By Dave Westlake
This year marks a milestone for Lowe Alpine – they’ve been making rucksacks for half a century. The brand has been at the forefront of pack design since 1967, and they remain one of the leading players on the outdoor scene today. When I first got into the outdoors about 20 years ago I did a lot of hiking, and I still remember the first pack I bought – a 60 litre Lowe Alpine that was dark green and blue. The heavy duty fabric was bombproof, and it saw me through many adventures. It was also quite heavy, but it seemed light compared to my previous pack - which was a 1960s hand-me-down from my mother. Fetching as it was, the external metal frame of this bright red monstrosity was pretty cumbersome, not in the least bit comfortable, and desperately un-cool (sorry mum). Thankfully, great strides have been made in nearly all areas of rucksack technology since then.
The Aeon series brings this together in a state-of-the-art package. The range of 7 packs (18L – 35L) combines 50 years of experience with the latest in innovation. After 18 months of development, Aeon packs are due to hit the shops early next year, but Rock + Run is one of a select few specialist retailers to get them earlier. I’ve been testing the 27 litre recently; here’s how I found it.
The Aeon series is aimed at outdoor enthusiasts who do a bit of everything. It’s a real multi-sport pack, and the 27 litre version I tested is probably the most versatile of the range. It’s a perfect day pack size for hikers and cyclists. It’s also great for outcrop cragging, as it comfortably fits a pair of shoes, a slimline rack, lunch, a jacket and other bits and pieces. Then there’s the cool helmet attachment on the front, and room to accommodate a rope on the exterior (more on these below). The Aeon really is a versatile beast, so it’s unlikely to gather dust in your garage or gear closet.
The narrow profile of the Aeon makes it great for actually climbing in, because you can move your arms freely in all directions. So scramblers would be advised to give it serious consideration too. It would also serve as a great summit pack for alpine climbers, for the same reason.
The back system is an all important part of any rucksack, because it dictates how comfortable the pack is going to be in extended use. The Aeon range introduces the “Air contour” system, which is a high tech configuration of foam and mesh that offers a supportive but highly breathable structure. This is a nod to Lowe Alpine’s long heritage, as it builds on their original Contour system. This was one of the first soft back systems in the industry, and it featured on Lowe Alpine packs for around 20 years. The back is also adjustable via an easy-to-use Velcro section. Both I and my friend (who is smaller than me) were able to get a perfect fit with the Aeon 27, and adjusting it on the go was no problem. The foam has a stiffness that gives the pack a solid structure – serving a similar purpose to the metal frame of my mum’s 1960s relic, but in a much more socially acceptable format. I found the pack to be comfortable for all day hiking, and the high level of breathability makes it well suited to more intensively aerobic sports like biking and running.
Construction materials, harness and hip belt
The straps and hip belt are made of ultra-thin flexion material, which has 2% stretch that enables them to contour nicely to your shoulders when the pack is fully loaded. The construction seems to be similar to modern climbing harnesses – which have largely discarded the thick foam of old in favour of a modern type of webbing that distributes load in a way that makes foam unnecessary. As with harnesses, heavily foamed shoulder and waist straps tend to get worn and misshapen very quickly, so thinner, lighter straps that work like this are easily superior.
The other materials used for the Aeon packs are super light, and they contribute to the overall lightweight feel of the pack. The excess weight of some rucksacks is a bit of a personal bugbear – as the last thing you want to be doing is scrimping on what you carry because of the weight of the sack you’re going to put it in. Of course ‘lightweight’ can sometimes mean sacrificing durability, and I doubt the Aeon 27 is the most durable pack out there. However, I’ve had no problems so far and it stood up well to being thrown around at the bottom of the crag on the gritstone.
It’s immediately clear that the Aeon packs in a load of smart features and cutting edge technology. The pockets are all well placed and easy to access, and there is a mesh pouch on the front which is great for throwing a jacket into. There is what Lowe Alpine are calling the “multi-tool lock”, and it can accommodate walking poles and ice axes, as well as a helmet across the front of the pack. This leaves valuable space inside, so it’s a very welcome innovation. The multi tool lock also tucks away nicely so it won’t get in the way when it’s not in use. The side straps can be synched in to hold a rope, or compress what’s inside the pack. Taken together, the fact you can secure a rope and a helmet externally is great because you retain the full volume of the rucksack for other things. I was surprise to find a 27 litre pack was big enough for days out climbing, but it’s now taken the place of my old 40litre pack for cragging.
All things considered, I would recommend the Aeon 27 for anyone heading into the outdoors for a day trip – whether it’s to hike, bike, climb, scramble or run. It’s the consummate choice for the do-everything class of rucksack.