Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15 - Backpack
Test Series - 9 October 2007
Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15
The Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15 is an internal-frame backpack designed for multiple-day trips.
Name: Hollis Easter
Height: 6' 0" (1.8 m)
Weight: 205 lb (93 kg)
Torso length: 19 in (48 cm)
Email address: backpackgeartestATholliseasterDOTcom
City, State, Country: Potsdam, New York, USA
Backpacking Background: I started hiking as a child in the Adirondack Mountains
of New York. As a teenager, I hiked my way to an Eagle Scout award. These
days, I'm mostly doing day hikes in the mountains. I hope to get back into
doing longer trips soon. I'm also learning rock climbing.
I am a midweight backpacker: I don't carry unnecessary gear, but neither do I
cut the edges from my maps. I hike in all seasons, at altitudes from sea level
to 5,300 ft (1,600 m), and in temperatures from -30 F (-34 C) to 100 F (38 C).
Manufacturer: Lowe Alpine
Year of manufacture: 2007
Listed weight: 7 lb 3 oz (3.26 kg)
Actual weight: 7 lb 3 oz (3.26 kg)
Listed volume: 4,000 + 900 in^3 (65 + 15 l)
Fits torso: 16–23 in (41–58 cm)
MSRP: $299.95 US
Product features (paraphrased from website) include:
- Designed to carry big loads comfortably at any speed, in any terrain
- TFX® 9 back adjustment system gives finely-tuned comfort
- "Radial" side compression yields a stable carry
- Lid can be extended, and also works as a removable belt pack
- Molded Noggin NotchTM gives max headroom
- Integrated rain cover
- Mitt-friendly zipper pulls
- SOS panel and key clip
- Many lash points
The pack carries a lifetime warranty: "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 (eg. 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." I have not been able to find any fabric tag.
Initial Report - 7 May 2007:
Harness with lash points
My Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15 (hereafter "the Summit" or simply "the
pack") arrived with a single hang tag affixed to a webbing strap, and the pack
is beautiful. Although I notice that some printed letters have fallen off
the label for the "Micro Adjust" pump on the hip belt, the pack's condition
appears pristine. I am testing a pack in the "Lizard Green / Slate Gray"
This certainly is a big bag! I was a bit surprised once I got it out of
the box, because the shipped size makes it look a lot smaller than it actually
is. Lowe Alpine's website claims that they test pack capacity by filling the
pack with dried beans. As I lack a sufficient quantity of desiccated legumes
to assess the pack's volume, I have instead used a measuring tape. From
the bottom of the bag to the bottom of spindrift collar: 27 in (69 cm); to
the top of the collar: 35 in (89 cm). I measure the main bag as being 11 in
(28 cm) deep and 15 in (38 cm) wide. For the photographs, I stuffed the
pack with a pillow, blanket, king-size comforter (duvet), king-size mattress
pad, and several sheets.
I was surprised by how much I like the Lizard Green color. On Lowe Alpine's website, the color looks dull and unappealing. However, the pack fabric has a honeycomb pattern that gives it a very appealing shimmer. It's a good-looking pack!
One of the the first things that came to mind when I started working
with the pack was build quality. The Summit seems to be very well made,
and the overall quality appears very high. All the seams are tight, with
only a few loose thread snippings caught in the seams. Nearly every seam
in the pack is taped with heavy duty ribbed nylon, and the seams appear to
be burly. The one exception, surprising to me, is that the seam connecting
the pack body to the spindrift collar is not taped and does not appear to be
sealed. No good explanations present themselves; although the seam would be
covered by the lid when the collar is not extended, it is exposed whenever
the lid gets extended.
There is certainly a lot of hardware on this pack! Lowe Alpine reports
in its website that it uses highest quality webbing and buckles, since they
form the foundation of the pack designs. I can believe it! I'd hesitate to
estimate the combined length of the straps on this pack, but the number would
be large. All the buckles on the pack fasten and open easily, even under
load. The straps move easily through the buckles, making it simple for me to
cinch down the compression straps; they do not seem to loosen accidentally.
Pack full with lash points highlighted
It wasn't clear to me from the photographs on Lowe Alpine's website whether the Summit had many external lash points or not. The text blurb reads, simply, "Additional lash points", with no indication as to number or type. I've provided photographs that indicate the presence of some lash points. There are many, even without using makeshift attachments like a cord looped around the compression straps. They are arranged symmetrically. Some lash points have rectangular plastic attachments (three per side: one at bottom edge of pack; two on top of the lid); while others are stitched loops of nylon webbing (seven per side: one ice ax/pole loop; two stitched loops next to it; two stitched loops next to the haul loop; two stitched loops just below the spindrift collar). The front of the harness features three webbing lash points (also, presumably, for corralling the tube of a hydration bladder). The left shoulder strap bears a mesh GPS pocket, with an elasticized lip. I do not currently own a GPS device, but I will see whether this pocket will serve to keep sunglasses, compass, or similar items safe and close at hand.
