The number of camera packs on the market is mind-boggling, but few are designed for aspiring or pro-level adventure photographers with DSLR setups. Even fewer can handle working in difficult-to-access places and under nature’s harshest conditions. Companies like F-Stop and Mountainsmith have great options, but Lowepro can now reaffirm its spot in that elite group thanks to its new Whistler line.
Most of the 350AW’s exterior is made from a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) nylon, which is soft yet durable and sheds water like a rain jacket. This pack is not waterproof, but it will protect your cameras in steady rain and snow. It also comes with a detachable all-weather cover if you get caught in a downpour.
Like many mountaineering packs, the Whistler has two exterior straps on either side—each rated to hold more than 200 pounds—that are handy for attaching skis or tripods.
With a fit and construction similar to a classic backcountry pack, complete with shoulder straps, hipbelt, and back panel padded with spandex-covered foam, the bag is comfortable for long days when you’re carrying a heavy load.
The main camera compartment is accessed through a large zipper along the back panel. At nearly 16 inches long, ten inches wide, and seven inches deep, this space easily accommodates a pro DSLR body, three or four lenses, plus a flash and charger or a couple GoPros. The back panel also has a clever crease that lets you access a camera without unzipping the entire compartment. If you aren’t a pro, you can carry a camera with a single lens and stuff more clothes and food into the extra space. Pull out the camera compartment and the 350AW turns into a regular backpack.
Thankfully, the 350AW hauls more than cameras. An expandable pocket on the top will hold a pair of goggles or a water bottle. Another long pocket on the front could hold a small laptop, rain jacket, or extra pair of shoes. Lots of little pockets and holders for small essentials like SD cards are distributed throughout.
Should You Buy It?
The Whistler 350AW has all the features to be a great all-around backpack whether you’re carrying cameras or not, but it’s missing a water bottle holder and a dedicated laptop sleeve, which may be a concern for the general traveler. I was able to fit a 13-inch MacBook Pro in the main compartment and in the front pocket, but an actual protective sleeve for a computer would be nice. There are plenty of places to stash a water bottle, but the classic side pouch is a nice addition to any backpack. And, yes, I’m being picky, but side access to the main camera storage would be convenient for grabbing gear without taking off the bag.
That said, the 350AW, which costs $350, is one of the toughest, most versatile photo packs we’ve tested. These bags are certainly overkill for the family or walk-around photographer. They’re targeted at pro and semipro photographers who carry multiple camera bodies and lenses into the field. If you fit that latter category, this is a very solid bet.