Lowepro Whistler Backpack Review

About ten years ago when I first started shooting action and adventure sports photos, there was little to choose from when looking for a suitable camera bag. Initially I used a regular hiking pack with another camera bag jammed inside it. After a few years, F-Stop Gear came along and really changed the landscape of photo packs for the more adventurous photographer. Their range of packs was designed with heavy input from the best action sports photographers in the world and it wasn’t long before everyone I knew in the industry was using their packs. For a number of years, and through several iterations of their Mountain Series packs, F-Stop seemed to go unchallenged in this space. More recently, we’ve started to see some other companies taking a keen look at this niche in the photographic world. I took a look at the Gura Gear Uinta pack which used a similar system to F-Stop with their removable internal “camera blocks” available in different sizes. I’ve also taken a look at a number of bags from Thin Tank Photo’s spin off company, MindShift Gear, who have released some incredibly innovative designs which utilize their award-winning Rotation 180 technology. For the last couple of months I’ve been testing out Lowepro’s entry into this market space, the Whistler pack. Appropriate since the mountain town of Whistler (for which the bag is named) has been my stomping ground for the past decade.

lowepro whistler 450 review

Perhaps the people at Lowepro might disagree with me that this is their entry into this area as they have had bags labelled for outdoor photography in the past, but in all honesty, this pack is a whole different kettle of fish from anything that was previously in their lineup. Unlike a lot of photo packs on the market that try and cover a broad range of uses, this is a pack that knows what it is designed for and it comes prepared for some very specific circumstances.

So what exactly does a good adventure photography pack need? In my opinion, these are the most important items:

• Capacity for both photographic equipment and “other” items. These might include sport specific safety equipment, weather specific clothing and also food and water for a good day of adventuring.
• Rugged materials that can stand up to some amount of liquid without immediately requiring the (hopefully included) waterproof cover.
• Attachment points galore, for photo gear and sport specific equipment.
• High volume. I’ve never known an action/adventure sports photographer to travel light, and often we want the ability to carry flash gear as well.
• Quality harness system that has a large enough waist belt for dispersing a heavy load that’s been strapped on tight.

Something they do not need to have:

• A padded laptop pocket. Nobody needs to take a laptop into the wilderness. Pockets designed specifically for laptops only take up space and add unnecessary weight.

When I first saw the new of the LowePro Whistler pack (available in two sizes – 350 and 450), I was excited to see that it had been a collaboration with local colleague and world-renowned ski photographer, Paul Morrison. Paul spends even more time in the mountains than I do and I was immediately confident that this pack was going to tick a lot of important boxes in the features department. Let’s take a look at that feature list:

Lowepro Whistler Video Review

Lowepro Whistler specs and features

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350AW

  • Internal Dimensions: 23.2 x 16 x 35.3 cm (9.13 x 6.30 x 13.90 in)
  • External Dimensions: 29.5 x 30 x 53 cm (11.61 x 11.81 x 20.87 in)
  • Weight: 2.97 kg (6.53 lbs)
  • Regular size DSLR (such as Canon 5D Mark iii)
  • Up to 4 lenses: 24-70mm, 70-200mm f/2.8, 16-35mm, 50mm
  • GoPro® or similar form factor action video camera
  • Functional outdoor gear and personal items

450 AW

  • Internal Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.6 x 40 cm (9.53 x 6.54 x 15.75 in)
  • External Dimensions: 31 x 30.2 x 57.2 cm (12.20 x 11.89 x 22.52 in)
  • Weight: 3.31 kg (7.28 lbs)
  • Pro DSLR (such as Nikon D4S or Canon 1DX)
  • Up to 3 lenses: 58mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 24mm f/1.4,
  • Flash (such as SB910)
  • GoPro(R) or similar form factor action video camera
  • Functional outdoor gear and personal items

NOTE: These suggested kits are from Lowepro’s own literature and are pretty conservative.  As I’ll demonstrate later in the review, it’s possible to get an awful lot of gear in these packs, including lenses that far exceed the dimensions of a 70-200. 

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Features

  • ActivZone™ harness system provides targeted padding and support for comfort on the move.
  • Pack includes a detachable All Weather AW Cover™ to deploy as needed and protect valuable gear from rain, snow, dust and sand.
  • Hinged back panel/zipper for partial or full access to gear, handy for reaching gear in inclement weather.
  • A very roomy front pocket expands to fit alpine essentials. A waterproof barrier separates wet gear from the main compartment (drain holes at bottom).
  • The top pocket is designed with a high-visibilty orange interior. Includes a zippered pocket with built-in key leash.
  • Main camera/video gear compartment includes MaxFit™ system of customizable dividers, designed for fine-tuning of fit and maximum capacity.
  • The main compartment /insert is removable so you can dry out the pack between adventures.
  • Attach heavy gear like skis, ice tools or a pro tripod to the sides of the pack and still have access to the main compartment; the rigid internal structure is built to support this type of gear.
  • Multiple attachment points make it easy to expand capacity and add trekking poles, a snowboard or other essentials to the front of the pack.
  • Durable, weather-reistant and resilient outdoor-tech materials and hardware include 420 denier ripstop nylon with TUP face coating, glove-friendly Nifco® side-release buckles, all-metal Duraflex® hooks and Hypalon® base.

