When we hit the trail for a day hike, we try to pack as lightweight as possible – some rain gear, a small lunch, first aid and a water reservoir. And … then there’s the eight-pound DSLR camera and zoom lens to capture all the beautiful scenery.
Whoops, not so light.
We're left staring at our lightweight daypack contemplating how to keep that camera protected from the elements and any water leaks. There are, of course, a slew of camera-specific backpacks out there, but many just add more weight and bulkiness with too much cushioning and heavy exterior materials. Quick access to your camera with any backpack also presents a problem. And front-facing belt packs are just too cumbersome for a hike or bike ride -- not to mention for many women.
Enter Lowepro’s (www.lowepro.com) new Photo Sport AW series – available as a 9-liter Photo Sport 100 AW sling or a 13.9-liter Photo Sport 200 AW pack – which attempts to merge a sporty, lightweight outdoor pack with the protection of a camera bag.
We tested the Photo Sport 200 (photos, right and below), which weighs in at just 2.9 pounds thanks to lightweight, yet durable material and a molded back panel with a center aluminum stay.
Before we inserted the camera, we were impressed with the pack’s layout. Even without the camera, this would be a great daypack. On the exterior, there’s a zippered top pocket, a fully separated, water reservoir compartment, a side pocket for a water bottle or poles, and a pouch – enough for a jacket or helmet. There are also two zippered pockets on the front of the hip belt and a rain cover stuffed away at the bottom - a feature missing on most U.S.-made packs.
The main interior, which is accessed through a traditional top drawcord entry, features a zippered pocket for a phone, keys and accessories. Even with the separate camera section taking most of the main compartment, there’s still room for raingear, extra layers and the all important lunch and snacks.
Access to the camera compartment is from two exterior side zippers with big plastic loops to easily grasp and open. The padded space inside can be adjusted with hook-and-loop paneling and cinched down with a drawcord to secure the camera.
Although the Photo Sport 200 is the larger of the two packs in the series, we still found the compartment too small to store one tester's Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera with a Canon 24-70 F2.8 lens and lens hood attached. It fit without the lens hood, but shooting outdoors, we like the lens hood on and didn’t want to fuss taking it on and off.
We noted that the camera compartment extends only three-fourths of the way horizontally across the pack -- about 7.7 inches according to Lowepro -- so we suggest for future versions to extend it fully across for those of us with well-endowed ... errr ... lenses. With the current model, a DSLR camera with an attached lens longer than about six inches, not including a hood, may not fit in the compartment.
In order to give the pack a fair test, we attached a smaller lens – a Canon 17-40 F4 lens with the hood – and headed to the trails for day hikes and mountain bike rides in the foothills of Boulder, Colo., over several weeks.
Lowepro designed the Photo Sport pack for hikers and riders to quickly slide off the right shoulder strap and swing the left side around and under your arm to unzip the compartment and pull out the camera. This worked flawlessly both on foot and bike, and we really enjoyed the quick and easy reach. With other packs, there are so many times we debate whether it’s worth the struggle to get the camera out. With this pack, there’s no debate – we went to the camera time and time again with speed and efficiency.
We even learned to blindly access the compartment and camera without taking a single strap off, although we’re not necessarily recommending that with your thousand-dollar photo equipment.
Comfort and fit of pack was good for our two male testers. Although when biking with a full water reservoir, one tester felt the center aluminum stay sticking into his back, about a quarter of the way up the bottom of the pack. We loved the sporty look -- it's hard to tell this is a camera pack, and that's good too if you want to be incognito. We dug the orange color, but its also available in black.
Overall, the Photo Sport 200 scores high on our evaluation of design, construction, fit and use. A larger camera compartment and perhaps slight tweaking of the aluminum stay would have made this pack perfect for us. Everywhere else on this pack, Lowepro has answered the call of active outdoor photographers.
SNEWS Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
For more information:www.lowepro.com/photosport