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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Lowepro Backpack Strap
by Vivid Light Staff

We've all experienced sore shoulders and backs from lugging around overstuffed camera bags all day. The problem with the design of the "standard" camera bag is it puts all the weight on one side of your body. This forces you to compensate to balance the load and can lead to a number of aggravations from sore shoulders and backs to strained knees. If you hike or climb a shoulder bag can be downright hazardous - swinging around and changing your balance at the most inopportune times.

Backpacks solve these problems by distributing their weight evenly allowing for a more natural gate. Real backpacks (vs. what you carried your books in for school) have a padded waist belt. The idea is to distribute the majority of the load onto your hips so you're carrying the weight as low as possible (for balance) and putting the least amount of strain on your back.

But there are a couple of problems with photo back packs. They're not a good everyday bag because unlike shoulder bags they're difficult to get into quickly - requiring you to unfasten numerous buckles and straps before you can get to your equipment. Shoulder bags excel at this and many have quick access pockets so you never miss a shot. Another is size. Backpacks are designed for carrying a lot of gear. That means for casual shooting they're definitely overkill.

So why not buy both bags and use whichever one is best for the shooting you'll be doing that day? That's exactly what many photographers do. But with the better packs costing between $200 and $400 this is an expensive solution. Too expensive for many folks. This is especially true if you only find yourself in situations where the pack makes sense a few times a year. A less expensive solution is a backpack harness for your shoulder bag.

The one we have here is from Lowepro. Several manufacturers make these harnesses but this is one of the better models we've seen. It retails from $27 to $35, making it a real bargain compared to the cost of a backpack. But how well does it perform?

The answer, quite honestly, is that the harness is not nearly as comfortable as a true backpack but it's a big improvement over shoulder straps. One of the advantages of a backpack is it's balance. With the harness you're locating all of the weight right in the small of your back. We found that this translates into more of a tendency to rub than with a pack. The waist belt is a woven fabric belt rather than the heavily padded waist belt you get with a true backpack. That means it doesn't distribute the weight to your hips as well - a reasonable trade-off since a shoulder bag won't contain as much gear as a real pack. But the woven belt had a tendency to bunch up a bit when climbing requiring occasional adjustment. 

With a pack it's extremely important that you adjust the shoulder straps and sternum straps correctly or the pack won't ride correctly and will become uncomfortable. Because all the weight is down low with the harness this is even more important. Get it right and you notice a huge difference immediately.

We wouldn't recommend this rig if you're looking to get serious about outdoor photography. If that's your goal a pack is simply a better solution. But if your goal is occasional hikes in the woods or you're looking for a good way to carry your gear during some relaxed mountain biking, then the Lowepro Backpack Strap represents something really unusual in photography - a bargain.

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