Lowepro Whistler AW 350 Backpack Review
Updated: May 3
Backpacks, lets face it they can be a bit of a minefield at the best of times.
No one single backpack seems to accommodate all the features that I want and I have been through a fair few in my time.
What do you really need out of a backpack ? Well, that could be a whole story in itself but for me there were a few factors that needed ticking and without them it just wouldn't do.
I wanted to above all be able to carry my gear in a durable and robust backpack that was capable of protecting my hard earned equipment, couldn't be too heavy but still have a lot of room, be waterproof with its outer shell or a cover and have enough space to carry extras like waterproofs and filters.
Should be simple enough you would think ? So why did it take me so many years to find the right one ?
Most backpacks seem to have "most" of what you're looking for but them miss one important element and I didn't want to compromise on it as I knew exactly what I wanted.
For years I used bags from the Lowepro brand and I have to say I liked them and they had lasted very well and I wanted to stick with them.
There are several other excellent manufactures out there but confidence in your gear is vital and like I said they had served me well.
My last bag was the Lowepro Fastpack AW 250 which as I said had done me well but it missed certain things that I wanted. It protected the camera very well and was quick to access, but I felt it lacked enough space for me to carry waterproofs along with filters etc.... Also despite being a AW (all weather) pack I never felt that confident in it in the rain and on several occasions it would leak usually through the zips.
I also wanted to be able to carry my tripod on the side or rear of the pack to give me two hands free when climbing up rough terrain or mountains etc...
After much searching I found the Lowepro Whistler AW 350 and it seemed like it could be exactly what I was after.
Larger than my last pack, dedicated space for the camera & lens, pouch on top for filters, Tripod straps and enough room to carry waterproof trousers & jacket along with other bits.
Never one to make a quick decision on a purchase I decided to do plenty of research on the bag as it wasn't exactly cheap at £257.00 RRP (at time of writing) but after a lot of searching I found it quite a bit cheaper but that would involve buying from shops I didn't know so I paid a little extra any got it from Wex Photographic who I really trust and know they will give a no quibble money back guarantee. Great customer service is worth paying the extra for in my book and I got it for £229.00 which was still expensive I thought but if you want decent equipment sometimes you have to dust down the wallet !
After many weeks of deliberation I decided to go ahead and order it, I was very excited at the prospect of this bag and was downright fuming when I found it was out of stock ! Don't you just hate it when that happens !
The Wex information said that they would be in within two weeks so I decided it was worth waiting for and placed my order.
I was very happy to see the parcel man wandering up the path with a huge box only 4 days later.
First impressions after unpacking everything was that it was a really well made and strong piece of kit.
As you would expect with a camera bag it was full of customisable space for the camera and various lens and bits but this one had something different from the normal spaces, You could totally remove the pack inside the pack that your camera goes in so you could have a backpack for other uses which I really liked as quite often I will go for a hike in bad weather when I don't want the camera so it really suited me.
The centre compartment had a lot of space in it and there were limitless combinations to make it work how I wanted it.
This removable compartment is really tough with an outer frame that is covered in high level padding so it really will keep your camera gear safe from harm. It also means you can remove it and dry out your pack thoroughly if needed making the process much faster and safer for your camera gear.
The other thing about this pack that really made sense was that the opening to all your gear was actually on the back of the pack.
This makes sense because with front opening packs you put them down on the muddy ground to get your camera out and then put it back on getting your back covered in mud ! Not anymore, smart thinking Lowepro.
This pack was designed and tested by professional photographers, including Whistler shooter Paul Morrison, in the extreme conditions of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Canada so you know it has a good pedigree and is going to be well suited for your needs.
It's not the lightest backpack at 3 kg but at the same time it's not exactly heavy but it is tough and durable which is worth it as a trade off.
The backpack is made with waterproof and abrasion resistant 420 denier TPU coated rip-stop nylon.
The base however has extra tough Hypalon material which is waterproof and long wearing so you can pretty much put your bag down on any surface without worrying about water, abrasion and mud, etc.
The outer is very streamlined without any protruding pockets, they are all counter sunk into the bag so it doesn't get caught on small gaps or branches as you're squeezing through these spaces.
There is a pocket on the top of the bag which is perfectly sized for a Lee Filter Field Pouch and a couple of other bits, I use mine for my Polariser and filter cleaning items plus the waterproof cover goes in there too.
