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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65 15 Pack > Test Report by Michael Wheiler
LOWE ALPINE TFX SUMMIT 65+15 BACKPACK
By Michael Wheiler
Last Updated September 18, 2007
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Click Here To Go To The Initial Report: May 1, 2007
Click Here To Go To The Field Report: July 17, 2007
Click Here To Go To The Long Term Report: September 18, 2007
Name: Michael Wheiler
Height: 5'10" (178 cm)
Weight: 175 lb. (79 kg)
Torso Length: 19 3/4" (50 cm)
Hip Measurement: 34" (86 cm)
Chest Size: 40" (102 cm)
Location: Southeast Idaho
Email: jmwlaw AT ida DOT net
I have about 39 years experience hiking, camping, and backpacking. I have been active in the Boy Scout program as a youth and as an adult leader. I was a Scoutmaster for seven years with an active monthly outdoor program. Since being retired from that position, I still try to get out monthly. In the last two years I have been able to climb three of Idaho's highest peaks.
Product Specifications and Features Per Manufacturer Unless Otherwise Noted:
Field Testing Environment:
Most of my camping, hiking and backpacking occurs in the southeastern Idaho area but spills over into western Wyoming and western Montana. I occasionally get into the mountains of central Idaho as well. The areas I frequent generally range from 5,500 ft (1,600 m) to 8,500 ft (2,600 m). The weather in southeastern Idaho is fairly typical of a high desert plain.
Item: TFX Summit 65+15
Manufacturer's Web Site: http://www.lowealpine.com
Color: Lizzard Green/Slate (also available in Truered/Black)
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price: U.S. $299.00
According to Colin Fletcher, your backpack is more than just the house for the rest of your gear, it is the "crucial interface between you and your load" and is second only to your boots in its ability to "mar your walking."¹ In that context, Lowe Alpine generally describes the TFX Summit 65+15 pack on its web page as "Built for the long haul, the TFX Summit carries expedition loads with ease no matter how intense the pace or terrain. The TFX 9 back with Micro Adjust gives perfect comfort and load control."
The Lowe Alpine TFX Summit 65+15 (hereinafter the "Summit"), arrived via Fed Ex in perfect condition. The only information supplied with the Summit was contained on a hang tag. The information on the hang tag was only the product name, color of the product, country of origin (Vietnam), a bar code and warranty information as follows: "Lowe Alpine guarantees all of its products against defects in materials and workmanship for the life of the product. If you are not satisfied with your Lowe Alpine product, return it to the store where it was purchased. If it is defective, you have certain statutory rights with the store who sold the product to you. In addition to those rights, if there is a defect in manufacture we will repair or replace the product at our option. Your statutory rights are not affected by this warranty. The warranty does not cover damage caused by accidents or misuse, nor does it cover the natural breakdown of materials which occurs over extended use and time (e.g. zipper failure or fabric abrasion). Repairs due to accident, improper care, negligence or wear and tear, where Lowe Alpine is not at fault, will be made for a reasonable charge. Fabric guarantees are covered separately, see fabric tag for details."
After removing the Summit from the box, it looked like what I was expecting after viewing Lowe Alpine's web page. My initial examination of the Summit was very enjoyable. The Summit is designed with so many cool features. In this initial report, I will try to describe in word and photographs some of the major features of the Summit.
The Frame: Lowe uses two 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum stays in the Summit to direct load transfer onto the hips while, at the same time, "providing a light weight, strong frame which has the ability to be customized by hand without losing the load-transfer properties." The stays are pre-bent and the user will want to check the stays to determine if the shape works with the shape of his or her back. The Summit also uses the "TFX 9 back with Micro Adjust" system which Lowe claims will provide the user with "perfect comfort and load control." There are no instructions with the Summit or, that I could find, on the web page describing how to find or use the TFX 9 and Micro Adjust system. However, during my examination of any pack, I like to take it apart to see how the frame is assembled and how the hip belt is attached to the frame. While examining the Summit, I found that the lumbar pad was secured to the frame by way of a hook and loop closure. When I pulled the lumbar pad away from the frame, I found the TFX 9 adjustment system (see photographs below). The TFX 9 system is color coded and covers a range of torso sizes from extra small to extra large.
