Part of an award winning series of packs, Rik Henderson brings us his Lowe Alpine Altus 52-57 pack review
Lowe Alpine sent us their latest backpack, the Altus 52-57, an award-winning four-season pack that that claims to service several outdoor activities including mountaineering, ski touring and overnight trips. We tested it over the Easter bank holiday during a thrilling multi day adventure taking in challenging mountain terrain, wild camping and blistering weather.
What Lowe Alpine say:
Whether you’re hiking hut-to-hut or heading up to a starlit winter bivvy, the Altus 52:57 is a versatile four season hiking backpack. Combining fit with ultimate comfort, the Altus has everything you need to get you and all your kit to your next destination.
The Plan: A drive to one of Snowdonia’s finest areas – Dyffryn Ogwen (Valley), two nights wild camping and a classic loop taking in some of North Wales’s best mountaineering on the Glyderau range….in theory a fairly simple but challenging undertaking, in practice though a trip that put both man and pack through their paces.
I arrived in Ogwen valley on Good Friday at 5pm, the unusual late arrival had been planned to try and avoid the Easter crowds, a move that proved fruitless and foolish. The road from Capel Curig along the A5 to Ogwen Valley is usually a symphony of rock, lake and sky, all thrown together in a chaotic but beautiful mess. The rocky Glyderau to the left with Tryfan at its helm, a triangular and formidable lump that looks unclimbable from its North side, and the Carneddau to the right, big angular sloping lumps with Pen Y Ole Wen at its gate, two mountains that look like the front line of their ancient battling clans, separated only by the ribbon lake – Llyn Ogwen. On this Good Friday though and in 20 degrees late afternoon sunshine the valley was strewn with cars and red face tourists, all hustling for prime parking positions and the best selfie of the day.
I secured a good parking spot though and quickly readied myself for the adventure that lay ahead, donned my walking boots, slipped my pack onto my back and hot footed my way up to the Llyn Idwal, a high mountain lake situated in the heart of the Glyderau range…bemused walkers looked on in shock as they made their way down in the opposite direction, hoping for a speedy cue for ice creams and a none eventful exit out of the valley.
I was carrying enough kit to keep me going for the next 24 hours, tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, spare clothes (warm layers for the tops at night), food, 4 litres of water and other emergency kit. First impressions of the Altus 52-57 pack were very promising, packing the contents had been a joy, a main compartment with zipped access to the bottom (divider inside although not something I usually use), and a full-length zip across the length of the bag for fast access to kit.
There is loads of obvious and clever storage across the body of the pack, two ample mesh pockets on either side and a large front stash pocket with zipped entry. A large floating lid allows for 5 litres extra storage, hence the capacity of 52-57.
As I bared right at Llyn Idwal and Westward up onto Y Garn, the terrain jolted skywards, a punishing accent that instantly made me question – what am doing? And why am I doing it? The environment and still atmosphere offering reassurance as I got further away from civilisation. The Altus although fully laden felt more than comfortable on my back.
The Air Contour+ system is noticeably substantial but not too bulky, a moulded and breathable system that can be adjusted to fit different back lengths…..mine needed little adjustment, tightening the hip belt as far as possible without being uncomfortable to take the main load, and a few minor changes to make sure the shoulder straps sit flush against the curve of my back. Reaching the top of the initial climb Llyn Clyd comes into view sitting beneath Y Garn, a perfect location to spend the evening.
Not wasting any time I set up camp, tent first, sleeping mat then sleeping bag. The pack allowed me to organise my kit in a methodical manor, as the temperature dropped, I accessed the front stash pocket to put on additional layers, down (or synthetic) layers being man’s best friend high above the valley floor, even on warmer days. I used this stash compartment for additional layers throughout the trip, wearing shorts and t-shirt throughout the day and alternating between warm and clean layers when the sun finally set.
The sun set behind the towering, crested bulk of Y Garn that evening and I watched a dull disc of moon pan from behind Tryfan and steadily over Glyder Fach. This was set to be the flavour of the weekend, poor none existent sunsets, mesmerising moon lit starry evenings, and warm pink, then gold sunrises. I gobbled down as many calories as I could in preparation for the following day, read some of my book whilst gazing at the moonlit sky before bedding down under additional layers of down and merino wool.
5.40am I awoke following a warm and comfortable nights sleep, unzipped my tent and went about my morning routine. A breakfast of oats and coffee from the stove and in time to watch the morning’s light show. The sun rising behind Tryfan turning Ogwen Valley from grey to orange and then pink, shedding light onto every crag, every buttress, every boulder and blade of grass….it was going to be a warm one!
