Shimoda Action X v2 Vs. Explore v2 Backpacks – Which Is Right for You?

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Choosing between the Shimoda Action X and Explore backpacks can be tricky. On the face of it, they are pretty similar. Both bags are ruggedly built, weather-resistant backpacks for outdoor and nature photography. They both feature the same comfortable harness system with torso length adjustment and the same back panel camera access for use with Shimoda’s range of Core Unit camera inserts. Dig a little deeper, though, and meaningful differences can be found.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with these bags, I recommend you start by reading the Explore v2 review and the Action X v2 review. The reviews go into more detail about the features of each bag, whereas this post will concentrate on the key differences. If you’re familiar with these bags but can’t decide which is for you, this post will help you make the right choice.

Shimoda Designs has offered Shutter Muse readers a 10% discount on anything purchased through their online stores. US, Canadian, UK, French, or German residents should use the discount code ShutterMuse10 after clicking here to access the store. Australian readers should use the same code on the local Shimoda distributor’s site, Maxxum, instead.

Shimoda Explore and Action X Sizes

Action X Sizes: 25L, 30L, 40L, 50L, and 70L
Explore v2 Sizes: 25L, 30L, and 35L

When choosing between the Shimoda Explore and Action X packs, you first have to ask yourself what volume of backpack you need. Not all volumes are available for both styles of bag. If you need a bag larger than 35L, the decision is easy. You will have to choose an Action X pack. Here are the available sizes:

  • Shimoda Explore v2 – Available in 25L, 30L, and 35L volumes.
  • Shimoda Action X v2 – Available in 25L, 30L, 40L, 50L, and 70L volumes.
  • Women’s Explore v2 – Available in 25L and 30L volumes.
  • Women’s Action X v2 – Available in 25L, 30L, and 40L volumes.

Shimoda Backpack Color Options

The color options might sway your decision if you’re really on the fence about which pack is right for you. Not all packs are available in all of Shimoda’s colors.

  • Explore v2 25L, 30L, and 35L – Available in Black and Army Green
  • Action X v2 25L, 30L, 40L, and 50L – Available in Black, Army Green or Yellow
  • Action X 70 HD – Available in Black or Army Green
  • Women’s Explore v2 25L, and 30L – Available in Teal
  • Women’s Action X v2 25L, 30L, and 40L – Available in Teal

Explore v2 and Action X v2 Specifications Compared

Shimoda Action X vs Explore backpacks
I’ll use an Explore 25 v2 (left) and an Action X25 v2 (right) throughout this comparison.

Note: The Women’s Explore v2 and Action X v2 packs feature different shoulder straps and the exclusive Teal color. The shoulder strap weight difference is so minor I decided that it would be overly complicated to include them as separate models in these comparative tables. All other features and dimensions of the Shimoda Women’s packs are the same as the regular packs.

Shimoda Explore v2 Specifications

SpecificationExplore 25 v2Explore 30 v2Explore 35 v2
Weight (shell)3.5lb / 1.57kg3.6lb / 1.65kg4.4lb / 2kg
Outside Dimensions (in):10.6W x 18.3H x 6.6D in.11.6W x 20.3H x 6.6D in.11.6W x 21.2H x 7.8D in.
Outside Dimensions (cm):27W x 46.5H x 17D cm29.5W x 51.5H x 17D cm29.5W x 54H x 20D cm
Inside Dimensions (in):10.2W x 17.9H x 6.2D in.11.2W x 19.8H x 6.2D in.11.2W x 20.8H x 7.4D in.
Inside Dimensions (cm):26W x 45.5H x 16D cm28.5W x 50.5H x 16D cm28.5W x 53H x 19D cm
Max Laptop Size14″16″16″
Compatible Core Units Small Mirrorless Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Small DSLR / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR

Shimoda Action X v2 Specifications

Action X25 v2Action X30 v2Action X40 v2Action X50 v2Action X70 HD
Weight (shell)3.9lbs / 2.01kg4.2lbs / 1.9kg4.6lbs / 2.1kg4.6lbs / 2.1kg6.2lbs / 2.8kg
Outside Dimensions (in):10.6W x 18.9H x 6.7D in.11.8W x 20.1H x 6.7D in.11.8W x 20.9H x 7.9D in.11.8W x 22H x 7.9D in.12.2W x 23.2H x 9.1D in.
Outside Dimensions (cm):27W x 48H x 17D cm30W x 51H x 17D cm30W x 53H x 20D cm30W x 56H x 20D cm31W x 59H x 23D cm
Inside Dimensions (in):10.4W x 18.7H x 6.3D in.11.6W x 19.9H x 6.3D in.11.6W x 20.7H x 7.5D in.11.6W x 21.9H x 7.5D in.12W x 23H x 8.9D in.
Inside Dimensions (cm):26.5W x 47.5H x 16D cm29.5W x 50.5H x 16D cm29.5W x 52.5H x 19D cm29.5W x 55.5H x 19D cm30.5W x 58.5H x 22.5D cm
Max Laptop Size14″16″16″16″16″
Compatible Core UnitsSmall MirrorlessSmall Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large MirrorlessSmall Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLRSmall Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLRSmall Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR / Large DV / Extra-Large DV / Extra-Extra-Large DV