Special elastic straps, presumably for attaching trekking poles,
appear at both sides of the haul loop. I thought the design was quite clever. A
loop of elastic shock cord is fastened to the pack (with helpful stitching
to keep it from being pulled out accidentally). That loop bears a sliding
cord-lock on one side, and a novel "grabber" on the other side. I place my
trekking poles in the pole loops, over the pole strap assembly. Using the
webbing handle on the grabber, I fasten the grabber across the poles. I then
grab the stopper at the end of the elastic, pull it tight, and cinch down
the cord-lock. Easy. The shock cord holds tightly enough that my slippery
trekking poles do not slide out.
Pack with snowshoes and poles attached
Lowe Alpine advertises that the Summit features "radial" side
compression straps, which it claims will control the loads in the pack
and create stability. I haven't yet gotten to test that, but I do want to
point out a huge bonus in the compression strap department: the straps are
long. In fact, they're 17 in (43 cm) long. This makes them long enough that I
can easily strap my snowshoes onto the outside of the pack, even when the pack
is fully loaded. That's an important feature for me, especially if I'm hiking
in transitional seasons when the snowshoes come on and off frequently.
In the photograph of the pack with snowshoes and poles attached, I've included a pair of inset photographs. The first, on the left, is the small fabric label on the pack that seems to annotate what the pole loops are for. A potentially useful feature of the pole loops is that they're woven with integral slits every few inches. Those slits are large enough to accommodate the spike of my trekking poles, and will presumably provide some security against accidentally-dropped poles. However, given that my poles are two-section ones, they're a bit long (33 in (84 cm) fully closed) to be mounted so high on the pack—I'm more likely to mount them lower, spikes upward, using the elastic lash straps to hold them in place. The second inset photograph shows the spike of my poles in place using the pole loop slits.
A word about the fabrics used in the TFX Summit 65+15. Lowe
Alpine's website lists "NHC330/N630/Ballistic" as the component textiles of
the backpack. I'm not a fabric scientist, so I can't comment on those specific
items. I will say that the fabric seems robust, and doesn't demonstrate any
noticeable stretch when stuffed. In places such as the side wand pockets and
behind some of the lash points, the fabric appears rubberized or something:
it's thicker, reminding me of the decking material on my snowshoes. Lowe
Alpine reports that, on larger packs such as the Summit, it always uses a
double layer of fabric on the pack bottom, and the website also alleges careful
attention to details such as abrasion resistance when choosing the fabrics.
Noggin Notch and pack interior
When it comes to internal arrangement, the TFX Summit 65+15 is basically
a big sack. It offers a single internal divider, which zips into place to
yield a lower compartment accessible by the front horseshoe zipper near the
bottom of the pack. There are no internal compression straps; however, the
external "radial" compression straps offer compression at several points,
including across the bottom of the pack.
The Noggin NotchTM is an interesting feature of the Summit, one that's new to me. It's a molded plastic cup that's built into the framesheet, whose goal is to provide room for the wearer's head. As a student of the Alexander Technique, head and neck position are pretty important to me, and so I'm looking forward to checking out the Noggin Notch's functionality. I wonder whether the Noggin Notch would have a greater effect on users with shorter torsos, however. Since the shoulder straps and back panel move upward when the pack is adjusted for a longer torso, the back panel blocks some of the Noggin Notch's carved out space. More on whether this has any significant effect once I've taken the pack out for some hikes. One feature I appreciate is that the wearer's side of the Notch is lightly padded—it should make unintended knocks a bit less painful!
The Summit does make provision for the use of a hydration bladder, although none is included. The mechanism seems pretty standard: a pouch inside the pack body, with an elasticized top, holds the hydration bladder. There's a port for the tube to exit near the back on the wearer's right side; it is held closed by fabric tension. On the outside, it bears the H20 label. From there, the tube may be tucked under one or both lash points on the right-side shoulder strap.
Rope compressor with lid detachment closeups
Thank God for those little labels, like the one for the H20 port and the pole strap. My biggest complaint about this pack can be summed up briefly: there's no manual. I'm a computer guy, and I'm used to finding instructions for everything. Despite the fact that I'm a man, I'm also used to reading them! However, the Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15 includes no manual; there's nothing at all besides the hang tag, which contains nothing but the warranty listed above, the model number for the pack, and the indication that it was made in Vietnam.
It's intensely frustrating to me that the pack doesn't come with any description of its features, strengths, construction, or even its intended use. The Lowe Alpine website isn't a great deal more helpful, although I notice that they seem to be in the process of updating a few descriptions. But even so, it's tough to figure out what the different features mean. If I didn't have access to the website along with finely-honed sleuthing skills, I would have no idea that the TFX in the name stands for Torso Fit Expedition, nor that it's Lowe Alpine's highest grade suspension system. I don't have access to a retailer who uses the Lowe Alpine Torso Fit system, and so I have no way to measure myself for a correct fit. The pack doesn't include any documentation for what different things are for; figuring out how to remove the lid and use it as a belt pack was particularly challenging.
