I’m on a mission. I’m looking for a camera bag large enough to hold my camera, battery grip and large lens, laptop computer, a few books/notebooks, water bottle and, ideally, it will fit under an airplane seat as my personal item while traveling. I’ve been on this mission for some time. Currently I use a REI Quantum Computer pack and while it does work well in most cases, it falls short in camera accessibility.
I contacted the folks at LowePro, known for making a wide range of camera bags, and asked which of their packs would fit the bill. After a couple of emails back and forth, they sent me a Fastpack 350 to test (and send back) for a few weeks. The bag is designed to handle a 17” laptop, be easy on the back and provide quick access to your camera.
Let’s take a look around the bag first. Click on a picture to see a large sized zoom.
The bag has two main storage areas, one computer sleeve and two other outer zipped compartments. It also has a water bottle holder with cinch strap, top carry loop and a flap that covers most of the rear to aid in strapping on a tripod or a rain jacket.
Let’s Take A Closer Look
Starting with the camera compartment, I very much enjoyed its side access capability and ability to fit a long lens attached to the camera. It is also high enough to handle my DLSR, battery grip and tripod mounting plate. Opened fully, the compartment reveals spots for four lenses/strobes/etc… These are six inch deep pockets (15cm) customizable to your needs. On the inside flap of the compartment are two velcro pouches for memory cards. While I would have liked to had more, I found two pockets worked well in practice.
On the outside of the flap is another zippered pocket with two half mesh pockets. This area can hold a number of items, from filters to flash gels to mass storage drive.
The upper compartment is designed with everyday travel needs in mind. It is spacious enough for four decent sized books with room to spare. There is a detachable small items pouch, key ring clip and tether, a small mesh pocket, pen/pencil holders, cell phone pocket and a miscellaneous pocket.
Behind all of this is the laptop compartment, zippered to the left side of the pack. The compartment has ample padding to keep your laptop safe and the zipper is easy to use, even when I over-stuffed the compartment on purpose (with power brick and a mouse). While it was not wide enough to hold my 13” Toshiba laptop end to end, any laptop up to 17” will fit when inserted sideways.
The last pocket is on the far outside and is really just an open space backing to the main compartment. Quick access items work well in here, including snacks.
The fit of the pack was excellent. I carried the pack in and out of cars, hiking up hills and beaches, on and off airplanes for three weeks. Lowe put some serious thought into the padding, fit and balance of this pack. Ample padding in the middle of the unit kept my spine happy while the waist belt had enough cushion to not allow the straps to rub. The sternum strap is adjustable (although, to note, I had a similar setup on my REI pack that sprang off after two months of hard travel) as well as the shoulder straps. I am 6’1” (185cm) and the pack fit my torso well.
In daily and travel use, I found the pack very easy to use. All the zippers are of good quality and worked well, even when covered in Hawaiian sand. The thick Cordura fabric handled my short test with no obvious markings, and I wasn’t nice to it. I have another bag by LowePro that has been with me for the last four years, made of the same thickness of fabric and it has held up extremely well to regular abuse.
The bag can barely fit under the seat of a Boeing 767. I didn’t have a lot of different planes to test it on, and there might be a flight attendant who would insist it be stored above (the top part does stick out a little) so I can give you no guarantee of a perfect fit. But I was able to use it just fine as a personal item along with a carry-on.
One item I didn’t like on the bag was the lack of metal zipper pulls. I know this may be a small thing, but I prefer the metal tabs as they are easier to lock. Yes, any thief with enough time will get into any bag, but I always feel better with a small lock around the metal loops rather than the fabric ones on the Fastpack 350. This is probably not an issue for most.
I also thought the water bottle holder was too shallow. My bottle came out a number of times just from jostling the pack around. The cinch strap doesn’t reach high enough for a 40oz bottle to be held in place.
I don’t want to send the bag back. While it is still not my perfect bag, it is the best I’ve come across thus far. The side zip allowing for access to my camera no matter how full the rest of the bag is (or how poorly organized I’ve allowed it to become) was exactly what I was looking for in an easy to use bag. I feel my laptop is properly padded (my last bag was not and I killed a laptop screen when I overfilled the bag) and always easy to get to as well. Snacks and a spare change of clothes are easy to throw in if I head out on the trail and the pack is comfortable enough to be worn for long periods of time.
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Stats (from LowePro’s site)
The bag is available in all black, as pictured, as well as with blue and red accents.
11W X 6.1D X 10.6H in./
28 X 15.5 X 27 cm
12.4W X 9.6D X 19.3H in./
31.5 X 24.5 X 49 cm
|Notebook Compartment Inner Dimensions:
11W X 1.5D X 18.9H in./
28 X 3.75 X 48 cm