Search This Blog

Monday, July 16, 2018

Hands On with the Shimoda Design Explore 60

 It's a photography backpack, but it is also so much more.

There has been a glaring hole in camera backpack offerings for those that want or need to be out for more than a day with camera gear, camping, sleeping rough, or whatnot. The problem of how to carry both photography equipment and camping (or other) gear requires sacrificing space or convenience for one side or the other. The Shimoda Design Explore 60 goes a long way towards solving this need to compromise with it’s secure modular system for carrying camera gear, ample space for non-camera gear, and internal frame and a strapping system that replicates regular (non-camera, made for hiking/camping) backpacks.

Explore 60, photo from
Shimoda Designs website
In other words, it can do it all.

The modular system, or core units, used in the Shimoda bags increases the versatility of the line by several degrees over having a pre-determined sized and shaped compartment for cameras and lenses. Details of the modular options available can be found on the company website, so they will not be rehashed here. They have several different components that will work with multiple configurations to fit a wide assortment of gear and needs. The website also provides all specs on their entire product line. Instead, this review will focus on the user experience with the product, overall impressions, good points, and points that could use improving.

The Shimoda line of camera backpacks and cases is so jam-packed with features it would take all day to cover a comprehensive list of them all.  But each detail, down to accessory strap buckles, was designed thoughtfully, with ruggedness, durability, and versatility in mind.

Examples of female-specific (left, from REI Traverse 65)
and generic or male-specific straps (right, Shimoda Designs
Explore 60). Note the different in the curvature of the straps
 from the shoulder attachment points.
This review is written from a female perspective, but the shoulder straps on the bag used for testing were most definitely designed for men, making it rather difficult to fully assess the comfort and fit of the bag. The curve of the straps angle the wrong direction for this female’s shoulders and the cross strap to secure them together is completely in the wrong location. It did not go up high enough to be of any use.

The straps do, however, have numerous loops and attachment points so a solution was found to connect the straps close to where needed, thus better stabilizing the pack, using a short bungee cord. The result was better than nothing but not as good as having a better fit. Trying the bag on a male subject, however, yielded a form-fitting comfortable fit, adequate to distributing the load from shoulders to hips.

The shoulder straps remove completely to reattach at different heights on the back of the bag, allowing for a full customization of fit for a wide variety of sizes of humans. They also feature rings that can be used to attach a camera, keeping the weight of the camera off the neck, using the backpack's frame and straps to distribute that weight as well.

The company is said to be testing a variety of female-specific shoulder straps to address the differing needs of men and women and their arrival on the market is happily anticipated.

How the pack was used for this review: 

All the items packed into the Shimoda Explore 60.  Large items, such
as the tent were compressed into stuff sacks. Camera gear easily
fit into two small core units.  This was a just-basics photography
excursion, leaving more room for camping gear.
The Shimoda Design Explore 60 pack was loaded up with necessities for a night of camping and shooting, and taken out for about four miles each way (eight miles in total), out and back along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, including a night of camping.

Camera gear carried was a full-frame camera body, two lenses, a couple filters and accessories, and a compact tripod (the compact tripod was brought to save weight as water was needed as well).

Two of the small modular units were used, but not the zippered case for accessories. As a result, the space in the lower compartment was not fully used as some camping gear was able to be stored there as well.

Lower compartment holding camera
body with lens, additional lens,
filters, core unit cover, pack
rain cover,  camp lights, and (under the
camp lights) spare camera battery and
remote trigger. Above the core units, a sleeping
 bag was stuffed into remaining space.

The upper compartment with the configuration mentioned above, comprised about one-third of the total height of the bag. The size of the upper section can vary as the floor of the top is more of a bag, than a set-in-place floor, the level of which will float up or down depending on how much cargo is in the lower compartment. This was large enough to hold a change of clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp pillow, and a few food items. Tent poles went into the large front pocket. The tent would not fit under the lid as the space was restricted by the lid floating only in front and not also in the back. However, the presence of attachment loops on the lid made it a perfect place to lash the tent for hiking. There are attachment loops on the bottom as well, but carrying on top is a personal preference.