The Summit was adjusted to a size medium (the yellow stripe) when I received it. I needed a size large frame. By simply pulling on the buckle and loosening the strap which is attached to the bottom of a pad (the gray colored pad just under the strap with the color coded stripes) which is also connected to the upper shoulder straps, I was easily able to change to the orange stripe thereby extending the torso length of the pack. By pulling upward on the strap, I was easily able to decrease the torso length of the pack to a small. I then readjusted the torso length to a size large, folded the lumbar pad back into place, tucked the thinner upper portion of the lumbar pad under the exterior fabric, and resecured the lumbar pad to the hook and loop closure located just under the green colored fabric with the yellow triangle/arrow. I then tried on the empty pack and the fit seemed perfect, though I will want to add some weight before determining if this is the best fit. Adjusting the torso length of the Summit is simple and easy. I was impressed with this feature.
Lumbar Padding and Back Panel: Lowe uses both closed-cell and open-cell foam in its packs. High quality closed-cell foam is used in the shoulder harness, back panel and lumbar pad. Lowe claims that the closed-cell foam is used because it is "highly resistant to stretch and compression damage and will not be affected by the cold." Another unique and cool feature of the Summit is the Micro Adjust system. This system consists of a tear-drop shaped, gray rubber finger or hand pump attached to the right side of the hip belt with a small tube running to the lumbar pad (see photographs below and above). In the picture immediately above this section, you can just see the tube where it enters the lumbar pad near the left corner of the TFX instructions. The photograph below shows the pump. I found the pump was difficult to use with just one finger but using two fingers or the palm of my hand I was able to actually feel the lumbar pad pumping up. To release air from the pad, simply push in on the little red button on the pump. The pump is sewn onto the hip pad at the top (near the red button), is attached to the pad by hook and loop in the center (right behind the center of the pump) and is attached at the bottom by a metal snap attached to a piece of webbing material. By detaching the lower portion of the pump, the user has access to the tube where it exits the pump.
The rest of the back panel appears to be a closed cell foam with a waffle shapped texture (see above photograph).
Shoulder Straps: The shoulder straps are reported to be made of "space mesh with Brock foam padding." The GPS pocket is attached to the left shoulder strap (see photograph above). My Garmin Vista fit tightly into the pocket. I was also able to squeeze in a handheld radio made by Motorola. The shoulder straps are approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick. Shoulder harness lift-straps (load stabilizer straps) are attached near the top of each shoulder strap. Shoulder harness adjustment straps are also located at the bottom of each strap. All of these straps, upon initial examination without a loaded pack, pull and release easily for quick adjustment.
The Hip Belt: Lowe uses a stiffer closed-cell foam laminated to a softer open-cell foam in the waistbelt on the Summit to "provide shape and firm support while ensuring body-contact comfort." The hip belt is designed with two "bellowed mesh pockets with zippers." The belt is approximately 12 inches (30 cm) long on each side and tapers from approximately 6 inches (15 cm) in width at the hip to approximately 4 inches (10 cm) at the end (near where it buckles). The thickness of the padding varies but is generally between 3/4 inch (2 cm) to 1 inch (2.5 cm). There are right and left hand hip belt stabilizer straps.
Head Comfort: The Summit uses Lowe Alpine's new "molded Noggin Notch" to provide more head space. This appears to be simply a "u-shaped" cut-out in the plastic frame near the top of the pack (under the removable lid and the rear haul loop) to provide the user's head with additional space (see photograph below). According to Lowe Alpine, by adjusting the tension between the front and rear lid straps on the extendable lid, the user can angle the extension such that it won't impede head movement.
Load Control: The Summit is designed with "radial side compression" straps and load lifter straps (see above photograph and photographs just above the zipper section of this report) to assist with load control and stability.
Pack Bag Material and Webbing: The pack bag is made of NHC330/N630/Ballistic material. Lowe Alpine reports that the base of the bag is reinforced with a double layer of fabric so as to reduce long term wear and tear. Lowe Alpine also reports that it double stitches the major seams and provides the "best quality webbing" and "buckles that perform best in tandem with the webbing." Lowe Alpine apparently tests it buckles by freezing them in dry ice and then subjecting them to load testing.
