Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Backpack Review
Review of the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Photo Backpack
I must confess to being bit of a camera bag junky. I’ve tried loads of bags and have so far failed in my quest to find THE prefect camera backpack. I guess the perfect backpack simply doesn’t exist as there is always something that could be improved, and personal tastes vary too. However, the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW for me, comes seriously close.
By far the majority of my previous purchases have been bags by Lowepro as I’ve found them particularly well constructed, but I have also sampled bags from Kata, Crumpler and Tamrac. I’ve read countless reviews of bags too numerous to mention, and have scoured the net for useful user feedback, so with this particular purchase I took my time and did my research before I was ready to part with my hard earned cash.
The Lowepro Pro Trekker series comprises the 300, 400 and the 600 with numeric designation being related to the maximum size lens the bag can accommodate whilst attached to a camera body, thus you can fit a camera with a 400mm lens within the Pro Trekker 400 AW. It will fit the larger bodies too or those with battery grips attached.
The Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW is listed as a rugged, light weight expedition camera backpack. My (somewhat brief) mountaineering days have long since fading into a far distant memory so I can’t profess to talk about this bag on long treks out in the wilderness for several days, but can however comment on it’s day-to-day use. My needs are predominantly short walks of generally no more than a few miles from my car to photographic locations, and to have a bag that is suitable as hand luggage when I fly overseas. I also require a bag that will carry a tripod easily and that has additional storage for other items, not just photographic gear.
The Pro Trekker 400 AW has a more traditional rucksack-like appearance compared to other camera backpacks’ and only comes in an outdoor kakhi colour (called ‘Mica’ by Lowepro). Both the colour and looks I find appealing to the eye and it doesn’t cry out ‘Camera Bag’ like so many others do, although the Lowepro logo is clearly visible. My previous backpack was the Lowepro Vertex 200, which similar in size to the Pro Trekker 400 AW and a very good bag, just lacked that little extra adaptable space for those non-photographic extras, such as your packed lunch and a flask! The Pro Trekker 400 AW just provides that bit more usable space that renders the bag a much more practical prospect for a photographer like me. Don’t let that traditional rucksack-like appearance mislead you though, the Pro trekker 400 AW has just the same, adaptable, camera compartment underneath, and although it is listed with exactly the same internal dimensions of the Vertex 200 it is actually 1/2″ deeper and very slightly larger. That extra depth is ideal for packing slightly larger lenses in a vertical position and peripherals such portable, external, 2-1/2″ hard drives which now fit with ease.
The rucksack-like appearance is achieved by providing two large tapered side pockets, one which can be adapted to take a hydration system, and a waist-pack pouch (referred to as the backpack lid by Lowepro) which attaches to the top of the bag. The latter can be removed and a hidden belt revealed enabling it to be used as a separate waste-pack. Three, integrated, reinforced tripod sleeves are provided, situated on the front and sides of the backpack. The central sleeve is the larger of the three and has two retaining straps and can easily accommodate a large tripod such as my Gitzo GT-3541 SL, whereas the side sleeves can accommodate a smaller tripod, monopod, or trekking poles.
The reverse side of the pack contains a 10-point adaptable harness system which is considerably more comfortable than the one on my old Vertex 200, and by the use of what Lowepro term the Pack-jack system, the wearer can shorten or lengthen the distance between shoulders and hips. The pack-jack is a thin plastic/nylon card which resides hidden between the padded mesh on the back of the pack and base of the main compartment. When pulled up it breaks the Velcro seal which holds the straps in place enabling them to be repositioned to suite. The mesh-covered, padded waistband (not show in the photographs) is removable (at long last), which is a real boon when taking the bag onboard as cabin baggage. The whole bag is fabricated in the usual heavy duty ballistic nylon and strengthened with hypalon (a synthetic rubber noted for its resistance to chemicals, extreme temperatures, and UV light) at strategic points, and seems extremely well constructed.
The main compartment is practically identical to the Vertex 200, and sealed by similar water-resistant, heavy-duty YKK splashguard dual zip fasteners. One problem with the Vertex which I found infuriating was that these zips were very tight and even after a couple of years use were still awkward to undo and fasten. Lowepro have addressed this problem in the Pro Trekker 400 AW by providing large zip loops enforced with hypalon which make it much easier to pull the zippers. All the zippers on the 400 have these. The layout of the main compartment is similar to most bags and constructed of the usual grey Velex, brushed Nylon, foam padded, dividers which can be easy arranged to suite your equipment. The Lowepro dividers I always find work particularly well and have good quality Velcro attachments which really do hold. I also much prefer the subdued grey colour of these to the rather garish yellow used by Kata. There are also two elasticated Velcro ties that can be used to hold longer lenses or other long objects and a small zippered mesh bag is provided for small loose accessories.
