After the hike to Keekwulee Falls and in the planning stage of a hike to the Mount Fremont Fire Lookout, I accepted the fact that I needed a proper bag. I’ve been suffering with a cheap LowePro Flipside Trek 450 BP for the past year and my back has paid the price. But it was only after the hike up Mount Fremont that I realized just how bad it is. Let me explain.
A week before the Fremont hike, I grabbed a Shimoda Designs Explore 40 kit from Glazer’s Camera. After transferring my gear from the LowePro to the Shimoda, I weighed it and it came out to only 24 lbs. Once I fully loaded the pack with extra clothes, food, water and the extra photography gear needed, it topped 42 lbs. Despite the extra weight, and with a pair of hiking poles, I made it up and down the mountain with my back in far better condition than the previous 2 weekends.
Good design makes a difference. The Explore 40 integrates an internal, aluminum frame. Combined with the camera core units and specifically placed organization options for accessories, weight is evenly distributed, with the frame and core unit preventing items from sagging. It keeps the weight on your shoulders and hips instead of burying everything into your lower thoracic and lumbar area. Most importantly, for me, is the adjustable torso length. The shoulder strap anchors allowed me to shorten the torso and equalize the weight carried between my hips and shoulders. This made a world of difference.
Put all of this together and the result was minimal lower back pain after 5 hours of hiking with double the weight I’d normally carry. Sure, the Explore 40’s $360 price is triple the LowePro’s $130, but it enables me to go for longer, harder and to reach locations I’d previously thought impossible because of my poor back health. I hoped the pack would make some difference, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it actually is.
Sure, I’ve now spent far more than the original $360 to get the layout as dense and efficient as possible, learning that all of Shimoda’s accessories are just as well thought out as their packs. Trading out the 2x small core units for a single, larger medium core unit, adding 2x accessory pouches on the belt for more capacity and organization, and 1 ea small, medium and large gear bags, I’m able to keep all of my small items in place and in easy reach, considering there’s few pockets built into the design. Sure, you could fault it for that but in reality it lets the owner put things where they want them and not where the manufacturer wants you to put them. It also forces you to put things in the spots where it’s best able to distribute the weight properly. There’s also no shortage of external straps and loops to add extra capacity.
$600+ in and it’s set up how I want it, holds everything I need for an overnight backpacking trip and does it in a way that minimizes the stress on my spine. Sure, there are some aspects I would change but only out of convenience that are specific to the camera gear I have chosen to use thus far. The a la carte nature of how they sell it is a bit lame, like not including a rain cover, or including at least one accessory pouch due to the lack of internal organization. Otherwise, it’s nearly perfect. Too bad they don’t offer it in black.