Finishing my breakfast I quickly packed up camp and threw it into the backpack, an easy affair albeit with some careful thought process, weighty items at the bottom and close to the back, and regularly used items in the easy access storage areas, spread across the side mesh pockets, front storage area and roomy zipped lid pocket. I accessed my walking pole from the TipGripper and looped wand attachments on the side of the bag, these sit on either side along with HeadLocker axe attachments, they are easy to use and secure tools very well, much better than packs I have used in the past.
I set off up towards the summit of Y Garn (947m), a beautiful crest that meanders left up towards a rocky summit, offering unspoilt views South towards the Snowdon Massif, and the Hebog Range beyond. At this point most carry on towards the more obvious peaks in the Glyderau, Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach and Tryfan, all sitting tall and proud above Llyn Idwal. Such peaks are victims of their own beauty and accessibility. Walkers, climbers and tourists alike can park at the bottom and take in a variety of loops catering for all abilities….my cunning plan though to head Northwards, a 16km thrilling route taking in Foel-goch, Mynydd Perfedd, Elidir Fawr and Carnedd y Filiast before heading back down into Nant Ffrancon pass and along to Ogwen Valley.
The peaks rolled by, big giants characteristically rocky like their Glyderrau siblings to the south but gentler beasts, more sloping than jagged but still formidable…Elidir Fawr being the acceptation – an intimidating, sharp rocky crest that breaks out from the range towards Llanberis as if reaching across to Wales’s highest mountain.
Indeed the views from this rocky top are breath taking, Foel-goch looks like a colossal wedge, its top angular and precise, plummeting down towards Llanberis pass. Elidir Fawr shares Marchlyn Mawr Reservoir at its feet with Mynydd Perfedd and Carnedd y Filiast, a man-made structure among natures handywork – sculpted over millions of years.
I was thankful for being a creature of habit during this jaunt, when getting a new pack I always hide food in every nook and cranny, sugary relief and substance coming from the zipped hip belt pockets this time, just big enough for a mobile phone but more suited to snacks, gloves, compass, keys etc. In my opinion every manufacturer should incorporate such pockets, no excuses, they’re far too useful.
As I summited my last big obstacle Carnedd y Filiast I took a precarious line down into the valley, there is no path marked on the OS map here but a few light sheep tracks exist, albeit through steep ground covered in a thick blanket of moss and shrub, potentially another reason why these mountains are less trodden than their surrounding peaks. Precision footwork was needed here but feeling light and well planted I made a quick decent and prepared myself for civilisation, as having only met four other walkers/runners all morning, I was about to hit Ogwen Valley, mid-day on Saturday Easter Weekend.
One obstacle remained, a long part gravel track / part tarmacked road that makes up part of the Snowdonia Slate Trail, I’ve done this route before and it is always tough walking on harder ground for distance after walking mountain trails, and in this instance into the high mid-day sun. It was scorching now, well over 20 degrees and a case of head down and focusing on the reward at the end: a set of clean clothes, some proper grub and a pint of something cold.
Again, I felt light and quick, the Altus feels like a much smaller pack, its quite unusual and owes it to the supportive, body hugging back system, the breathable mesh doing a sterling job of wicking away the moisture on this hot day.
I made good pace, my Strava exercise app even notifying me that I had tackled one of the last sections to Ogwen Cottage coming 9th place in the world, not something I would put on a CV or tell the grand kids about but still good going considering the circumstances.
I entered Ogwen Valley and my fears were confirmed…it was busy, much busier than yesterday. The temperature intensified by hoards of people and hundreds of cars. A wide A road with footpath either side was now a single lane with no path in places, not wasting any time jumped I my car and sped West and away from the crowds towards quieter pastures.
Whilst Betws y Coed and Beddgelert might be the obvious choice for Easter breakers, I opted for “B” town/city Bethesda and then Bangor . These rather unappreciated destinations have hidden gems there for the taking, and if you are after the real Welsh experience, then worth showing them some attention. A chippy lunch and a cold pint, a walk along the coast before reorganising my kit and having a “student wash” (water on the face and some roller deodorant) in the carpark, I must have stood out like a sore and slightly burnt thumb.
At around 4PM I headed back to Ogwen Valley, this time to hike part way up Pen Y Ore Wen and set up camp for the final evening. Dodging in and out of the traffic I secured a parking spot and readied myself for the climb, boots laced up and on with the pack, now fully resupplied with water/food and back to full capacity. Even though I was tired and had the usual aches and strains from the morning’s activity, the pack was still comfortable and light. I made good progress gaining height as adventures headed down in the opposite direction – “Heading to the top are you?”, “Not quite, high enough to see the sunrise first thing” I replied.
