Travelling Heavy

Gear review – Lowepro Flipside 400

We’ve got a big trip later this year – we’re off to Burma, which is very exciting. And if you’re spending 20+ hours to get anywhere you really want to make the most of it photographically, so I’ve been bolstering my kit a touch in readiness but the thing I was really struggling with was a bag.

I narrowed the options down to 3 or 4 candidates but was dithering terribly for months when my wife – bless her – resolved it by getting me a Lowepro Flipside 400 for my Birthday. It’s a great bag – capable of holding all the kit I want to take, really comfortable to use, should (just) fit airline carry-on and – most importantly for me – the Flipside design means you don’t have to take it off to get at the contents: the opening is in the back of the bag and there’s a huge waist strap meaning you can just slip it off your shoulders and swivel round your waist to get access.

I’m a prolific lens changer and my bugbear with backpacks has always been the faff of taking it off and plonking it on the floor to get inside. And before that you have to spend 10 minutes trying to find a quiet corner free of running children, dog turds and stray lens-kicking feet in which to do it – by which time you’ve likely missed the shot anyway. The Flipside lets you do it in a few seconds with no fear of dog turds. With practice you can probably take out a couple of kids while you’re at it.

So the Flipside looked pretty much perfect, and a recent trip to York gave me the opportunity to give it a proper run-out. Well it just didn’t work.

Partly it was the size of the thing – it sticks out about a mile behind you. The first morning, I put it on in the hotel room and then found I couldn’t get through the door – I wedged like a long truck trying to turn into a narrow alley.

The crowded Steam Museum wasn't ideal for bulky kit

The crowded Steam Museum wasn’t ideal for bulky kit

Then we spent most of our days pottering around dinky streets, fighting through swarms of people (York is not short of tourists!), and nipping in and out of buildings; it was just too bulky to manoeuver comfortably. Burma I expect to have even more cramped situations in markets and temples and things so I started to wonder just how practical it’s going to be.

Dragging a full Flipside up 9,000,000 steps of York Minster's tower isn't the best fun I've ever had

Dragging a full Flipside up 9,000,000 steps of York Minster’s tower isn’t the best fun I’ve ever had

Also the weight got to me – it’s a big bag and I crammed in two bodies, five or six lenses, a flash (you never know), various filters and batteries and so on – so that should be no surprise. Worn properly across both shoulders with the waist belt done up it’s heavy but perfectly manageable, if hot (all that padding is wonderful for protecting my kit but within 100 yards my shirt back was soaked with sweat, which made for a soggy and somewhat fragrant day – though it did help secure space in crowded pubs). But given the bulk of it and the places we were going into, I tended to have it just slung over one shoulder – doesn’t make for a happy spine.

 

So at the end of each day I was just sick of carting it all around, and at least one reason I got no lovely night shots was the urgent need for beer to recuperate (the other reasons being all the less urgent beers that followed).

After a few hours, it's all I really wanted

After a few hours, it’s all I really wanted

The Lowepro is a tremendous bag for transporting a lot of kit around, and I can see it being great (if hard work) for landscape hikes, and it’s already done sterling work on a couple of kit-heavy events. But for Burma, for me, iI’m not sure it’s right.

Of course the appallingly obvious answer is that it’s not a bag issue at all, but simply that Too Big + Too Heavy = Too Much Damn Kit. Thing is, I used all of it.

So now my choice is clear: either take the full Flipside and live with being burdened and sweaty and cross, or go back to one of my trusty shoulder bags and sacrifice stuff I know I’ll need (or at least want). Luckily I still have a few months in which to dither.

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6 thoughts on “Travelling Heavy

  1. Cross sounds bad, especially on a trip-of-a-lifetime. Plus, your pictures will be worse if you’re cross. Don’t travel cross.

    I took exactly two lenses to OHM, and ended up using one of them almost all the time. Which meant abandoning any attempt at a number of shots that would have been great, but on the other hand I didn’t lose any to oh-dear-must-swap-lens issues. I’d do it like that again.

    I am, of course, a photographic lightweight by comparison to your good self.

      • 🙂 I wouldn’t put it quite so harshly.

        What would happen if you took exactly one body & one lens, and did the best you could with that ?

      • Actually I’m tempted to do just that – my 35mm prime is a joy and has done 90% of the work lately. Using just that would give a classic photojournalist look. But there are specific places, events, shots that it just can’t do. Not wide enough for full pagodas, way too wide for the festival at Inle Lake, etc. And then I’d be even more cross!

  2. So your argument is that you need exactly three lenses ? 🙂

    I think that whatever you take there will be shots you won’t be able to get. It’s either kit shortage at one end of the scale, or not having time for lens-swapping and kit portage at the other end.

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