First impressions of Lowe Alpine's women's-specific backpacking TFX Annapurna ND 65:80 load carrier.
It's not often we're envious of a rucksac, but the recently arrived Lowe Alpine TFX Annapurna ND 65:80 women's-specific pack is the exception to the rule - while we're embracing the British winter, the Annapurna's off to New Zealand for six weeks of Christmas sunshine, backpacking and general travelling.
It's a seriously sturdy bit of kit with an all-up weight of 2400g and a suggested 'Load Zone' of 25-30kg making it a good choice for both multi-day backpacking and, potentially, expedition walk-in use.
Back System Basics
The heart of the thing is the women's specific - ND stands for Nanda Devi and is Lowe's designation for women's packs - ND TFX 8 back system.
It uses a couple of alloy staves to provide support and transfer loads into a hip-belt with a little bit of built-in TorsoMotion swivel for a more natural walking action. The back-length is simple to adjust as well, just fold the lumbar pad forwards and adjust up or down to suit then Velcro the pad back in place.
Just as importantly for women, the whole caboodle is optimised to work with female-shaped bodies, so the ergonomically curved shoulder straps are closer together for women's narrower shoulders, the hip-belt is angled to work with curvier hips and even the lumbar pad has been angled to work more effectively with female contours and allow the hip-belt to wrap better and transfer loads more efficiently.
It's not a dumbed-down version of the men's equivalent at all, just one that's been properly designed from the ground up to work with women's shorter torsoes and different shape. You still get the 'Noggin Notch' recess behind the head to allow unimpeded views upwards - often an issue when wearing helmets in particular - the same fabrics and materials and the same features, just optimised for women.
The heart of the TFX 8 system is a central pad that combines a mesh panel with pre-formed foam ridges for added venting without compromising stability, but in this case it's shorter and narrower to work with the female body.
Pockets, Give Me Pockets!
The same's true of the rest of the pack: you get Lowe's legendary build quality with thoroughly tested fabrics and materials - Lowe has an in-house testing facility - and bombproof contruction. The base is reinforced with a more rugged fabric, then double-layered to be sure, and seams are double stitched and then bound using specially chosen thread while all stress points are reinforced with bar-tack stitching.
We could go on, but what you really need to know is that the pack's been put together with some serious attitude. Not something you might appreciate straight away, but great for long term reliability and durability.
The basics of the lay-out aren't particularly remarkable - you get compression straps, pole/axe holder, floating extendable lid with a built-in rain cover - but again it's been built with women in mind. How's that? Well, a few years back, Lowe conducted some research into women pack users and discovered two main things: first, women generally don't want bright pink fabrics and embroidered flowers and butterflies and second, they like lots of storage compartments and pockets because unlike men, they're organised.
Which will be why the TFX Annapurna ND has no fewer than eight different pockets - two on each side, two in the lid, one on the front and one on the hip-belt - plus a divided main compartment. Amusingly, our tester's first reaction was 'Oooh, pockets, I love pockets...'
The other real stand-out feature is a big front-panel opening which gives easy access to main compartment contents without going through the lid. Handy when travelling or when you've accidentally buried your waterproof or down jacket deep in the main body of the pack and need access RIGHT NOW!
Those access zips, by the way, are reassuringly chunky great things with serious pulls on. We can't imagine breaking them any time soon.
Which is something we could say about the pack as a whole. It's a seriously well built, thoughtfully-designed bit of kit that promises to do the job nicely when the 'the job' is comfortably coping with big backpacking loads day after day.
Or that's the plan. We've asked the pack nicely to report back from New Zealand in the next few weeks before a final post-trip full review and we'll try to let you know how it's getting on.
Price of the Lowe Alpine FX Annapurna ND is £160. More information at www.lowealpine.com.