Lowepro Primus AW Backpack Review

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Lowepro Primus AW Backpack
List Price: $279

Quick camera access is key for the Primus AW backpack from Lowepro.

by Alan Davis www.alandavisphoto.net
Lowepro Primus AW camera backpack As an active mountain biker, hiker and photographer I have always been on the lookout for a photo backpack that carries well and allows for quick camera access to help capture fleeting photographic moments. The Primus AW immediately caught my eye with its unique side-access pouch. A U-shaped side zipper gives fast access to a complete SLR without removing the pack or even one shoulder strap.

The primary feature in this pack is its lower storage area that has both side and a lumbar access. By unzipping a U-shaped zipper on the right side of the pack via the extra-long zipper tab I can access a compartment big enough to fit my Canon EOS 5D with a 70-200 f/2.8 L lens without removing the pack (It’s not big enough for my 1D body however). I can also use the U-shaped lumbar zipper, but I have to remove the pack to do so. This option gives additional access to my camera and lens, a few small accessory pouches for batteries or filters plus I can reach another padded pocket just big enough for my 24-70 f/2.8 L (an optional divider is provided for use with a combination of smaller lenses or flash).

Lowepro Primus main compartment loaded with Canon EOS 5D and other camera gear
A top compartment (below left) is useful for storing hiking and biking basics—jackets, energy bars, cell phone, and wallet. It’s also big enough to stash an un-mounted 70-200 f/2.8 lens if more camera storage space is needed. Like the bottom compartment, the top one opens via U-shaped zipper on the back of the pack plus a couple plastic clips (as opposed to an opening on its outside). Like most packs, you’re going to have to remove your pack to access these odds and ends.

lowepro_primus_pockets1.jpg

Left: Lowepro Primus AW top compartment; Center: Lowepro Primus AW Glide-Lock Tripod Clip; Right: Lowepro Primus AW External Stretch Side Pocket

The pack also includes a Glide-Lock tripod clip and external stretch side pocket. Altogether I regularly added a 550ex flash as well as batteries, compact flash cards, filters, radio slaves and a small Gitzo Basalt tripod to my kit and sometimes a water bottle. You’ll also find a weatherproof cover that stows in the pack’s base that came in handy during one winter shoot I enjoyed, which segued from rain to snow to sunshine and back for several hours.

Lowepro’s suspension, strap system and waist belt are well constructed with ample adjustability. Because of the pack’s narrow profile, the bulk of its weight is kept close to your body’s center of gravity helping make even a full load feel like much less.

Multi-layered walls of water and abrasion resistant fabric make up the bulk of the pack, including layers of padding surrounding the camera storage area, the upper pocket area and the back. I was actually surprised at just how much material was used to construct the Primus AW. Given the few pieces of camera hardware that it’s designed to carry it felt overbuilt and a little heavy to me. Lowepro’s designers must like to err on the side of caution when it comes to gear protection. But on the trail, I would be willing to trade some protection, especially in areas of the pack that don’t hold the camera, to save some weight.

Lowepro Primus AW Backpack - side opening compartmentThe standout feature on the Primus AW is the quick camera access offered by the side compartment (see right). Being able to keep your camera protected while you bike or hike around in wet and rough terrain and then quickly pull it out to take a photo is invaluable. It can be a bit tricky pulling a big camera, like my EOS 5D and 70-200 f/2.8 L, out of the side pocket however. I actually practiced camera removal in a mirror before going out into the field. It’s not as easy as it looks in the video on Lowepro’s website and the last thing I want to do is drop my 5D. A lighter/smaller camera—and some yoga classes—would help loading and unloading the Lowepro Primus AW backpack.

The Primus AW fits into the fast-growing, environmentally-friendly, “green” category of products. About half of the pack is constructed from Cyclepet®, a 100% post consumer recycled fabric. Each Primus AW backpack contains recycled material comparable to approximately 22 soda bottles. Additionally, the Primus AW raises funds for Polar Bears International PBI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to polar bear conservation.

