Lowepro Orion AW Camera Bag Review
rrp £139.99 although in shops for around £100
My first proper camera bag was made by Lowepro and so I have to admit that I’m not coming to this review without a little “baggage”, excuse the pun. That first bag, also a belt pack like the Orion AW proved virtually indestructible and for over 10 years completely protected my kit on numerous expeditions including several trips up El Cap. While I’ve only had a chance to play with the Orion AW for 3 or 4 weeks now it is made of similarly tough material and I would it expect it to provide the same level of long lasting protection, as an example the hip belt is made of the same material as car seat belts so basically indestructable.
The Orion AW is actually a two part bag. The main part is a hip belt mounted oversized “bum bag” with a small extra pocket on the back which could take a compact camera. This pouch pocket also stores the rain cover which gives the all weather protection hinted at in the AW bit of the bag’s name. There are additional slim zip side pockets that could carry batteries or a couple of rolls of film plus another zip pocket on top that could carry documents such as passport, tickets etc. Unzip and flip open the lid of the belt bag gives easy access to the padded interior which can fit a potentially huge amount of kit. Removable padded dividers attached by velcro allow numerous storage possibilities but the default set up suited me, with its central compartment for a large SLR with mid range zoom and then four compartments that can each take either a lens up to my hefty 80-200mm or a spare body or professional flash. There’s a further waterproof zipped pocket on the inside of the lid which could take passport, wallet or a dozen films.
The second part of the AW is a lightweight backpack that clips on to the belt bag or can be used separately. This includes two sizable mesh pockets that could fit a single rock shoe in each or a slim drinks bottle. I’m guessing here but the rucksack part is probably 15 litres and could easily carry a jacket, water bottle, harness, rock shoes and chalk bag but wouldn’t be big enough to carry a rack and rope (You’ll have to persuade your partner to carry all that in return for some photos). This upper backpack doesn’t have the belt bag’s waterproof all weather cover or any padding to protect your kit.
As a camera bag for climbers I think the Orion AW will fit the bill for those with plenty of kit either as a day pack or as carry on luggage when travelling. I wouldn’t recommend using it for check in baggage as all its straps and buckles will get knackered and for proper camera protection in the hold you’ll need a hard case such as those made by Pelican and Lowepro. I’ve regularly jumared with the belt bag and occasionally climbed with it but it will inhibit your climbing and obstruct your harness, anyway the Orion is a little too big as an on-route camera bag. The well padded hip belt and shoulder straps mean that even with a tripod attached the bag remains comfortable and carries well.
A couple of minor points to note. While the buckles are good quality heavy duty ones with a very heavily laden pack it is theoretically possible while dangling down a cliff face to accidently squeeze open the buckle against a projecting flake of rock - very hard to do but theoretically possible. The solution is either to wear the rucksack clipped in as a backup or as I’ve done larksfoot a sling clipped from the belt bag to your climbing harness. The Orion AW does look very much like a professional camera bag which will attract the eyes of thieves, the more colourful “casual style” bags by the likes of Crumpler are perhaps more discreet?
Finally of course there is the price - 140 quid is a huge amount to pay for a camera bag. All I would say is that most climbing rucksacs are pretty much that price and many peoples photography kit costs twice that of your climbing kit so it’s well worth protecting. The Lowepro Orion AW is a pretty Gucci bit of kit but see it as an investment – the build quality is much better than most climbing gear, it’ll be doing its job protecting your cameras long after your rucksack is riddled with holes.
Top quality camera bag suitable for keen climbing photographers or keen photographing climbers. Expensive but if you have a serious amount of kit worth the investment.
More information on the Orion AW (from the LowePro website)
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