Mountain biking with photography gear is often a chore and most of the time the bags are overkill for my needs. In a perfect world, my photo riding bag is going to carry one body, 2-3 lenses, a flash unit, spare batteries and a memory card holder. It also needs to have a location for either a hydration bladder or two water bottles. Not one, two. A place to strap on a light jacket is also ideal, as well as a compartment for bike tools and personal items like my phone, wallet and keys. It all sounds really simple when I write this out but it’s never that easy when browsing the local photo shop.
Before getting a hold of the new Lowepro Flipside Trek BP 250 AW (these long Lowepro names continue), I would wrap my camera in a padded watertight sleeve and place it into a normal cycling daypack. Although this works, I never felt the camera was properly protected and getting to my camera on the fly wasn’t possible. Grabbing the perfect shot often means being ready at a moments notice. Capturing that moment isn’t possible taking the bag off my back, setting it on the ground, fishing for my camera, unwrapping it, and then shooting.
Looking to cure my transport woes, I added the Flipside Trek to my bag arsenal. The description online seemed to carry all of the features I was looking for and having past experience with Lowepro bags, I knew the quality would be top notch. Over the past month, I’ve been putting in some serious miles with the new bag. All day climbing rides, descents bobbing and weaving through trees, and even a few short day hikes. Plenty of time to know if the bag is going to work for my needs.
A great number of cycling backpacks scream at you with loud colors and obnoxious patterns. That’s not really who I am. Lowepro nailed the colorway on the Flipside Trek. The combination of dark green and grey blends nicely with the landscape. It looks like a bag you would take hiking without saying, “Hey look over here I have an expensive camera on my back!” Features like this are why I prefer a photo bag made by a photography company to be used outdoors verses an outdoor company making bags for photographers. You want everything to work in unison but your expensive photo gear needs to come before outdoor features. There’s no point having a bag that will carry your shoes, helmet, hiking poles, sun hat, ping pong paddles, beach towel, or anything else if the gear inside isn’t protected.
Much like the Lowepro ProTactic bag that I have been using for street photography, the Flipside Trek is well-thought-out with a bevy of options to secure your gear surrounding the bag. Lowepro calls this their Adaptive Attachment System.
- Strap keepers are found on every strap. No more dangling leashes whipping around behind you. Thank you Lowepro.
- Carabiner attachment loops across both top sides are perfect for securing small items.
- Dual center dividers tuck the cross-body straps down as well as turning the straps into dual loopholes for carrying hiking poles side by side.
- Stretch-mesh pockets on both sides can carry up to a 32oz. Nalgene water bottle or a small tripod. (large size Joby GorillaPod fits nicely)
- More strap keepers found on the side compression straps.
- Lower compression straps help secure smaller pocket items.
The 250 is the smallest in the Flipside Trek line yet still carries most of the features found on its big brothers. I used a small water bottle in this photo to illustrate the size of the bag. External dimensions are 25.5 x 17 x 44 cm (10.04 x 6.69 x 17.32 in).
The ActiveZone suspension has been very comfortable on long days. Contoured, thick shoulder straps rest easy providing plenty of squishy comfort while wicking away moisture nicely. No sweaty strap lines across my chest.
The name Flipside comes from the way you access your photography gear from the back of the bag. Removing the shoulder straps while keeping the waist belt on, the pack will support itself on your hips allowing quick access to your camera without having to set your bag on the ground. YES! This makes shooting on the fly a breeze. When I first received the bag I was bummed to learn the waist belt was not removable. A month later, I’ve found myself using it every single time. Now part of me wishes the 250 had the waist pockets found on the larger models. Not having to set expensive gear close to the ground where dirt and water can get in is something we can all appreciate.
The top compartment has plenty of room for my cycling items, snacks, extra photography gear, or a light jacket. The small zipper pocket is where I typically keep my wallet and loose change. The floor of this space is removable as well as the velcro padded photo dividers below turning the bag into a standard style backpack for days when you need lots of room.
Although I have yet to carry my iPad on the trail, this bag has a nice front pocket with a Cradle Fit Tablet Pocket that suspends your tablet from making contact with the ground. The large zipper pocket is great for maps and a notebook. The main pocket area extends to the base of the bag if you need additional storage. Are you noticing the orange highlights and zipper pulls? I can’t tell you how frustrating it is using black bags with black interiors and black zippers. Try finding your gear at night and you’ll appreciate this small feature as much as I do.