A specialized product like the Primus AW can’t be expected to do everything well. It doesn’t have a laptop compartment so it fails as a carry-on or travel bag for me. But this might not be a deal breaker to those less-dependant upon the digital world. More importantly, for adventure photographers, the pack is missing a hydration reservoir pocket. This was probably the biggest disappointment for me, making it impossible to use on almost any bike ride, or hike longer than about two hours.

The other sticking point for me is the retail price of $279. Although street prices are less, it still is selling for approximately the same as the much larger Lowepro Vertex 200 AW. I don’t understand the high price unless the cost of recycled materials is that much higher than non-recycled. Either that or those polar bears are getting French manicures. Personally, I would not pay that much for the Primus AW pack. But if I found killer deal on it then it would make a good secondary camera bag.

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Left: Lowepro Primus AW harness system; Center: Lowepro Primus AW rear-opening main compartment; Right: Lowepro Primus AW harness side view

Capturing dramatic light outdoors often means suffering through the elements as clouds, rain and sunshine intermix revealing the most exciting side of Mother Nature. Having a pack like the Primus AW enables you and your expensive camera gear to survive foul weather and better capture that fleeting photographic moment.

Alan Davis is a professional photographer and bicycle journalist. You can see his photography at www.alandavisphoto.net

Additional Links and Resources:
Compare prices and shop for a Lowepro Primus AW Backpack
Lowepro Primus AW User Reviews
Write a Lowepro Primus AW Review
Lowepro Primus AW Press Release
All Lowepro User Reviews
Lowepro Website
Polar Bears International Website


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  • Jean-Francois says:

    Hi, there is a hydration reservoir pocket. It’s not big but it’s there, in the outer shell, which is great since i dont want my gear and my water to cohabit in the same compartment. It is big enough for a 1.5L reservoir. I tried a 3L and i found it a little too long. The 1.5L is perfect for half day expedition, but i usually pack an extra 1L bottle in the side pocket.

  • Alan Davis says:

    Placing 1.5L of water, over 3 pounds of weight, in the outermost panel of the pack just seems kind of backwards to me. For stability purposes the heaviest things (camera and water) should be placed as close as possible to the wearer’s body, albeit not in the same compartment. There isn’t a hydration pack made that places the reservoir as far away from the wearer as possible, so using this pocket for that purpose seems a bit odd, but I guess that doesn’t mean it won’t work. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work well for my needs however.

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for commenting, Jean-Francois. And thanks for checking in to reply, Alan.

    Please post a review for your backpack, Jean-Francois. User reviews are the foundation of PhotographyREVIEW.com and we could use your Primus AW review, as well as reviews for your camera and other photography gear.

    Lowepro Primus AW User Review Page >>

  • Lease says:

    I love trekking. And on the verge of buying Primus AW. Hope to get some advice before i made a wrong decision (Already have 2 lowepro so far).

    Can the Primus AW carry 2L of hydration reservoir ? Can Primus Minimus do any better ?

  • Zaug says:

    Thank you for the well written review.
    I have a Sony α900 with the vertical grip (total size ~6″x7.25″) and am guessing it would be nearly impossible to use the side access with this camera-grip.
    Could you comment on this?

  • Martyn says:

    Great review and as one other commenter noted there is space in the front panel for a water bladder or I find a bottle in the stretch side pocket is adequate. As for carrying a laptop I can get my 13″ Macbook in a padded sleeve in to the front panel pocket and it is nice and secure, getting my 15″ Macbook pro in is a bit more of a squeeze and sticks out a bit at the top, so I would not recomend it as a regular option.

    In the top compartment I can get a thin fleece layer and a set of lightweight waterproofs and some food, so all I need for a day in the mountains of North Wales. I have also used this pack in the winter and the loops on the outside are ideal for carrying an ice axe on.

    Fully loaded with a Fuji S5 pro, 10 – 20 zoom, 18 – 70 zoom and 70 – 300 zoom, filters and tripod it is very comfy to carry, with a decent back length (suits me I’m 6’1″).

    Overall very impressed with this pack, and you can get it online for much less than RRP . Ideal for taking to adventurous locations but a bit over kill for round town use.

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