Lowe Alpine doesn't do direct sales; all of its end-users will buy products through retail distributors. I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense that those retailers would be expected to provide education about the product. However, there are lots of us who live in remote locations, for whom the available retailers do business by phone and on the web. For me, printed documentation is essential, because it's the only interaction I get. Thus my frustration.
The Summit has a rope compressor, and I'd never seen one before. A rope compressor, as it turns out, is simply an adjustable strap that comes over the top of the spindrift collar. It can be used to hold a climbing rope in place. Just pretend that the cordelette up there is a full-on rope.
Lid/belt pack closeups
The strap for the rope compressor also holds one of the fasteners for the removable lid and belt pack. I found the closure simple and intuitive to use: I simply pull a bit of slack into the webbing, slip the oval piece through the square one, and presto! Separated and ready to go. The lid is also held on with several other straps, which tension it onto the main pack body.
The lid has two external pockets, one of which contains a third organizer pocket. The "top" pocket, which has the separate pocket, also contains the key clip and SOS panel. The SOS panel is a small but potentially important source of information: it tells the standard mountain distress signals (alert, reply, and signals for helicopters, as well as emergency telephone numbers for Europe, United Kingdom, USA, New Zealand, and Australia). When combined with the whistle that's built into the sternum strap buckle, this is a powerful tool for those times when everything goes wrong.
The bottom of the lid (the side that faces the pack, or my body when it's worn as a belt pack) is a see-through plastic and mesh combination. I couldn't decide why Lowe Alpine would have done this, and then it hit me: I sweat when I hike. When I'm wearing it as a belt pack, the plastic section should keep my lower back from drenching everything inside the lid. We'll see, but it looks neat.
Of course, before I could try the lid out as a belt pack, I had to figure out how to strap it on. As it turns out, the lack of instructions really stymied me here. Where's the belt? The external straps aren't long enough to get around my waist, and I saw nothing else. Can I remove the hip belt from the main pack? Are there extra straps somewhere? How the heck do I attach this thing to my waist?
TFX® 9 suspension details
Finally, just as I was about to break down and call tech support, the answer appeared. At either side of the plastic section, there is a small opening in the side seam, stitched with the usual ribbed nylon tape. It's a tight squeeze, but a bit of fiddling will cause webbing straps to issue forth, like a genie from a bottle. They even have their own buckles! I've documented this process with photographs here, because it was very subtle at first.
The stowaway buckles make a great deal of sense. But their location, and the use of black tape, makes them all but invisible—I'd looked at that section of the pack many times, and never found them. Here's a place where an instruction manual would have helped a lot. Or, alternatively, Lowe Alpine could stitch the buckle ports with a brighter color of tape, to make them more visible.
Returning to the main pack, it's time to discuss the TFX® 9 suspension system! The TFX 9, short for Torso Fit Expedition 9, is the top grade of Lowe Alpine's new set of harnesses and hip belts. There are three grades, each of which removes a feature. The TFX 7 retains all features of the TFX 9 save the Micro Adjust (more on this shortly), and the TFX 5 also loses the Torso Motion hip belt (more on that shortly). All grades of TFX back feature a continuously-adjustable torso length, with color-coded bars indicating length. With the Summit, the amply-cushioned lumbar pad is held in place with a rigid backing and hook-and-loop combination, and it folds down to provide access to the internals.
Torso length adjustment is very simple: a single strap (visible in the photograph with red bars appearing) controls the torso length. Moving the buckle adjusts the length. Easy. The Summit also includes a conversion chart, so that people who know their torso lengths in inches or centimeters can convert to Lowe Alpine's color-coded system.
The Micro Adjust system is interesting. It's intended to provide a customized fit for the wearer each time he or she puts on the pack, and it does so through an air bladder inside the lumbar pad. This allegedly makes the lumbar pad conform to the shape of the back. The amount of air in the bladder is regulated through the (quite large) plastic pump mounted on the right side of the hip belt. The pump reminds me of the Air Jordan sneakers that came out when I was a kid—they were all the rage. I press the large grey section, and the pad inflates; press the small red button at the top, and it deflates. Lowe Alpine assures us (in general) that all of its packs have undergone hundreds of hours of testing, and that the parts are durable.
Personally I'd rather see a slightly smaller pump. Unless I tighten the hip belt down pretty far, I hit my arm on the pump when I'm walking (I checked this in my backyard). More on that in the later reports. As an aside, the Micro Adjust pump is the one with the flaking-off letters ("CRO ADJUS").
Pack with rain cover
The Torso Motion system is one that provides a non-rigid hip belt. It allows the hip belt to pivot, rather than remaining fixed to the pack. This is reported to provide increased comfort and stability, especially when carrying heavy loads or making high steps. It's achieved through the use of a continuous aluminum stay, curved at the bottom, that moves inside a pocket on the hip belt rather than being fixed in place. Simple. It looks robust. I'll report on the comfort issues in later reports.