Pack Bag Capacity and Accessibility: According to Lowe, the Summit, in size large, has a 4,000 + 900 cubic inch (65 + 15 L) pack bag with lid. It also has an internal hydration sleeve. The Summit does have two compartments with a zip-out divider (see photograph below). However, the zipper for the divider shelf can only be used from inside the lower compartment as the pull only hangs down into the lower compartment.
The photograph above is looking down into the Summit past the "Noggin Notch" to the interior shelf which is outlined by the orange colored zipper. Measuring across the extension collar, the opening of the pack bag is approximately 12 inches (30.5 cm) in diameter. The exterior of the pack bag also has a rope compressor and an ice-axe/trekking pole attachment.
Removable Lid: The Summit comes with a lid which is extendable and removable. The lid has 2 internal and 1 external zippered pockets. The lid can be detached from the pack bag and used as a belt pack. However, there are no instructions for detaching the lid or attaching it to the user's belt. Removal essentially requires the user to completely undo the three rear straps (the center strap detaches by sliding an oval shaped plastic piece through the plastic tab attached to the lid). I have yet to figure out how to attach the lid to my belt but will keep playing with this feature. The lid also contains a key clip and SOS instructions in case of an emergency (see photographs below).
Tuck Away Pockets: There are open pockets on both sides of the pack bag just above where the hip belt attaches to the frame. Inside these open pockets are pockets that are closed by way of hook and loop. Inside closed pocket on the right is a mesh pocket with an elastic cord and pull tab closure into which the user can insert a 32 ounce (1,000 ml) Nalgene water bottle (see photograph below). A thinner bottle can be stowed in the mesh pocket and secured by pulling the elastic closure tight around the top of the bottle. This pocket makes accessing the water bottle easy without removing the Summit. The closed pocket on the left hand side of the Summit contains the waterproof pack cover (see photograph below). These are very nice features.
Zippers: Lowe Alpine claims that the Summit has "mitt-friendly zipper pulls." (See photograph below.) The trekking pole/ice axe loop on the right hand side of the pack is also shown in the photograph below.
Initial Impressions: The Summit appears to be well constructed and designed. The pack has many very cool features and lots of room to carry gear. Adjusting for torso length is quick and easy. The next step is to get this pack loaded and into the field to see just how comfortable it is to wear and how well all of these cool features actually work.
¹ The Complete Walker IV, Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins, page 125 (2003).
My first experience with the Summit was on May 4-5, 2007 at the Grand Teton Council Boy Scout Jamboral (a mini-Jamboree) near Blackfoot, Idaho (elevation 4,079 ft/1,243 m). It was a cold, windy night. The wind was strong enough that the Council was considering not doing the firework display. By dark, with the drop in temperature and the strong wind, I needed all the clothes I packed and my gloves. It was 41º F (5º C) at bedtime. By morning the weather was worsening. The temperature at 6:30 a.m. was 34º F (1º C) with increasingly high winds (9-30 mph/14.5-48 km/h) and light rain. Humidity was at 49.5%.
Due to parking restrictions no vehicles were allowed into the camping area and I packed in about 1/4 mile (0.4 km) with a 41.5 pound (19 kg) pack. When I arrived at my tent site, I laid the pack on the ground and went to assist with moving some Lodge Pole Pine timbers from our campsite. I watched in stunned disbelief as a service truck ran over my pack. The weight of the truck squashed the eggs in a plastic backpack container. Amazingly, with the exception of a light tire track on the pack, the rest of gear (including the pack) was fine. I carried the following gear in the Summit:
All of the gear fit easily in the Summit with room to spare. Because of the short trip, I didn't need to adjust the Summit much and didn't get a real good feel for how comfortably the pack fit my torso.