Camera compartment

The large camera compartment is removable from the main pack so that it can be dried out after usage in heavy rain and snow.  This is a great feature because it can be tricky to dry packs completely, and your lenses will fog up much easier if your pack is damp.  Whilst it’s nice to think that you can open and close your pack fast enough in the snow for this not to be a problem in the first place, I can tell you from experience that it’s not the case.  If it’s snowing, you’re bag is going to get wet inside and out.  One clever and unique features of the pack is a split in the back panel that allows you to retrieve gear from the bag whilst only unzipping the panel half way.  A clever design that would certainly help in rain/snow/dust.

lowepro whistler back panel opening
Here you can see the fold in the back panel that allows access with only a partially opened zip.

Probably the most disappointing thing about this pack is the fact that there is only one size of camera compartment, where Gura Gear, F-Stop gear and others all offer a variety of sizes.  The theory is that having a variety of camera block sizes allows you to tailor how much camera gear you’ll bring with you and how much “other” gear.  Considering the internal compartment of the Whistler 450 is already removable, it seemed natural to me that there would be other compartments available, but alas this is not the case.  I asked Lowepro about this and they said they currently don’t have any plans to offer any other smaller versions of the compartment.  Of course you can use the internal dividers to separate your camera gear, but with the other packs, I’ve always found it nice to have a more defined separation by sealing off the camera gear.  I can live with their decision because the front pocket and top pocket provide a lot of storing room anyway, but I do think it’s a missed trick that wouldn’t have taken a lot more to implement.

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The camera compartment itself is much beefier than similar items from other manufacturers and it has stiff sides that are presumably there to offer protection to your gear in the event of a fall.  I’m in two minds about this feature because the result is that it’s heavier than other removable camera compartments and that’s noticeable in the bag’s overall weight.  If you’re the kind of person that does worry about your gear getting beaten up whilst pursuing your chosen outdoor activity, then look no further because this offers the best protection in its class.  My personal preference would have been to make the plastic stiffeners removable, thereby allowing the photography to choose between ultimate protection and a lighter weight pack.  90% of the time I would take the lighter weight.

When accessing the camera compartment via the pack’s back panel, you have the option of a secondary flap that is part of the compartment.  If you don’t want to use that, you can roll it up and use the hook and loop closure point to keep it out of the way. Another thing I appreciated about the compartment is the chosen colour.  There’s too many packs out there with black interiors which make hunting for small items and lens caps a daily chore.  If you shoot outdoors, it’s guaranteed that you’ll spend a decent amount of time in the dark before sunrise or after sunset.  As well as the right interior colour choice, Lowepro have also hit a home run with the dividers in this pack.  It might seem like a less important feature, but this is the best set of camera bag dividers I’ve ever seen, and I actually started using the spares in some of my other bags as well. (Lowepro, can you just sell packs of these dividers please?) As you can see from the photos, there’s a variety of different divider types and sizes.  You’re given several dividers that have built in pockets, and these are perfect for storing memory card holders and small electronic devices like GoPros.  There’s also a set of dividers with their MaxFit design which maximizes the number of cylindrical items (lenses) that you can fit in a row inside the bag.  It’s hard to describe how these work, but if you look at the photos you can see how their design makes the divider hug one side of a lens.  The result is a much better fit, and more economically used space within your pack.  This isn’t a gimmick dreamt up by a marketing department and given a fancy name, it works very well indeed.

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Memory card wallet inside one of the dividers.
Memory card wallet inside one of the dividers.
lowepro whistler dividers
Three different types of dividers.
Here you can see how the design of the dividers allows it to hug the side of the lens and make great use of internal space.
Here you can see how the design of the dividers allows it to hug the side of the lens and make great use of internal space.

Payload

Right, we’ve seen the compartment, but what can we fit in it?  This is always a tough one to answer because everyone has a different combination of gear and I fully expect to be receiving “can I fit XYZ in a Whistler pack?” emails for the next few years.  I was sent the 450 AW for testing, and if you want to shoot with a pro-sized “tall” camera body, or a regular camera with a grip attached, then this is the bag for you.  There really isn’t much difference between the 350 and 450 packs, apart from the depth of the camera compartment.  Personally, even if I planned to shoot mostly with a smaller size of camera, I’d still opt for the 450 size because it gives you enough depth to fit in lenses like a 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/4 DO II and even larger as you can see in my photo.  Given the number of external straps on the pack, it’s possible to tighten the whole thing up nicely even when the pack isn’t stuffed to the brim.  I’d rather have too much room on some days, than not enough on others.  The exception to this would be if you are shooting a mirrorless setup like the Sony A7 series which takes up less space and should fit a 350 AW even with a grip attached.

Maxed out. The Canon 200-400 f/4 attached to a 7D Mark II. It fits, but it's tricky to remove. This is the very upper limit of gear length in this bag.
Maxed out. The Canon 200-400 f/4 attached to a 7D Mark II. It fits, but it’s tricky to remove. This is the very upper limit of gear length in this bag.
A pretty decent lens haul!
A pretty decent lens haul!
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I’d say that an action sports photographer’s standard kit consists of something like this: 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, Fisheye, flash and 2x camera bodies. You’re not going to have any trouble fitting that kind of kit in the 450 AW, and there’s still going to be plenty of space for accessories in the top pocket and front pocket.  The top pocket is totally separate from the camera compartment and it has two “key clips” in it. One inside a zippered mesh pocket and one inside the main pocket itself.  This simple addition is a great feature that often gets missed by other people.  Chances are you probably won’t actually clip keys to them, but I use them all the time for attaching memory card wallets, GoPro cases, battery cases, Leathermans, flash lights, gloves and head torches to name just a few items.  These are small things that can easily get lost in the snow or in the panic to unpack your gear as the perfect sunset is unfolding.  A few packs I’ve tested recently have either omitted such a clip entirely (MindShift Backlight pack), or hidden them away in the bottom of a tiny dark pocket that renders them all but useless.  Top marks to Lowepro for adding two of them in a nice, easy to access area of the bag.  It’s such a cheap item to add to a bag, but when it’s preventing me from losing $500+ worth of memory cards full of priceless images, I’m sure glad it’s there.