Overall, the pack is very comfortable to wear. The padding in the hip belt and shoulder straps seems to be very high quality, and the straps are easily adjusted to fit. I notice that the hip belt has an outer lining of some sort of hard plastic, which I've never seen discussed in print. I assume it adds rigidity and helps with load transfer.
The pack includes quite a number of other useful features, which I've photographed below. The included rain cover lives in a hidden pocket on the left side of the pack, just inside the wand pocket. The inset photographs show the location, and the rain cover. I note with approval that the rain cover fits over the pack even when the spindrift collar is fully extended. I do notice, though, that there's nothing to hook the rain cover on with—it stays on through an elastic shockcord running through its seam. I worry a bit about whether it would stay on when bushwhacking. We'll see.
Tuck-away water bottle pocket
One added feature worth mentioning is that all the zippers on the Summit have storm flaps covering them. They're genuine YKK zippers, and are not waterproof ones. However, the storm flaps seem ample, and they're stiff enough that they stay in place.
The Summit caters both to those who like to sip from a bladder and to those who like to hit the bottle now and then. For the latter party, the pack includes a water bottle holder at the wearer's right side. It has a stiffened neck that seems to make inserting my Nalgene bottle easy, and an elastic closure to keep it in there. There's a little clip that hooks onto a shockcord loop on the pack body that holds the bottle at an angle, presumably to make it easier to use one-handed. We'll see.
For the bottle-haters, the bottle holder folds up and tucks away into its own hidden pocket in the right side wand pocket.
Other pack features
One of the pack features that receives special notice in the Lowe Alpine website is its "mitt-friendly zipper pulls". I haven't yet tried them with mitts on, but I've tried them with fabric bunched up across my hand, and they work fine. The plastic tubing around the cord seems to keep the zipper pulls nicely tidy.
My inner rock climber is pleased to note that the stoppers on the ends of the zipper pulls are very similar to the stoppers used as passive pro in climbing. Lowe Alpine has clearly anticipated this: the stoppers all carry the imprint "NOT FOR CLIMBING". Climbers, take note! The pack will not protect you from falls!
This concludes my Initial Report.
Field Report - 15 July 2007
Hiking: Azure Mountain, NY
My first day out with the pack was a day hike up Azure Mountain, an isolated
peak north of the Adirondack massif in northern New York state. It's a short
climb—only 1 mile (1.6 km)—but it gains more than 1000 ft (300 m)
in that time. It's pretty steep, and so I thought it would be a great testbed
for the Torso Motion hip belt on the Summit. Conditions were warm and sunny,
around 75 F (24 C).
Backpack in use
I loaded the pack with all kinds of unnecessary gear to bring the weight
up; in the end, it weighed 35 lb (16 kg). Among the many extras I brought
were a stove and enough cups and tea bags to serve fresh tea to all the
new friends we met on the summit. I found the Summit quite easy to pack,
although I do occasionally miss the front-panel loading to which I've grown
accustomed from my other pack. Visible in the picture is my waterbottle parka, hanging from the shoulder strap. I clip it on and use it as an easily-accessible holder for trail mix, my camera, and anything else that needs to be readily available while hiking. The shoulder straps on the Summit easily accommodate the clip for the bottle parka, which makes me happy.
This was a less bulky load than some would be, because it was slanted toward
water and cooking gear, both of which are quite dense. Therefore, the
capacious main compartment of the pack was only partially filled. I found
that the radial side compression did a really good job of holding
everything close to my back, and the load never seemed to move. I appreciated
this when I was scrambling over the steeper bits of the trail.
I needed to do quite a bit of high-stepping to get up the steeper, more
rocky parts of the trail. I appreciated the subtle movement of the Torso
Motion hip belt here, because it helped me keep my weight over my feet
a bit better. There were a number of fallen trees across the trail, and it was easy to step up onto them or butt-slide across them, without hindrance from the pack.
It's a bit difficult to explain the workings of the Torso Motion system
with words, but I'll try. With a hip belt that's rigidly affixed to the pack,
certain kinds of leg motions (particularly high steps) force me to tilt my
upper body away from the leg that's stepping. This is because the hip belt
blocks my hip and leg from moving above a certain point, and I have to force
it out of the way to step higher.
The Torso Motion system tries to address this by building in a lateral
pivot in the hip belt's attachment to the pack frame. It's nice because it
makes balancing easier while stepping up, and that's a big plus for me. I
climb a lot of mountains. It seems to work really well, and I haven't noticed
any irritating repetitive noises from the pivot system. The curved stays of the Torso Motion system bear on nylon webbing in a pocket; nylon is usually pretty resistant to abrasion, and I haven't yet seen any wear.
One of my initial concerns about the Micro Adjust system was that
my arms tended to brush the pump while I was walking or standing still. With
the pump mounted on the hip belt, it sticks out quite far, and I worried
that I would abrade the skin on my arm by rubbing it there or that the pump
would be damaged.
