Pro-grade camera bags tend to be tailored towards the specific needs of certain photographers, and the Lowepro PhotoSport PRO AW III has been meticulously designed for multi-day hikes. We tested the 55L variant, but 70L is also available. (Each has options for S-M or M-L straps too.)
You might be surprised to learn that the dedicated space for camera gear is comparatively tiny – just eight litres in either variant – but limited camera storage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This backpack is designed for photographers who trek for miles and sleep beneath the stars; light loads and ample room for camping equipment are essential.
The camera compartment is also available for purchase separately as the GearUp PRO XL II; a smaller L II version is available too. This removable insert pairs with the included GearUp Accessory Strap Kit to create a standalone shoulder bag that can also be clipped onto the main bag’s shoulder straps, to sit on your torso.
The multifaceted strap kit can be used as a camera strap, or to turn the main bag’s detachable top compartment into a small messenger bag. None of these modular bags are particularly stylish or ergonomic, but they’re handy should you wish to leave camp for a short excursion without hauling around the entire pack.
Dimensions: 41 x 36 x 70 cm/16.1 x 14.2 x 27.6 inches (approx)
Weight: 3 kg/6.6 lbs
Capacity: 55L (70L also available)
Materials: Nylon, and recycled carbonate and polyester
Waterproofing: Water repellent
Features: Removable GearUp PRO XL camera insert, accessory strap system, Lowepro's ActivLift harness and All Weather AW Cover, provision for hiking essentials
Build and handling
The PhotoSport PRO AW III looks like a proper hiking backpack, with a tall form factor, sizeable drawstring main compartment and lid. It also sports thick, padded shoulder straps and a very substantial hip belt.
Lowepro has evidently considered how hikers pack their bags for maximum mobility. You’ll find a dedicated sleeping bag compartment at the base of the pack, the camera compartment in the middle and ample provision for hiking essentials above.
There’s just enough space between the camera compartment and sleeping bag pouch to store a few lightweight goods, such as items of clothing or a hiking pillow. This design places the heaviest portion of the bag – the camera compartment – near the middle of the pack, for added stability and comfort.
You could of course purchase the GearUp PRO XL camera insert separately and slot it into the hiking backpack of your choice. However, a key feature of the PhotoSport PRO AW III is that it sports zip-flap access to the camera insert via the front or back of the bag (dependant on which way the insert is positioned). If you were to pack the GearUp PRO XL in the centre of just any old hiking backpack, you’d constantly have to remove handfuls of hiking gear to access the camera compartment, which just isn’t practical.
On the exterior you’ll find webbing loops for walking poles, a large front pouch – that can even house a climbing helmet – and an emergency whistle on the chest strap. Inside, there’s a pouch for a hydration bladder, a plethora of small pockets and a meaty main compartment for hiking essentials.
The camera insert is large enough for a pro-grade body, attached 70-200mm lens and two smaller optics. There’s room to slide in a few filters too, but larger filter-holder systems will likely need to be stored elsewhere. Most landscape photographers will get by, but wildlife photographers will have to be selective. That said, you could place an extra lens or body in the main compartment if you can spare the real estate.
Tripods are well-catered for, with side pockets and straps on either side and as you'd expect from a hiking backpack, the bag sits comfortably high on your back. This is helped via Lowepro's ActivLift harness, which allows you to position the shoulder straps to optimize the bag’s fit. And while the heavy-duty hip belt is necessary for heavy loads, it's a little bulky for lighter use, so it's great that the rigid inserts are removable.
The premium price tag will deter some buyers, but if you’re serious about photography and serious about long hikes, the Lowepro PhotoSport PRO AW III is definitely worth checking out.
And while you could purchase a dedicated hiking backpack for less, the ability to access camera gear in the middle portion of the bag is a large part of what makes this Lowepro offering so attractive.
It strikes a delicate balance between hiking comfort and camera-gear accessibility, and although the camera compartment is comparatively small, there’s a time and a place for ‘just in case’ items of kit and it’s not multi-day hikes.
Add to that, tough-feeling fabrics, a solid frame and a plethora of pouches and pockets, not to mention ample provision for tripods, and this is the bag we’ll be taking on our next hiking trip.