Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 80: 100 Trekking Pack Review

Outdoor brands often trade on their heritage, but with 35 years as Lowe Alpine's top of the range load carrier behind it, the Cerro Torre has more claim than most products. This is very much a first impressions review, but it's already obvious that this is a solid trekking and expedition pack that's built on years of experience. This review is based on a single trip; but having used it with a fairly heavy load, on steep, rough ground, and in unseasonably warm weather too, I think I've seen enough to comment.

The Cerro Torre 80:100 on a two-day traverse of the Black Mount  © Dan Bailey
The Cerro Torre 80:100 on a two-day traverse of the Black Mount
© Dan Bailey

Size and capacity

Let's start with the obvious: at a basic capacity of 80 litres, expanding to a massive 100, this is not a compact overnight pack. I've taken to calling it The Behemoth. Though the Cerro Torre is also available in a 65:85 version (or the Cerro Torre ND 60-80 for women), we were sent the full-sized model.

Let's go backpacking up Munros...  © Dan Bailey
Let's go backpacking up Munros...
© Dan Bailey

This is aimed at extended trips into the wild, be that the base camp walk-in of a big mountain expedition, or a long and self-sufficient backpacking mission. With no plans to do either in the near future, I had to settle for a single overnight walk - the classic traverse of the Black Mount, with a wild camp mid way.

To do justice to its size and load carrying ability, I went as bulky and heavy as I could bear, stuffing the pack with camera equipment, unnecessary spare clothes and frivolous extras such as a towel and a book.

Still, I barely dented its spaciousness - so if the pack looks a bit saggy in the pictures, and not as huge as I'm making out, then the reason is that I was going too easy on myself. You could get a load of expedition gear and several days of food in here, no problem. For some idea of how it looks packed closer to its standard 80 litre capacity, see right:

A fully packed pack

Weight and durability

Big, supportive trekking packs do not come light, and there's no denying the weight here. When I initially picked it up, empty, that's the first thing I commented on. I make it 3.1kg on my digital bathroom scales (for this size of pack Lowe Alpine say 2.9kg); you'll find marginally lighter packs of similar spec, and also some that weigh more, so I think the weight is fair for its size and general nature.

The main body of the pack is made of a ripstop 'TriShield' fabric, while the base is a harder wearing 500D nylon; both seem well up to the job. Build quality seems good too, and although it's perhaps not quite up there with the most bombproof top-end models available I would still expect the pack to stand up to a fair amount of wear and tear. The one notable exception is some of the plastic components: when testing them for toughness I easily snapped one of the axe head attachments.

Back

Front

Side

Back system

The Cerro Torre 80:100 comes in M/L or L/XL size. At 1.83cm tall I'd normally go for the larger option, but I have the M/L here and even this I've not had to extend it to its maximum length. I suspect that very short users may find this pack is simply too long for them - certainly a case of try before you buy. Back length can be quickly and easily adjusted via a simple and sturdy hook-and-loop (ie. generic Velcro) pad; why make life complicated?

As you'd hope from a trekking pack, the Cerro Torre is built around a really effective and supportive back system - the 'VT Flex' system, which is new this season. With a stiff back plate, and some internal framing, it's designed, say Lowe Alpine, to comfortably carry up to 25kg - which is an awful lot if you're walking up hills. My all-in weight on the Black Mount was just over 13.5kg - more than I'd usually carry on such a short walk - and the load certainly felt well supported. I'm confident the pack would happily take far more, whether or not I would.

Scrambly ground and a heavy-ish load, but it all feels stable and well-balanced  © Dan Bailey
Scrambly ground and a heavy-ish load, but it all feels stable and well-balanced
© Dan Bailey

A curved plastic pole connects the pack to the hip belt, a design that aims to transfer the load more effectively from your shoulders onto your lumbar region and hips. In use this certainly seems effective. The hip fins are sculpted to give a good close fit, and deeply padded. I'm not a fan of massively cushioned shoulder straps, but for big load carriers I do think it's good to really pad out the hip belt, both for comfort on your bony bits and because it just seems to work better.