lowepro whistler top pocket
Two clips and a zippered pocket can be found inside the top pocket.
Ski goggles and gloves
Ski goggles and gloves
Climbing skins
Climbing skins

The top pocket itself it sized nicely for goggles and gloves if you’re in snowy climates, and also serves as a great place to store snacks and all the aforementioned items I like to put on the key clips.  Moving around to the front of the pack we have an expandable pocket for all your clothing and sport-specific accessories such as snow shovel, climbing skins, harnesses, rope or extra clothing.  There’s even a sleeve for your avalanche probe and shovel handle which can also work for some bike pumps as well.  The clever thing about this front pocket is that the barrier between it, and the main camera compartment has been reinforced.  This means you can comfortably store very wet items in the front, and also sharp items like crampons, without worrying about your precious camera gear.  A drainage hole at the bottom of this pocket will let the water run out from melting snow on your shovel, or waterlogged ropes.

Detail showing the front pocket in its expanded form.
Detail showing the front pocket in its expanded form.

One thing that is missing from this pack is a dedicated water bladder pocket.  A small clip is included at the top of the front pocket which allows you to hang any bladder from the major manufacturers, but be aware that it will then be in the front pocket and affect what else you can put in there.  No spikey crampons in there with your bladder, for example.  The location of the bladder hanger, and the design of the rest of the bag also means that there’s no dedicated H20 passthrough for your bladder hose to reach the harness side of the pack.  You’ll have to simply pass it out through the zipper of the front compartment which could, in a rainy situation, affect the water resistance of the pocket which otherwise features seam sealed zippers.  I pondered this for some time with the bag in my hands, and I couldn’t think how else they could have done this, unless they put a bladder pocket on the side.  The problem with that is that it gets in the way of tripods and skis, and whilst there is a small side pocket, it was likely ruled out of being a bladder pocket for that reason.  I think the right compromise has been reached, and I’m glad they included the small bladder hanger clip because again, this is something which other have failed to do.  With it’s location in the protected, compartmentalized front pocket, you also don’t have to worry about a burst bladder soaking your camera gear.  Water would simply drain out of the hole in the bottom.  When you do pass a hose around to the front of the pack, there’s ample nylon loops on the harness to secure it on whichever side you want it.  Many snowsports folks don’t use a bladder anyway as the types freeze pretty quickly, so I’ll be using my usually 1L MSR water bottle stashed in the front pocket anyway.

Clip for suspending a water bladder in the front pocket.
Clip for suspending a water bladder in the front pocket.

Tripod carrying

Tripods can easily be mounted on the side of the pack, or the front.  There’s tripod “cup” as you find on some bags, but given the length of the bag, I found that even my longest tripod remained pretty stable when mounted to the front.  Typically I prefer to mount it on the side and keep the weight closer to my centre of gravity, I was merely testing front mounting because this is what you’d have to use if you had your skis on the sides.  The additional orange coloured straps can be moved around to various places and the quality of the hardware (straps and buckles) is top notch.  The addition of a lower strap on each side that can’t be undone, is a nice way to secure the legs even more.  I stick two feet through that strap and then cinch the third leg down over it with the adjustable one.  It’s a simple setup for tripods, but it’s sturdy and will hold even the heaviest tripod and head combinations for the videographers out there with big fluid heads and tripods with leg braces.  On a few packs, you find that there’s either front or side carrying options but with the Lowepro Whistler packs it’s nice to get both options because it gives you plenty of space to carry light stands as well.  It’s not unusual for me to want to carry three lightstands for some of my action sports photography setups but that’s no problem on this pack.

Other features

The Whistler packs scores pretty highly in the comfort tests as well.  For its volume, it doesn’t feel too big and the harness straps are wide enough to spread a heavy load on shoulders and hips.  It’s not the most comfortable pack I’ve used, but it’s still well within the comfort zone.  Padding on the shoulder straps is kept to a minimum compared to a lot of other packs, but in this case that’s a good thing because thick foam padding holds water and that wouldn’t make a good choice for a pack that’s got winter on its mind.  Instead, the width of the straps helps with the comfort and a non-slip material is added to the thin high density foam to help it stay in place.

One side of the waist strap has a pocket for smaller items, and the other side has an accessory rail that can be used for attaching small bags or gear.  It’s also perfect for adding a Peak Design Capture Pro for holding a camera while you’re on the move.  The accessory rails is actually divided into two so you can easily add a couple of different things on your belt if you want to.  Lowepro have a line of bags called Street & Field, although my personal preference in small belt bags is the Think Tank Skin series.

lowepro whistler waist belt
One side of the waist belt allows easy attachment of additional bags or similar accessories. Here shown with a Peak Design Pro Pad + Capture Clip.
The other side of the waist belt features a pocket that's a good size for snacks, sunscreen or glove liners.
The other side of the waist belt features a pocket that’s a good size for snacks, sunscreen or glove liners.