In the field, at least so far, it hasn't been an issue. When I'm actually
moving with a load on my back, my balance changes and my upper body bends
forward a little. This brings my arms clear of the pump, such that their
swing doesn't hit it. This has been true of all the terrain on which I've
tested the Summit so far.
The GPS pocket is just the right size to cradle my Brunton Type 7
compass. I've girth hitched its lanyard onto the sternum strap, and the
compass rides inside the GPS pocket when it's not in use. Excellent! I've also
clipped a small thermometer to the lash point above the GPS pocket: this gives
convenient access to all the environmental and positional data I want.
I haven't yet figured out a good orientation for my hydration bladder
in its pocket. Because the pocket is fairly shallow, I had to place my
two-liter (68 fl oz) Outdoor Products Cyclone bladder horizontally. This
seemed to work fine, but it's different from the orientation suggested in
the bladder's instructions. More on this as time goes on. I worried that
this would cause problems for getting water from the bladder, but it's not
a problem. Hydration bladders work on suction, not on gravity feed alone,
and mine adapts to the horizontal position without difficulty. The lash
points on the shoulder straps do a great job of keeping the bladder tube
from flopping around, and the H20 port seems to seal well around the tube.
Rock climbing: South Colton, NY (several trips)
Elevation: 1500 ft (457 m), temperatures: 50–80 F (10–27 C)
Before I started climbing outdoors, I never understood why backpacks
were an important part of the gear list. After all, photographs of climbers
rarely include backpacks; they tend to focus more on the rippling muscles,
chalked skin, and punishing dropoffs. So why's the backpack important?
All that gear has to get to the crag somehow. All the normal accoutrements
of hiking (water bottles, lunch, first aid kit, foul weather gear, etc.) need
to be carried, but even for top-roped climbing I also need to bring a
small mountain of climbing specific gear: rock shoes; harness; chalk
bag; climbing rope; a bunch of slings; quite a few carabiners; a helmet;
etc. There's a lot of gear, and it all needs to arrive at the crag in usable
condition, without getting too terribly mangled and tangled from the trip.
Not to mention that the crag isn't necessarily friendly. Turns out that
cliffs aren't always found in flat terrain—who knew? Even when there's
a trail, bushwhacking is often involved to get to the cliff face. It often
seems to involve scruffy and tenacious pines with branches sticking out
everywhere—what my Dad used to call "hat racks"—and all manner of
unfriendly trees that like to steal my pack and anything that's on it. It's
not a terribly friendly environment for a backpack.
I've been really happy with the Summit's performance here. Although
the hike in to South Colton's crag is less than 1 mile (1.6 km), there's
some scrambling to be done. Especially before we'd discovered the herd path
to the cliff top! The rope compressor on top of the Summit kept my
rope corralled and orderly, and it was easy to release when I needed the
rope. I've also found that, with the compression straps released, the bag
is big enough to swallow the rope, too. Convenient because it offers further
protection against the stubby tree branches.
The pack continues to allow easy and comfortable movement over rough
terrain. It doesn't get caught on trees, and it doesn't seem to shift
when I'm hopping boulders. I feel comfortable wearing it at the top of the
cliff, although I take it off when I'm setting up anchors. It keeps the load
close enough to my body that my balance isn't affected when I'm rappelling
down. Very nice.
I notice that I often overtighten the hip belt straps when I first put the
pack on. Because of the thick padding on the hip belt, I feel like I need
to keep pulling to get it tight enough to carry. However, I get a more
comfortable carry when I loosen up a bit: tight enough that my hips carry
the weight, but loose enough that my lower body still receives blood flow.
One useful feature concerns the double haul loops on the Summit. The
honeycombed fabric of the pack body is a little stiff, and can be difficult
to grasp. If my pack is lying on the ground, I can grab the front haul loop
and use it to pull the pack body open, which makes it easier to find what
I'm hunting. Nice! Having an extra handle also makes tossing the bag around
at the cliff base very convenient—it's easy to keep things from falling
out of the pack.
Concerning durability: despite all the trees that have scratched this bag,
the rocks that have scraped it, and that mud that's been spattered on it,
the bag looks new. I'm quite pleased with its durability to date.
The Lizard Green color blends very well with the summer foliage in the
Adirondacks. This is fairly effective camouflage, at times: there have been
a few moments where I've set my pack down, gone and climbed a boulder, and
had trouble seeing where I'd left the pack. To me, the unobtrusive nature
of the pack's coloring is a very good thing. With so many people in the
mountains these days, the notion of wilderness can become a bit of a slippery
slope. It's a small point, but I think that wearing colors that blend in
can help to reduce my impact on other hikers.
Some areas of New York state now require the use of bear canisters, and they're recommended in most other parts of the state. Trip reports from the Eastern High Peaks of the Adirondacks regularly feature tales of canisters getting smacked around by the local bears, and so canisters have become part of the picture. The Summit easily swallows my BearVault BV-400 (the bigger size).
This concludes my Field Report. The Long-Term Report will be appended to this document in approximately two months. Please check back then for further information.
