Traveler's Gear Box: The Lowepro Flipside 500 AW Backpack

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Trail's end at The Window, Big Bend National Park. Rebecca Latson photo.

I know many of you have probably heard this: a photographer can never have too many camera bags. That saying is true, you know.

I own a number of packs and bags, each for a particular purpose: my shoulder bags are for general walking around as well as use in location settings for portraits and weddings, while the backpacks are utilized for short jaunts to the local wildlife refuge or long trips involving trains, planes, or automobiles (in addition to hiking).

I also possess quite a few packs because I have a difficult time finding one that fits me comfortably: I’m short, have wide hips and a slightly lopsided set of small shoulders thanks to childhood scoliosis. Ergo, in addition to just how much gear a camera backpack will hold, comfort and fit are key issues for me when lugging a laden pack through the airport or along the trail.

After reserving a Canon 500mm lens with lensrentals.com for my Katmai National Park and Preserve, trip this past July 2013, I realized I would need a backpack capable of carrying not only that big honkin’ lens, but also both cameras (one of them a “professional-sized” SLR), a few other lenses, and assorted accessories such as spare batteries, filters, and loads of memory cards.

I found three or four packs during an online search, read several reviews for each, then ultimately ordered the Lowepro Flipside 500 AW backpack. As soon as I opened the box, it was love at first sight.  What was considered the back is now actually the front of the Lowepro Flipside 500 AW

My first thoughts upon removing the pack from the box:

1. This opposite opening to get to the camera gear is pretty neat.

2. I like the wider shoulder straps.

3. Wow! This is the first pack I have owned that has a nice, wide waist strap.

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A well-packed Flipside 500 AW. Rebecca Latson photo.

Packing Space

So, what can be packed into this relatively streamlined bag?

For my Alaska trip, I fit in the 500mm lens (not attached to the camera and with lens cap inverted), my Canon 1-DX body, my Canon 5D Mk III body, the 100-400mm lens, the 17-40mm lens and the 24-70mm lens. In other words, I managed to squeeze in way too much gear. And, it was a tight fit for the 500mm lens; it would have been nice for Lowepro to add just a few more interior lengthwise inches to the bag – I didn’t need to have my camera attached to the lens – I just wanted a little more “wiggle room.”

For my recent December trip to Big Bend National Park, I packed the 16-35mm lens attached to my 5D Mk III, the 70-200mm lens and hood attached to the 1-DX, the 24-70mm lens, and the 40mm lens with a close-up filter attached.

There are nice stretchy pockets on each side of the pack that are perfect for water bottles, a cell phone, or any other relatively small item. The pockets inside and outside the pack are large enough and roomy enough for me to carry my filters, all 42 of my memory cards, and spare batteries for my cameras. Since my tripod doubles as a hiking staff, I have never carried it on the pack’s exterior. Given that I tend to overload my pack with too much gear in the first place, I sure don’t need to be adding the weight of a tripod onto my back.

Speaking of overloading the pack – the stitching and fabric are both durable enough to withstand a lot of wear, tear, and scrapes and still remain intact. I’ve taken a couple of spills, landing on the backpack itself (which helped cushion my falls), and am pleased to report that this is one sturdy pack, well-padded enough to keep the gear (and me) intact from such accidents.

Lowepro’s Flipside series of bags also offer what they call “side access.” Removing your arms from the straps, you can slide the bag around, lay it out in front of you (while standing and with the pack still attached to you via the waist strap) and open up the flipside flap to get to your gear. Personally, I never tried it because my bag was always too loaded and too heavy. You might want to actually go to Lowepro’s site to see the photo of this process, as it’s a little tricky to describe in writing.

Protection and Security

Because I was so accustomed to accessing the gear in my pack from the front rather than the rear, it felt a little odd to open up the bag from the other side (the flipside). I ended up really liking this opposite bag opening.

Why? Well, most of the other bags with an AW covering tend to prevent a photographer from handy access to one’s gear.

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The AW cover protects your gear from the elements. Rebecca Latson photo.

With this Flipside 500 AW bag, I could cover up the one side of the bag, lay it on a surface without worrying that moisture would soak through and still retrieve my gear.

I also appreciate the flipside for security reasons: the pack opening is right against my back, so nobody with “sticky fingers” walking behind me at an airport could unzip the bag and lift a lens or camera body.

The Fit

At the time I ordered this backpack, I didn’t so much care how it might fit on my frame as I did the fact that it would carry the 500mm prime in the first place. You see, 99.9 percent of my travel to a national park involves flying, so it’s important for me to own a bag that will fit within (most) domestic flight overhead bins or under the seats of those smaller airplanes with overhead bins the size of a tin can. This bag does the trick.

I’ve read a couple of reviews about the pack fitting too high on the wearer’s waist but the pack fits perfectly on me and easily adjusts to my shoulders and waist. You have no idea how that feels to finally have found a camera backpack which fits comfortably and also allows me to store pretty much what I want within its padded confines. Personally, I believe a lot of that fit is due to the wide waist straps. I also really like those wider, padded shoulder straps. I often encounter issues with pack straps slipping off of my shoulders, causing me to constantly stop and hitch up the bag to get the strap back on or else simply walk along with a lopsided pack. No es Bueno.

A Letter To Santa – Er – Lowepro

I have rented a Canon 600mm lens for an August 2014 trip to Alaska. Is there any chance you might create a Flipside 600 AW? I know you already offer a different pack that will hold a 600mm lens, but I sure am sold on your Flipside 500 AW and would love to see a pack that could carry a 600mm lens with the same build and load capacity for other gear. If you do make a similar pack for the 600mm lens, would you start selling it before August?

Thanks!

Sincerely,

Rebecca Latson