On bikepacking trips, the goal when setting up your gear is simple: never use a backpack. I hate, HATE, riding with anything on my body. Even singletrack with a simple, minimal camelback drives me nuts. When, a little over a year ago, it became apparent that I’d have no choice but to bring a backpack along on a bikepacking tour of the Lost Coast, I was bummed. There didn’t seem to be any other options because I wanted to bring multiple cameras. One high level digital point and shoot, one 70’s era zone focus film rangefinder, and a Nikon F100 film camera body with two lenses and a flash. There was no way I’d fit all of that into my regular bike bags. A backpack it was.
After looking around, it became apparent that most serious camera backpacks were not ideal for bike touring. Let alone a trip that would have single track. They were all pretty serious, burly affairs or just too small, and generally built in a way that insured they’d flop all over the place. Meh! One of the few viable options was Lowepro’s new Photo Sport line. These packs were designed for outdoor use, looked like they’d hold steady to the body (which is insanely important on a bike), and well designed. In particular the Photo Sport Sling 100 AW and 200 AW caught my eye.
I wanted to be able to have fast access to the Nikon F100, so the 100 AW’s ability to flip around without being taken off was the key deciding point. The biggest reservation was that all the weight would be on one shoulder. That’s not bad for a day or maybe two, but could seriously suck for much longer durations. After trying it on once or twice at Glass Key Photo (BUY LOCAL, YO!) I decided that was the one.
Packing it worked out well. The camera compartment fit the Nikon, two short lenses (28mm, 50mm) and a flash. The Bogen tabletop tripod went in one of the outside pockets. Sixteen rolls of film and a small toiletry kit went into the main storage, leaving it mostly empty. This was something I’d appreciate later.
Up and Down the Lost Coast
Over the next week, the 100AW proved to be exceptionally capable. Shockingly so. It was like Pacman…the little guy with a seemingly bottomless appetite. I could shove a shocking amount of stuff into it. I remember stopping at the little grocery store in Petrolia. It would be the last resupply for a good 24 hours. I got one can of chili, two cups of instant oatmeal, a package of dried fruit, an avocado, a very large cookie, and I want to say maybe an apple, too, if my memory serves, as well as a box of Pop Tarts. The thing weighed what felt like a metric (expletive) ton, but it all fit, and fit well. Not only that, but the 100 AW generally stayed put on the endless big climbs and pot hole filled descents of the Lost Coast. That includes the infamous Mattole Road, which is a right bastard. There were some issues with the weight being taken entirely on one shoulder, as I expected. Yet it wasn’t so much that I wanted to toss the thing off a cliff.
Since then, the Photo Sport 100 AW has taken up another surprising role: the daily commuter. For example, I recently fit a camera body with two lenses, 13” Macbook Pro (and it’s charger), chunky over the head earphones, Monoprice USB mouse (they aren’t small), an envelope with five 8×10 prints, and a small bag with three Christmas presents. At other times it’s held most of that plus several freezer bags of lunch leftovers. And a water bottle. And a rain jacket in the lower loops that hang off the bottom of the bag.
You get the picture.
Everyone loves a final summary in a gear review. In fact, I’d wager many of you skipped everything and came straight to this. Don’t worry, I do it all the time myself. So, what do I think? I dig it. A lot. With a few minor hesitations/quibbles.
On the plus side, it keeps its place on the body well, holds WAY more than you think it should, and keeps your camera gear in a separate, easy to access compartment. I like the outer storage options for things like a water bottle, small tripod and other “stuff.” The action of slinging it around to get to your camera gear is pretty straight forward and works well, but don’t try it while moving on your bike. That’s officially a bad idea. It’s also pretty affordable, all things considered.
On the negative side, the weight distribution entirely on your shoulder can be anything from not too bad to really, really annoying/borderline painful. I find it far better in a riding position, though, than hiking or other activities so your mileage may vary depending on what you do. The rain fly works OK, but don’t count on it for days and days of deluge. You’ve been warned. It’s also easy for small items in the main compartment to slip down past the camera area, getting lost in the process. You’ve got to keep things organized in order to make the most of this bag.
Would I buy it again?
Yes, absolutely. Small, sport minded, multi use, camera bags are really hard to come by. It works far better than you’d expect, as long as you’re ready for it’s quirks.