Long-term Report - 9 October 2007:
Lid as belt pack: Red Sandstone Trail, Hannawa Falls, NY
Elevation: 558 ft (170 m). Temperature: 81 F (27 C)
The Red Sandstone trail runs along the west bank of the Raquette
river in northern New York state. There's a long history of sandstone
quarrying and water-powered industry in the Potsdam, NY area, starting
in the 1800s. Interpretive signs (built by friends of mine) along the Red
Sandstone trail point out interesting features like the Parmenter quarry,
still active as a source for Potsdam's (allegedly) world-famous pink
sandstone. Water-powered mills gave way to hydropower, and several dams dot
the Raquette along the trail.
After spending six hours in rehearsal on a sunny Saturday, I decided that
a brief hike would provide a much-needed respite. Since I only planned on
hiking a short distance, I didn't really need much gear—basically a
water bottle and a way to carry it. I decided to test the Summit's removable
lid/belt pack for the day. I carried it approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) at a fairly good hiking speed: about 3 miles/hour (4.8 km/hour) when I wasn't sightseeing.
I removed the lid (belt pack, for the rest of this section) from the Summit by unthreading the straps that hold it to the pack. This was pretty easy, although the webbing did get briefly stuck. I unstowed the hip belt from its secret hiding place (detailed above) and adjusted the size for my torso. In the course of using the belt pack, I discovered the reasoning behind a mystery that was heretofore unexplained: the finished, stitched, open pockets at the sides of the lid. I could not figure out what they were for, but it became clear when I began packing the belt pack.
They're for stowing the straps that hold the belt pack/lid onto the main pack body. Otherwise they would just flop around when it's being used as a belt pack, so Lowe Alpine has helpfully provided a place to put them. Clever.
To pack my belt pack, I left the items I normally carry in the lid pockets there, and just added other things. My total pack weight was 6 lbs 1 oz (2.75 kg), distributed this way:
In the main pocket: 32 oz (1 L) Nalgene bottle of water; can of bug dope; Canon SD1000 digital camera; several specimens of Potsdam sandstone (acquired at the quarry) for my girlfriend and her kids.
In the small pocket inside the main pocket: emergency space blanket; tinder/lighter/matches in zip bag; Mini Maglite flashlight with LED conversion; albuterol inhaler; The Click bugbite itch preventer.
In the pocket that goes against my back: first aid kit; cordage; mosquito head net; LED headlamp; ridiculous windproof lighter.
In packing the belt pack, I lost track of the key clip, so I left my key in the pocket of my shorts. In future, I should remember that the key clip is inside the main compartment.
The main compartment easily holds my Nalgene bottle along with my camera and other items, and it had room for quite a bit more. I had initial concerns about how well the lid would hold a water bottle, but they proved groundless: it's a comfortable carry.
I found that the belt pack tended to hang below my lumbar area, resting on the top of my derrière. While this was not uncomfortable, it took a bit of getting used to. I couldn't easily tighten the buckles on the belt pack's hip belt while wearing the pack—it was a simple matter to take the pack off, move the buckles, and put it back on. My adjustments held for the entire trip with no slippage.
As I expected, the plastic/vinyl backing for the belt pack is waterproof. This kept my gear nicely dry inside the belt pack, although it also meant that my shirt ended up covered in sweat where the belt pack touched it. I didn't find it particularly distressing, but it's worth noting.
With the belt pack on, it's easy to rotate it around so I can get things from it (like my camera) without undoing the buckles. I appreciated that this didn't cause the buckles to slip, and that the pack remained stable even when loaded and unzipped. It never dumped my gear on the ground.
I found the belt pack to be quite serviceable for a trip of this length. It was pretty comfortable, although I don't think I'd want to load it much more heavily than I did. It stayed tight to my back even when I was climbing around on rocks in the quarry, and didn't bounce noticeably when I was descending steep slopes at a run. I like it. I don't know if I'll use it much for that, since most of my day trips concern mountains, where it's prudent to bring a windjacket even in the summer. It's a little bit small for that. But for trips like the Red Sandstone, it's great.
Rock climbing: South Colton, NY (several trips)
Elevation: 1500 ft (457 m), temperatures: 50–90 F (10–32 C)
I've lost track of how many trips I've taken to South Colton during this testing period, but the results have all been the same. I've been carrying gear to set up topropes, and using quite a lot of it because some of the drilled bolts seem a bit manky. I've also carried three or four Nalgene bottles full of water, since it's been hot. Since a number of these trips have been "introduce non-climbing friends to climbing" trips, I've been the chief mule for the group, and have stuffed extra clothing, cameras, books, cell phones, and the like into my pack.
I stand by the things I said about the Summit in the South Colton section from the Field Report, and nothing during the Long-term testing period has altered those opinions.
It's a pleasure to use this pack.
Rock climbing: Azure Mountain, NY. 13 August 2007, bright sun, 75 F (24 C).
