Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 | Tested and reviewed

Does this award-winning, high-tech backpack from Low Alpine live up to the hype? Our tester, James Forrest, finds out.

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 centred on a rock

by James Forrest |
Updated on

Winner of a prestigious ISPO outdoor gear award, the Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 is a minimalist, agile, ultralight and high-tech backpack with good eco credentials.

In announcing the award, the judges at ISPO, the world's largest trade fair for sporting and outdoor goods, said: “The combination of low weight, high wearing comfort and the consistent use of recycled materials is impressive. Thanks to different backpack sizes, women and men will find the perfect backpack for their specific anatomy.”

Here is our take on the excellent Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 following field testing.


  • Lightweight
  • High-tech
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Superb comfort


  • No lid
  • Curved back panel
  • No side entry

Back system: panel, frame, and harness

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 side view

This pack has a striking, high-tech back system. There’s an ultralight, spring steel, rectangular-shaped frame, which is partially external and partially internal. This provides good levels of structure and rigidity to the pack, and strikes a nice balance between stability and flex.

The frame has a very pronounced curve too. On top of the frame is Lowe Alpine’s AirZone system – a suspended mesh panel onto which your back rests. Due to the curve of the frame, there’s a large air gap between the AirZone mesh and the bulk of the pack, thus delivering excellent ventilation. Indeed, this is probably the most well ventilated daypack we’ve tested in recent years.

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 10

To further increase ventilation, the mesh panel has a large wedge-shaped cutout, known as a “convection channel”, while the mesh itself has a breathable honeycomb-like structure (with hundreds of holes) known as FormKnit technology. This seamless design wraps around the back panel, shoulder straps and hip belt, ensuring you don’t get any lumps or bumps in the material and the fit is therefore super comfortable.

The variable density of the perforations in FormKnit provides maximum ventilation where you sweat the most, with more structure and support in other areas.

In terms of the harness, everything you’d expect is present. The shoulder straps and hip belt are light and flexible, but hug the body well, have decent padding, and deliver a comfortable carrying experience. A sternum strap, load lifter straps and a system of ultralight compression straps enable you to fine-tune the fit and stabilise the load to your liking too.

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 back panel and harnesses

It’s also worth nothing that the curved shape of the metal frame, as well as the separation between the frame and the AirZone suspended mesh, give this pack a very distinctive carrying experience. We absolutely love it – it feels super-light, airy and almost weightless, as if the pack if ‘floating’ behind your back.

But the sensation may polarise opinion and some may struggle to get used to it. Another drawback is that, with heavier loads, there’s a chance you might feel like the weight of the bag is levering away from you. The ‘floating’ sensation is certainly very different to the close-to-the-body sensation you get with packs such as the Montane Trailblazer 25, where your back is in constant contact with a framesheet and the bulk of the pack is always close to you.

But the benefits are obvious – a lighter, more agile and far more breathable carrying experience. We’re big fans.

Back length and sizing

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 from the side

The Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 is available in men's and women's versions. The women's version - the AirZone Ultra ND26 ND (ND stands for narrow dimensions) - has a back length of 17” (43cm), while the men's version has a 19" back length.

The back system is non-adjustable. For us, at 5ft 9” tall, the medium size fitted well.

Volume, shape, weight

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 on a rock

The Lowe Alpine Ultra 26 has a 26 litre capacity, but it’s also available in a 36-litre option. The AirZone Ultra 36 costs £150. Two ND (narrow dimensions) versions are also in the range. The AirZone Ultra ND26 costs £140 and the AirZone Ultra ND36 costs £150.

Lowe Alpine’s ND packs are built with different proportions to the regular packs, making them suitable for anyone with a smaller frame. They’re designed to provide a comfortable and supportive fit for women or men with a narrower build.