The Whistler packs come with a waterproof cover should you find yourself in prolonged torrential rain, there’s a small zippered pocket inside the front pocket which makes for a great place to store it.  So far I haven’t felt the need to use the cover at all because most of the bag is made from TPU coated nylon.  If you aren’t familiar with TPU, it essentially means the material has a type of plastic covering over it.  TPU is what dry bags are made of, for example.  The result is a bag whose material feels very smooth, and one that you could pour water on for quite some time and have it just bead right off.  It’s not a “waterproof” bag, but it’s a darn sight more water resistant than any other photo pack I’ve ever seen.  The TPU also means that dirt and dust has a lot less to stick to and the base of the pack features an even tougher grade of TPU to withstand more punishment when being constantly put down in dirty, wet and rough environments.

Included rain cover.
Included rain cover.
Zippered front pocket inside the larger front pocket. Perfect for holding the rain cover.
Zippered front pocket inside the larger front pocket. Perfect for holding the rain cover.

On one side of the bag you’ll also find another, somewhat curious pocket.  The zipper runs the length of the bag, but the whilst the pocket is long, it’s not very spacious.  Inside it are two further pockets which are not zippered or securable in any way and I couldn’t not for the life of me think what I would want to put in them.  Answers on a postcard…or in the comments section! Perhaps some small cables from my remote flash gear, but I definitely would have preferred it if the two smaller interior products at least had hook and loop closure.  If you forget to zip the side pocket, the contents of those two smaller pockets is going to fall out in just a few seconds.  Since the side pocket itself isn’t deep, the material clings close to the bag and a quick glance at the bag won’t tell you whether or not you have zippered that side up or not.  This is made even harder because the zipper is hidden behind a pleat of material making it even harder to know at a glance whether the pocket is open or not.  I certainly refrained from using it at all for that reason, although I wasn’t short of space and pockets in other areas of the bag so it wasn’t a huge deal.  If you’re reading this Lowepro designers, can you update it in the future to have a high colour contrast zipper that’s not hidden behind the pleats in the materials? 

If you are into ski mountaineering, or climbing, then this bag comes up trumps again with it’s plethora of places to attach carabiners and other associated gear.  One side of the pack features a daisy chain section and the fixed lower side rails won’t sag down like a normal backpack side strap does when you load it with gear.  The front of the pack also features two more daisy chain sections and another couple on the waist belt. In-short, if you have things to clip onto a bag, this Whistler pack is a great solution.  A full traditional climbing setup can easily be stored externally, and the expandable front pocket is large enough for a good amount of rope.

Another thing that’s nice to see is the attention to operation with gloves.  The important camera compartment zipper has a large glove-friendly tag on it, and all the buckets on the bag are or a design that’s much easier to operate with gloves.

lowepro whistler zipper pulls
Glove friendly zipper tabs
lowepro whistler shoulder straps
I found the straps were an excellent place to mount a Peak Design Cemera Clip, but you could use it for GPS, or radios as well.
The sternum strap features an emergency whistle.
The sternum strap features an emergency whistle.
Adjustable front straps look awesome in orange with silver hardware. A nice touch!
Adjustable front straps look awesome in orange with silver hardware. A nice touch!
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Additional smaller buckles on the front webbing are great for securing poles and ice axe handles. They can be moved around to other areas of the bag to suit.
Additional smaller buckles on the front webbing are great for securing poles and ice axe handles. They can be moved around to other areas of the bag to suit.
For side mounting of skis and tripods, the fixed rail comes in handy for stabilization.
For side mounting of skis and tripods, the fixed rail comes in handy for stabilization.
Side pocket
Side pocket

The competition

I always try to include a section about the other options out there when I’m reviewing any product.  Obviously it’s not possible for me to have tested everything, so there may be some other options that I haven’t thought about.  I you have other alternatives, please leave a comment at the bottom of the article.

I believe the main competition for this pack will be various packs from F-Stop Gear.  The Lowepro Whistler pack sizing transcends a few of F-Stops bags so it’s possible that someone might be considering a variety of different ones. F-Stop packs have the advantage of offering several different sizes of camera compartment, and most of them are very slightly cheaper than the Whistler packs.  The notorious problem with F-Stop packs has been their availability, though.  I wish I had a $ for every person that’s read one of my F-Stop reviews and then emailed me to ask for alternatives because “the bag is not in stock”.  If you can get hold of one, they’re great, but they also have a slightly functional feel to them compared to the Lowepro Whistler pack.  The Whistler pack just feels a little tidier around the edges compared to any of the F-Stop packs I’ve tested.  I guess that’s what the slight price premium is for.  The water shedding ability of the Whistler pack’s TPU coating is also a distinct advantage.

