Can't decide which lens to take? Why not take them all! With Lowepro's new Pro Trekker 650 AW, you'll likely have to buy more lenses and accessories to fill this behemoth of a camera backpack. I got to test drive this bag for several video and timelapse shoots, so I got a pretty good idea about how it performs. In my full review I'll cover the build, features, and whether it was helpful to have or simply too bulky to deal with.
The Pro Trekker 650 AW from Lowepro is the largest in the Pro Trekker series of bags. They're made for videographers or photographers who want to carry several camera bodies, lenses, accessories, flashes, tripods, sliders, laptops, and more, in a single backpack. If you’re like me and can’t decide on what lens/body combo might be best for a particular shoot, you can easily bring them both with a pack of this size.
Besides simply hauling a lot of hear, Lowepro made this pack with outdoor adventure in mind, so there is an included rain cover built into the bottom. The combined capacity with comfort has made this one of Lowepro’s most featured (and most expensive) packs.
When it comes to backpacks, long wearing comfort is crucial, so Lowepro took feedback from previous Trekker users and updated the 650 to have a better suspension system. By increasing the adjustability and improving airflow, users can carry a heavier load for longer periods, without sweating as much.
The build of the pack is definitely a solid one. This thing is massive! Empty, it already weighs almost 10lbs! Filled with 4 camera bodies, 6 lenses, batteries, and the usual spread of accessories on the inside, I weighed my pack at 40lbs. After adding a tripod, water bottle, and slider on the outside, it was at about 51lbs. And there was room to carry more if I had needed to.
Even fully loaded, the system felt strong and it stood up to the rigors of production in tough environments. Because of its size however, I did have trouble weaving through caverns during one of my shoots at Mesa Verde National Park. I scuffed the bag several times, but the material of the Trekker 650 had no issues. Point is, if you need to be nimble, wander through narrow woods, or even work in tight areas, the girth of this bag might make that a bit of a challenge– but that doesn't mean you need to baby this pack. It can take a beating and kep your kit safe.
The pack’s core is a padded divider system that is common to most mid to high end gear bags. Using Lowepro's “MaxFit System” (fancy name for high-performance velcro dividers) the interior is completely customizable for fitting just about any combination of bodies, lenses, and accessories. This core is accessible from the backside (not the wearer's side with the shoulder straps) with a couple of large zippers that open a large access flap.
On the inside of the flap, 3 medium sized semi-opaque pockets can be found, which are sized great for things like manuals, blowers, media badges, business cards, batteries, and other small items.
Buckles and pockets are found around the exterior of the pack, with cinch straps as needed for strapping on tripods, sliders, or other pieces of kit. You can strap items on the the sides, or right on to the center of the back with extra buckle straps that are included. There is even a hidden tripod leg pocket that folds out which is kind of nifty.
The shoulder straps and hipbelt have some serious padding to them, and are plenty cushy. A large buckle locks in the middle to secure the hipbelt, and it fastens easily. A pocket on the right hipbelt was a home for my keys, while stitched straps on the left hipbelt made a great place to put my leatherman multitool.
The backpack lid, or brain, has two zips and they are just the right size for wallets, pens, snacks, lens cloths, maps, or other small, quick-access items. The lid is removable as well, and has a hidden waist belt for wearing it as a small day pack.
Other features include a seam-sealed side pocket meant for a water reservoir, and compression straps on the bottom for attaching even more gear to your already heavy load!
Most backpacks have a carry handle at the top, in between the shoulder straps. The Trekker 650 has this, but it also has two additional handles on each side at the midsection. With as heavy as this pack can get, this is a small but very helpful addition to have, as hauling this bag in and out of vehicles is going to happen, and the bag has much better balance when carried from these handles rather than from the shoulder straps or top handle.
The pack comes in Batman’s favorite style, all black. The lid doesn’t look too lumpy like some other bags do when they aren’t full. Lastly, because of the firm, yet soft internal framing, even if the bag is only partially full, it holds its form.
So enough about the features of this pack, how did it hold up in real-world testing? I had this pack for a few weeks, and took it out to about 5 shoots, each one a bit different.
Again, the obvious standout feature of this pack is the capacity, so it allowed me to carry all my gear to my location in one trip, rather than haul several cases or bags over multiple trips to the shoot destinations. I was able to tack on a slider, glidecam, and tripod as well, and still be hands-free. That’s impressive to me. This backpack was sort of a mobile basecamp for my camera gear, which meant faster access to my gear.
