The Lowe Alpine story starts with Ralph Lowe, whose life-long love of the mountains was a passion he passed down to his children; especially to his three sons Mike, Greg and Jeff. In 1956, Ralph took Mike (then aged 10), up the Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton in Wyoming. In 1958 he returned to do the same route with his younger sons Greg (aged 9) and Jeff (aged 7), making Jeff at the time the youngest person to complete the climb.
By their late teens, the three brothers – along with their cousin George Lowe – were pushing climbing boundaries throughout the US. Greg was a gifted gymnast who could happily do one-finger pull-ups. His first ascent of Macabre Wall in 1967, a huge roof problem, was arguably the most difficult free climb in the world at the time and it was 20 years before the route saw a second ascent when it was graded 5.12c. Many also credit Greg with ‘the birth of modern ice climbing’ when in 1971 he made the first ascent of Mahlen’s Peak Waterfall, the first Grade 6 ice route.
Meanwhile, Jeff was learning big wall techniques in Yosemite on Salathe Wall (7th ascent), North America Wall (5th ascent) and the Triple Direct (24hrs climbing time, very fast for 1970). He became fascinated with alpine style climbing in the Himalayas, culminating in the almost complete ascent of Pakistan’s North Ridge of Latok 1 in 1978. Jeff, with George Lowe, Michael Kennedy and Jim Donini, climbed 75 pitches to within 150m of the summit but were turned back by storms, sickness and lack of food. Dozens of attempts by top climbers since have failed to reach their high point.
Jeff went on to develop ‘mixed’ rock and ice climbing techniques almost single-handed in the 1980s, and in 1991 solo climbed Metanoia, his Eiger North Face masterpiece; graded VII, 5.10, M6 it remains unrepeated.
As the Lowe brothers’ climbing skills grew, so did their interest in creating new equipment. For Greg in particular, designing things had been an interest since childhood. Back in 1967, the brothers had started making backpacks out of their Utah basement. Greg wanted a mountain pack that could carry the loads needed for alpine-style winter climbing, with good balance and weight distribution.
That first Expedition Pack was pretty revolutionary. Before then, backpacks used external frames and were stiff, painful and carried like a torture device. Greg’s design featured the first internal frame, first adjustable back system, first side compressors, first sternum strap and first load stabilizers. All now considered industry standards, but back then truly groundbreaking.
The new rucksacks were popular – so much so that the Lowe brothers started production in various locations across Colorado, ending up in Broomfield near Boulder.
Further innovations followed, including the first plastic buckles used on backpacks. At the same time the brothers were designing and producing climbing equipment including the Hummingbird (first modular ice tool), Footfangs (first step-in crampon), RATS (first ratcheting ice screw) and the Tuber (first tubular belay device).
In 1978 Jeff was planning his climbing expedition to Latok in the Karakoram. In the same spirit, he decided that they’d have to make their own technical clothing for the Himalaya trip and Jeff designed the Latok range of apparel, subsequently to become Lowe Alpine clothing.
In 1988, the brothers made the decision to sell Lowe Alpine and the company was sold to a UK-based company. This company also owned a distributor business called Europa Sport in Kendal, UK and Lowe Alpine control moved to Kendal although the Colorado base continued to operate. The development of backpacks remained in Colorado for the US market, with clothing and European backpack production coming from Lowe Alpine’s factory in Tullamore, Ireland.
Rapid growth in both backpack and clothing sales followed, with Lowe Alpine at the forefront of a new outdoor fabric revolution – fleece insulation – developing its Aleutian fleece in partnership with Polartec. Lowe Alpine also forged its own path in creating its own waterproof/breathable shell fabric technology, Triplepoint Ceramic, which gained a big following and legendary status. Further clothing sub-brands were developed including Dryflo base layer, Stormweave soft shell and Desertweave for pants and shirts.
Further changes in ownership including a period with Asolo, the Italian footwear company, until 2011 when Lowe Alpine was acquired by Equip Outdoor Technologies Ltd.
Equip has grown rapidly in recent years following its acquisition of the RAB and Podsacs brands to emerge as one of Europe’s fastest growing suppliers of specialist outdoor clothing and equipment. Following the acquisition, Lowe Alpine’s base in Kendal once again became the company’s international headquarters. The well-established backpack development team already operates from here, designing products that are now distributed into over 40 countries around the world. The office also houses the clothing design team, with a new Lowe Alpine clothing line launching in Fall 2013.
Lowe Alpine is now a leading worldwide manufacturer of outdoor gear, yet still creating new solutions to old problems. This is equipment used in the world’s wildest places, where gear failure is not an option.
Lowe Alpine’s objectives stay true to the Lowe brothers’ vision: to create innovative, practical outdoor products using exacting levels of design and materials. Their backpacks and clothing are built to cope with any outdoor situation, to defend and protect you from the worst conditions in the world.