mindshift-firstlight-photography-backpack

MindShift FirstLight range

Those of you who follow my social media channels may be aware that I’m currently using the MindShift Gear FirstLight packs (30L and 40L) for a lot of my work.  These packs (MindShift FirstLight reviewed here) were designed specifically with long super telephoto lenses in mind, and I’m often carrying around my rather burly Canon 200-400 f/4 L IS 1.4ext.  I’ve shown that this lens can be shoehorned into the Whistler 450 AW if necessary, but it’s not a setup I’d use all the time.  If you happen to be shooting with that same lens, or a 500mm f/4, you’ll be more comfortable with the FirstLight packs which I think are the best long lens bags on the market at the moment.  Whilst the FirstLight packs were designed with long lenses in mind, they are very capable bags for any kind of outdoor photography, with the FirstLight 30L being the closest in size to the Lowepro Whistler 450 AW.  The Whistler pack is $70 more than the MindShift FirstLight 30L, but it’s also a lot more fully featured for adventure sports.  Any actions sports photographer should definitely focus on the Whistler pack, but I’d recommend the FirstLight to wildlife photographers for it’s comfort with heavy loads and also several features specific to long lenses.  Landscape photographers that require the volume of either of these packs won’t be disappointed for their price points, and whether the more expensive Whistler pack is more suitable to you really depends on how rugged you need your gear to be.  The materials and hardware on the Whistler pack is more robust, but it comes at a price premium.

I could also throw the MindShift Rotation 180 Professional into the mix as well (Rotaion 180 review here) if your main subject is landscapes.  The Whistler pack will always be a better option for action/adventure sports, but the Rotation 180 technology of the R180 pro is pretty awesome and it earned this pack a place in my cupboard for eternity. Since the price and build quality is on a par with the Whistler pack, it’ll really come down to whether you think you’d use the R180 feature or not.  It doesn’t make any sense to own the R180 pro unless you actually use the feature.  If you don’t use the rotation feature, it would just slow down the access to your camera.  The R180 pro is a no-go for wildlife folks as it’s not big enough to hold longer lenses.

uinta-sizing

Gura Gear Uinta

The GuraGear Uinta (review here) is an extremely well made pack, although it lacks a few key features that keep it out of the running in this particular category.  The Battaflae pack is also a great pack that I used for a long time, but for long lens carrying, the MindShift FirstLight is much more comfortable, and the Whistler packs are far more suitable for sporty adventures.  Click Elite make an interesting pack called the Contrejour, but I haven’t used it so it’s impossible to be definitive about it. I don’t personally like the look of the side loading nature, and it’s overall design looks to be a bit unwieldy. It also lacks the seam sealed zippers and more robust, water shedding material of the Whistler pack whilst being at the same price point. It’s pitched as a winter sports pack, but the side loading nature of it would mean sensible side mounting of skis wouldn’t be possible.  If you’ve used the Contrejour pack, please let us know in the comments!

Lowepro HighLine Series

Shortly after publishing this review, Lowepro expanded their product lineup and entered the travel bag market for the first time. Amongst the initial array of travel bags is an adventure-inspired set of bags called the HighLine series, containing two backpacks and a travel roller.  The HighLine series shares a lot of the design styles and materials from the Whistler backpack, and in particular, it struck me that the HighLine RL x400 AW roller bag would be an excellent companion for the travelling adventure photographer.

One of the problems for this kind of photography is that the only type of camera bag that makes sense while you’re working, is a backpack, but they aren’t always ideal when you have to travel with them.  I often get wheel-induced jealousy when I see people effortlessly striding past me through terminals with their roller bags, while I struggle along with my 40lb backpack. (Shhhh.. don’t tell the gate agent that’s how much my bag weights ;))

With the HighLine roller bag, you can remove the camera insert from the Whistler pack and place it into the roller for your travel day through the airports. Just flatten the Whistler pack and put it in your checked suitcase or duffle bag.  Now you can cruise around all day with your carry-on roller, and when you reach your destination, simply switch your camera block back to the Whistler pack and get to work!

I’ll be testing this out myself with a HighLine roller, and I’ll post an update on the site and a full review of it once I’ve had some time with it.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • TPU coated material is outstanding for durability and water shedding
  • Large glove compatible zipper pulls
  • Uniquely functional internal dividers
  • Rain cover included in price
  • Multitude of straps and webbing for attaching an assortment of gear
  • Expandable volume front pocket
  • Shovel/probe compatible for snowsports backcountry usage
  • Split opening back panel for use in bad weather

Cons

  • Only one size of camera compartment available
  • Camera compartment is heavy
  • No H20 hose routing for bladder hose if you decide to use one
  • Side pockets are of limited usage.

Conclusion

I know a lot of people follow my ski photography work and have a specific interest in winter sports photography.  When it comes to carrying camera gear up the mountains in the winter, there’s now a new king.  The expandable front pocket is very well thought out for providing protection from crampons and wet gear, it gives you the perfect place to stash all your snow tools and accessories.  There’s ample options to attach skis and snowboards to the outside of the pack, and whilst some might like to have seen diagonal ski carrying implemented, I don’t think it’s a real issue.  There’s also plenty of straps for carrying skis/board as well as a tripod and light stands at the same time.  Another feature in its favour for this usage is the TPU coated material that’s used on the whole of the pack’s exterior.  Whilst packs like the F-Stop Tilopa BC have previously used this on the base, the Lowepro Whistler has gone one step further for providing weather resistance.  I doubt I would ever reach for the waterproof covering in ten the heaviest of snow storms, and even heavy rain would have to be prolonged for me to think it.  This pack is by far the most weather resistant, dirt resistant photo pack I’ve ever used, thanks to this TPU coating.

