I’ve not generally been the biggest fan of backpacks. Around 16 years ago, I got a Tamrac Cyberpack 6, which I love and it’s served me well over the years. I’ve bought and borrowed other backpacks in the intervening years, but invariably I’ve hated them for one reason or another. But my Cyberpack 6 is getting a little old now, they don’t make them anymore, and my friends at Lowepro insisted that I give the new ProTactic BP 450 AW II a go.
I’ve tried a few Lowepro backpacks in the past, and they really didn’t do my back any favours. But I’d heard a lot of good things about the original ProTactics, so I decided to give it a shot. I’ve been using it for a couple of months now, and, well, I don’t hate it. In fact, I really quite like it.
The Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II (there’s also a 350 AW II) is a “tactical” backpack. That is to say that it’s designed to be modular and configurable to the user’s needs. It has little loops all over its outer surface to which you can attach various accessories. In the case of tactical camera backpacks, that means things like lens pouches, memory card wallets, and the like. A couple of pouches come supplied with the ProTactic BP 450 AW II, and then the rest are available as separate accessories.
We’ll start on the backpack itself, and then get back to the extra bits in a bit. The Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II is a large bag. It can carry a whole bunch of gear inside, but it allows you to attach a lot more on the outside. As well as the two included pouches mentioned above, it also comes with a couple of straps and a pouch for attaching a tripod to the side.
This is where I first started to really like this bag. Most bags either have no tripod option at all, or they’re straps and doohickies that are always attached and in the way whether you want them or not. Here, I can decide whether I want tripod holding facilities or not at will. If I want to take out a tripod, I can attach the pouch and the straps and slot a tripod right in. If I don’t, I can remove the straps and they’re not getting in the way.
One slight issue with this arrangement, though, is that at the bottom of the bag, on both sides, there are access panels you can unzip to access its contents. When you have a tripod there, there’s no way to open the panel on that side of the bag. You could potentially solve this issue by attaching the tripod to the back of the bag instead of the side, but then if you’ve got a heavy tripod, you really start to feel that weight on your shoulders as it gets further away from your body. On the side, closer to your body, it’s a lot easier to carry.
Of course, you don’t have to carry a tripod at all, but even if you do, you still have access to the panel on the other side. These can be easily configured to hold a camera body with a lens attached. You won’t be keeping massive lenses attached, but it could handle up to a medium-sized prime or zoom.
There’s another large access panel on the top of the bag, and here you can have another camera with a long lens like a 70-200mm f/2.8 or 300mm f/4 attached. I’ve got the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K at the top, although it has the relatively small Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 Power OIS lens attached. You can see inside that lid there’s also a small zip up pocket for holding memory cards. At least, that’s what it’s labelled as. You could put whatever you want in there, really, as long as it fits.
You might have spotted by now, that there are big loops on most of the zips. This way, if it’s wet and cold, your freezing fingers aren’t fighting with a tiny little metal tab. You can just put your finger through the loop, even if you’re wearing gloves, and easily pull them open or closed. I used this bag in Arizona for three weeks before returning back home to Scotland where spring had already gotten well under way, so it hasn’t been that chilly for me yet. Still, having those big loops to open and close the zips does make life much easier, and it’ll be a welcome feature after the UK says goodbye to that weekend we call “Summer”.
The main compartment of the bag opens on the side that rests against your back when wearing it. This helps to increase security somewhat, although a potential thief could still access a limited amount of the bag’s contents from those side and top panels. But opening it up, we see that it has a lot of space inside, and a couple of zip-up pouches in the “lid”.
I wouldn’t pack a whole lot of stuff into those pouches inside the lid, but it’s very handy for storing things like your ColorChecker Passport, lens cloths, pens, memory cards and whatnot. The lid also has a slot for a laptop. This slot easily fits my 15.6″ ASUS ZenBook Pro without issue, although the official specs say it fits only up to 15″. Of course, the ZenBook Pro is a pretty slim laptop, so if yours is thicker, you might be limited to a slightly smaller display.
Remember my old CyberPack 6 I mentioned? That I absolutely loved? Well, that too holds a laptop, but it suffers from a fatal flaw. As soon as you insert a laptop into the pouch, the back-moulding padding doesn’t work. All you feel is a hard flat surface against your back that really doesn’t feel comfortable at all. So, the laptop pouch on it was pretty much useless. I hate to say it, but despite the padding on the back, the ProTactic BP 450 AW II suffers from the same affliction. In its defence, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as uncomfortable as it does in the CyberPack 6, but I still don’t think I’d want to carry it on my back all day with a laptop in there.