To help the pack move with you, there's a slight pivot action in the hip belt - but only a very little, it's not over-done for effect. That seems well judged - let's face it, with a load this heavy you're not going to be doing a lot of bending, twisting or bounding about, so a fractional flex is arguably enough. To accommodate users of different shapes and sizes, the belt padding can be adjusted for length via a fiddly hook-and-loop pad. I'm not slim by climber standards, so I have tried setting this to max; but I'm not sure it offers any comfort increase, so strikes me as an unnecessary complication. Overall though, the hip belt is excellent. To a great extent a pack of this size lives or dies on the effectiveness of its hip belt, and for the Cerro Torre it's very much a thumbs up.

Big hills, heavy pack... some of us masochists actually enjoy this sort of nonsense  © Dan Bailey
Big hills, heavy pack... some of us masochists actually enjoy this sort of nonsense
© Dan Bailey

The shoulder straps (or harness, in industry parlance) are much more thinly and firmly cushioned, but they're perfectly comfy without feeling overly bulky or spongy like a very padded strap can. They're well contoured too, to hug closely without limiting arm movement. I've only one criticism, something I also noted when reviewing Lowe Alpine's Altus pack late 2018: Since the adjustment buckles extend down past the end of the padding on the harness, I sometimes notice that they're digging into my ribs a bit. I've got quite a big chest, and perhaps this doesn't help. However this buckle/padding setup is a feature common to many big packs from other brands too, and it's only recently on Lowe Alpine's that I've noticed it being an issue. So I suspect it's them, not me.

This one fairly minor niggle aside, I think the Cerro Torre's carrying system is really excellent, offering a stable, supportive and comfortable fit all day.

Keeping cool

Thanks to its mesh fabric, and cut-outs in the foam padding, the shoulder straps, back cushioning and hip belt all feel comparatively cool and well-vented. You can literally breathe through the padding - a little test I like to do. With temperatures on day two nudging into the mid twenties, and not much breeze to compensate, I worked up quite a sweat on the Black Mount. I'd have expected to feel wet and clammy under most packs, but here I really didn't. Top marks to Lowe Alpine in the sweat reduction stakes. Might all that open mesh get clogged if you put the pack down in snow? Probably - but I don't think it's a major concern since most of us aren't going to be using this pack much above the snowline; the ventilation far outweighs this theoretical consequence.

The straps and padding are airy and breathable  © Dan Bailey
The straps and padding are airy and breathable
© Dan Bailey

Pockets, zips and other features

A large D-shaped zipped entry gives access to the lower part of the main body of the pack, so you can lay it on its back and come in suitcase style. With a pack this large I can see the logic, though I would rarely if ever use this myself. On balance I think the drawbacks outweigh the convenience: adding a zip here is extra weight and complication; it's a potential source of failure; you could lose pack contents if it was inadvertently left open; and despite a small protective flap it's inevitable that wind-driven rain will eventually find its way in.

The bottom entry seems more logical to me; you get the standard zipped divider inside so you can keep warm clothes to hand, or wet things separate from the rest of the pack. Its very chunky YKK zip seems up to the inevitable abuse that results from having an over-stuffed pack. However I do find it hard to fully close when the pack is bulging; moreover, it's not going to be remotely waterproof in wind-driven rain, and the storm flap doesn't always properly cover it.

The rear sleeve/pocket is very tight - I can just about slip a map case in  © Dan Bailey
The rear sleeve/pocket is very tight - I can just about slip a map case in
© Dan Bailey

Two zipped side bellows pockets give a bit of expandable extra storage. Unfortunately these are still pretty small, and the entry is tight and hard to use. You'll cram small squashable items like a light wind shell or a pair of ski gloves in them, but they don't massively increase the overall volume. I'd happily live without.

On the front of the pack is a 'stash pocket', nowadays de rigeur on bigger trekking models. Some have a bit of stretch in them to aid stuffing things like jackets in, but unfortunately this one doesn't. It's really tight to enter, and not at all spacious. You could slide a trekking pole in, but I've struggled to get any other meaningful use out of it - even something small and flat like a map case is hard to get in. Normally I'd use a stash pocket for a shell, a map and maybe a water bottle, but this one is basically useless, which is a shame. I think Lowe should go back to the drawing board, and make it bigger and at least partly stretchy. A secondary zipped pocket here is bigger and more useful; inside is a small extra zipped pocket, in which they've stowed the rain cover.

