it allows me to get around some of my bad packing habits.

Pockets:
Without any detailed system or pack plans I can say that I like all the various pockets on the Centro. I have successfully loaded my water filter and rain gear several combinations of the back shove-it zipper pocket, mesh side pockets, and top lid pocket.  While the pockets are not large, they do allow me to carry one item or so in them without having to shove or mash anything to an extreme level in order to get it into the pocket.  For a pack of this size, the pockets are more than adequate and I couldn't ask for anything else from them.

And now:
This is the part that I hate the most and that is probably why I am saving it for last.   There are some items that I do not like about the Centro.  The first are small 'gadget' pockets.  There are no small pockets on the waistbelt or shoulder straps of the Centro. This isn't a huge flaw, but it does mean that I have to carry my digital camera, headlamp, or GPS in my pants pocket if I need quick access to them. It also means that there is no convenient place to store snacks, which means that I have to stop and dig in the pack if I want a quick snack while on the move.   The other thing is the weight of the Centro. At 3 lb  2.5 oz (1.43 kg) it is a bit heavy in my view for day pack.  I am guessing that the trade off for the extra weight is its comfort and full list of features that don't normally come with daypacks.   So, despite two nit-picks, I really do enjoy wearing and using the Centro 35 Day Pack. 

To wrap things up:
I love the framesheet on this pack. It makes it extremely comfortable to me and also makes the pack easy to wear and handle.  I also like the two padded spots that are located at the very bottom of the Centro (on the front of the pack) that ride right in my lower back. These two pads feel great when I am tired. They contribute (along with the framesheet) to what I consider to be the Centro's most important selling point; an extremely comfortable fit.

In the next phase of my test I will concentrate on going longer distances, detailing exactly what I carry and where I pack it, and taking pictures.  Hiking in the mornings before sun up is not the best time to be taking digital photos, especially when I am under time restraints. I will hopefully also get the Centro out in really warm weather to test the AirZone suspension system and see if it keeps me cool in the Texas heat.

Things I like:
1. Framesheet
2. Load lifter straps
3. Padding on the lower back area of the pack

Things I don't like:
1. Weight
2. No small 'gadget' pockets on waist belt/shoulder straps
3. Torso was a bit stiff/difficult to adjust

Centro in use


Long Term Report
May 6, 2008

Test location:
W.G. Jones State Park, Sam Houston National Forest
Testing Activities: Dayhiking and overnight (1 night/2 day) hiking trips
Days used: 12 days (8 day hikes and 2 two-day (one night) trips)
Temperatures: 40 - 84 F (4 - 29 C)
Miles carried: 46 miles (35 km) - 24 miles (36 km) dayhiking and 22 (35 km) miles 'overnight'

Day hike: (8 lb 11 oz/3.95 kg total)

Top pocket load Top pocket:
Water Filter
Car keys
Total weight: 1 lb 5 oz (595 g)
Side pocket load Side pockets (mesh):
GPS
Digital camera
Headlamp
Fuel bottle
Total weight: 1 lb 10 oz (448 g)
Shove it pocket load Shove it pocket:
Rain pants
Total weight: 6.75 oz (193 g)
Shove it load Shove it:
Rain jacket
Total weight: 9.75 oz (267 g)

 

Main compartment load Main compartment:
Food bag
Cooking/eating kit:
Hydration system (full)
Total weight: 4 lb 12 oz (2.15 kg)

Most of my day hikes were fast moving affairs. I had a few hours extra so I hit the trails and put a few miles on my legs as fast as possible. My load varied a bit from what is shown above, but the basic load was always the same. What I have discovered about this pack that I really like is that it rides very well. It stays in place and doesn't move around no matter how fast or slow I am moving or if I am climbing up a creek bank or down a creek bank. Once I get it adjusted correctly it stays put.

I also liked the fact that the Centro carried well when I wasn't carrying a huge load.   This makes it manageable as a daypack, but at this point I real feel that the Centro is a bit large for a simple daypack. It has too many features and too much weight for me to look at it and consider it as something I want to carry every time on a dayhike, especially if I want to be moving quick or bushwhacking.  

Spring is here:
Spring means warmer weather and that is something that I really wanted to get into with the Centro.  Temperatures have peaked here at around 84 F (29 C) and that means that I put the ventilating properties of the pack to the test.  I still sweat along my back when I wear the Centro, but I did discover that the mesh panels that hold the pack off of my back did provide some good ventilation. I never felt that the pack was squishing into my back and making a giant sweat pudding as I hiked.  I also discovered that when I took the pack off after a vigorous and warm hike, the back panel was not soaked with sweat. It would be damp to my touch, but a combination of the mesh panels, lack of padding, and the framesheet kept it from being completely soaked like most packs I use.  