I made my way up to a ledge, an over grown and wild spot that I named “Sheep S**T Terrace”, and later “Bug Infested Ledge”…I didn’t care though, I was just pleased to be out and in amongst the epic scenery, those who have climbed Pen Y Ole Wen will know just how impressive Tryfan to the South looks from this angle. A triangular scarred and hostile structure that looks unclimbable.
I’ve taken the classic Grade 2 scramble up its North Ridge on many occasions, but from here it looks almost impossible, its difficult not to get lost in its foreboding gaze. The ledge only allowed for a bivvy that night, not a problem as the air was mild and dry. I ate dinner from the stove whilst watching mountain rescue and the coast guard rescue an injured walker who I later learnt had fallen 100ft from Y Gribin across the valley, a stark reminder of how dangerous the mountains can be, even in perfect conditions.
I spent the night under a moon and star lit sky, a little colder than being inside a tent, but the GTX bivvy doing a fine job of keeping me warm and protected from the tangled floor beneath and cool evening air. I woke up early feeling rested and refreshed, early enough to see the sun rise from the east and above the smaller Carnedd peaks, their flanks bathed in warm and soothing light. Truth be told I was sad this trip was coming to an end, I packed up camp whilst the stove tendered to more oats and coffee and ate breakfast as the sun rose higher.
A weird and unfamiliar sensation occurred – I was genuinely looking forward to putting the pack back on my back again, keen to enjoy my last bit of walking before making it to my car and back to normality. I felt an urge to keep on going…deeper into the Carneddau, a trip that I look forward to taking on next. They’re wild and remote in places, some peaks only shared with mountain ponies and nesting birds on a good day. I descended the valley and made my way home, smiling all the way and grateful for the experience just had, I had achieved what I had set out to do, and enjoyed every moment of it…
Lowe Alpine Altus 52-57 Pack Verdict
The Lowe Alpine Altus 52-57 is a proper backpacking bag, a great pack to accompany you on longer overnight trips on mountain terrain. It is rich in features and usable space, all whilst feeling like a pack nearly half its size. When wearing a pack on such trips I have become accustom to getting rashes and rub marks around the shoulders and lower back, an ailment that I thought was part and parcel…no pain no gain right? This is not the case with the Altus, it left no mark or scratch on my body and I’m sure this would still be the case after additional days, this made possible by the fantastic Air Contour+ back system.
Personally, I think it is a good-looking pack, a rather subjective matter but here at Mud & Routes we are real fans of the colour of this pack – “Fern” to be precise. This pack comes in a larger back length as well as a women’s pack that has the ND Air Contour+ carry system, comprising of a female-fit lumbar pad and hip fin configuration for improved carrying comfort. I could use this pack for almost everything, especially winter mountaineering and even some travelling.
I think the pack size is ideal and if you are carrying more for such activities then my advice would be – if you need a bigger pack, you’re probably carrying too much, Lowe Alpine have plenty of larger packs in their range more suited for longer expeditions. The pack is well priced at £155 and is about the average price for packs in its class, having worn and tested different packs in my time I would go as far as to say the Altus 52-57 is in a class of its own, a pack that I look forward to taking with me on future adventures. The “jack of all trades” pack really does what is claims, and in great fashion!
The Lowe Alpine Altus 52-57 Pack is priced at £155 RRP (at time of publishing)
Lowe Alpine Altus 52-57 Pack features and specifications:
- M-L 1.85kg / 4lb 1oz – L-XL 1.86 / 4lb 2oz
- For lightweight, 4-season overnight trips or hut to hut travel. Perfect for lightweight thru-hiking. Features dual compartment and side entry. The Air Contour+ carry system is supportive, back length adjustable, has a moulded back panel and hipbelt
- HeadLocker axe attachment system
- Extendable lid to increase volume by 5 litres
- Zipped side entry for easy access
- Zipped Base entry zith zipped divider panel
- Base compression
- Front stash with large zipped pocket
- Large stretch mesh side pockets
- External zipped lid pocket
- Daisy chain lash points
- Zipped hipbelt pockets
- Adjustable back-length with easy to use hook and loop backsystem
- Secure TipGripper walking pole attachments
- Forward pull hipbelt adjustment
- Side compression straps
- Hydration compatible
- Internal lid security pocket with key clip
- SOS panel
- Sternum strap with whistle
- Rain cover
- 52+5lt / 3175+305cu.in
- 69 x 36 x 40cm