At the beginning of this year I started a review of the Lowepro Pro Trekker 300AW backpack so after ten months of use it's time for a little update... a conclusion if you will.
Firstly I have to admit that I don't use a backpack 100% of the time. When I'm going to be on the move a lot or I'm going somewhere wet and muddy (ie not somewhere you can easily put your bag down) I prefer to use a shoulder bag (Think Tank Retro 30 to be precise) which allows me to carry the essentials - Camera, 3 lenses, filters etc and access it all without having to put the bag down. On the occasions when I have further to walk or need to carry more gear then the backpack gets the nod.
With plenty of padding and a few tweaks of the multiple strap adjustments the Pro Trekker makes carrying a heavy load effortless and weight is distributed evenly as long as you don't use any of the tripod straps... I haven't yet found a way to attach a tripod to it without it feeling awkward. I haven't yet run out of space either, finding room for 2 DSLR bodies, 5 lenses, a large set of Lee filters and all the other accessories a landscape photographer carries as well as a flask, snacks, hat, gloves etc. I doubt I could fit much more than that but I'm certain I wouldn't want to carry any more than that!
There are a couple of downsides however - more niggles than major problems but worth mentioning.
The main gripe for me is the fact that the main compartment opens from the outside (ie the side facing away from you when it's on your back) which means to access your gear you have to lay the bag padded side down. Apart from summer evenings, I rarely find myself photographing anywhere that isn't wet/damp/muddy/sandy/snowy etc and the padded side of the bag does a great job of absorbing all of this ready for when you put it back on your back. I'd rather the tougher outside of the bag took the brunt of the conditions especially as it's more water resistant... I noticed on one occasion, having laid the bag down on wet sand that moisture had seeped in to the main compartment at the bottom corners.
Another niggle is the zip to the main compartment. All of the zips and fastenings are very sturdy, with a tab at the end of each zip to hold and a chunky loops for pulling the zipper, but the main zip is far from smooth. It could be that the weather sealing obstructs it but one of the two zippers on the main compartment of my bag takes an unnecessary amount of effort to move it and emits an unhealthy noise when it does budge... the other one works fine but I expected better from a bag at this price. When you consider that you might have to release up to five clips before opening the zip, accessing your gear isn't a quick process!
Personally I'd also have preferred to see better use made of some of the spaces. There are three tripod pockets - one on the back and a smaller one on each side... replacing the one on the back with a zipped pocket leaving one on each side might have been more useful. Likewise the six memory card pockets - it's a pretty tight fit to get a CF card case into one and I carry more than six cards anyway so even if I didn't have a card wallet they'd be no good to me and I would have preferred to see another pocket for batteries or something like that. These are just my own little ramblings though and many others may find them all useful.
These shortcomings aside the Pro Trekker is a quality bag and the things to love about it far outweigh the niggles. It's well built, swallows a lot of camera gear and is comfortable in use but the real selling point for me is the extra space for your non-photographic gear. It's not an all-round general purpose type of bag, as the name suggests it's made for the outdoor photographer but if that's what you are and you're in the market for a backpack this should be on your shortlist.