All Lowepro bags come with an All-Weather cover usually found at the base. On the Flipside Trek, they moved it to the top of the bag wrapping down, around and over. The cover is sewn into its storage pocket so you never need to worry about losing it.
As you can see from the dirt scattered around the bag, I’ve been putting it through the ringer lately. I’ve had no issues with failed zippers, tears, seams or material compromises. Both the sternum strap and waist belt have a few great features worth mentioning.
- Plenty of length to adjust the sternum strap to your torso. The strap moves easily within the guide buckles.
- The guitar pick shaped waist buckle makes one-handed removal quick and easy.
- Now here’s something I hope to find on every outdoor backpack, an emergency whistle.
- More of those great strap keepers.
- Attachment loops along the bottom are great lashing points for a lower bundle sack, sleeping pad or rope bag.
The angel wing shaped contoured shoulder straps tuck in and under your arms quickly getting out of the way. This is great riding when you need 100% of your arm movement all the time.
I mentioned these little zipper pulls on a previous Lowepro review raving about how great they are. Once again, I am happy to see them added to the photography section of the bag. It seems that Lowepro and I possibly had the same reason to not include them elsewhere on the bag. After a few trips with my ProTactic bag, I removed them from all front and side zippers. I realized they were so easy to spot and grab or get snagged on things (crowded subway), they could become targets for thieves to get into my bag without me knowing.
The ActiveZone targeted corrugated padding has done a great job keeping my back cool. I haven’t noticed any hot back issues until around the four hour mark. By then I’m going to be sweating with anything on my back. The padding has been comfortable and does not feel like something is sticking into my lower back (common issue among photo backpacks).
The way a photographer chooses to carry gear is going to be different for everyone. The beauty of using a mirrorless system like the Fujifilm X-Series is I can bring 2-3 lenses at a fraction of the weight of one large DSLR piece of glass. My typical riding carry is top left. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with 35mm attached, 18mm lens in front, 56mm lens next door, spare battery in the slip divider and the lens hood for the 56 above. All four sides are padded with plenty of velcro dividers including two slip dividers (love them). If you plan on running water bottles as well, keep in mind they will push into the sides of the bag a little creating less space in the photo compartment. Not much, but noticeable.
Top Right – X-Pro2 with 35mm attached, 18mm lens in front, 56mm lens next door with hood attached and Wasabi battery charger above.
Bottom Left – X-Pro2 with 35mm attached, 18mm lens in front, Yongnuo YB560 IV flash unit.
I also carry a few spare batteries, lens pen, memory card holder, cleaning cloth and rocket blower in the upper compartment. The 250 is designed for smaller mirrorless systems like Fujifilm X, Leica T/Q, Sony A, Olympus OM-D and the like. If you’re shooting with a DSLR system, look to the 350 or 450 models.
This bag has all the features you want in a travel photography backpack as well. All day comfort, it doesn’t scream technical outdoor bag, back side gear access keeps street thieves away, dual side pockets are perfect for water and a tripod, plenty of room for snacks and travel items and carrying a jacket is no trouble at all.
Travel Tip: If you’re concerned about someone getting into the top compartment when you’re not paying attention, add a small clip lock or carabiner to the zippers. Even something simple will create a 10-15 second struggle alerting you that someone it touching your bag.
I asked my friend Troy to wear the bag during one of our rides to let me know if it is as comfortable on his frame as it is on mine. He is 5’9″ with an average build for his size. The bag looks at home on his frame. In his words, “Feels good. I dig the colors. Didn’t move around much coming down the mountain. Felt like a normal cycling pack not a photo bag.” I have to say I feel like same as he does. It looks smaller on my back at 6′ tall but definitely doesn’t look out of place.
Do I recommend this bag?
It looks like this bag is going to be a keeper. All my transport bases are covered. I enjoy the combination of technical features without looking overbuilt. The bag never feels like its getting in the way and access couldn’t be simpler. Durability has been high through our mellow and slightly wet SoCal winter with no indications that Spring heat is going to slow it down. If it had a hydration pouch that would be something but, two bottles plus one on the bike can get me through most rides. Lowepro doesn’t require you to purchase a separate expensive internal padded photo cube (seems to be trendy lately) carrying the price tag far beyond what is management for most. At $150, you should definitely give it a look if your needs are similar to mine.
You can grab your own Lowepro Flipside Trek BP 250 AW on Amazon by clicking here.
Learn more about the bag on the Lowepro website by clicking here.