What do I conclude for other types of adventurous photography?  Whilst a few features of the pack have been designed with winter sports in mind, they all translate well to other types of action and adventure sports photography.  Climbers have ample space for gear, both internally and externally attached, and mountain bikers will appreciate the resilient design and its resistance to mud.  It’s even a great choice for landscape photographers that want to get off the beaten path and people that travel in areas of unpredictable weather (jungle?), because it just feels like this pack could take a lifetime of abuse.  The price may stop some people in their tracks if they’re used to seeing $100 Lowepro products in their local camera store, but the $390 price point (450 size) falls in the same territory as its main competition and offers a superior set of features.  This is a “do anything” kind of pack that’ll last many years of travel and adventure and it’s by far the most exciting photo pack I’ve ever seen from Lowepro.

Photo of author

Dan Carr

Professional photographer based in Yukon, Canada, and founder of Shutter Muse. His editorial work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as Nike, Apple, Adobe and Red Bull.

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50 thoughts on “Lowepro Whistler Backpack Review”

  1. Very nice review. I also have to say, last year at the photokina, I saw their protactic bags. And it was for the first time in years that I actually liked lowpro bags again. Looks like they are doing some good again.

    But have yu tried any of the Clik Elite bags? At the moment I swear by them, as they fit me very well.

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    • Hey Mac, I haven’t tried the Clik Elite bags yet. Good to hear you like them.I’ll have to check out the Protactic as well, I’m not familiar with that one. Thanks for reading!

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      • Hi again, hadn’t read the part where you talk about the other bags.
        But The countrejour you talk about, also has back access. You do not need to use the side entry. Then you could hang skis etc from the side.

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    • I have the Whistler and the Pro Tactic both in the 450 and they are great, the amount of gear I can fit in the protactic and take carry on is amazing, it fits more than the Whistler.
      The Protactic fits:
      Canon 7d II with grip
      Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sports
      Canon 70-200 2.8 II
      Canon 24-70 2.8 II
      Canon 10-18
      2 x Canon 600 EX RT
      Canon ST E3 RT
      spare batteries, cards & chargers
      Gopro
      13 inch Macbook Pro Retina & Wacom tablet.

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  2. I just received the Whistler 350 today. I had looked closely at the F-stop packs especially the Lotus and Anja. All online. There were numerous reviews of all three of these packs in addition to the Whistler 450. One thing that struck me in the reviews was the complaint that the Whistlers were so much heavier than the F-stops. No one seemed to remember that the Whistler packs came with an ICU embedded in the pack and that feature was an add on with the F-stop’s. When I received my Whistler 350 and removed the ICU (after a struggle) the weight was reduced by 2lbs. So now the Anja and 350 are within a pound of each other. If you were to add a large ICU to the Anja there would be a similar increase in weight. I knew this before I ordered the 350.
    So what tipped it for me? There is currently a wait until April 2016 until I could even order an Anja or Lotus. In addition I would have to order an ICU at that time and any ancillary straps would be extra as well as shipping. Total for all the above: $345 for the Anja or $315 for the Lotus. And there is no guarantee I would get them in a timely manner.
    I am subscribed to the daily specials at B&H. Last Monday I saw they had a 12 hour sale on the 350 & 450. $169 & $199 respectively. Expedited shipping included. I received my pack today, Friday, of the same week. I am in Oregon. It looks good to me and I will get back to this comment section after I try it out.
    I did remove the bright orange straps and rain cover and they fit fine in the side pocket.
    I also removed the ICU and am going to try something a little bit different to cradle my camera (GH-3 with several Panasonic lenses). The ICU is going under the bed with my photographic gear.

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    • Hey Tom, thanks for joining the conversation. I appreciate your time and detailed reply! As I mentioned in the review, the F-Stop out of stock saga has been going on for a very long time, it’s such a shame. I wanted to purchase a Sukah from them myself a few months ago but couldn’t get one until April so I gave up. I would have settled for one of their other packs as well but they were all out of stock. I do think the Whistler is on the heavy side, I’ve previously owned F-Stop Lokas, Tilopas and Satoris. F-Stop’s ICUs are much lighter, but the Lowepro one offers protection for your gear. Horses for courses.

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  3. What are the internal dimensions of the removable camera unit? What are the internal dimensions of the main compartment once the camera unit is removed? Is it possible to put the Fstop x-large ICU into the main compartment?

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  4. Just picked up one of these bags for an adventure into large-format landscape work – a very good option when set against the still impossible to find F-Stop bags. The sidepocket, which is admittedly very shallow, will fit a Paramo dark cloth. The back pocket is big enough to carry a 15″ laptop with ease, should you wish. The top pocket fits 6 Toyo 5×4 Film holders, so is about 9cm or so deep.

    https://dwfnaturephoto.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/in-at-the-deep-end/

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  5. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for this really complete review…
    I just would like to know if it’s possible to flip this bag as you can do it with a Flipside 400 (very useful when you don’t want to put you bag on the ground or when it’s more safe to keep it attached…)
    Thanks in advance,
    Michaël

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  6. Hi Dan,

    First of all, great reviews. I want to ask you for some advice.
    I currently use a Lowepro flipside 15l. I love the fact that it’s light, has a back opening and strong, but it’s becoming a little bit to little for me. A weak point of the back is the waist support to carry the weight. I am travelling and hiking a lot, so I try to keep the weight of the bag to a minimum. The lowepro whistler starts at 3 kg(6,5lbs) that is a very big disadvantage. You get problems with flying and you will feel the extra weight on your back after a couple of hours hiking. So that makes no sense to me. So my question to you is this. How do the lowepro whistler, lowepro Pro tactic, the mindshift rotation pro and the f-stop loku ( or one you are more familiar with) compare to each other. I use a dslr set, want lightweight with good back support also around the waist, back opening and mostly camera gear dedicated. Maybe I ask to much but I would love to hear your thoughts as you seem to have some experience with these or similar backpacks. ( by the way, with flip Michael probably means flipping the bag from your back to the front in order to open the bag without it touching the ground) Regards Ferdinand