This was a definite plus. There was no putting a soaking wet pack back on after a rest break and getting my back wet again without even taking a step.  I give the ventilation system a big thumbs up for this reason.  I was concerned that the mesh back panels would not hold up to heavy use, but so far they have held their own against me, the forest, and the Texas heat.

One concern that has popped up for me on several occasions is the lack of storage areas on the hip belts or shoulder straps.  I have had to carry my digital camera and GPS in the mesh side pockets, which often meant I had to take the pack off to get to them. I have long monkey arms and I can usually reach things in side pockets, but if I cinched the side straps on the Centro down tight to secure the main compartment, then I had to take the pack off so I could loosen the side straps that stretch across the mesh pockets.  If I am meandering through the woods with plenty of time this isn't and issue, but if I am moving fast or need to get to my camera quickly, it is a serious issue for me.

Overnight hike:
(13 lb 4 oz/6.01 kg total)

Top Pocket load Top pocket:
Water filter
Car keys
Total weight: 1 lb 5 oz (595 g)
Side pocket load Side pockets (mesh):
GPS
Digital camera
Headlamp
Fuel bottle
Total weight: 1 lb 10 oz (448 g)
Shove it pocket load Shove it pocket:
Rain pants
Total weight: 6.75 oz (193 g)
Shove it load Shove it:
Rain jacket
Total weight: 9.75 oz (267 g)

 

Main compartment load Main compartment:
Food bag
Cooking/eating kit:
Hydration system
Hammock (includes stakes)
Sleeping bag
Total weight: 9 lb 4.7 oz (4.22 kg)
A night in the woods:
I spent two nights (parts of 4 days) hiking with a little heavier load in the Centro. This load was lighter than what I tried out during the field test phase, but it was more realistic as far as what I take on short overnight trips.  At the 9 lb (4 kg) base weight the pack was very comfortable.  I knew from experience that I could always put more in it (plenty of room left) and the extra weight would not make the pack unbearable.  

After my two longer trips, I realized that I liked the Centro as more of a 2-3 day warm weather pack. I am probably going to give it a try this summer, but I imagine that I can push the Centro to its weight limit and get at least 4 days out of it here in the summer.   I think this is much better niche for this pack rather than labeling it as a daypack.  It is just too versatile with too many features and extras not to be put to serious trail use. 
It is really comfortable for longer hikes (11 miles +/18 kilometers +) and I would love to be able to get it out and carry it for several days on end. I have a feeling that I would still feel just the same about its comfort and carryability.

Final thoughts:
I carried this pack in a variety of conditions and with a variety of loads. Some were heavy just to see how this pack felt on my back and during the long term phase they were more realistic hiking loads to see how it handled with my stuff in it. I never once ran into a situation where I would have preferred another pack. I really feel that the fit and comfort are great for fast moving trips and I enjoyed the fact that once I got the Centro on my back and in place, I didn't t have to do much adjustment while on the move. It tended to stay in place no matter what I was doing.

It was also easy to get on and off my back, which I think is important. There is probably nothing worse than being stiff after a day of hiking and having to fight a pack on or off my back. The Centro was small enough that I could get it on and off without any issues, no matter how sore I was.

I am a firm believer at this point that the Centro is a much better short haul pack than a daypack. I will continue to carry it in warm weather trips of 2-4 days length this summer, but I do not feel that I will use it as a day pack alone due to its weight and features.  While all the bells and whistles are nice, they just add up to more than I need in a daypack.  The one thing I missed out on was using the built in rain cover.  I really wanted to see how well this feature worked, but it has not rained at an opportune time during this test.

Overall, I like this pack. It is a bit heavy for my tastes, but the comfort and versatility almost balance out my concern about its weight.  The framesheet is probably the thing that sells me the most on the Centro. It is stiff and gives the pack a comfortable feel against my back. It also keeps any poky things inside the pack from jabbing me in the back, but the added comfort is the real selling point for me.

Likes:
1. Framesheet
2. Extras (gear loops, attachment points etc.)
3. Fit/comfort

Dislikes:
1. Weight
2. No handy gadget pockets
3. Compression straps cause issues accessing mesh side pockets


Read more reviews of Lowe Alpine gear
Read more gear reviews by Thomas Vickers

Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Lowe Alpine Centro > Test Report by Thomas Vickers



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