Traveler's Gear Box: The Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW

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Admiring the view along the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Big Bend.

As you know from a previous review I wrote about Lowepro’s Flipside 500AW, I am a huge fan of their Flipside series of bags. So I was pretty tickled to receive and start using what I like to think of as the sportier, skinnier, more athletic version of a Flipside: the Flipside Sport 20L AW (the largest of their Flipside Sport series). I took this camera backpack with me on my Big Bend National Park trip last month and alternated between using it and the Flipside 500 for comparison purposes.

The Flipside Sport 20L is not as large or as long as the Flipside 500, but this bag was not created to hold a big lens like a 500mm prime. It’s a smaller, more streamlined bag (by anywhere from 1 – 3 interior inches depending upon which way you measure). For me, this is a good thing because I can’t overload it as much as I am wont to do with the Flipside 500.

During my 4 days spent in Big Bend, I was able to pack my Canon 1-DX with attached 70-200mm lens (without the lens hood) plus a couple of smaller lenses. I probably could also have packed my Canon 5D Mk III body, but opted to not do that; a hike on the Window Trail carrying the Flipside 500 (with 3 lenses, 2 DSLRs and all of my filters, assorted extra batteries and all of my memory cards) demonstrated to me how much I truly overpack. For the short hike along the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, I only loaded the 1DX with attached 24-70mm lens into the bag and left it at that.

The Flipside Sport 20L AW weighs about 3.5 pounds with exterior measurements of 11.61” x 9.45” x 18.31,” making this pack very overhead-bin friendly, with the added possibility of also fitting beneath the seat of a smaller plane like an Embraer 145. This is a huge plus for me since my travel to a national park almost always employs plane flight. And speaking of plane flight, I appreciate the fact that the main opening to all of my larger photo cargo is against my back, thus foiling any attempt at unzipping the pack and walking away with one of my cameras or lenses at an airport.

Once again, Lowepro provided this sporty Flipside with wide hip straps and a comfortable set of shoulder straps complete with a number of different adjustment points. This pack is every bit as comfortable to tote around as my Flipside 500.

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Step 1: Remove the pack from your shoulders.

An interesting approach to gear retrieval without ever having to set the pack down is what Lowepro calls the Flipside’s “body-side access.” In my previous review about the Flipside 500 AW, I did a cop-out and suggested you readers go to Lowepro’s site to see their photo pertaining to body-side access. This time, I decided to provide my own photos of this process. I took a little trip down to the nearby Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge to get my “demo selfies” (and to photograph the birdlife while there).

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Step 2: Rotate the bag around your waist to your front and unzip the flipside flap.

It’s a simple process with a lightly-loaded pack. If you need to exchange lenses while in the field or if you decide you need to switch to your camera with a faster fps (frames per second), then body-side access is easy. If you heft along a more heavily-loaded Flipside, then it might become a bit more problematic to swing that bag around the waist, balance it during your lens/camera exchange, then twist the bag back around to slip on the shoulder straps. Or not.

Like Lowepro’s Nova Sport series of bags, this Flipside Sport series possesses a removable interior with a storm flap closure, thus allowing you to use this bag as a daypack rather than a photopack (should you choose to eschew a day of photography out on the trail).

I love pockets, the more the better and the Flipside Sport 20L AW does not disappoint. The wide hip straps each have a stretchy mesh pocket large enough for a cell phone or a small water bottle. There are pockets on the front and back flaps of this pack and one of the pockets in back is large enough to hold an iPad or other tablet. A zippered side flap opens up to reveal a mesh pocket with space for a hydration unit (which must be purchased separately).

The other side of the pack has a flap with clasp closures and elastic bands for the specific purpose of carrying a tripod. As with my other review, I can’t really elaborate on this method for carrying a tripod because my own doubles as a walking staff when I am on the trail.

Speaking of clasps, I have to say that I find the ones on this pack stiff and rather difficult to squeeze together in order to affect a release. This might just be an issue with me and my arthritic hands, but if I want to release a clasp, I have to take a kerchief or some other piece of fabric to place between the clasp and my fingers in order to keep my hands from hurting while I squeeze.

All-in-all, aside from my issue about the clasp stiffness, I really like this Flipside Sport 20L – almost as much as I like my Flipside 500 AW. Depending upon the trip and the number (and size) of lenses I might need for a particular photo journey, I would take this pack with me instead of the Flipside 500 AW simply because it’s a little more streamlined. The Flipside Sport 20L AW is just as sturdy as the Flipside 500 AW, has a bit more pocket space and it fits just as comfortably upon my back.

As far as I am concerned, if you don’t think you will be utilizing a 500mm or 600mm lens, then this bag is prefect for most if not all of your gear-hauling needs during your forays out into the backcountry or along the nicely-maintained trails of a national park.

Love these Flipsides, Lowepro!