This trip, which was to have been a simple session of top-roping, ended up being a bit more reminiscent of adventure climbing: bushwhacking, scrambling, tight trees, backtracking, and all that before we even found the cliffs! Whether because of all the rain we've had recently or because of some other factor, the "herd paths" mentioned in the guidebook were notably difficult to find.
I was glad—it turned a simple day of climbing into a highly enjoyable adventure, one that really cemented a friendship with a climbing partner. It also provided a great test for the Summit's off-trail abilities.
Cliffs in the Adirondacks may not be as tall as those in other parts of the world, but I'd still prefer not to fall down them. Scrambling above cliffs with a pack on is a bit nerve-wracking at times, especially when mixed forest duff makes the footing somewhat tenuous. I really appreciated the streamlined design of the Summit when I was scrambling, because it meant that I didn't get hung up on trees and thrown off-balance. I had no problems despite the many straps on the exterior of the bag: when they're tightened down, trees don't seem to catch them.
My balance remains pretty good with the pack on, and I use the compression straps to lock everything down. During the Long-term testing period, I've been playing with the zip-in divider between top and bottom pack sections. Lately, I've taken to removing it, so that the bag is one big uninterrupted sack. My ropes and such seem to fit a bit easier this way. Given the need for scrambling, I've been packing the water bottles near the bottom of the bag, keeping the weight low.
I'm pleased to report that, however I pack it, the Summit lets me keep my balance well. I've noticed that, with so much weight carried low in the pack for stability, the load lifter straps above my shoulders really make a big difference in torquing down the load and bringing it in toward my upper back. The radial compression straps do a fantastic job of corralling wayward gear and bringing it in tight to my back. In the end, I get a stable and comfortable carry that moves with me as I go over highly varied terrain.
The acid test for stability came during this climb, when I needed to carry the bag with more than 40 lbs (18 kg) of gear in it back up to the top of the cliff to dismantle our final toprope. This was some 70 ft (21 m) of very steep friction climbing, done in rock shoes because my hiking boots wouldn't have had a prayer of staying on. Given how much I weighed with the pack on, the balance was very dicey, and it was not a good time for the pack to start dancing around.
In the end, it was a non-event. I tightened the various compression straps, pulled the load lifter straps tight, and stepped off. My one disappointment was that, with a climbing helmet on, the pack substantially interfered with my ability to tilt my head back and look up. I'm tall enough that the Noggin Notch doesn't do much for me, and with a full load, my head smacks every time. That small point aside, the balance issues weren't a problem at all, and I feel comfortable carrying this pack wherever I go.
Lowe Alpine seems to have chosen its pack fabrics well. I still see no significant wear to the fabrics, even after months of being snagged on trees, lowered down cliff faces, caught on rocks, and the like. I'm satisfied with the pack's durability at this point. The only real wear that I've noticed is that the printed lettering as for "MICRO ADJUST" has continued to fall off. I'd find it hard to care less.
In my initial thoughts about the bag, I wondered whether the foam in shoulder harness and hip belt would "pack out" and mold to my body. I didn't have any real impression as to whether that would be good, bad, or neutral, but in any case, it hasn't happened. Both harness and belt look like new.
I'm at the stage in using the Summit where I start branching out and experimenting more with how I use the pack. The change in how I pack the bag, and whether I use the divider, is one example. I'm also playing with the torso length adjustment, seeing what effect it has on my comfort and stability. For the first couple of months, I left the bag set for my measured torso length; I've found that it fits me a bit more comfortably if I shorten the torso somewhat. I really appreciate how easy the Summit makes this process.
Rock climbing: Azure Mountain, NY (several trips in August 2007). Temperatures around 75 F (24 C).
I include the discussion of route-finding in the previous section for amusement value. We made several more days out of Azure, and each time, the trail became more obvious. It turned out that the "herd path" we'd been following was actually a real herd path, made for four-footed traffic. Continuing slightly farther along the main trail led to the herd path mentioned in the guide books, replete with painted blazes on trees. Live and learn.
I've continued playing with the suspension system on the Summit, and have found it to reap continued rewards. I've settled on a shorter torso setting than I initially chose, which puts the pack up higher on my back than it had previously been. It seems like a good mix of balance and load-carrying comfort, which seems par for the course on this bag. I find that I don't use the Micro Adjust pump all that often, because the bag is comfortable enough without it. I'll sometimes goose the air level in the system near the end of the day, if my back is feeling a little sore from exertion.
I still hit my head on the Noggin Notch when I'm wearing a helmet, even with my revised suspension choices, but I don't blame that on Lowe Alpine. It's a fact of my physiognomy that my head tilts backwards when I look upward; a helmet only exacerbates the problem. The Noggin Notch still gives me more freedom of movement than I would otherwise have, and I can get an extra inch or two by making sure to the tie the Summit's lid down away from my head.
