Lowepro Flipside Sport 10L AW review: Lightweight champ
The Lowpro Flipside Sport 10L AW is not a new product anymore, but I just bought one the other day on a whim, so I decided to share my thoughts on it. I actually first used a demo Flipside Sport 10L when reviewing the Nikon D750 last year when I was biking along the Historic Columbia River Highway. So when I planned to hike out to Triple Falls last weekend, I decided to go ahead and drop the cash to pick up my own copy of the bag.
First, reviewing a camera bag is not a science. There is more subjectivity at play here than nominating musicians for Grammys or making March Madness Final Four picks. Luckily, this pack is targeting a specific demographic of photographer, and that makes it a little easier to talk about objectively. Available in three sizes (10L, 15L, and 20L), Lowepro is hoping to attract various outdoorsy types with the colorful, lightweight Flipside Sport series. They even show people running with it in their product video, which I have taken the liberty of embedding below for your viewing pleasure. I mean, I don’t know who is actually going to want to run with a bunch of camera gear on his or her back, but I guess it’s good to know you can. In fact, everyone seems to be rushing in this video no matter what they’re doing. What happened to just enjoying the outdoors at one’s leisure and putting some time into making a good photograph? I suppose what Lowepro is trying to say here is that if you’re the type of photographer who is always running late, this is the bag for you.
All joking aside, I’m quite happy with this bag. I opted for the smallest size because, well, I don’t like to work harder than I need to, and I actually found it can hold a decent amount of gear. Inside, I comfortably fit a Fuji X-T1 camera body with attached 23mm f/1.4 lens, a 56mm f/1.2, a 10-14mm f/4, a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (that I was carrying for my friend), and even a Lensbaby Composer Pro and a couple of ND filters. On the outside, my MeFoto Backpacker tripod (It’sa Me, Foto!) fit perfectly in the tripod collar on the side of the bag, which is the most robust and overbuilt tripod collar I’ve ever seen—you could probably BASE jump into the mouth of a sarlacc with this pack on and not worry about your tripod falling out. For any mirrorless system, I think the 10L is the best option, but for full-frame DSLRs and bigger tripods, the larger 15L or 20L packs are probably a better choice.
Hiking with the bag is comfortable enough. Lowepro put a good deal of thought into keeping it lightweight and adventure-ready, using ripstop nylon for the shell fabric and breathable mesh padding for the shoulder straps. The back padding is also breathable, with deep air channels to keep fresh air circulating over your back as you walk. Don’t be fooled: I still worked up a sweat wearing the Flipside Sport. After all, a bag is only as light as the gear you have in it, and trying to stay cool with a camera, five lenses, and a tripod on your back is a lot to ask for. Still, it was noticeably cooler than other backpacks I’ve worn: feeling a light breeze pass right through the shoulder straps is quite nice when you’re trudging up a steep incline.
While the shoulder straps feel good, the waist and chest straps leave something to be desired. The waist strap is simply too thin and doesn’t offer any padding whatsoever, probably in the name of keeping overall weight down. Upgrading to the 20L brings a significantly improved waist strap with good padding, and I wish Lowepro would have kept some of that on the 10L and 15L. As for the chest strap, it seemed to rest a little too high for me. It’s adjustable, but only to a degree, and if you slide it too far down, it will come off completely. I guess this is a feature, as you can remove the strap if you don’t want it, but I thought I had broken it the first time I yanked it off by mistake. It happened a few other times before I finally learned to stop trying to move the strap down so far.
I also had some concerns about the side-mounted tripod collar, but the pack never felt off-balance to me. This was partly thanks to the small tripod I was using, though. Smartly, the opposite side of the bag has a zippered pocket for a one-liter water reservoir (think Camelbak) which, in addition to keeping you hydrated, should help offset the weight of a tripod.
The only glaring omission from this pack is the lack of an outer pocket. Again, the 20L has this, but the 15L and 10L do not. Just a small sleeve that could hold keys, a phone, or an energy bar would have been great. Since I didn’t have a hydration reservoir, I stashed my personal effects in the side pouch, but that wouldn’t be an option with a reservoir installed. Adding an outer pocket to the front or top would be a no-brainer, and wouldn’t significantly impact weight. Here’s hoping for the Flipside Sport 2.0, I guess.
Being an outdoorsy bag, I imagine it natively offers modest protection against the elements, but a separate rain-proof cover is included, which tucks away in a dedicated pouch on the bottom of the pack like other Lowepro bags. Additionally, the internal camera compartment has it’s own, integrated rain-proof cover that can be cinched closed with a drawstring for extra protection in extreme conditions. The camera compartment is also completely removable, so the Flipside Sport doubles as a regular daypack when you don’t need to bring you photo gear with you. I would think the extra material this requires adds some weight to the bag, although this is probably negligible and worth it for the added versatility.
Like I said, camera bags are difficult to rate objectively. Everyone has different tastes and different requirements, but only the Lowepro Flipside Sport has what it takes to let you run quickly from one random photo destination to the next, survive being ingested by a sarlacc, or simply create a nice pillow by removing the camera compartment and stuffing the bag with laundry.
Personally, I found the Flipside Sport 10L to be almost perfect for any half-day or shorter adventure. With even a small amount of padding on the waist strap and an exterior pocket, Lowepro could have a really awesome bag on their hands. That said, its current incarnation is no slouch. This will remain my go-to camera pack for hiking and biking until they replace it with something better. I haven’t seen a bag from another manufacturer that does what the Flipside Sport does as well as it does it. It’s light, well-made, holds a surprising amount of gear, and is even available in my favorite color! Really, what more could I ask for? (Other than an outside pocket and some strap padding, I mean.)
Photos: Angela Dunham.