Shimoda Explore v2 and Action X v2 Feature List

Although the Action X70 HD is part of the new Action X v2 lineup, it has a few features different from the Action X v2 25, 30, 40, and 50 sizes, so it gets its own column in the comparative table, just as it got its own review.

FeatureExplore v2Women’s Explore v2Action X v2Women’s Action X v2Action X70 HD
2nd laptop sleeve in front pocketNoYesYesYesNo
Luggage handle pass-throughYesYesYesYesYes
Adjustable length waist belt paddingNoYesYesYesYes
Adjustable torso lengthYesYesYesYesYes
Base handleYesYesYesYesYes
Secondary zippered front pocketYesYesNoNoNo
Hidden passport pocketYesYesNoNoNo
Hidden AirTag PocketNoYesYesYesYes
Rain cover pocketNoYesYesYesYes
Rain cover included with bagOptionalYesYesYesYes
Helmet HolderNoNoYesYesYes
Metal buckle hardwareNoNoNoNoYes
HD Belt with pocketsOptionalOptionalOptionalOptionalYes
Shovel handle/avalanche probe pocketNoNoNoYesYes
Ice axe loopsNoNoYesYesYes
Hydration tube compatibleYesYesYesYesYes
Removable tripod/water bottle pocketsNoYesYesYesOptional
Front straps across the bagOptionalOptionalYesYesYes
Side camera accessYesYesYesYesNo
Top closureZipZipRollRollRoll
Lockable zippersYesYesNoNoNo
Shoulder and hip paddingAir MeshAir MeshEVA FoamAir MeshAir Mesh

Shoulder Straps Compared

The contoured shape of the shoulder straps is the same on the two packs, but the strap materials are different. The Explore v2 uses an Air Mesh-covered EVA foam designed for increased breathability, while the Action X v2 uses a high-density EVA foam. The EVA foam straps on the Action X v2 are designed to prevent dirt and snow buildup in the pores of an Air Mesh strap, which would then transfer to your clothing.

Both bags have two pockets on their shoulder straps, and I can fit my iPhone 13 Pro Max into them while using an Apple case on the phone. It’s a little tighter on the Explore v2, so it appears Shimoda enlarged the phone pocket very slightly on the Action X v2.

Hip Belts Compared

The hip belt materials on these bags show a similar story to the shoulder straps for all the same reasons. The Explore v2 has an Air Mesh hip belt, whereas the Action X v2 has higher-density EVA foam. Where these hip belts differ is the inclusion of additional adjustability on the Action X v2 belt.

After removing the hip belt on the Action X v2, you’ll find that the hip belt padding is in two pieces, joined by adjustable nylon webbing. This allows you to increase or decrease the distance between the left and right hip pads, moving them into a more comfortable place for people with smaller or larger hips. It’s an excellent feature to consider if your body type falls closer to one end of the spectrum and is something I have never seen before on a camera backpack.

Back Panels Compared

Once again, the differences here come down to material choices. Air Mesh for the Explore v2 for slightly increased breathability, and EVA foam on the Action X v2 for a surface that doesn’t hold snow or natural detritus.

Top Access Compared

The Explore v2 uses a zipper to access the bag’s top section, while the Action X v2 has both a zipper and a roll top. The roll top of the Action X v2 allows a few liters of volume expansion, which can be helpful if your usual loadout varies daily. This roll top also allows you to store much larger items at the top of an Action X than in the Explore v2. Some people prefer the cleaner look of the zippered access, while some appreciate the flexibility a roll top provides.

Inside the top section of both bags is a gear “bucket’ that can be removed if you want to transform the packs into a single-volume, regular backpack. The gear bucket on both bags has two zippered pockets, but the rearmost pocket on the Explore v2 is lightly padded. On the Action X v2, both pockets are mesh.

