An adventure bag that's tough, but smart
Adventure-oriented backpacks make up one of the hottest segments of the camera bag market at the moment. The Lowepro Flipside Sport AW 20L is the newest addition to their outdoor line. We took it into the woods and through a variety of different shooting situations to see if it's as big on brains as it is on toughness.
What Is it?
This is the biggest rig in the Flipside Sport family. It's built to hold a pro-grade body with a 300mm lens attached and still leave room left over for plenty of other gear. As the AW designation suggests (it stands for All-Weather), it's also meant to keep things inside safe from the elements.
The Gear Compartment
Lowepro has always done an excellent job when it comes to making their padding customizeable. Off the rack, this it comes with a whole pile of modular velcro pads that let you arrange the interior in literally thousands of different ways.
It could easily carry a 300mm lens attached to a body, but that's not part of my normal kit, so I filled it with a 70-200mm lens on a body and still had room for an extra camera, three lenses, a few flashes, and some accessories in the main compartment alone. I was actually a bit surprised because the bag doesn't actually seem that big from the outside.
The main pocket is also deep. It's easily big enough to fit a pro camera like the Canon 1D X or the Nikon D4. It's so deep, in fact, that you could stick a flash in there standing upright for maximum storage. It depends on the flash, and it might not be the safest way to carry your light, but it gives you an idea of how deep the compartment is.
The other pockets
Because the main compartment is so roomy, the other pockets tend to be pretty flat, making carrying oddly shaped things like umbrella clamps a bit of a challenge. There are a lot of pockets, though, including a pair of surprisingly spacious pockets on the front of the bag. There's also a zippered pouch on the flap where the main compartment opens. It holds a lot, but it can be a little tricky to find exactly what you're looking for because it's made of opque nylong. I would've liked to see them make the pocket out of the see-through material they use in some of their other bags.
Because the gear pocket is so deep, there's also no good place to put a laptop. There's an ipad pocket in the front, which could also probably hold a MacBook Air if you really felt motivated to cram it in there, but there's not a ton of padding around it. In all fairness, though, not many folks are bringing a laptop on adventures, so it makes sense.
The tripod pocket is on the side of the pack and uses two flaps as well as two sturdy clips to keep things in place. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you figure out the placement, it's pretty simple to get things where they need to be. Stretchy cords have spoiled me a little. Having the extra weight on one side of the bag rather than in the center of your back can make carrying it a bit awkward, but that's necessary for the bag to open as it should.
There's also a hydration pocket I found very handy. It fits a decent-sized bladder and has a clip on the strap for securing the mouth piece. At this price, it would've been cool if the bladder was included, but that would be more of a bonus than anything else.
Lowepro clearly put a lot of work into the fit of this bag, taking into consideration the fact that shooters might be wearing it all day on tough treks. The straps are wide, but flat, so they're easy to put on, even over a big jacket while wearing gloves. The padding on the back is also a logical shape to make it comfortable while allowing ventilation.
For even better breathability, Lowepro made the straps and the back panel out of mesh and put air channels in the padding to give sweat and heat a way out. It really does make a difference when you're wearing it. I even noticed it when shooting a grappling tournament in a sweaty gym.
The combination of the chest strap and the waist strap make it one of the sturdiest fitting packs I've encountered. Once you're all strapped in, it doesn't move, which is what you want. Not only does a jangling bag jostle your gear, but it's also a source of pain for your back.
I'm 6-feet tall (that's not me in the picture) and I found the waist strap to sit a little high. It's more of a stomach strap for me. That's clearly just a product of the size of the bag, but if I were much taller, it might become an issue.