The bottom zip entry is chunky and robust  © Dan Bailey
The bottom zip entry is chunky and robust
© Dan Bailey

The haul loops seem good and strong  © Dan Bailey
The haul loops seem good and strong
© Dan Bailey

Additional pockets are plentiful: a small but stretchy zipped pocket on each side of the hip belt (perfect for a hat and some snacks); a reasonably spacious over-lid pocket; and a smaller under-lid pocket (with a key clip - a small but essential addition in my opinion). You also get an elastic sleeve-style mesh pocket on each side, just deep enough to securely hold a 1 litre water bottle.

The compression straps are effective in their primary role, and also double as a place to stow big items (in my case a camera tripod). Axe 'HeadLocker' attachments and Lowe Alpine's trademark walking pole 'TipGrippers' are provided on each side, so you can carry two of each; the shaft of the axe or pole is secured under part of the top compression strap, an arrangement that works well. For extra outside storage there are a few lashing-on points, though I quake at the thought of the weight if you find you need more than 100 litres of capacity.

Strong carry handles, a sternum strap with integrated whistle, and a sleeve for a water bladder complete a very comprehensive feature set.

Lid and bonus extra day pack

Entry is via a conventional floating lid and drawcord arrangement; raise the lid to extend the volume from 80 to 100 litres. With its wide mouth, you can easily pack the Cerro Torre, and access the contents via the main entry. The lid is removable, and in that case a flap underneath serves as the pack cover.

Turn the lid inside out and it becomes a day pack. At just 10 litres this is not massive, and it's also very basic. You'll definitely find far better dedicated packs for demanding uses such as climbing or running. That said I can see it being good for occasional use if you're doing a day trip from your base camp - a non-technical summit hike during a trek kind of scenario, or perhaps a sightseeing day while travelling. The straps clearly add some bulk and weight to the overall pack of course, but not a lot in the scheme of things. All told, I think the bonus mini pack is a good thing, and it reminds me of those tiny cars you sometimes see fixed to the back of giant mobile homes. You won't always want to cart around the full 80 litres, after all.

A nice wide mouth for easy packing  © Dan Bailey
A nice wide mouth for easy packing
© Dan Bailey

Any niggles?

Not many. Aside from the poor design of the front stash pocket, the only other thing I can think of is that the pack won't stand upright on its base - which is actually quite annoying. And OK, let's remember that broken axe attachment too.

Summary

If you're in the market for a truly massive trekking or expedition pack then the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 80:100 deserves a place on your shortlist, while its smaller stablemates the 65:85 and ND 60-80 would be better for shorter trips. The biggie is a kit-swallowing monster, with all the bells and whistles. It's not a lightweight choice, but when your load is already gargantuan then what's a kilo or two either way? I'm not a fan of its external pockets, which strike me as both cluttered and too small, but the key essential for any trekking pack is done really well here - the back system. Supportive, comfy, and better ventilated than most rivals, the Cerro Torre really delivers where it matters most. For a pack of this type, the price is fair too.

Lowe Alpine say:

From untravelled wilderness to isolated peaks, the Cerro Torre 80:100 is our biggest load carrier: a premium trekking pack built with the stamina to endure over demanding terrain.

Designed for committing multi-day treks and self-sufficient expeditions, the Cerro Torre 80:100 has the capacity to comfortably carry everything you'll need.

The Cerro Torre range features the VT Flex™ carry system, designed to promote natural, flexible movement so you stay agile even while traversing strenuous terrain. An extendable hip belt with dual pivot hip fins and a stabilising load transfer bar transfer the load from the pack body into the lumbar and hip belt, which will comfortably support up to 25kg. Women's Cerro Torre packs feature a new female-fit lumbar design to improve carrying comfort.

  • Integrated drawcord cover when lid is removed
  • Extendable hipbelt with dual pivot hip fins and stabilising load transfer bar
  • Extendable lid to increase volume by an extra 20 litres
  • Zipped front and lower entry with internal zipped divider panel
  • HeadLocker axe attachment system
  • Web loop compression strap for fastening poles and axes securely
  • Front stash and zipped front pocket
  • Large stretch mesh side pockets
  • Side zipped bellow pockets
  • Front grab handle
  • External zipped lid pocket
  • Lash points to allow additional external carry
  • 500D Nylon hard wearing base
  • Secure TipGripper walking pole attachments
  • Forward pull hipbelt adjustment with zipped hipbelt pockets
  • Internal lid security pocket with key clip
  • Sternum strap with whistle
  • Internal and external load compression straps
  • Hydration compatible
  • Rain cover
  • SOS panel
  • VT FLEX™

For more info see lowealpine.com

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