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    • From what you are asking, the F-Stop Loka UL seems to suit your needs. The tricky thing is that their stuff is often not in stock and can be out for many months. I’m not sure the current status. The Loka UL has back opening, wider waits belt than your Lowepro and a lightweight frame to offer support. I don’t know a thing about the Pro tactic so can’t factor that in. My current go-to is the MindShift Ultralight 35. That’s worth a look as well because it is the lightest of the bunch, though it lacks an internal frame so perhaps the back support isn’t what you require.

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  7. Great review first off. Just wanted to throw in my experience with F-Stop’s issue with keeping things in stock in case people are looking for recent order wait times. Ordered the ajna on May 15th and just received it yesterday. I was actually surprised it wasn’t longer after what i’ve read. However, I somehow never saw these lowepro bags before ordering the ajna. If they offered a smaller removable inside, this for sure would be my choice as I love lowepro’s quality. It doesn’t look like the 350/450 offer loops to add sleeping pad/bag straps to the top or bottom which would be nice. That all said, I think the ajna provides a very good solution compared to what I had before(nothing) and looking forward to putting some time in with it.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment! I think part of the issue people take with F-Stop is not so much the wait time itself, but the fact that they never seem to have things in stock. The Ajna is now showing a 4-6 week delay again (as is every other Mountain Series pack), and it has done for some time. All stores go out of stock on the odd thing from time to time, that’s normal, but what perplexes me is that they don’t seem to ever get themselves into an in-stock situation. They fill backorders as they did with you, but they are immediately out of stock again on everything. A lot of people need a bag when they need it, and not in 4-6 weeks. I’ve tried to buy bags from them myself on three occasions this year , because at the time I’ve had a specific purpose and needed a solution then and there. All three times have been met with the same out of stock notices that I have seen on the site every time I’ve visited in the past few years. It’s utterly bewildering to me that they don’t just over order what they need and stock their shelves with inventory like every other shop on the planet. It’s the kind of teething trouble you’d expect from a new company that’s just figuring out the manufacturing process, yet these guys have been making bags for years and years now. Crazy!

      Anyways, thanks for stopping by and checking out my review! I hope your Ajna works well for you, they make great gear if you can get it so I’m sure you’ll be stoked with it.

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  8. Hi Dan,
    Like you I also use the 7D2/200-400 f/4 combo. I recently sold my Bataflae 32L as I can’t handle the 40 pound loads anymore? I was looking at the Tamrac anvil super 25 for the combo. Any experience with that bag?

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    • Funny you should mention that! I’m planning on testing it this month. I haven’t seen one in the flesh yet, though. I think it has shipped so it should be here soon.

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  9. Hi Dan, excellent review, as always.
    I’m impressed with many things about this pack, however, there are a couple of things that just make me hesitate to buy it. First, Lowepro needs to make a camera compartment about 2/3 the size of the one included, a ‘medium’ if you will and maybe even a small. There are plenty of times that I just go out for a day and don’t need that large of a compartment and could use more storage space. Doing that and opening up the top (like F-Stop) would allow me to place items like a jacket, pants, etc on top of the camera compartment and not inside the front pocket where they might get wet or muddy if I have placed crampons or a snow shovel inside. Also, it may help keep the center of gravity closer to my back, not storing too many items on the outside front pocket. Another thing I notice is that there isn’t a good place to quickly access a water bottle on the pack itself, no real pocket for this. Placing a bladder inside the front pocket, does keep it away from camera gear, but also takes up room and again, doesn’t help with the center of gravity. I didn’t notice a way to route the bladder’s plastic tube to the front straps, either, but maybe there is a way.
    All in all a very nice pack. Maybe they will come out with a smaller camera compartment in the future. Until then I’ll continue to use my old F Stop Loka.

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  10. Hi Dan,

    Great Review, it is what I want to read.
    currently I am looking for the back pack, the 2 choses are this one and MindShift Blacklight, do you get any chance to review that?
    another question is does Lowerpro 450 can carry 2 bodies with lens attached? one 70-200 and another one is 24-70.
    Thanks.

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  11. Thanks! Very informative! I’m on a mirrorless system and actually think the more narrow camera block seems like an improvement. Will get the 350 after seeing this review!

    Had an F-stop Ajna bag on order that never got anywehere, so after more than nine months I managed to cancel that and actually get my money back (probably thanks to using PayPal and escalating a claim on there since the F-Stop CS did not answer until I did). Seems F-Stop has gone from bad to worse, the designer has jumped ship and lot’s of old employees testimony that things rotten on the inside. Shame.

