Lowepro Pro Trekker 400AW Camera Backpack
This time it's a bit of a wayback playback, a bag that redefined comfort as a rugged suspension backpack, the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400AW!
Camera bags can be much more than just fashion, they make our passions into possibilities in many instances by enabling us to travel across difficult terrain with our equipment. Lowepro knows camera bags better than most, and they recently released the Pro Trekker 450AW on the back (pun intended) of the very successful 400AW. It was obviously a popular design, but what is it that makes this bag such a difficult bag for many pro photographers to put down?
Single Sentence Summary
Rough, rugged, ridiculously big.
Why I Bought It
I needed a bag that was tough, which would survive the elements well, one that fit in an overhead compartment, offered good padding for my equipment, and would not leave my back absolutely destroyed after a solid day of hiking in any climate. This bag offered ALL of that, and offered a ton of bonus features that I didn't foresee.
What I Like
The bag can take a beating. I'm not talking about any normal run-of-the-mill longer wedding day type of wear, I mean I legitimately once accidentally dropped it from a helicopter on a low fly-past and all the gear inside was fine. Now, I'm not saying that it would survive such a mishap repeatedly (though I'd love to see someone try it), but a little dish soap and some elbow grease the bag only had a small scuff. The padding inside is secure, unlike my Everyday messenger which has minimal Velcro, the Velcro strips run the entirety of the divider and hold strongly.
When I need a backpack that can carry EVERYTHING, this is it. The bag is massive. Sure, there are some issues with the laptop storage and weight (I get into them below), but I have easily tucked in 3 x D810 with three lenses (1 stored off-body), a flash, and all of my other gear that I needed to last three days in the field (batteries, memory cards, flash, cleaning gear, solar panel, and charger). It may look like it's a smaller backpack, but when you get it in your hands you'll see how big it is. It's honestly shocking that it fits in the overhead measurements.
The adjustable suspension in this bag is phenomenal. I honestly wish our Army rucksacks were designed more like this, in that they're simple and easy to adjust on the fly. The lower waist strap is easy to remove or adapt, and the shoulder support adjustments really let you tailor it to how you need the weight to sit. In my military work there are countless times where I need to move faster than it would take to neatly organize my gear, so I quickly just jam all of my gear back into the bag without balancing it. The straps let me adjust how it sits while moving, and that's an amazing bonus to me. It also offers a series of convenient handles on three sides of the bag, and the top rubber one tucks nicely away under the top pockets.
The weather sealing on the zippers is fantastic. I was shooting during some brutal rain in Alberta last summer and I didn't even need to use the All Weather (AW) cover. To be honest, I've never used the cover, in the desert, at sea, even in -60 whiteout snow drift conditions when I've left the bag outside of the tent to keep the lenses acclimatized. When I finally bring the bag in, even with the snow melting, the zipper seals have kept my gear dry.
I love how well the bag's interior is designed to manage equipment. Weather sealed pockets for passport, papers, and cash make travel a breeze, memory card dedicated pockets in the sides and interior make it easy to access on the fly, and both top pouches offer plenty of space for things I may need like lens cloths, food, ColorChecker Passport, maps and compass/DAGR GPS, headlamp, matches, etc.
Another thing you should know about me is that I love Camelbak and Geigerrig hydration packs (WAY too much given how often I have to use them). So when I found out that this thing came designed to fit my water bladders, they had me 100% sold. It's super convenient to be able to run the hose down the strap with easy clips to facilitate access and to keep it out of the way. Love it. LOVE – IT.
What I Don't
One thing I don't like about camera backpacks is how painfully obvious it is to see that they're camera bags. Nothing screams, “Steal me,” more than a big camera bag, and despite my efforts in removing the tripod pocket, sewing in some Canadian flag and Royal Canadian Regiment patches, and cutting off the branding, it still looks like a camera bag. Though it does look like it would be a nice backpacker's bag, particularly when you've strapped a compression sack with a sleeping bag on the bottom, it still looks like a big pay-off to camera thieves.
The downside of great padding is that it doesn't size-down well. It doesn't matter if the bag is packed full, or stark empty, the bag is big. Sure, it technically fits into an overhead compartment, but you have to leave the side pockets and top pockets empty, and really tuck the straps tight to get it to fit. If you're planning on using it fully-loaded, you'd better think twice.
The laptop sleeve is ridiculously tiny. I couldn't fit any of my laptops into it if I tried, and I have long since given up on the idea of packing a laptop into it. I have to pack a laptop into the front pouch without a cover, which exposes it to the risk of being directly damaged. That being said, the sleeve that's designed to house the laptop has proven itself incredibly useful: it fits my Wacom Intuos Pro (Medium) perfectly and saves me from needing to buy a carrier from Wacom themselves.
Now, realizing that I can't easily fit a laptop, I should address the issue of weight. Sure, technically it CAN fit into the overhead; but when it's FULLY loaded it will weigh a ton. It holds a lot of equipment and camera gear can weigh a lot when you keep packing it in. Don't be surprised when you weigh in at the airport if you're 10kg overweight. It happened to me when I was shooting a wedding in Jamaica this past December, and it cost me an additional $50. On the way back I moved a good chunk of it to my Pelican 1620 to offset the costs.
The inner weather-proof organizer, while convenient, isn't designed too well when it comes to bending. The bottom pocket is very difficult to access when you're pulling the bag open, as the zipper doesn't seem to come down low enough to grant it full access. Also, many of the other pockets are JUST shy of being able to fit a number of things that I frequently travel with, things like a passport, my immunization booklet, my Pelican CF card protector, my ColorChecker Passport, etc. I've had to adapt, but it really does limit my options.
I also am not a fan of how the memory card slots aren't weather protected like the other pockets. Aside from my passport I can't think of anything I need to protect more. It would be great if they were designed to have a weather-proof hard shell lining to protect CF/SD cards, then I wouldn't need to bring my Pelican CF card case.
I like the look of it, the design, the capacity, and the comfort of it. In my opinion it's a worthwhile investment, and it's saved my gear and my back on a number of occasions.
It's a solid bag.