Overall Impressions:

This bag has a ridiculous amount of space to carry pretty much anything needed for a day or a couple days of shooting and adventuring or traveling. The materials used in its construction are durable and wipe clean with a damp cloth. According to the bag specs on the website, construction is of “Extremely weather-resistant, resin-coated nylon shell” with “waterproof Splashguard™ YKK® zippers.” Sprinkling water on the fabric of the bag resulted in water beading up and not soaking in, even after several minutes of sitting.
Detail of beaded water on bag fabric
and zipper.  Water sat for 10 minutes
and no absorption was displayed.
This bag is perfect, not only for hiking and camping, when more than just photographer gear is needed, but also for general traveling, eliminating the need for a second bag to hold non-photo gear.  As the core units come with cover/carry sacs, the entire bag can be left behind (such as in a hotel) and only the core unit and gear needed can be toted.

The pockets on the shoulder straps are especially appreciated as they are actually large enough to be of use: large enough to hold wallets, travel documents, cell phones, water bottles.

Favorite details: 

Side access to camera gear: I was able to use one of the modular units facing the main opening (which rests against the body) and turn the other, which held an additional lens and filters, to face the side opening for quick and easy access, especially hand when changes lenses on the trail.
Fully loaded (tent poles already removed from the
front pocket), at the campsite and ready for unpacking.

The ability to adjust the height/location of the shoulder strap attachment points: As far as I have seen, this feature is unique among camera backpacks, but is a common feature on camping backpacks. Makers of quality camping backpacks recognize the need for a customized fit to distribute the load and haul it over long distances.

Shimoda Design has recognized this need as well. This sets their products apart from other camera backpacks and will be beneficial in any use made of the bags.

Pockets on the shoulder straps: Usually pockets in this location are too small to be of substantial use. The elastic pocket on the shoulder strap of the Explore 60 could actually hold a standard size water bottle without falling out when the bag was removed. The zipper pocket could hold a smartphone or a variety of other items.

Pockets on the hip belt: It’s a small detail, but the elastic pockets, that open to the side rather than that top, are much more useful that the zippered pockets on the hip belt of my regular backpack. Small items like snacks, wrappers for trashing later, compass, can easily be tucked in here for ready access.

Core unit dividers
The fabric of construction: This bag sat on pavement, rocks, dirt, rocky dirt, sticks, and logs. It got dirty and damp. The rain cover was not used, but on returning from camping, the bag body was wiped clean and dried with a towel, and it looked brand new again. Nary a scruff or scratch or residual dirty spot to be found.

Core units: These are the powerhouses of camera gear carry.  They can be turned and rotated in different directions depending on need.  The dividers are stiff and attach to the unit on three sides. The small core unit comes with two of the basic dividers, and one little quirky-looking divider made of two stiff square pieces, folds in the middle, with five attachment points.  This little guy can be folded into a shelf, or used to make a little box inside the core unit to contain small items like remotes or batteries.

As mentioned above, each core unit also comes with a zippered cover and shoulder strap to convert from a modular unit to a tote bag.  This allows the user to leave the bag behind and take along just the camera gear desired for an excursion.

Areas I think could use some improvement:

Anytime you have a large bag, it is important to have the structure to carry said load. The assumption should be made that the bag will be filled to capacity and the straps must be constructed accordingly. The structure of the straps are more than adequate to the task, however, the shoulder pads would do with a little more padding. If properly adjusted and fitted to the wearer, there should be minimum weight bearing onto the shoulders. There is, however, force against the front of the shoulders creating possible pressure points if there is inadequate cushioning. Also, using the rings on the shoulder straps to attach a camera increases the downward pressure of the straps on the shoulders, making the need for padding even more important. However, all human bodies are different and each person will experience the fit and padding differently. The perceived need for additional padding on the shoulder straps could have been a function of the inadequate fit of straps designed for males on a female body. 

Additionally, while the fabric on the back side of the shoulder straps and the hip belt has a bit of a tooth to it, there were still issues with the hip belt not staying in place, but sliding down, regardless of how much it was tightened.  Again, your milage may vary, but slighty "toothier" fabric would be a good consideration.

In conclusion: 

The Shimoda Design bag system is a significant investment, but the quality, durability, and above all, the amazing amount of versatility, make it worth that investment. It is a substantial piece of luggage that will fill the role of several different pieces, and should last for years.

Overall, the entire system is pure genius. 

Check out the complete line at

The sample used for this review was generously provided by MacGroup.

No comments:

Amazon Deals

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...