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  12. Hi Dan,
    I enjoyed your review having just read it after getting home tonight with the 350. I compared it in the store with the Mindshift Backlight 26L which was very similar. The main differences I saw were the heavier weight of the 350, and the deeper ICU (which for me, might actually be better since I have a Fuji ILC system). The Backlight seemed simpler and had a dedicated tripod mount as well.
    I’m more in the landscape photography area. I have 30 days to return the LowePro and exchange it for the Mindshift. Do you have any thoughts on the comparison between these two bags (the Lowepro was on sale for about what the Mindshift was)?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Well I don’t think you really need the deeper depth of the Whistler pack… I was using a Canon 7D Mark II with a grip on it in the Backlight, so a Fuji system would fit not problem. I really did enjoy the Backlight, and with a mirrorless system I think this might be the better option. The Whistler pack is a heavy beast for such a lightweight camera system.

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  13. Dan, thank you for the excellent review. I’m a Fujifilm shooter who decided to go for the Whistler 450 as a result of your review. The pack provides a ton of extra room for a Strobist kit in addition to a couple of bodies and lenses. More important for me was the water resistant material and a rain cover. I live in Asia in the Tropics and it is well suited to our “Jungle” like environment. Now I can carry needed gear for a shoot in the city or the countryside and feel pretty safe that it is going to stay dry and actually the bag will provide some protection from the tropical sun. If it is hot it’s humid and it’s always hot! We seldom see a sprinkle, but hard rain is almost a daily occurrence. So it’s not just for the mountains & snow. Great review!

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    • Hey Fred! Thanks for coming back and sharing your experience. Glad the review was helpful 🙂 Certainly sounds like you’re in a part of the world that’s ideally suited to this pack!

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  14. Hi!
    Thanks for a great review, I’m off to view both bags at local shop tomorrow before making the big leap!
    You’ve given me lots of things to test on them.
    You asked what the side pocket might be good for….. map and compass perhaps ?
    🙂
    … or maybe just a sly extra bar of chocolate your climbing partner didn’t see you pack !

    You;ve alsi introduce me to a Peak Design Capture clip, more shiny trinkets to acquire ! 🙂

    Reply
    • Come back and let us know what you decided! Map would be a good usage for the side pocket actually… although I so rarely see people with paper maps these days.

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  15. Hi Dan, I just bought the 450 based largely on your review and love it. As mentioned the side pocket fits a map and compass perfectly. Thanks for the great review.

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  16. Hello, just to chime-in – great review. I am also about to purchase the 450, in large part from this review. Many comments about the F-Stop availability, and I’ve also read endlessly there are major problems within their company (self-inflicted), and their future is very, very grim. So, the Lowepro is a no-brainer. I have one question based on where you show the Peak Design attached to your 450 belt. Moreover, you mention the Street & Field belt system and so I am wondering if the attachment portion of the 450’s belt (right side) is the same, essentially? I’m asking because I really dislike the Peak Design system, and want to use a Spider Holster (just the metal part, not the huge black appendage they include). Spider says they have a clip attachment for that particular Lowepro Street & Field belt system, thus I am trying to determine if they are the same so I might conclude the Spider clip made for the Street & Field belt system will also fit the 450 belt.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

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    • I think it’s the same, yes. In one of the photos you can see the belt with nothing attached to it so that should give you an indication. As far as I can tell, any belt-based system would work with this.

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  17. Really in depth review..!! Was really handy info as I am currently studying all the possible options before purchasing the right one.
    I am about to go on back to back tours to the extremely opposite weather conditions (Atacama desert in Chile and then Patagonian mountains and glaciers in both Argentine and Chilean sides).
    I currently do not have heavy camera gears but very entry level DSLR with couple of lenses (upto 200mm range) and have a Vanguard full sized tripod to carry in. Since I will be upgrading myself with more professional camera in near future with considerably larger lenses upto 500-600mm,
    here comes my few queries:

    1. Does this bag stand good if I am travelling where I will be carrying few or little camera gears and want to take out the sturdy camera compartment box to make more room for clothes and other stuffs?

    2. I am more comfortable in attaching the​ tripod to the side of the bag and would like to bring the setup as my carry on baggage at the Airport. Will it be allowed?

    3. Is the side strap strong enough to hug and grip a 2.5Kg (5.5 lbs) tripod properly when I am on a hike?

    Thanks in advance.!!!

    Regards,
    Sagnik

    Reply
    • 1. Yes it’s fine. 2. Depends on the airline, they all have different allowances, but I would guess you will be fine with most. 3. Yes, no problem.

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  18. Great review!
    Do you know where we can buy extra Maxfit inserts for different setups, not having to rearrange pads everytime?
    Cheers

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      • It seemed like the flash would fit as the 200-400 you showed was mounted. If I replaced the 200-400 with the 400 DO IS II and put the flash at the bottom, do you still think it wouldn’t work? Thanks.

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        • Depends if you can lay the flash out flat or if you have to have it with a 90 degree bend in it. Also, that setup is VERY tight. It might be just about doable, but I probably wouldn’t want to have it like that every day. Have you considered the MindShift FirstLight packs? Or the MP-3 V2? What is it that is drawing you to this Whistler pack particularly? Definitely its major downfall is the internal size of the camera unit. I even saw a Lowepro team member the other day who was using a different brand’t camera unit inside the bag haha.

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          • I’m interested in the Whistler because of the back access camera compartment. When a tripod is mounted to the side is the rainfly still useable?

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            • Depends on the size of the tripod! If it was a big one, you would have to leave the tripod on the outside of the cover, but that is possible.

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  19. Hi
    Does the front pocket fit a down sweater or jacket? If it does, is there more room for anything else?

    Reply

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