I next used the Summit on June 8-9, 2007 during an overnight backpack trip with my daughter Traci to Lower Palisades Lake (elevation 6,131 ft/1,869 m). This was an 8 mile/13 kilometer round trip hike which has a small elevation gain from the trail head to the lower lake. Loaded with gear, the Summit weighed 45 pounds/20 kilograms. The temperature during the day was 63º F/17º C. It had rained just before we started the hike but the cloud cover disappeared and the temperatures began to drop. By morning it was 31º F/-0.55º C. Humidity ranged from 54% to 79%. There was little to no wind. On this trip, I carried the following gear in the Summit:
As before, all of the gear stowed easily in the Summit. I placed the sleeping bag in the lower compartment. Several of the small items like the first aid kit, extra clothes, lantern, fuel and cook pot (which also held my lighter, Sherpa, and stove) in the bottom of the main compartment. I placed the tent in the main compartment with one water bottle on each side of the tent. The Flurry was then placed on one side of the tent on top of the water bottle and food on the other. The camera fit nicely in the GPS pocket located on the shoulder harness. The rain gear, water filter, headlamp, and batteries were stowed in the lid pocket. One water bottle was placed in the water bottle holder located at the base of the pack near the hip belt. The handgun and sleeping pad were stowed on the outside of the Summit by way of the side compression straps. The short rope was stowed under the top lid. See photographs below.
On June 22, 2007, I used the Summit during an overnight trip to Treasure Mountain Scout Camp near the Tetons (elevation 6,300 ft/1,920 m). I actually carried a fairly light load on this trip as I didn't expect to travel far from the vehicle before setting up camp. From the parking lot, I hiked approximately 1/4 mile/0.40 kilometer to where I pitched my tent. The weather was perfect for early summer. At bed time, it was 47º F/8º C. The humidity was 51%. There was no wind. On this trip, the Summit housed a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, cook pot, two Nalgene bottles with water, a lighter, a headlamp, extra socks, a light jacket, and food for breakfast. I did not take the time to weigh the Summit for this trip but would estimate I was carrying 24 pounds/11 kilograms. I was able to use the side and top compression straps to stabilize the lighter load.
As packed, the Summit felt balanced and stable. About 1/2 hour into the hike, I adjusted the shoulder straps and hip belt, while walking, so as to place more weight on my hips and remove weight from my shoulders. The adjustments were easy to make and didn't cause me to slow my walking speed. I also played with the lumbar pump but quite honestly did not feel much of a difference. The "Noggin Notch" did provide good clearance for my head and made my neck and head much more comfortable even though the pack was fully extended behind my head.
The back panels provided relatively good ventilation though my back was wet with sweat when we arrived at our camp site that evening. The sternum strap helped provide stability with the upper portion of the pack and was easy to adjust. However, at one point, I bent over to pick up a piece of trash someone had left on the trail and the left side of the strap popped off the shoulder strap. It is attached to the shoulder strap by a plastic clip that slides up and down a plastic rail attached to the shoulder strap. This design makes it easy to adjust the sternum strap up and down. It was easily placed back on the track after we arrived at camp. The water bottle was easy to access while walking as was my camera.
We hiked essentially non-stop (except for waiting for other hikers on the trail) and it took us just over 1 1/2 hours to reach the camp site near the lower lake. After making the minor adjustments to the pack early in the hike, the Summit was comfortable enough that I did not have to re-adjust the hip belt or shoulder straps. The pack was quiet while we hiked (it didn't squeak, rattle or make any other noise). With the exception of the zipper pulls on the lower compartment, all zippers were easy to operate. The zipper pulls on the lower compartment were a bit hard to pull when either opening or closing the zipper whether the compartment was full or empty.
While fiddling with the removable top lid at our camp site the next morning, I could feel what felt like a strap and buckle inside the top lid but initially I could not find an opening to access the strap and buckle (and it was driving me crazy). However, after very close examination, I found two small holes on each side of the clear plastic pocket inside the top lid. I was then able to access the buckle and strap that would be used to turn the top pocket into a fanny pack. Lowe Alpine did not provide any instructions for accessing this fairly important part of the pack lid and it was not really easy to find the access points inside the lid.
After hanging our food in a tree, I put the Summit inside the tent with me. Since Traci and I were sleeping in different tents, there was plenty of room in the tent for myself and the Summit. The trip out the next morning was as enjoyable as the trip into the lake.