Pockets and Organization Compared

The pocket configuration is slightly different between these two bags. The Explore v2 has a hidden zippered document pocket accessed through a second top zipper or the bag’s back panel. It also has a zippered and lightly padded lower front pocket. The Action X v2 has neither of these.

The side pockets are slightly different, too. On the Explore v2, the side pocket contains a 2-part zippered pocket designed for circular lens filers. The Action X v2 has a vertical sleeve instead of a zippered side-facing pocket. This works well for rectangular filters, a filter case, or any other small items and is arguably a little more versatile than the zippered pocket on the Explore.

Laptop Capacity Compared

The Explore v2 packs have a padded laptop sleeve inside the back panel camera hatch. The Explore 25 v2 can hold up to a 14″ laptop, while the 30 and 35 sizes can hold up to a 16″ laptop. The Action X v2 packs have the same laptop sleeve in the rear camera hatch and a second padded sleeve in the bag’s front pocket. This gives you a safe way to carry a laptop and a tablet, or you can have the computer in the front pocket, which is more easily accessible while putting fragile glass filters in the rear laptop compartment.

External Carry Attachments Compared

The Explore v2 packs have two nylon side compression straps on each side for carrying tripods. Optional accessory straps are available to add a pair of straps to the front of the pack. The Action X v2 also has two straps on each side of the bag, but the lower straps are made from TPU and designed to work better for carrying skis. The Action X v2 packs also have permanently attached straps on the front and come with a helmet holder that connects to these straps.

Explore v2

Rain Covers

The Action X v2 comes with a rain cover and has a dedicated rain cover pocket in the base of the bag. The Explore v2 doesn’t have that pocket and doesn’t come with a rain cover, but you can buy one for less than $10.

Flying With Explore and Action X Bags

If you’re planning to travel with your camera bag, you’re probably considering carry-on size compliance when choosing between the Explore or Action X pack. While Shimoda’s marketing pitches the Explore series firmly at travelers, flying with most of the Action X range is possible.

Most US domestic airlines use 22″ x 14″ x 9″ for their maximum carry-on dimensions. This means the entire Shimoda Explore V2 range and the Action X25, X30, X40, and X50 are compatible. The only pack in the Shimoda lineup that doesn’t meet domestic carry-on dimensions is the enormous Action X70 HD.

Maximum international carry-on dimensions tend to vary from airline to airline a little more than domestic. A good starting point is to look for a bag that fits within 21.5″ x 15.5″ x 9″. If you’re playing by the book, this shorter commonly-used international carry-on specification now moves the Action X50 to the no-fly list alongside the Action X70 HD.

The huge 70-liter Action X70 HD is not carry-on compliant with any airline.

While the Action X50 may be a half-inch too tall, I have flown internationally with this bag, and I know many others have. Its linear inch measurement (H+W+D) is much less than most international dimensions. If you really wanted to fly internationally with the Action X50 but had significant concerns about that extra half-inch, you could temporarily pull the aluminum frame from the bag. Doing so quickly lets you squish the top of the bag to achieve a sub-21.5″ height, even with the Large DSLR Core Unit inside. Hey presto! Internationally compliant.

Final Thoughts

Shimoda says that the Explore line of camera bags is designed for travel and landscape photographers, while the needs and desires of action sports photographers drove the design of the Action X line. I don’t like to pigeonhole these two lines of camera bags in that way. It doesn’t tell the whole story and might incorrectly skew people’s choices. The reality is that these two camera bag lines are far more similar than they are different.

Although Action X v2 bags target action sports photographers, nothing about it would make it a bad choice for travel, landscape, or even wildlife photographers. Conversely, even though the Explore v2 series targets travel and landscape photographers, there is nothing wrong with using it for action sports photography or any other outdoor use. They all have the same camera access, the same materials, the same laptop compartment, and the same ways to carry a tripod.

There are minor nuanced features specific to their intended audience, like a hidden passport pocket or filter pocket on the Explore v2 or a helmet carrier and ice axe loops on the Action X v2. However, all these features fall into the “nice to have” category instead of the “must have” category. When you compare the must-haves features, you list similarities between the two models.

For most people, the choice between the two bags will come down to available volumes in that lineup. You’ll have to get an Action X v2 if you need larger volumes. If you need a bag size that falls somewhere in the 25L-40L volume, and thus, you can choose between an Explore v2 or Action X v2, make sure you take a good look at the method for accessing the bag’s top section. The Explore v2’s zippered access is the most significant difference from the roll-top access on the Action X v2. Neither is bad, and the choice will be a personal preference.