The AirZone Ultra 26 version weighs just 745g. While frameless packs from specialist ultralight brands come in at lower weights, 745g for a fully-framed backpack is definitely ultralight – it’s an impressive achievement. The end result is a comfy, agile, light carrying experience that will excite gram-counting hikers and anyone who likes to move fast through the mountains.

Closeup of Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 label

Lowe Alpine has achieved this low weight through a stripped-back, no-nonsense design (lightweight stash pockets, and a simplified drawcord entry, for example) and the use of ultralight materials. In particular, Lowe Alpine says it has also trimmed weight from the gear attachment points, pockets and compression straps. For comparison, other packs in Lowe Alpine’s AirZone range (not AirZone Ultra) clock in at a far heftier weight. The Lowe Alpine AirZone Trail 30L Hiking Pack weighs 1,250g, for example.

The use of ultralight materials does have some cons, however. While the pack is wonderfully light and agile, the exterior of the bag is quite thin and flimsy, lacking the thickness or robustness of heavier packs. The mesh pockets feel particularly delicate. During our tests, the exterior of the pack coped fine and we didn’t have any problems, but the AirZone Ultra 26 should definitely be treated with care. It’s not one to be scraped over sharp rock-faces or anything like that.

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 bottle pocket

The shape of the AirZone Ultra 26 is pretty standard, with an average height, width and depth for a 26-litre volume. It is sized 56cm (height) x 33cm (width) x 28cm (depth), according to Lowe Alpine. One oddity with this pack is that the curvature of the back panel deforms the internal dimensions of the main compartment, making it a slightly awkward shape for packing and unpacking – although this is only a minor gripe.

Features: lid, straps, pockets, weather resistance

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 clip feature

You don’t get a traditional lid with the AirZone Ultra 26. Instead you get a simple drawstring closure of the main compartment, and a weatherproof flap which folds and clips over the top of the opening. This stripped-back approach helps to save weight and while the flap works fine in light rain, we’d be surprised if it works as well as a classic lid in torrential downpours.

The main compartment is quite simple. There’s one ‘floating’ zippered pocket at the top, with a key clip. Behind this is a sleeve to house a hydration bladder up to three litres. The bladder’s hose can be held in place by a clip and then threaded through a slit in the centre-top of the bag before being secured on a shoulder strap. This is the same system used by almost all backpacks for hydration reservoir hoses.

Externally Lowe Alpine keeps things simple. There is one large mesh stash pocket across the front of the bag, which proves a very versatile storage option for items you need to grab or stow quickly. It’s handy for stashing wet layers too.

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 back system closeup

On both sides you get stretchy mesh bottle pockets, which are wide and deep enough to take a 1L Nalgene bottle. The mesh material is super-light and stretchy. You also get pockets on both of the hipbelt fins. The right-hand fin has a zippered pocket big enough to take a large smartphone. The left-hand fin has a smaller mesh pocket without a zipper, which is nicely sized for granola bars or other snacks. Another nice touch is an integrated whistle on the sternum strap toggle.

The final external feature of the AirZone Ultra 26 is the trekking pole attachment system. Two loops of cord are located at the base of the pack. The loops are non-adjustable and non-stretchy, so you attach your poles by orientating them vertically, resting each tip inside one of the loops (with the basket atop the loop), and then hooking the top of the pole underneath one of the side compression straps. This works fine, but we’ve seen much better systems on other packs.

Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 clip detail

The Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 is made from a 100-denier ripstop nylon that is 100% recycled from ocean plastic. The material is ultralight yet has a high tenacity and a TriShield weatherproof coating, so it can shed water and withstand poor conditions.


The Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 is a streamlined, ultralight and high-tech backpack with an excellent back system – but it may be too minimalist for some users.

How we tested the Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26

James Forrest navigating while testing gear for LFTO

Our tester for the Lowe Alpine AirZone Ultra 26 was James Forrest. James is one of our long-time freelance gear testers both for LFTO and our print magazine, Trail.

As well as being a prolific long-distance walker James is also one of the most high-profile outdoor writers in the UK.

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