In the photo of the open bag above, you’ll notice that as well as the usual grey dividers, there are some orange ones. These denote “special “dividers for specific uses. Two of them are designed to bend, allowing you to get a nice snug fit on unevenly shaped items to help them fit a little more snugly.
The other is a little pouch where you can store things like memory cards or similarly small items.
Going back to the outside, there are more pockets for storing stuff. The shoulder straps can be attached to each other across the chest, and there are also two waist straps. And those two waist straps each have a pocket. One is fairly small, designed for flat things, like perhaps some money or your bank cards.
The other is a little larger and is actually passport sized. As this is a carry on sized (for most airlines) bag, that could be very useful when travelling through the airport to store your passport in. If you’re not flying, and just wandering around in the middle of nowhere, it’s handy for things like your keys, or a small first aid kit.
Below these straps is a pouch for a waterproof cover. This is attached to the bag, and when you don’t need it you just stuff it into its pocket, which is then sealed with velcro. When you do need it, you just pull it out and around the bag and it protects it from the rain. This is a common feature to Lowepro’s bags with the “AW” moniker. AW means “All Weather”.
There are two more zip-up pouches at the top of the bag, one on each side, although you can’t really fit much in these. One has a little hook inside it for attaching your keys, but both are a fairly tight fit. You won’t want to pack much in there. Perhaps travel documents, or a map if you’re out hiking in the middle of nowhere to shoot photos.
The extra pouches I have for attaching to the outside of the ProTactic BP 450 AW II are the water bottle holder, the large lens pouch (we’ll get to that in a minute, but it’s pretty cool), and the phone pouch. The phone holder’s nice and can handle large phones like my ASUS ZenFone 5 as well as those from the likes of Samsung, Apple, etc.
Each of the accessories attaches using a double velcro strap. It slips through one of the horizontal straps on the bag, and then velcros to the pouch on one side and then a little flap on the other for extra security.
One of the advantages of this type of pouch is that they can easily attach to your belt when you want the usefulness that one of them offers without having to carry the whole backpack out with you. One particularly useful accessory that’s the poster child for this kind of use is the Lowepro ProTactic Lens Exchange 200AW. This is a large lens pouch, similar in size to the one that came with my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8VR. But what makes this one different is that it actually has two slots for lenses, allowing you to quickly and easily change lenses in the field.
The bag unzips and then expands to reveal the second lens slot. One lens comes off your camera and slips into the empty pouch, then you pull out the other lens and attach it to your camera. Finally, you zip the bag back up. It zips up just fine regardless of which pouch the lens is in.
This, too, also has a built-in waterproof cover so if you do have it on your regular belt or the Lowepro ProTactic Utility Belt, you can still keep it covered up if the skies start to fall.
It also has a little strap for attaching other smaller accessories, like maybe the phone pouch.
On the other side, it also has a stretchy neoprene pocket for storing other small items, such as memory cards.
Overall, the modularity of the Lowepro ProTactic system and the range of accessories available is very impressive. This type of modularity was what initially drew me to Tamrac, too, all those years ago, but it was never really as well developed as Lowepro’s system appears to be. The Lowepro accessories for the ProTactic System are very useful and appear to be just as rugged and well build as the ProTactic bags themselves.
It might have taken me 16 years to find another backpack that I really liked, something that I could see myself using on a regular basis, but the Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II appears to have won me over. From the instant I put it on, it just felt right – as long as I don’t put a laptop in it.
And that’s really my only negative about this bag. Although to be fair, most of them suffer from this affliction, at least for me. I don’t know what the solution is to the laptop conundrum on bags like these. Perhaps a little more padding on the sides of the back to stop it flattening out so much? But I’m going to keep testing out backpacks until I find one with a laptop slot that still feels good when it’s in use and the bag’s full of kit.
For now, though, the Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II has usurped my trusty long-standing former favourite backpack and will be my go-to whenever I need to carry a bunch of gear out to a location. It feels great to wear, the shell is tough and solid, there’s plenty of room on the inside, it has a bunch of pockets on the outside for storing small items, and you can add more via pouches and accessories on the outside if it’s not enough.
I’m definitely putting this one in the win column for Lowepro.
The Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II is available to buy now for $269.95. The bottle pouch is $24.95, the phone pouch is $24.95, the Lens Exchange 200AW is $54.95, and the Lowepro ProTactic Utility Belt is $59.95.