By Mark and Leslie Degner
According to Lowepro their new Whistler series of photographic backpacks are the most rugged and durable that they’ve produced to date, and are designed for outdoor adventure photographers. The Whistler series was designed and tested in the coastal mountains around Whistler, BC. There are two models in the Whistler series: the Whistler BP 350 AW, which is the model we reviewed, and the Whistler BP 450 AW.
The Whistler BP 350 AW ($399.95) is designed to accommodate a full-frame DSLR and three to four lenses plus accessories. The Whistler 450 ($449.95) is a little bit larger, wider and deeper to accommodate a full-frame DSLR with battery grip attached, plus four to five lenses, or larger pro video equipment. Other than the size differences, as far as we can tell both packs have essentially the same features.
The pack is made from 420 denier ripstop nylon with TPU face coating for maximum tear and weather resistance. Although we haven’t had the pack for a long period of time, based on our use of it so far it appears to be well-made and rugged and kept our gear dry. Its rigid internal structure is designed to support item such as a tripod, skis or climbing gear on the sides of the pack and hiking poles on the front using chain webbing compression straps while maintaining access to the pack’s main compartment via the back panel.
The access to the main compartment is in the back on the body side of the pack. We really liked this feature because when you put the pack down on the ground the back panel doesn’t get wet and dirty, so your back stays dry and clean when you put the pack back on. The back access panel can unzip half way to a bend in the panel to limit access to the upper portion of the compartment if the weather is bad, or you can fully unzip it for full access. The zipper to the main compartment is heavy duty with large pull tags designed for an easy grip when wearing gloves, which is another feature that we really liked.
The back access panel is part of Lowepro’s ActivZone Suspension System, with molded EVA comfort panels for extra comfort, breathability and airflow. The harness consists of adjustable padded shoulder straps with a sternum strap and a padded waist belt with a zippered pocket for small items on one side and webbing attachment loops on the other. We both found the harness to be very easy to adjust to our different body sizes and shapes and very comfortable to wear, even when it was fully loaded with gear.
Inside the main compartment is Lowepro’s MaxFit customizable divider system so that you can easily fine-tune the main compartment to accommodate your gear. Having reviewed other Lowepro bags and packs with the MaxFit dividers, this is a feature that we liked as it allows for easy adjustment of the dividers so your gear is properly protected. In the Whistler BP 350 AW, two of the dividers have pockets built into them that can be used to hold smaller items like a GoPro camera or a filter. The main compartment insert is removable with a built-in zippered cover so the insert can be removed while still keeping all of your gear in place.
The front compartment has a protective barrier between itself and the main compartment that’s tear-resistant and waterproof. This allows you to place wet or damp gear or clothing in the front compartment while keeping your camera gear in the main compartment dry. There’s also a drain hole at the bottom of the front compartment to allow the water to drain out. If more storage space is needed the front compartment can be expanded via a zippered expansion panel. At the top of the pack is a small zippered compartment that allows quick access to items like a GPS unit, filters, gloves and snacks. It’s also in this compartment where the all-weather cover, which provides additional protection from inclement weather, is stored. The front and top storage compartments are two of our favourite features as most photo backpacks are designed to hold just your cameras and lenses, leaving little space to carry other things like a rain jacket or your lunch.
The Whistler BP 350 AW has become one of our favourite Lowepro photo backpacks, and although it may not meet every photographer’s requirements, if you’re an active outdoor photographer then you owe it to yourself to check it out or the larger Whistler BP 450 AW model.