The Lowepro website lists the Pro Trekker 400 AW as a "lightweight, yet rugged, hydration-ready, expedition camera backpack." We tested out the 400 AW specifically as we thought the 400 would be what the majority of backpacking and trekking camera enthusiasts and professionals would go for. The 600 AW is larger--and much wider--making me feel like I would be needing a Sherpa to help out with it or that it was geared a bit more for the military. The 300 AW was also nice, but had a bit of a "day pack" feel to it, and we wanted something that we could overnight with, as the tagline explained: "expedition." I used the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW for over a month and included it as my main backpack on multiple mountain-style shoots, several days hikes, two pack-type trips, and several non-hiking commercial shoots. The bottomline is that this bag could become your next all-around equipment bag. While it does have some drawbacks, its size, incorporation of a hydration system, and the obvious move towards a comfortable long-range backpack make it a force to be reckoned with.
The 400 AW can carry a lot of equipment, camera or otherwise. I found it useful to use the main camera compartment for other things besides camera equipment, as I rarely carry more than two bodies, a few lenses, maybe a flash on a long backpacking trip. That left me room to stuff a rain jacket, a LitePanel Micro light, and some gloves and a hat in the main compartment. Featured opposite of that setup is the inside wall of the flap, with housed lots of batteries, CF cards, and other things I really didn't want to get wet. Beyond that main compartment, photographers are treated to two side panels, one with a bag for a full hydration reservoir (Camelback or MSR reservoir in my case) with a convenient opening for the tubing to come out and wet the whistle. My MSR bag was a 1.5 liter, and it fit perfectly into this side panel. The opposite panel is large with multiple padded pockets inside for extra clothing, camping gear, or camera gear. Finally, the top pouches is subdivided into two, which I made full use of.
I should mention as well here that one really great aspect in terms of size capabilities of the Pro Trekker 400 AW is the space for a 15.4" laptop on the outside, but in an individual package, which I used away from the backpack itself several times. This is great because the padded sleeve fits snuggly into its holster even when the pack is full. When I'm backpacking, I simply leave the sleeve and computer home, but when I'm shooting on a location where I need it, it is always available and safe. I really appreciated the construction of this. Lowepro points out that this feature is "check-point friendly" and I will agree on that. It slides out and into its own bin while the TSA guard stands amazed that you are able to move so quickly. By the way, Lowepro is calling the 300 AW and the 400 AW "airline carry-on compatible." I would make sure that you don't have a lot strapped to the outside before trying to move it onto a plane.
As this is an "expedition" bag, I felt it should rival some of the backpacks manufactured by traditional backpacking companies. While it is not exactly designed precisely for the backpacker, it certainly can be turned into something very close. There are excellent straps on the bottom for a pad or sleeping bag, and the top compartment can be loosened to where I could fit my tent underneath. There are technically three locations for tripods (both sides and directly in the back), but I chose to use a side holder and use the opposite side to strap other equipment to. The tripod fit on very well and the rugged holster was very impressive and much better than I had been previously using on an F-stop Satori (a bag that may be lighter, but not necessary better). Overall, I felt that I could comfortably add-on equipment to this bag and fashion it into whatever system I needed: day pack, expedition pack, or commercial shoot pack.
DURABILITY AND WEIGHT
Sometimes durability or "ruggedness" and weight are a tradeoff. This of course depends on the materials used and how much are used. The Pro Trekker 400 AW spares no expense when it comes to material used and pockets and extra sleeves for various little pieces of equipment. Unfortunately, I think this adds to the weight a bit. For those who like to have accessibility to all the small items on their equipment list with comfortable padding for their precious gear, this is the bag for you. It feels a little like a plush Cadillac when it comes to comfort, despite it being a little larger in its class. There are other bags on the market that offer lighter options, but frankly, I was not thrilled by their construction of shoulder straps and waist straps. The Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW has a great padded waist strap made for the job of backpacking and the shoulder straps are equally as sturdy.
If there is one thing I love about this bag, it is the rubberized loops for the zippers. I can't go back to whatever I was using before. As simple as they sound, having a sturdy loop to man-handle my zippers closed is something I love, especially when a few of the zippers are "Heavy-duty YKK splashguard…for superior water resistance." Those tend to stick a bit, so to be able to hook a zipper and ram it closed was something that was very satisfying. Call me crazy. It's the little things.
BOTTOMLINE: PRO TREKKER 400 AW
This is a really comfortable bag for the outdoor photographer whether hiking long distances or not. It is also a really good size for the photographer on commercial shoots around town or who has to travel by ground or by plane. Although a touch heavy, it is classy aesthetically, rugged in its construction, and functions very well in a variety of situations. If you're in need of just one good-sized bag, the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW might be it.
Weight: 7.2 lbs / 3.3 kg
Capacity: 1-2 pro DSLRs with grip and up to 400 mm f/2.8 attached, many additional lenses/flashes
Outside Capacity: Up to 15.4" widescreen laptop case, tripods attachments
Exterior Size: 15.4" W x 14.2" D x 21.3" H
Interior Size: 11.4" W x 6.5" D x 17.3" H