|Lowepro Dryzone Waterproof
by Jim McGee
Imagine canoeing down a quiet lake in the wilds of Canada. Your camera gear is snug in your backpack, the pack snug in the prow of your canoe. As you edge out of the lake into an easy flowing stream you miscalculate and suddenly your canoe spills both you and your backpack into the water. A few seconds later you've righted the canoe but your backpack is nowhere to be seen. It's gone to the bottom with all your gear inside!
At first glance the Dryzone looks like yet another variation on the Lowepro Trekker line of photo backpacks. In some ways that impression is correct but with one major difference: the Dryzone is completely waterproof. So waterproof in fact that Lowepro claims a Dryzone will float with 60 pounds of gear inside.
To get that level of waterproofing in the Dryzone Lowepro employed drysuit material in the design of the bag. This is the same stuff that divers use for their suits when diving in extreme cold conditions. It simply won't leak. The bag itself is sealed with special TIZIP zippers to provide a completely water tight seal.
The pack is available in all black or BRIGHT yellow and black. Take your pick based on the fashion statement you want to make or if you think the yellow will help when searching river banks for your lost pack.
I had the chance to use the bag on a recent trip down the Chesapeake and found some things that were distinctly good and distinctly bad about this bag when compared to other Trekker packs from Lowepro.
The first question you should ask yourself is whether you need a bag that is fully submersible. For most of us the answer is not really. Standard Trekker backpacks are awfully water resistant even in heavy rains and most offer a rain cover if you're hiking in really wet conditions. To put it in perspective during the deluge and flash floods I described hiking through in El Yunque rainforest my old beat-up Photo Trekker Classic remained bone dry inside - without the optional outer rain cover. So you should only be looking at the DryZone if you really need this level of waterproofing.
But if you do need it than this pack has all the positives of the rest of the Trekker line. That includes comfortable harnesses with padded collar cut straps, lumbar support, and mesh covered DryFlo padding that allows sweat and moisture to flow away from your body.
Inside dimensions are about the same as the Nature Trekker at 12"w x 6"d x 17" high. That means you can fit a body with a 300mm f2.8 attached or an unmounted 400mm lens. The padded interior is easily reconfigured with hook and loop fasteners and includes thick pads that can be placed to better support your lenses or removed to provide additional room. But be careful how you pack your DryZone. That drysuit material is thick and doesn't bend easily so trying to get to items packed closest to the bottom of the main compartment can be a little tough. It requires that you either force back the drysuit flap or pull the outer cover completely off and then fold the drysuit flap back. Either way it's not a fast operation and it hinders working out of the bag. Another thing I noticed is that the drysuit flap has only one internal compartment for filters, flotsam, and jetsam whereas most trekkers have several pockets both large and small that cover the whole flap.
The DryZone does have those extra pockets, but they're located in a separate zippered compartment in the outer cover of the bag. Just remember that this outer cover is not waterproof and anything you pack there may get wet if the bag gets dunked.
The thing to understand here is that the DryZone is really divided into two parts. The main pack which is covered in the drysuit material and the outer fabric cover that holds the outer flap and has the shoulder straps and pack frame.
On the outside of that outer cover are two good-sized mesh pockets, plenty of loops for Lowepro's Street & Field accessories (or anyone else's accessories for that matter), and a neat tripod mounting system. The holder for the tripod feet pulls out of a velcro'd compartment in the base of the bag and mounts the tripod down the center of the bag. It's easily tucked away when not in use so that it doesn't snag on anything.
Another unique feature of that drysuit material is that it requires a special zipper to seal out water called a TIZIP. There is a fair amount of resistance to this zipper so Lowepro has included a t-handle zipper pull and finger pulls at each side to give you leverage. A tube of waterproof lubricant is also included with the bag and lubricating the zipper makes it much easier to pull. Just don't get the Vaseline-like lubricant onto one of your lenses. The thick sticky stuff looks and feels like it would be a bear to get off your glass.
The downside of this whole arrangement is that you're forced to pack a lot of small items into the non-waterproof cover. With the pockets full getting into and out of the bag becomes awkward. The weight of the flap combined with the fact that the two separate covers aren't tied together means that the flaps flop around and fight with you when you're trying to get in and out of the bag quickly.
While the cover represents a design compromise we found one annoying feature that qualifies as a design mistake. There is a sturdy rubber padded handle on top of the pack. This handle is how you usually grab the bag when loading in and out of vehicles and boats. The problem is that the large plastic quick connect buckle that secures the outer flap is mounted directly under the handle. It's impossible to pick up the bag when loaded without grinding the buckle into your knuckles. With use the handle on our bag has begun to stretch but still bruises your knuckles. Extending this buckle two inches out on a strap would cure this problem and make carrying and loading the pack much more comfortable.
One final concern we had was the thickness of the DryZone. The exterior of the bag is 11.5" thick without anything in the outer pockets and the shoulder and waist straps don't stow away. That means that packed with gear this bag won't fit into smaller overhead compartments.
We applaud Lowepro for the DryZone. It represents a great solution for photographers who make their living in and around the water and it's also a great solution for those working in dry dusty conditions where fine dust finds its way into everything. But you do pay a penalty in convenience for that extra security.
The average photographer or even the photographer that spends a lot of time outdoors will likely be happier with one of Lowepro's more convenient and feature laden Trekker packs. But if you're one of that select group who work in the kind of harsh environments this bag is designed for then the DryZone will be a godsend and there is no substitute.