First you need to understand that there is no such thing as the perfect photo backpack. I’ve owned several over the years and can attest that all have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s sort of like a woman looking for the perfect purse. It just doesn’t exist. That made it no surprise that I started getting the itch to get a new backpack. Several of my friends have FStop Gear backpacks and without exception they profess nothing but love for the packs. FStop bags are back opening (the side next to your back is the one that opens to access gear) and have different inserts for different amounts of gear. I looked them over at several group shoots and decided I needed one. When I found the price I decided to look for a used one. They are nice bags but bloody expensive. After looking for a while I found a well known Canadian photographer who was selling one at a reasonable price. I placed a bid on his website and was told I could buy the bag. When I e-mailed him to give a shipping address and find out how much shipping would be he said “Oh no…I want to sell it to someone in Canada, eh?” Bummer. Then a friend of mine got a new FStop Tilopa bag and hinted he might sell his old one. When I contacted him he said “Nahhh, I changed my mind.” No problem, I’ve changed my mind on stuff like that before….he was not exorcised from my friends list. After missing out on a couple of FStop bags on ebay I decided I wasn’t meant to have one so I kept looking. A couple of years ago I picked up a used Clik Elite Pro Express backpack and I liked it quite a bit but still wasn’t happy about how it carries a tripod. So I kept looking. And then I discovered the Lowe Pro Flipside bags. I checked specifications, looked at one in a local camera store, and decided the Flipside 400 AW would suit my needs. As if by magic I found one on craigslist for a great price and snapped it up just in time for a weekend trip to the Columbia Gorge and Oregon Coast. Time for a shakedown cruise.
First Look: The bag is sharp looking. The back opening feature is a plus but more on that later. It holds almost exactly the same amount of gear as the Clik Elite I’ve been using. For the record, here’s what’s in the bag: Canon EOS 60D body, Sigma 10-22mm, EOS 17-40mmL, EOS 28-105mm, EOS 70-200mm f4, Canon 1.4X converter, Canon 25mm Extension tube, Filter kit with adapters, electronic cable release, hot shoe bubble level, 5 spare batteries and charger, Garmin handheld GPS, Memory card wallet, knit cap, gloves, space blanket, waterproof backpack cover, misc cleaning cloths. Both packs hold this gear quite nicely. The bag fits well and the shoulder straps have a thumb loop for adjusting tension. I’m 5’9″ and the bag fits my torso perfectly with no need to adjust the harness. At first glance it’s just what I’m looking for.
What I like: This pack is comfortable. Then there’s the back opening feature. After the first 4 or 5 times of laying the bag down on it’s back to open the front and get to my gear only to have to flip it over to access the back panel, I figured it out. Why is back opening so important? Well, the part that’s next to your back isn’t getting laid down in the dirt and mud and getting your back all dirty when you put it back on. In the moist conditions of the Columbia Gorge this was a bonus. There is wet grass and mud everywhere. Some folks say it’s a great anti theft feature though I can’t imagine someone being able to unzip a front opening bag while you’re carrying it without you knowing. The bag is well padded and offers protection for your gear and it is well below carry on size for airline travel. The tripod system is on the front middle of the bag which makes it very well balanced and it’s quick to get to. And did I mention it’s comfortable? I took a couple of pretty significant hikes in the Gorge and did not have any comfort issues at all.
What I don’t like: I don’t know if it’s a function of a back opening bag but there is not a computer sleeve on this bag. The Clik has one and it’s been convenient in the past to stick my 11″ notebook computer there for editing on the road. The Lowe Pro does not have this feature. In fact, it doesn’t have a lot of storage outside the camera bay. There is one zip pocket on the front of the bag which is roomy enough to hold my gloves and hat but no other external zip compartments. That’s inconvenient but not a deal breaker. All in all there’s not much about this bag I don’t like.
There is, however, one thing I absolutely hate about this bag. The chest strap….it’s attached on both ends by a plastic clip that adjusts by sliding up and down ribbing on the shoulder straps. Pretty good, right? Wrong! Put too much pressure on it or take a deep breath and it pops off the ribbing. It’s not terribly challenging to re-attach it but it’s not easy and it’s a pain in the butt. With this current attachment system the chest strap is unusable. This is not a deal breaker and I won’t sell the bag because of it but I will definitely be heading to a shoe repair shop to have the stupid clips removed and have the chest strap sewn on permanently.
Ultimately I like this bag. It’s not perfect but it has some features that make it work for me a little better than the Clik Elite. I think I’ll keep it.