by Lee Trumpore
Few things can ruin a photographer's day faster than water, and getting enough of it even on completely "weather-proof" sports-specific camera bodies and lenses can spell disaster and a big bill at the repair shop. Yet some of the most iconic images of our sport have been captured in some of the worst possible conditions. While photographers will always have to battle the elements while shooting, the last thing they need to worry about is the rest of their gear getting soaked. Lowepro has long made camera bags for everyone from the enthusiast to the working professional, but the new DryZone series goes a few steps beyond traditional sealing and weather protection to offer a camera bag that is truly waterproof even in the worst imaginable conditions. As a cycling photographer living primarily in a country that gets well over 100 inches of rain a year I was keen to see if the new Dryzone BP 40L could meet my own personal and professional needs.
DryZone BP 40L Highlights
- Lightweight, waterproof fabric with an IPX-6 rating offers splash-proof protection from heavy seas; tested against high-pressure water stream from any angle
- Roll-top, wide-mouth opening provides access to gear
- Note: For splash-proof protection, fold 3 times (minimum) to top of stored items; clip buckles
- Removable, fully padded, adjustable camera case with taped seams enables transfer of photo gear to other carrying options and provides redundant weather protection when placed in backpack
- Features side-release buckles, ergonomic grab handles and zipper pulls
- Perforated, EVA backpad and shoulder straps to provide lightweight, durable and breathable comfort; adjustable strap position for ideal fit at torso
- Laser-cut tool loops and lash points offer attachment points for trekking poles and/or tripod
- Color: Yellow
- MSRP: $230
I was initially drawn to Lowepro gear because their backpacks just seem to feel 'right' when I put them on. I've stuck with their gear for a few years now because I've been impressed with the durability, the technical features, and the diverse range of products on offer. First impressions of the DryZone BP 40L were in line with what I'd expect from any Lowepro bag: Sturdy construction, light weight, attention to detail, and comfort. The outer fabric is durable enough to take a beating without being overly bulky, while taped seams on the inner bag add additional protection should water ever break the seal of the main shell. Heading into typhoon season I had little doubt that my gear would remain safe and dry long after I was soaked to the core. But the real test would be what it was like to work with, through lens changes, long hours in the saddle, and the repeated packing and unpacking that comes with each new location.
On The Trail
To be clear, the DryZone pack was not designed specifically for cyclists or cycling photographers, it was designed to be extremely waterproof in the worst possible conditions. So in a sense I was asking it to do far more than the designers had originally intended. Over the course of 8 weeks we've had 3 typhoons, countless rainstorms, and more than enough generally 'wet' days to put the bag through it's paces. Not once did I have any issue with water leaking into the bag despite my best efforts. Roost kicked up from the rear tire and a few crashes did little more than cover the bag in mud, while the outer shell, clips, and buckles continued to work as well as they did when the bag was new.
In terms of storage space I never found myself wanting more. With enough room for a full-frame DSLR, a 70-200mm lens and 2 other lenses and a flash (or an equivalent combination) I could easily carry the maximum amount of gear I would usually take with me on a ride. Most of the time I take much less leaving more room for extras like clothing, food, keys, phones, etc. Anything that didn't warrant the protection of the internal camera case could just be put on top, with more than enough room in the outer shell to store a substantial amount of gear without compromising its water sealing capabilities.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that this is a true dry-sack style bag, meaning it must be unclipped and unrolled each time you need to gain access to any of your gear. Then it needs to be re-rolled and sealed when you're done. If you are taking photos along a ride every few 100 meters this gets very tedious, very fast. If I was riding to a specific location I planned to stay at for a while then using the DryZone bag wasn't an issue. But if I were to try to use it while covering the Enduro World Series this summer for example I would have spent more time packing and unpacking my gear than actually working. This isn't a negative on the bag itself really, but more an example of using the correct tool for the job. For hiking, camping, rafting, river trekking, and some cycling the DryZone is fantastic. But for much of my work involving shooting, riding, or racing I'd grab one of my other bags simply for their ease of use as well as a few other features I'll detail later.
Long Term Durability
As has been my experience with other Lowepro products, the DryZone BP 40L is built to take abuse. Or to borrow from a relevant sailing analogy, to be 'sailed hard and put away wet.' I didn't have any issues with cracking or wear on the outer bag, the buckles are secure, and the sealing ability is still exceptional. It even came out unscathed after a battle with the jaws of a 6 month-old puppy. I had some initial concerns with the rubber latch point pulling away from the main pack over time, but thus far there are no visible signs of stress or premature failure. All told it's exactly what I would expect from a bag with the Lowepro label on it.
Things That Could Be Improved
Aside from what makes the DryZone imperfect as a cycling camera bag (which it's not designed to be anyway), there are a few small additions that I would have appreciated. While there are various loops and attachment points for lashing extra gear to the bag it would have been nice to have a dedicated tripod mount built in much like Lowepro's more traditional packs. As is, mounting a tripod (or an umbrella) is a bit of a challenge requiring additional gear and extra work to pack and unpack. It also mounts best horizontally rather than vertically which is a bit dodgy when riding in tight spaces. I'd also like to see some small zippered pouches on the exterior for things like keys, food, bug spray, or anything else that does't need to be sealed from the elements. Access to such items should be quick and easy without requiring a full unrolling and re-rolling of the main compartment. I'm completely willing to ignore the DryZone's shortcoming when forced into service as a cycling specific pack, but the addition of more integrated mounting points and easy access storage points would likely be appreciated by any end user regardless of the application.
What's The Bottom Line?
The Lowepro DryZone BP 40L is a well conceived, solidly built, completely waterproof camera bag that does exactly what it claims; namely keeps your gear dry even in the worst possible conditions (as well as underwater in my warm bathtub). It does require some compromise over traditional zipper-style bags in terms of ease of use and the speed at which you can access your gear, but if you are traveling or shooting in an environment were water is going to be the paramount concern (kayaking, river trekking, a Taipei monsoon) then this bag is absolutely worth considering. Due to its light weight and ability to pack down quite small, the DryZone is my go-to pack for most hiking trips and any time I am taking my camera gear out into open water.
For more info, hit up www.lowepro.com.
About The Reviewer
Lee Trumpore has been riding bikes for more than 20 years on just about every material and technology the bike industry has come up with. In more than a decade of professional DH racing, Lee won a Collegiate National Championship and was a mainstay at major North American races as well as occasionally snagging a last page result in the World Cup series. Testing prototype components and suspension setups was common during his racing days. He has a smooth, light style on the bike even while holding it wide open. An East Coast native, his favorite trails are fast and flowing technical descents with as many corners as possible and just enough moisture to keep things interesting. Nowadays, rather than racing the clock, he'd rather enjoy a rad descent after a hard pedal to the top. A closet nerd with a Master's degree in education policy Lee currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan where he splits his time teaching mathematics to the next generation of computer geniuses and behind the lens as a photo mercenary for Vital MTB and other industry clients.