Two years ago, when I first tried the Lowepro Photo Sport 200AW, I was completely sold. It quickly became my favorite summer camera pack for hiking, mountain biking and general exploring in the outdoors. If you read my review, though, you might remember that I wished that Lowepro would make a slightly larger version for winter sports and light overnight trips. And I know that I’m not alone with that assessment, right Mike and Janine?
Lowepro has just released the brand new Photo Sport 30L AW, and my analysis after extensive testing is this: It’s easily the best backcountry ski photo back that I’ve ever used. In fact, it’s exactly what I’ve wanted for years: A technical camera pack that has enough space for use in the mountains, that also holds the big lens in a quickly accessible compartment.
When I visited the Lowepro shop during my California bike trip last fall, they actually sent me home with a finished prototype. I’m pretty sure that I was the first photographer to get my hands on this pack, and since I’ve been using it continuously for over five months, I’ve probably logged more miles, more vertical feet and more turns with the Photo Sport 30L AW than anyone else.
Why does this pack rock? Three simple reasons:
- It holds enough gear for a full day of backcountry skiing
- It has a dedicated camera access compartment
- It fits large telephoto zoom lenses on a pro battery grip DSLR
The Photo Sport 30L has a large main compartment that’s big enough to hold everything you need for a day outside, even when it’s cold. Unlike the smaller Photo Sport 200AW, the new 30L version easily fits puffy jacket/vest, fleece layers, sandwiches and snacks, googles, thermos, and a shovel.
I usually strap the shovel handle and an avalanche probe to the side of the pack, as pictured here.
Then there’s the camera compartment. Unlike the Photo Sport 200, this new pack will fit a large telephoto zoom lens, like most 70-200s, 80-200s, and 70-300mm lenses. Anyone who’s shot skiing before knows that using long lenses can be essential for getting great shots.
However, carrying the big lenses into the backcountry has always been a bit problematic. Im the past, I usually kept it in a soft lens case under the top lid, but these meant stopping to take the pack off in order to access the lens. I’m just not a big enough guy to keep a big lens on my belt or in a chest holster pack.
As with the Photo Sport 200, the new 30L model has the bottom side zipper access to the camera compartment, which means that you can get your camera from the pack into your hands in a matter of seconds. As I always point out, this kind of accessibility can mean the difference between getting the shot and missing the shot.
Since the Photo Sport 30L fits my DSLR body with favorite ski lens attached, the 70-200mm f/4G VR, I can be ready to shoot in no time flat. Problem solved. You can also fit another lens, flash or even a compact camera inside the compartment; I usually carry the 24mm lens, which is my other essential ski lens.
Even with the weight of camera and winter outdoor gear, the Photo Sport 30L AW carries quite well. I’ve worn it all during the course of many long days. During a recent backcountry Alaska ski trip, we skied until sunset nearly every single day for a week, which, during April, meant well past 9:00PM.
The shoulder harness system is extremely comfortable, the plastic frame sheet offers just enough support and the wide waist belt distributes most of the weight very evenly on your hips. I’m a huge fan of these wide, but thin waist belts that we’re seeing on packs these days; they let you carry a good deal of weight without added bulk on your hips. Plus it make the pack more streamlined.
Another really nice feature is the trampoline-style mesh back panel. Many packs have a solid pad of EVA foam. The problem with this design is that it’s hard to get snow out of the mesh fabric that sits on top of the foam. It packs itself in there, which eventually leads to a wet pack and/or a wet, uncomfortable back.
With this design, you can simply reach underneath and brush all the snow out from the between the floating mesh pad and the solid back panel. No more snow. Take it from a guy who does his share of falling down in the snow, it just makes for a much nicer day.
The waist belt also has the same zip pockets found on the Photo Sport 200 and the Rover Pro AW. They’re big enough to hold a couple of energy bars or a memory card case for quick access. It’s these kinds of details that help make a pack really functional, and when you combine it with a good suspension system, you end up with a pack that fits well, carries well and works well for active outdoor photography.
- Rain cover, hence the term AW in the name.
- Same innovative tripod flap strap as all the other pack in the series, although I usually use it for stashing a spare jacket or shirt.
- Ice axe/trekking pole loops.
- Hydration ready. Fits up to a 100 oz bladder, although the 50 oz bladders seem to fit perfectly.
Finally, the camera pouch is removable, which lets you use the Photo Sport 30L as a regular technical pack if you want to leave the camera gear at home. It carries so well, that it would actually make a great mountain pack, even if it weren’t a photo pack.
Since the Photo Sport 200 came out, Lowepro has worked really hard to create a line of highly functional packs that revolve around the concept of not just carrying your gear, but making it easily accessible. In my mind, they’ve done an excellent job. So good, that depending on what activity I’m heading out to do, these days I never leave the house without one of them on my back.
Overall, the Photo Sport 30 follows perfectly in the lineup. It offers outdoor photographers more room for non camera gear and fast access to a pro DSLR sized body and lens combo. It’s well made and it stands up to the rigors of the outdoors. More importantly, it’s a well thought out design, and so I have to tip my hat to the pack creator team for thinking up stuff that makes my job easier.
Who’s it for: Although the Photo Sport 30L is definitely designed with mountain photographers in mind. It’s awesome for both winter and summer hiking and a variety of active sport use, like skiing or alpine climbing.
I also see it as a great pack for overnight landscape photographers who like to go light and fast. You could easily bring a body, a couple of lenses, tripod, lightweight sleeping bag and pad, a few clothes, a small stove and some food. From that standpoint, it’s smaller and a little more manageable than the bigger Rover Pro, especially if you can pack light.
The new Photo Sport 30L AW is available now at B&H Photo, Amazon and other photo retailers. As one of my readers, you can get a special discount if you buy directly from the Lowepro store. Just click this link and use discount code LP20 in your shopping cart and you’ll get the savings on any items that you buy. (US customers only)