The pockets inside the top cover are of a different layout to my old Vertex 200 and contain 4 dedicated CF memory card pockets with tabs on the front which can be set to show whether the card is empty or has been used. The card slots are rather a tight for a CF flash card within it’s plastic case and I found it a struggle to get them in, although I presume this will become easier with frequent use. There are 4 clear mesh zipped pockets. The zip pulls fit under small flaps when closed so that no metal will extrude and mark your precious camera gear when the lid is closed. The layout of the main mesh pockets I found to be rather odd however, and certainly not as versatile as those within the Vertex. There is only one long, narrow pocket suitable for brushes, pens and torches and such, and I really miss a dedicated pen/brush holder. All the pockets bar one are in the vertical orientation too (not horizontal like the Vertex) which makes getting things in and out more difficult, and objects prone to falling out when the bag is laid down flat. I think a little more thought could have been put into the layout of the pockets and this area lags behind the Vertex design. that aside there’s still plenty of room for instruction books, cleaning materials and other items.
With the 400 you get two large sized, long, outside pockets, the one on the right contains a drawstring liner suitable for a 2-Litre (70 fluid oz.) hydration pack (which I don’t plan to fit) and the other contains a couple of passport sized slip-in open pockets and a couple more CF memory card pockets. The hydration side I find ideal for a flask or water bottle but it’s just about long enough to fit a small flask with small water bottle on top with still extra lateral space for other stuff too. You could put a rolled up waterproof in either of these pockets. The pockets are slightly tapered so are a little wider at the base and get narrower towards the top. The zips go from the top rear to bottom front so open like a flap; this works well however. The slip-in pockets in the right hand side are idea for filters, small filter wallets and other accessories as well as a waterproof. Although relatively simple, these outside pockets are really useful, easily accessible and provide the bag with much more versatility.
You loose the dedicated, zip-sealed, laptop pocket with the Pro trekker 400 AW which I miss. All you get now is just an open slip-in pocket on the outside of the bag. This comes with a rather tight fitting, colour matched, zipped, laptop cover, supposedly suitable for a 15.4-inch laptop. Be aware however, that the outside pocket in which the laptop cover is supposed to fit is very tight. There are two straps on the bottom front of the bag on the outside of this pocket which can be loosened, but if you have anything but a slim, modern, 15-inch laptop or smaller it still may not fit. This seems like a major faux pas on behalf of Lowepro and you really need to check if you laptop can fit before buying. I’ve knocked a star off for this alone. It wouldn’t have taken much to make this a tad bigger to cope with the majority of 15-inch laptops. The included laptop sleeve is also rather an odd shape, being long and narrow and I don’t know of any laptop that would fit these dimensions. I have included a picture below that compares a normal laptop cover to the Lowepro design so you can see what I mean. My 15-inch Sony Vaio is a struggle to fit width-wise, but a good couple of inches shorter than the cover (see picture above). When the laptop cover is inserted in the pocket it also protrudes slightly out the top, but can be prevented from slipping out by a central quick clasp (show above). I seldom trek with a laptop so this outside pocket is currently used to hold a rolled Linpix groundsheet and my Lee filter wallet, both of which fit quite tightly so I know they won’t fall out. The lack of a zip to close this compartment however, severely restricts what you can use it for and in my view is detrimental to the overall design of the bag.
On top of the bag, and what gives the 400 that rucksack-like appearance is a small removable waist-pack. It has it’s own belt tucked away underneath but I’ve not tried wearing it as a waist-pack alone. Contrary to appearance it is quite small however, unpadded on the top and sides and probably not recommended to house any delicate camera gear or optics. It’s connected to the backpack via 4 quick connect snap clips, two at the rear and two at the front. The front fasteners are connected by longish straps which are anchored halfway up each side pocket. To gain access to the main compartment you’re going to have to undo the front straps to get to the main zip. Personally I’ve found it’s no big deal to do this, so I’ve chosen to leave the waist-pack attached and just undo the clips as necessary, although I assume some people may find this practice a little restrictive. In that case you have the option to leave the waist pack off. You may think the straps will then dangle free and get in the way, but Lowepro have thought of almost everything and there are two recessed female clip receptors to neatly fasten the straps out of the way. The waist pack has two small zipped pockets, large enough to contain a small packed lunch perhaps and few accessories, but rather disappointingly, not large enough for a decent waterproof jacket. I tend to keep an Op-tech rain hood, spare batteries and my GPS in here.
