Today will be my first opportunity for an overnighter in the mountains near Mt. Rainier. During the extended offseason, I used the opportunity to upgrade most of my camping gear to reduce mass and improve efficiency. Much of this was forced as compensation for adding the larger, heavier Fujifilm GFX medium format camera system. The result of throwing money at the problem is an overnight kit that fits completely within my Action X70 backpack while still having 15-20 liters of space left over and weighing in below 20kg. To demonstrate both the efficiency of my chosen gear and my packing skills, I made a short video of my unloading all of the camping gear from my backpack's expandable 35 liter cargo compartment.
I'll make this quick: this is the best middleweight backpack I've found for photography so far. It's not the fastest or most rugged, but it's the most versatile and comfortable. Let me explain.
You're familiar with how they all begin: "this video is sponsored by Squarespace." Ok, well, after that, they then feed you the next line, almost all of it verbatim, "I am not sponsored by (insert brand here). They have not paid me to do this review or told me what to say about it. This review is entirely my own and they don't know I'm making this video. I was/was not provided a sample for the purposes of this review. I am not biased in any way so you can trust what I'm about to say about this product." What they don't mention, obviously, is if they had to return that "review unit." But if you pay close attention, you may catch them using the product in later videos, especially if they were especially laudatory in their review. At least they weren't paid, right? Wrong. Payment is simply one form of compensation. That "review unit" usually comes along with an email that says, "you don't need to send this back to us." Simply put, the item itself is payment. Just because you didn't get to choose the item, the form of compensation or were given a special title associating you with their brand doesn't mean you weren't paid. They paid you with product and exclaiming otherwise is a flat out lie by Youtubers who persistently try to claim otherwise. Rarely are these items cameras and lenses; they're usually "soft goods" or accessories, like bags, lens filter kits, etc. that would likely get damaged during a thorough review period or whose cost of manufacture and/or retail price is so low that the cost of return, reconditioning and resale would consume all or more of the potential profit.
As I've made clear in a previous post, nobody makes the perfect bag. It's a fools errand because "perfect" is subjective and what works for one is completely inadequate for another. However, the more modular a bag is, the better chance for it to become all things to all people by allowing all people to adorn it with all things to meet their needs. Looking further into this idea, especially since Peak Design's recent release of a fully redesigned bag lineup dubbed "v2," I've realized Peak Design is great at making accessories that meet the needs of most people but wrap it all up in bags that don't. Take their 45L Travel Backpack... it converts into a duffel with a forward facing, wide-mouth, zip opening. It's really not great for anything but a duffel bag that turns into a half-assed backpack for longer distance carry, especially for outdoors. However, for camera carry within, they've created camera cubes with efficient padding, mindful access port placement, an abundance of attachment points and durable exterior skin sufficient enough to be used on its own. A quick check of the external dimensions gave me an idea as the camera cube is nearly spot on with the dimensions of Shimoda Designs' large Integrated Camera Unit (ICU) for Explore and Action X backpacks.
Usually, Kickstarter is a collection of scams and bad ideas for internet virgins to be separated from their money. Sometimes, if you know what you're doing, it's a source for good deals. In this case, Shimoda Designs has established itself as a reliable maker of durable, action oriented camera backpacks. Shimoda decided to use Kickstarter as a "group buy" for their new line of Action X backpacks and mine managed to arrive just after Xmas.
So, 2 full months after I bought my Shimoda Design Explore 40 backpack, they opened a Kickstarter for a new line of packs. Called the Action X series, they're basically a collection of improvements, many of which were universally requested by owners, including myself.
I've been really busy lately, traveling up and down western Washington State, hiking and photographing both beaten and unbeaten paths. It began by trying to take advantage of a streak of good weather and morphed into chasing the autumn colors as the weather got colder. Hikes include: Alpine Lake Wilderness, Denny Creek, Mount Fremont Lookout, Annette Lake, Lake Twentytwo and Artist Point. All of these on consecutive weekends, and even some weekdays, over the past 3 weeks. And in that time I think I've posted just once. Maybe twice. So, here are 3 photos from the past week.
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.
If you read my review, you'll know I really like my Lowepro Freeline 350 BP backpack. Despite all of it's improvements over the Peak Design backpack, there's one outstanding regression in the design and that's the shelving and dividers. Peak Design's origami inspired shelving system is possibly the best solution I've seen for carving up bag space to organize and protect your camera gear. Lowepro's solution is adequate but inferior. So I decided to combine the best of each into a FrankenBag.