The furthest I walked with it was about a mile or two, and the bag fit me well, and was comfortable. The placement of the shoulder straps are adjustable, so if you're especially tall, you can find a fit that works. The hipbelt transferred the weight to my legs, and kept my back and shoulders from bearing the weight.
I carried out a Canon 5Dmii for stills, a Panasonic GH4 for video, and on some shoots I even had an FS700 for interviews or super-slow motion clips. I was able to fit all of 3 these camera bodies, including at least 6 lenses, in the bag with several pockets to spare for filters, batteries, headphones, mics, tape, and more. I could also leave my FS700’s handle on because the backpack was so deep! This made it so much faster to setup my rig when I needed it, and there is no way I could have brought that much gear, and have it be remotely accessible with any of my other backpacks.
This bag is marketed toward outdoor adventure videographers and photographers, and I would classify myself as one of those for most of the work I do. I have several packs that I’ve reviewed in the past that I almost always use for outdoor adventure projects. For really big projects where I need a lot of coverage, this pack would be my go to, hands-down. But if I just needed to get stills, or just get video clips, a smaller profile pack will certainly suffice while still providing room for safety gear, water, food, clothes, etc.
Where I think this bag is the most convenient is for when you have a shoot, indoor or outdoor, and you want to carry your whole kit on your back, for whatever reason that may be. Whether it’s to not carry heavy pelican cases, you need to hike a mile into the woods, or just maneuver through crowds in between street shots, this bag does make moving a large load very easy to do. It’s big and can take a beating. With just a few zips you're ready to move to your next location, all while being hands free.
Because you access your gear from the back, you’ve got to sit the shoulder straps and waistbelt side down on the ground. In Mesa Verde, the ground is very dusty and dirty, so the bag got that way too. I could have rolled out the rain cover, but I’m impatient and don’t mind getting a bit dirty. If conditions were wet or muddy, then it would take just a moment to pull the cover out and keep the frontside of the bag dry.
One small feature that was mildly irritating was the placement of the side straps to hold on my tripod or glidecam. The straps buckle and then fasten, but the one side of the strap originates from the flap that you need to open to access your gear. This meant I had to unbuckle my tripod to open my bag and switch a lens. Not a big deal, but it's an extra step. Tripods are meant to be placed on the middle of the backside, but even so, whatever gear you might clip into that place will create this issue.
Another buckle related annoyance relates to the laptop sleeve pocket. This pocket is great, and I used it for a slider, clipboard, releases, and more. Again, the buckle travels over the main compartment zipper, so you have to unclip it everytime you access the inside of the pack. So if you have documents in there, anytime you open the flap completely, they can easily fall out. In a windy environment, the last thing I want is a folder of releases blowing all over the place.
The price of this bag is $430 at the time of this writing. Not cheap. But consider the fact that the Pro Trekker 650 can do the work of two bags. Two quality backpacks with half of the capacity would easily run $215 each, and you probably wouldn’t want to wear them both at the same time.
While a large pelican case is great for air travel, try carrying 40lbs of gear in one for a mile on a non-paved surface. I've done it, and it's a pain. Having a durable backpack has its merits, and a large capacity one can make your shoot days much more convenient. So, if you often travel for shoots with multiple bags, or find yourself leaving some items at home because there isn't room for them, you might want to consider how this bag would enable you to be more efficient and have more choices at your shoot. If you typically bring more than what you could fit into this pack, then the price tag might not be worth it for you.
What I liked:
• Tons of capacity for a video kit, stills kit, releases, accessories... pretty much everything
• I didn't have to dismantle my video camera for transport
• Good fit, comfortable to wear even when heavy
• Perfect amount and style of accessory pockets for clipboard, water, laptop, tripods
What Could be Improved:
• I wish there weren't any buckles that traveled over the main zip compartment!
• Because the pack is so deep, small items need to be in a bag, or else they'll fall around inside the pack
I don't think I would take this backpack on a long hike in the woods, UNLESS, I needed multiple cameras and a bunch of lenses and tripods. In that case, I would absolutely take this bag.
I love backpacks in general, and I can see that the Pro Trekker will become my everyday shoot bag, because it holds more than my pelican case, is easy to transport, and it eliminates having to bring several bags and cases. I've really taken to having separate kits for video and photos, and this bag lets me bring both with ease.