Do you know what else is OK? Simply saying, “To heck with it, I love the yellow color, and even though I’m a landscape photographer, I’m choosing the Action X bag purely for that reason!”. Nothing wrong with that. You’ll love it.

What About the Urban Explore Backpack?

The new Urban Explore pack (left) is designed for everyday carry in a more urban environment. Explore v2 is on the right.

You’re so close to the end that I hate to do this to you, but it would be remiss of me to ignore the Shimoda Urban Explore backpack entirely. This pack was launched long after the Explore and Action X lineups and is available in 20L, 25L, and 30L sizes. Having completed an in-depth review of the Shimoda Urban Explore backpack, let me quickly outline a few thoughts.

The Urban Explore range of camera bags is designed to meet photography enthusiasts’ everyday urban carry needs. It is a camera bag for a much broader audience than the adventure and outdoor photography market precisely targeted by the Explore and Action X bags. For most people, this is good news. If you’re reading this comparison of the Explore and Action X bags, there’s a good chance one of them is still the best choice. However, if you’re reading this because you love Shimoda’s styling but think of yourself as more of a city dweller, the Urban Explore packs should be on your radar.

Ubran Explore 25 (left) and Explore 25 v2 25 (right).

Now that I’ve thrown that possible conundrum at you, I’d like to help you narrow things down quickly. Unsurprisingly, the Urban Explore backpacks are much more similar to the Explore backpacks than to the Action X bags. If you’re leaning towards the features and styling of the Action X, you can safely ignore the Urban Explore as an option. None of the Urban Explore packs can carry a pro-sized or gripped camera body, which will discount a few more people.

If you’re leaning toward the 35L version of the Explore v2, you should stick with that decision since the largest version of the Urban Explore is 30L. After reading this post, those leaning towards the Explore 25 or Explore 30 should also check out the Urban Explore 25 or Urban Explore 30. Or, if you’ve read all this and are thinking, “I wish Shimoda made something smaller than a 25L bag”, you should check out the Urban Explore 20.

Where to Buy (+ Save 10%)

Shimoda Designs has offered Shutter Muse readers a 10% discount on anything purchased through their online stores. US, Canadian, UK, French, or German residents should use the discount code ShutterMuse10 after clicking here to access the store. Australian readers should use the same code on the local Shimoda distributor’s site, Maxxum, instead.

I recommend shopping directly with Shimoda, if you can, to take advantage of that 10% discount. However, using one of our other links is always appreciated if you can’t do that. Shimoda doesn’t ship directly to Canada, so fellow Canadians should buy from B&H Photo using the links below to take advantage of their free shipping and easy pre-paid duties.

I spent 60+ hours creating this post and the associated Action X v2 and Explore v2 reviews. I would greatly appreciate your support for that commitment.

Note that because the Action X 25L and Explore 25L bags are only compatible with the Small Mirrorless Core Unit, these bags are not available as “shell only.” They are only available in a kit containing the Small Mirrorless Core Unit.

Explore v2 Series

Action X v2 Series

Urban Explore Series

Shimoda Core Units

If you’re buying the “Shell Only” option of the pack, you’ll need to choose a Core Unit.

Shimoda Pack Accessories

Photo of author
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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3 thoughts on “Shimoda Action X v2 Vs. Explore v2 Backpacks – Which Is Right for You?”

  1. Does the backpack numbers actually correspond to their capacity in L?

    If we multiply outside dimension specs to calculate capacity in liters they are not the same. Difference actually grows further apart with higher model#. Action X70 makes you think 70L but comes out to 42L. Explore 35 is the same 31.8L as the Action 40.

    Action X25 – 22.03L
    Action X30 – 26.01L
    Action X40 – 31.80L
    Action X50 – 33.60L
    Action X70 – 42.07L

    Explore 25 – 21.34L
    Explore 30 – 25.82L
    Explore 35 – 31.86L

    Is the difference because Shimoda bags stretch or flex? Action series have roll top for expanded capacity, Explore series doesn’t, but their numbers are different too. Most other manufacturers have backpack specs where their dimensions capacity match close to their model quoted number.

    Example: Peak Design 45L Travel backpack (56x33x24) 44.35L

    Reply
  2. Hi,

    I already have an Action X50, does the Explore V2 series breathe much better?
    I am considering purchasing the Explore V2 35 because I do find the Action X50 very warm on my back in the summer. But is it going to make enough of a difference… ?

    Kind regards,
    Kasper

    Reply
    • Honestly, they are not “much better.” It’s a slight difference. That said, no camera bags offer anything meaningfully better in this area because certain bag companies have patents on suspended back panels that prevent that style from being used.

      Reply

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