Review: Lowepro Whistler BP 450 AW backpack excels off the beaten path, in demanding conditions
posted Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at 6:59 AM EDT
Lowepro has designed their Whistler BP 450 AW backpack for active photographers who demand the most from their bag. Able to withstand just about anything you can throw at it, the Whistler is very well-suited for your wild photography adventures.
Sharp styling and many features
This is a serious backpack designed for demanding photographers and videographers. With its technical styling, the Whistler looks more like a hiking backpack than one aimed at photography, but don't let the looks fool you -- it's well-designed for photographers. The 450-denier ripstop nylon exterior has TUP face coating, Nifco side-release buckles, Duraflex hoops and a Hypalon base, and comes in gray with eye-catching orange accents. The pack also includes an All Weather cover -- hence the AW in the name -- which can be easily stowed away when not in use.
The multiple heavy-duty attachment points allow you to carry poles, skis, a snowboard, tripod(s) or more without blocking the camera compartment. The zipper pulls and buckles are all glove-friendly and very heavy-duty. These are some of the best buckles I've used, and in my opinion a great photo backpack results from attention to details like this.
The spacious interior of the Whistler 450 AW fits a professional DSLR with up to 4 lenses, a flash, GoPro and more. Its internal dimensions are 9.53 x 6.54 x 15.75 inches (24.2 x 16.6 x 40 centimeters). On the front of the backpack is a roomy, expandable pocket which itself includes a zippered interior pocket, and which has plenty of room to keep essentials and your keys. The front pocket has a key leash, and is waterproof as well, including drain holes. It's isolated from the camera compartment, so you don't need to worry about throwing muddy or wet gear into the front of the backpack.
The main compartment is accessed via the back of the bag, so you have to take the backpack off to access the compartment. But, on the other hand, that also means that you don't need to remove your tripod (or skis / poles) that you have attached to the front of the pack to access your camera gear. The camera compartment has a hinged back panel/zipper which allows you to keep the main compartment partially covered when accessing your gear in inclement weather, an excellent touch!
With Lowepro's patented MaxFit system of customizable dividers, you can quickly and easily move around dividers to fit your gear. The interior also has a lot of Velcro, so I was able to use my LensPacks with this backpack, as well. The dividers offer a lot of protection and I like the system a lot. The main compartment is also removable so you can clean it or dry it if need be. The internal compartment is surrounded by rigid inserts too, so it's well-protected regardless of what you have strapped to the front or sides of the pack.
If you don't think you need all of the space that the 450 offers, the Whistler is also available in a smaller 350 size.
Padded straps result in excellent comfort
With its padded shoulder straps, chest connector and waist belt with quick-release buckle, the Whistler backpack is very comfortable to wear. One aspect of the bag that was notable was its weight when empty. The bag itself tips the scales at just over seven pounds, but this is also a large pack with a lot of features and durability, so it's not too surprising that it's a bit heavy.
The various straps are easily adjusted, and excess strapping can be tucked away within attached elastic loops. The shoulder straps are nicely padded and fairly breathable, although like any backpack, you can expect some discomfort when wearing it on a hot day or when you're burning serious calories on the way to your destination. I tested the backpack on a few particularly hot and humid days and I found that the straps dried out quickly and never caused any chafing or other issues.
The ActivZone padding on the back of the bag might not seem like much, but it provides excellent comfort and ensures that the bag doesn't slip around no matter how much you're moving or how heavy the gear you're carrying is. This is really important because if you're skiing or biking (as I was), even a small amount of jostling from side to side can have a big impact on your comfort and ability to safely get from point A to point B.
The shoulder and waist straps also include padding and rubberized material to comfortably stay where you want them to. Regarding the waist strap, there are loops for you to attach gear as well as a pocket in which I was able to store my 5.5-inch display smartphone. It was a tight fit, but it worked and I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of smartphones will fit nicely into this pocket. I do wish that the shoulder straps had a small pocket or two, perhaps for lip balm or a snack bar, but that's a small complaint and there might simply not be enough room.
The Whistler 450 AW is a very good backpack, and presumably the closely-related 350 is as well. The rigorous design and testing process that Lowepro used in making this pack is evidenced by the bag's quality and attention to detail. With that said, it's not for everyone. If you aren't constantly in motion or needing to carry your gear through rough terrain, you may find a lighter backpack better-suited for your needs that will likely come in at a lower price point.
So is this the right backpack for you? That depends. Have you ever thought, "I wish I could attach my skis to a photo backpack?" Then yes. Do you want to do serious hiking without having to compromise on how much photo gear you can bring? Another yes. Do you simply want a backpack that will hold a lot of gear as you walk around town? Then it's probably not the right Lowepro model for you. This backpack is for designed for demanding photographers that work beyond the beaten path, and in that regard it is one of the best.