Thus far, the Summit has performed up to my expectations. It is capable of carrying a large amount of gear. It provides great support and is balanced if packed correctly even with a fairly heavy load. It has been run over (though not intentionally) by a vehicle and carried on two trips without any wear or damage. The pack itself is a bit heavier than I normally like but that comes with the design and intended use of the pack. I only wish there had been better instructions for how to access and use some of the pack's features. I really like the Summit and look forward to taking it on my attempt to summit Mt. Rainier next week. Looking at the gear I'll be taking, I'm afraid it will really get a work out on that trip.
I used the Summit on July 5-7, 2007 near the Teton Range (elevation 6,688 ft/2,039 m). Overall, I carried the Summit nearly 13 miles/21 kilometers on this trip. Temperatures were warm during the day but we had fairly significant thunder showers late each afternoon. Each time, the pack was inside my tent and was not exposed to the rain. With the exception of some additional food items, the Summit carried identical gear to what I took into Lower Palisades Lake. The total weight of the pack was 46 pounds/21 kilograms.
I next used the Summit on July 26-27, 2007 when I climbed Mt. Rainier (elevation 14,410 ft/4,392 m). Although our plans originally were to hike from Paradise to Ingraham Flats Thursday morning, because our guide was delayed about three hours, the Summit only went as far as Camp Muir (elevation 10,188 ft/3,105 m). Camp Muir is approximately 4 miles/6.4 km from the trail head at Paradise. Our climbing team arrived at Camp Muir at approximately 6:00 p.m. and we were the next to last team in camp. Amazingly the public shelter was completely empty. As such, our team of seven climbers setup camp inside the public shelter which alleviated the need for the four season nearly 6 pound, 3 ounce/2.5 kg tent and the 3 pound, 11 ounce/1.7 kg sleeping bag (rated at 0° F/-18° C) stowed inside the Summit. However, finding the shelter unused was unusual and given our original plans to climb beyond Camp Muir to Ingraham Flats, we really expected to use of those items.
This was the trek that really tested the load bearing capabilities of the Summit. I was also able to test nearly all of the features of the pack over an extended period while regular trail hiking and glacier climbing. For the Rainier climb, the Summit was loaded nearly as full as the extension would allow and weighed in at 56 pounds/25.4 kilograms including two 32 ounce/0.95 liter Nalgene bottles which were filled with water part way up the mountain. The following is a list of the equipment packed in the Summit for this climb.
In short, this is one impressive pack. The Summit has become my "go to" pack for heavy loads and extended trips. Likes: I love the large capacity. Even when the extension collar was fully extended, the top lid and compression straps stabilized the load and kept the extened collar from swaying or tipping. The Summit has lots of pockets for organizing gear and making it easier to access that gear when it is needed. There are lots of places to attach gear to the outside of the pack that actually work! The the exception of the lower compartment zipper, all of the zippers were easy to use even with gloved hands. In my Field Report, I indicated that the lower compartment zipper was stiff and a bit difficult to pull. That never changed but it was never really a big concern.
I really like the ability to control the load on my shoulders and hips easily and without stopping. Loaded, the Summit was as comfortable as 56 pounds/25.4 kilograms on my back can get. The size of the pack and the ability to organize my gear in the pack provided me with good stability even on melting glacier snow. My Nalgene bottle fit easily in the side mesh pocket which provided quick access to water while hiking. I did not use the detachable lid as a fanny pack for day hikes as I generally carried the Summit with me every mile. The quality of workmanship in the Summit is unmistakable and there is no evidence of wear or tear even after some fairly abusive use--it still looks almost brand new.
Dislikes: The lumbar support pad did not really work for me. Could feel the lumbar pad inflate some but it provided no noticeable difference to me. Also, I did not like the size of the small hydration pocket. My standard 80 ounce/2.4 liter bag was not even a close fit in the pocket. Ultimately I had to settle for a 32 ounce/0.95 liter bladder which did not carry nearly enough water for me. I would prefer at least the option of using a larger capacity bladder especially on longer, expedition type trips and would suggest that Lowe Alpine consider enlarging the hydration pocket. Finally, I would like some better instructions on the features of the Summit and how to use/access them--especially the lid/fanny pack.
Despite these minor concerns, the Summit is a great pack with exceptional qualities. It will continue to experience a great deal of use by me for winter outings and multi-day trips.
I would like to thank Lowe Alpine and BackpackGearTest for giving me the opportunity to test the Summit TFX 65+15 backpack.
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