Saturday, September 21, 2019

Shimoda Explore 40 - The ultimate adventure camera backpack?

Ok, the headline is a bit of a clickbait, though I do think this is the best adventure camera backpack I've ever had. More about it below.

I think I'm having more trouble that most people finding gear that I like and that suits me well. A big part of that reason is my height: Being 192 cm (just under 6' 4") means that the selection of gear that is dependent on body height is limited. Camera backpacks are certainly no exception to this unfortunate rule. There are lots of camera backpacks on the market and for someone of average height there is a lot to choose from, but the moment you need something more substantial that needs to take the torso length into account, the situation changes. I did get a camera backpack last year, but in the end it was a little too big for most of my outings. One of the most interesting options of last year, Shimoda Explore 40, now was available in Finland, so I again became interested in it. A new slightly smaller version, Shimoda Explore 30, wasn't available in Finland, so I communicated with Ian Miller from Shimoda, who thought the 30 liter version would be better suitable for mountain biking. Ultimately I still thought the 40 liter version could be better and bought it. It turned out to be excellent.

The backpack itself is quite light, 1.3 kg without camera inserts, and hugs the body exceptionally well. The back length can be adjusted and this is probably one of the main things why it fits me so well.

The color is an interesting turquoise hue, which looks quite nice (a dark blue one is also available). The material is water repellent and I've seen no reason to protect it any further in a slight drizzle. It has a number of compartments and attachment point and there is no problem bringing one or more tripods. The proportions seem to be made for action sports. It is suitable wide and high and it is is shallow enough not to pull the centre of gravity too far out behind you. This does mean that it is not deep enough for having bigger lenses, e.g. 70-200, in a space saving direction, but that is a compromise that cannot be avoided.

The leather zipper tabs are a cool detail.

The main opening is on the side against the back, which definitely is the best way. This means you can put it down in dirt or snow without getting anything of that on your back when continuing. Here it is configured with two small camera inserts (Core Units in Shimoda speech), with one of them being set up for side access (more about that below). It easily has space for a reasonable kit, in this case a small full frame body with a 28-75 / 2.8 lens mounted in the side access camera insert with some room to spare, a 360 Ws strobe with battery pack, an extra lens and a speedlite, as well as some stuff in the top compartment. There is space for a third small camera insert above the two I have, and I will probable get one more.

Again a full frame body with normal zoom lens in the side access camera insert and a big and heavy tele lens with mounted body in the main compartment as well as some extra stuff.

The top compartment has space for small stuff and zippered pockets inside to organise smaller things.

There is also access to the main compartment from the top, as well as large and shallow pocket covers the entire front side and easily fits a reflector and smaller umbrella. This is where the hydration bladder would go, should you use one of those. I rarely use hydration bladders anymore myself, though.

The only thing I'm not completely satisfied with is the water bottle pocket. A mesh pocket would have sufficed for me, but instead there is a larger multi use pocket, which does fit a fairly large water bottle. This isn't as fast to use as a mesh pocket in my opinion. This pocket can be removed and used for other purposes, though I don't necessarily see myself doing that.

The side access was extremely important for me, and it does work very well with a smaller camera like the full frame Sony A7III and Tamron 28-75/2.8 lens. With a big DSLR the situation might be different, though I've no experience with that. I see no reason to go with unnecessarily big and heavy cameras for my use any longer.

I occasionally do more demanding mountain biking trips, where there really is very limited time and energy for photography, like the one in the Helags mountain area in Sweden two weeks ago. Any pictures are taken quickly on the fly without slowing anyone down, and the excellent side access allowed me to do just that with a good camera. And even though I brought a limited amount of camera equipment, the backpack was excellent for having other gear in. Being able to configure the bag brings true versatility. (First picture by Jarkko Holopainen, second by Matti H).

As I wrote, the Shimoda Explore 40 is very comfortable, both when walking and riding a mountain bike. It hugs the body perfectly and keeps the load close to the body for stability and also makes the weight disappear. It doesn't hit the helmet even in the steepest descents on bike. I'm also quite convinced that the 40 liter version is the correct one for someone of my size and in my opinion it doesn't look that big on me. With the adjustable back length the bag would also fit a lot smaller persons, though I would agree that the 30 liter version probably is better for mountain biking if you are average height or shorter. And generally I think that regardless of your height, this pack (or its smaller sibling) definitely is one of the best available, based on functionality, versatility and comfort. (Both pictures are selfies).

Summa summarum, this is the best camera backpack I have ever had.

Update mid October 2019. Shimoda just came out with a new camera backpack line, Shimoda Action X, oriented a little more towards action sports. Based on what I read on the internet, it seems like these have some evolutionary improvements over the Explorer line. Certainly something to take into account if getting a new camera backpack. They are for now available through a Kickstarter campaign.

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