The fabrics remain durable and clean. In the course of scrambling through
scrub brush and building anchors, my pack has rubbed in mud, gathered a
lot of dirt, and acquired a thorough coating of tree sap. The thing that
perplexes me is that I can't find any of the evidence: the pack still looks
clean. I would think it was a shop model if I hadn't been the one to drag
it around. I can't explain this, other than to say that the fabric seems to
shed dirt very well. The green honeycomb fabric is the best in this regard;
the black ballistic nylon shows light dust, but nothing much. Still no rips,
no major abrasion, and no problems of that kind.
I haven't had the opportunity to use the Summit in weather cold enough
for gloves, but I did drag my gloves out of summer storage to test the
usability of the mitt-friendly zipper pulls. I can't say how they'll work
when cold has wrought its magic on my dexterity, but they were easy to use
with gloves on. I feel confident that I'll be carrying this pack while climbing mountains this winter.
Similarly, my days on trail never included heavy rain, so I didn't use
the rain cover. There were some rain showers, and the pack fabric's basic
waterproofness was sufficient to protect my gear. I did find that the rain cover was easy to unstow and easy to place on the pack when testing. I like that it's similarly quick to adjust the closure of the rain cover to reflect how much gear is stuffed inside the pack.
I don't do high-altitude climbs where having a gram-conscious "summit pack" matters very much. Living in the eastern United States, there simply isn't anything tall enough that I feel the need. Consequently, I haven't yet found that the removable belt pack feature is all that necessary for me. On days when my bag has been less full, I've thought about removing the lid section to save weight. However, all of the organizer pockets are in the lid section, and the hassle has never seemed worth the savings in weight. I guess I'm not an ultralight backpacker yet.
That said, I enjoyed using the belt pack for the day hike to the Red Sandstone Trail. It was big enough to carry the gear I wanted for that trip, and small enough not to get in the way. I liked having the option, having the versatility that this pack provided. I appreciated, too, that the waterproof material of the belt pack kept me from sweating all over my camera.
I wondered, in my initial questions about the pack, whether it would be
easy to swing the pack around to fetch something from a pocket while keeping
the pack on my shoulders. In truth, it's not. However, with the kinds of
loads I've been carrying, I haven't missed the ability. It's just not that
hard to whip off the pack, get what I want, put the pack back on, and
keep moving. I'm not sure how comfortable it would be to do the pack-swing
maneuver with a full bag, anyway. I like that the Summit's straps seem to
align themselves properly, without fussing, when I put it on.
I use the front and back haul loops all the time. Thank you, Lowe
Alpine: you've made it much easier for me to move this pack around when it's
full. If I'm ever in the market for another big pack, that's a feature I'll be hunting.
I didn't get to test the Summit the way I'd planned to. In June, my grandfather took a serious downturn in health, and we spent a lot of time arranging care for him, as the only nearby family members. Through July, his health worsened, and I spent most of my planned backpacking days driving back and forth from the hospital, an hour and a half away. I'd planned a weeklong trip for the beginning of August; I spent it helping to arrange his funeral.
Consequently, my use has been almost exclusively concerned with toting rock climbing gear out to the mountains whenever I could take some compensation time from work and get out of the office on a sunny day. These trips, although not multiple-day backpacking trips, still entailed a lot of weight and bulk, carried through interestingly varied terrain.
The Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15 handled with alacrity everything I could
throw at it. It helped me carry a big and bulky load of ropes, protection,
clothing, and enough water for six people, and helped me do it comfortably. It
also scaled down nicely, so that I could use it for carrying a more modest
assortment of gear. The radial compression system worked flawlessly, and
loads never seemed to bounce.
The TFX 9 suspension system is easy to understand, even without printed instructions. While I would commend the inclusion of a user's manual to Lowe Alpine's attention, I can't say that I had too much trouble figuring out what to do with this pack, or how to do it. The pack has always been a comfortable carry, and my tinkerer's soul has enjoyed having the freedom to adjust things in search of the settings that will make my load levitate. Once I've adjusted something, it stays put; I appreciate that.
I've fallen into the habit of using the Summit as a single compartment,
without using the zip-out divider. This seems to work well for my climbing use,
and it's easy to pack. Although it has taken some adjustment to get used to
having relatively few pockets, the conversion has been basically painless,
and it just requires a bit more planning to decide how I'm going to stash
my small items.
The Summit goes with me wherever I go, and it seems not to get hung up
on trees. It doesn't knock me over, and it lets me carry loads close to my
back, so I don't fall over backwards. I'm looking forward to carrying it this
winter, where the ability to lash my snowshoes to it will come in very handy
(and make my usual accessory cord hacks unnecessary). Once the rigors of
cleaning my grandfather's house ease, this is the pack I'll be taking when
backpacking, and it remains my hauler of choice for rock climbing.
When I applied to test the Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15, I had a hunch
that it was going to be good. Four months later, I can honestly say that the
hunch was right. This is one of the best packs I have ever had the pleasure
to use. Find me on the trail, and you'll probably see this pack.
I wholeheartedly thank BackpackGearTest and Lowe Alpine for allowing me to test the TFX Summit 65+15.
Read more reviews of Lowe Alpine gear
Read more gear reviews by Hollis Easter