I’ve owned and used the Pro Trekker 400 AW for just over 6 months now so its been out on several field trips and in some inclement weather too. On the whole it’s performed admirably and is very well constructed with the usual Lowepro rugged fabrics. It has the AW waterproof cover but I’ve been out in some heavy down pours without the AW cover and everything was kept totally dry. In places it’s got quite muddy but was easily cleaned with a damp cloth, water or a sponge even when dried on. The bags adjustable-torso harness system is very good and although it can be adjusted with the Pack Jack tool, you’re probably only going to have to do this once. I have found the straps to be comfortable even with a tripod attached and fully loaded. Most importantly for me, the waist belt can be removed also, which I seldom need.
I’ve used only the front tripod holder so far, where you can simply slide in two of the tripod legs. The tops of each loop are significantly reinforced I have to say these work really well and it’s now a doddle to carry your tripod. No more silly attachments to add. There also a hidden fold-down pocket on the front to hold the tripod feet of a (long) tripod if necessary, but I’ve found 2 legs of my Gitzo GT-3541 LS just slotted in easily and I’ve had no need to do anything else. The bag has additional straps to fasten the tripod securely but I seldom needed to use these unless going longer distances. This is the first bag I’ve found that carries a tripod well and so easily and Lowepro have a winning design with this feature and yet it’s so simple.
Undoing the front two straps to the waist-pack first before you can access to the main compartment zips takes a little getting used to, but now it’s second nature. I really like the additional space and the side pockets are great. Now lunch, snacks, a flask and drinks are all within easy reach and away from precious camera equipment. Plus easy access to additional CF cards from a side pocket, and frequently used filters and attachments , without having to open the main compartment is a much welcome feature.
On the downside I miss having a closed, zipped laptop compartment. I seldom carried a laptop in my Vertex 200 backpack whilst in the field, but would utilise this compartment for any other items knowing that they were secure and none would fall out. The laptop pocket on the front of the Pro Trekker 400 AW is a poor implementation of this feature and would have been vastly improved if given a tad more space for thicker laptops and closed by a flap or zip to prevent items falling out.
Lowepro state the bag is within the size limits for cabin baggage for the airlines, but different companies have different limits so its best to check beforehand. British Airways current hand baggage dimensions have to fit within 56 x 45 x 25 cm (22 x 18 x 10 in), Emirates with whom I fly most frequently allow 55 x 38 x 20 cm (22 x 15 x 8 in), KLM allow 55 x 25 x 35 cm (21.5 x 10 x 13.5 in) and American Airlines 22 x 14 x 9 in (56 x 35 x 23 cm). Many use a system where the you add the dimensions (W+H+D) and this has to fall under a certain number. Domestic and short hall flights are often more restrictive on size, especially if it’s a small plane.
In theory at 15.4 x 14.2 x 21.3 in (39 X 36 X 54 cm) the Pro Trekker 400 AW should be OK for cabin baggage on most international airlines, however if you have your side pockets and the waist-pack full, this backpack is going to look huge, attract unwanted attention from check-in staff, and will probably exceed the allowed dimensions. When I travel I leave the side pockets empty, make sure they are held flat with the side straps and remove the waist-pack too. So far in doing this I’ve had no problems.
The other problem your are likely to encounter at check-in desks these days is with weight. Many airlines now weigh your hand baggage and limits can vary from 8 to 20 kg. If you think you bag is over the limit (which if fully loaded with camera gear it is most likely will be) remove some lenses and other heavy items and put them in your jacket pockets. You can always return them to the bag once you’ve checked in, but items in your pockets will not be included as hand luggage. For this reason it’s a good idea to have a jacket or waterproof with you that has large deep pockets!
Summary of the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW
The Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW is very smart looking camera backpack and all-in-all this is one of Lowepro’s superior designs and in my opinion one of the best backpacks available at present. It’s not perfect and at around £225 is considerably more expensive than many other bags which will hold the same amount of equipment. It is constructed to expedition standards though, which probably account for a significant portion of the high cost. It is exceptionally well built however, adaptable, and significantly more versatile than any previous backpack designs.
If you have invested a great deal in your camera equipment and need a sturdy, sensible and versatile backpack then the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW should meet your needs and protect your camera equipment for many years to come.
- Attractive traditional rucksack-like appearance
- High-tech hard wearing fabrics and rugged construction
- Most comfortable harness system yet on a photo backpack
- Additional room for those non-photographic items
- Ability to add a hydration system
- Versatile and adaptable
- Easy accessible CF memory card pockets
- Poor and insecure laptop pocket implementation (no zip)
- Odd sized laptop cover
- Vertical orientated inside mesh pockets
- No dedicated pen / lens brush pocket
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11.4 x 6.5 x 17.3 in (29 x 16.5 x 44 cm)
15.4 x 14.2 x 21.3 in (39 x 36 x 54 cm)
Notebook Compartment Inner Dimensions:
10.2 x 1.0 15.2 in (26 x 2.5 x 38.5 cm)
7.2 lbs / 3.3 kg