Inside this pocket is a neat little key strap which comes in very handy as I have nearly lost keys before from jacket pockets when they have fallen out while rummaging but with this strap they are 100% secure, again peace of mind is priceless.
Inside this top pocket is also a further zip pocket with a mesh finish, ideal for coins or snacks, etc.
On the outside right there is a further streamlined zip pocket which has a fairly tall but not deep compartment for storage and I found there wasn't too much that I had to put in here as it would need to be fairly flat but it is fine for odds & ends like cleaning cloths, lens brushes etc....
On both sides of the bags you have straps which can be expanded and are perfect for mounting a tripod too or any other equipment and these can easily carry weights up too 100 kg which means you will break before they do !
There is also two main expandable straps on the back of the pack which not only aid with the compression of the pack but can also be used to carry more gear on, admittedly not much use for snow boards and ice picks in the UK but nice to have the option if you do go abroad with it.
Moving round to the front of the bag you have the biggest pocket which is again expandable with zip sections and controlled with the compression straps.
I keep a Gore-Tex jacket and trousers in mine so I will always be protected from the elements, it also has plenty more room for a flask of coffee or some food for the day etc...
The main advantage of this pocket is the fact it has a waterproof barrier between it and the all important camera gear so no matter how wet your waterproofs are when you put them in nothing is going to get through to the gear.
It also features a small drainage hole at the bottom so any excess water on your waterproofs will quickly drain down and out of this area, again it's a small thing but really very well thought out.
Moving to the rear of the pack it comes complete with some really good padding which is raised to allow air flow to your back which is great on a warm day and i have to say its very comfortable and contours the back very well.
The rear access compartment is actually split hinged so it enables you to just open it a small way to access the camera only if the weather is bad, another smart idea to keep your gear safe.
Behind the main outer zip is the camera compartment which again has a zipped outer to keep it sealed from the elements and works as a great extra bit of protection from dust and water.
Another simple but smart feature is all the zips have decent loops on them to allow you to open everything easily while wearing gloves without having to take them off, this bag is full of well thought out details like that.
There is a waterproof cover which I haven't actually needed yet as the bag does really well in showers and fairly heavy downpours to keep your kit dry but its good to know its there. This also folds up into its own stuff bag which is part of the cover itself and folds down to a really small pocket size pack.
Some other neat touches are the removable pockets which come with Velcro sides so you can put the pocket where it suits you and have extra protection all round whatever you choose to go in it.
I debated for a long time if I should buy the AW 350 or the bigger brother the AW 450 and in hindsight I think I made the right choice.
The 350 takes all the gear I need and the only reason to get the 450 is if you were taking camping or overnight supplies in my opinion and then maybe the pack would start to be a little too heavy, the 350 keeps the balance just right.
I have been testing this for around two months now and it hasn't missed a beat, I've put it through torrential downpours/sleet/snow and mud and it just took it all in it's stride.
I have also climbed up and down a few mountains with it on in Snowdonia and it was comfortable and a joy to wear so again I can't really fault it.
The pack has adjustment everywhere on it and the waist strap has yet more small pockets ideal for memory cards or change/keys etc..... A point I forgot to mention about the main compartment of the bag it has several memory card slots and also a larger pocket so storage is never really in question with this bag.
So in summary I'm very happy with the Lowepro Whistler AW 350 backpack, it does everything asked of it with ease and has made my photography life easier which is priceless on its own.
I would like to add at this point that I am in no way connected with either Lowepro or Wex Photographic, this is an honest review from a customer who paid for his bag and doesn't work on endorsements or link sponsorship.
Was there anything negative about this pack ? Well, I have to say the price is quite steep and I would have been far more comfortable with a £199.99 price point but as i've said before, if you want quality you have to pay for it.
With the price that was offered from Wex at £229.00 it wasn't too far over that so I could live with it especially with the quality and peace of mind it gives you.
You pay thousands for your camera equipment so it makes no sense to put it in a pack that offers no real protection from the elements.
So the final scores on the doors for the Lowepro Whistler AW 350 are.....
I would have no hesitation in giving this bag a full 10 out of ten for almost everything but I'm going to give it 9.5 out of ten to reflect the price and the limited colour option. You either love it or hate it but I fear some people will find it maybe a bit too loud for their tastes.
For me though this bag is a winner and I highly recommend it and so far I'm extremely happy with it.
I hope this review will help you if you are looking at one and maybe push you over the edge to getting it, You won't regret it.
As always, Happy shooting.