The new Lowe Alpine Sirac series is the rucksack equivalent of the Ford Mondeo. This is a compliment of the highest order. Like the Ford Mondeo, it's practical, relatively affordable, surprisingly spacious, doesn't have too many pointless bells and whistles, and comes in several different iterations in terms of size, each in both men's and women's fit. I'm testing the middle sized female model here; the comfortable saloon version of 50 litres capacity which is perfect for both international travel and regular weekend bothy-to-bothy or wild camping trips. The other sizes available are 65 litre, and 40 litre - the estate and the hatchback, if you will*. Prices range from a budget-friendly £130 to a very reasonable £150: good value for a trekking pack.
Material and Structure
Made from a thick 50% recycled 420D Dobby and 100% recycled 600D PW / HydroShield (yeah, me neither but at least some of it's recycled), this rucksack feels robust and durable. Its plastic-like inner coating affords something in the way of waterproof-ability but this is aided by the colourful hidden waterproof cover stored in the base of the bag. The pack's structure and load-carrying support is provided by a moulded nylon back panel, plus some internal steel framing.
In real terms, I've used this pack to travel around France, hopping on and off various types of public transport and bivvying near glaciers, and have also fannied about in the north west of Scotland with it. The fabric has held up wonderfully so far, and there's no sign of fraying, ripping or tearing after a good few months of reasonably heavy use. Additionally it doesn't seem to collect dirt and dust in quite the same way other packs I own do, which should keep it looking smart enough to keep the border-control sniffer dogs away for a good while yet.
This rucksack fits me exceedingly well as a petite woman with wide shoulders and a fairly average hip-to-waist ratio. The hip belt is snug and well padded, ensuring an equal distribution of weight between my upper and lower back, and the chest strap is adjustable. Luckily this is unobtrusive and comfortable for me straight out of the bag - no tit-fiddling required. The shoulder straps are a nice size with a good amount of padding which protects my collarbones nicely, an area that often gets sore after a full day of wearing a heavily laden bag. The rucsack's back length is also adjustable, with around 10cm of play, but serendipitously seems to have been made for someone my height and size as it is.
Something which may annoy other users, but is fine for me, is that the pack comes up stout and wide, rather than being close in to your body and taller. This is primarily because it's not designed as a climbing pack, but could cause issue for women who are more slender in the shoulders and hips, seeing as the bag could at points be wider than they are.
For me though this is no problem, and if anything makes the pack easier to carry. It feels like I'm not wearing it even when it's weighed down with fishing tackle, climbing gear and wine, which is possibly the biggest compliment one can give to any item of outdoor clothing or equipment. It moves with me, and is by far the most comfortable large rucksack I've ever worn.
Happily, this bag has just the right amount of features - not so many that you lose track of them all, but not so few you can't work out how to get into it. To start off, the pack opens from two locations, via both a bottom zip and a top drawstring, meaning that sleeping bags, roll mats and tents are easily accessible without having to pull everything out the top whenever you play the infuriating game of "Where Did I Put The Sodding Thing". There also is an option to divide the inside main compartment into two sections, which could make organising your belongings easier if you should be so inclined.
The top drawstring is robust and easy to use. The lid which fits over it encompasses a zipped compartment so big I can fit all my clothes for a week into it, or alternatively smuggle a docile chihuahua into a nursing home without detection. I have, though, found one slight annoyance with the lid system: when you fill the main rucksack compartment to the very top and the lid pocket is full of clothing (I haven't tried a chihuahua yet), the lid hinge material isn't actually long enough to cover the drawstring part of the pack, if you see what I mean, so a bit of grey material sticks out and the clasps don't align particularly well. Naturally this is overcome by not filling either compartment completely to the brim, but that's a bit like being told on your visit to an all-you-can eat buffet that actually you can only fill your plate a maximum of four times. Even if you only go for three helpings, you feel a little cheated. This is where other packs which have adjustable-height floating lids offer a more flexible solution, but this does tend to be a feature of the more premium bags. On the plus side, the Sirac is much more flexible on the lower end of the carrying capacity - when it's only ½ to ⅔ full, the lid compression straps turn it into a smaller sleeker machine which can definitely pass off as hand luggage.
As a woman who doesn't believe in handbags, but whose clothing often has an infuriating lack of pockets, I was thrilled to find that the hip belt comes with a roomy, zippable pocket on each side. That means I can carry a passport and a fairly bulky smartphone on one hip, and a 300g bag of haribo tangfastics and a swiss army knife on the other. It gives me immense peace of mind to have my valuables close by, seeing as the top zipped pocket - where I might otherwise have put important things - is large enough for me to lose track of time in. These hip pockets mean I can forgo one of those waist-belt bags when travelling, and also means I don't have to put handy snacks in the outside mesh pockets, where they will simply fall out.
Which brings me to my biggest criticism of the Sirac 50: the dual-entrance side pockets don't work very well. Essentially, these pockets are attached by one seam and one corner, presumably so that things stored there can be reachable when you're wearing the pack. In theory this could be useful, but in practice it means that stuff falls out of the side entrance all the time, which is immensely annoying, especially if you're bending down to inspect blaeberries, or taking the bag on and off regularly. This makes the side pockets suitable only for taller drinks bottles, and for stuffing larger items of clothing in. Forget about the usual stuff you'd want handy - suncream, cameras, cereal bars and a glasses case - they'll just escape at inopportune moments and you'll lose four Euros' worth of aftersun down the side of a bus seat forever.
Luckily, that's my only real complaint when it comes to features. The rest are great, especially the central back vent, which provides much needed relief from the alpine heat in which I tested it over the summer. This means that my back is spared from accumulating a layer of salt which would otherwise dry crustily on my clothes and be a disgusting nuisance for a few days at a time. Happily, the shoulder pads and hip belt, although not exempt from accumulating sweat, are made of a porous material which does not soak through and and stick to you in the same way that other foam-padded rucksack straps might.
I also like the storage elastic on the outside of the pack - Lowe Alpine recommend using it for wet gear but I've found it good for both crampons and as extra space for storing insulation layers when I'm on the move and want them handy to put back on when stopped. Stunningly, the elastic has remained fankle-free in the time that I've used the bag, which is saying something; usually within five minutes of using bag elastics, I've trapped at least three items in there to be tangled forever, and sworn a lot. Other external straps include non-elastic options for ice axes and walking poles, and extra tensionable straps on the bottom of the bag for a tent or a foam roll mat. All of these systems perform well.
Weight & packability
Like I said at the beginning, this rucksack is a Ford Mondeo rather than a Ferrari. It's not the lightest pack in the shop, weighing in at 1.78kg, but then you're not really going to get much under 1.5kg for a similarly featured multi-day trekking pack without selling a kidney. When not in use, the bag folds down flat enough to be stored on its side behind a wardrobe or similar cubby, but if you're any type of adventurer who enjoys trekking, hut-to-hut ambling, or even just going for an evening of camping on the beach with a few mates, you won't find much reason to keep this in storage for long.
Overall, the Sirac 50 does exactly what it says on the tin very well, bar a few minor pain-points which can all be overcome with a slight re-jig of your stuff. This is a comfortable, durable and spacious bag - I can't wait to use it for some longer adventures in the future. And who knows, maybe one day I'll find a willing chuihauhua for that top pocket.
*I am aware that the Ford Mondeo models do not fit neatly into these three categories, but there's only so much one can torment a metaphor before the wheels fall off.