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Have you ever owned a piece of gear that became such an integral part of your daily life that you forget to think of it as anything other than absolutely necessary? The Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW backpack has done that for me, functioning as a critical piece of gear for every media trip and expo that I attend with my DSLR. While the Photo Sport has functioned admirably in this capacity, insinuating itself into my everyday life, there is one downside to taking such a piece of gear for granted: I forget to review it.

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The Photo Sport 200 is designed specifically for carrying a professional DSLR camera safely in an active environment. To accomplish this feat, the core of the pack is built around a padded, structured internal compartment that is beefy enough to protect your precious camera from harm–perhaps even in the event of a bad crash. The main protective block can be reconfigured a bit thanks to an internal velcro divider, but the stock configuration can hold a professional camera with lens attached, as well as another lens, flash, or other gear.

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In addition to the protection afforded by this internal padded compartment, the compartment also provides fast, convenient access to the camera. With a normal hydration pack, I’d have to bury my DSLR deep in the recesses of the pack, which would force me to completely remove my straps, unzip, and dig around until I could unearth my camera. With the Photo Sport, I can reach around to the side, unzip the camera pouch, and pull my DSLR out and get ready to shoot–all with one hand, and without removing my pack or even unbuckling any of my straps. In an action sports situation when a speedy setup is often key to snagging your fellow riders as they come whizzing by, the easy camera access afforded by the Photo Sport has proven invaluable.

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If you need to haul a ton of other photography equipment, have no fear: the 200 features a flap top closure similar to a full sized backpacking backpack, and the interior boasts up to 13.9 liters of carrying capacity. This is undoubtedly on the large size for a mountain biking hydration pack, but when I hit the trails with the goal of shooting photos, riding uber-light and going as fast as possible aren’t my main objectives.

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However, don’t think that the Lowepro will hold you back! Comfortable shoulder straps (with load lifters), a sternum strap, and a waist strap hold the pack securely in place over rough terrain. Over the course of numerous photo shoots and media trips, I found myself switching from photographer to subject and back again, and oftentimes I’d end up pinning down the mountain and off a wicked drop with my fully-loaded pack on my back. Thanks to the security of the straps and the internal compartment, I didn’t worry about my load bouncing around or causing damage to my precious cargo.

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In addition to camera equipment, every mountain biker needs to haul a certain amount of standard gear. Thanks again to the large storage capacity, the Photo Sport offers plenty of room for stashing food, extra layers, tools, spares, maps, and more. A dedicated hydration compartment keeps your water reservoir away from expensive electronics, and a rigid back panel ensures that the entire backpack maintains its form even when full of water and gear. While the hydration compartment is only rated to accomodate up to a two-liter reservoir (reservoir not included), I routinely stuff a full 3-liter bladder in that compartment. Packing three liters of water in there does cause the back to bulge out a little, but if you’re drinking water anyway you’ll be down to two liters or less in no time.

Hydration compartment

Hydration compartment

Backpacks like the Photo Sport are used in such a wide variety of situations that it’s impossible to predict where you might take it or how you might need to use it. So, Lowepro equipped this pack with a variety of external buckles, straps, and pockets–so if 13.9 liters isn’t enough, you can expand your gear hauling capacity at will.

The large volume of the Photo Sport is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing whenever you need to haul a ton of gear, obviously: you’re guaranteed to have more than enough room! So much so, in fact, that the Photo Sport is easily big enough to serve as an all-day pack for a mountain summit, epic mountain bike ride, backcountry skiing session, or whatever else you might need it for. If for some reason you want to haul a DSLR on a bikepacking trip, the Photo Sport, coupled with a frame bag and a couple of other bikepacking bags, could be the perfect setup.

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The plentiful volume is only really a curse on shorter, less intense rides. On rides when I’m hauling barely more than my camera and water, the extra volume is simply added bulk and weight that I just don’t want to haul around with me. Consequently, this keeps the Lowepro from being my go-to hydration pack for daily rides. However, for my average ride, I don’t want to carry my DSLR anyway. But normally when I’m heading out on a camera-worthy adventure, chances are we’ll be going a long ways and heading deep into the middle of nowhere. And then it’s time for Photo Sport to shine!

Finally, if the weather kicks up and you want to protect your precious gear from the elements, the “AW” in the product name stands for Lowepro’s patented, built-in All Weather pack cover. While I never had cause to use this feature myself, the cover is easy to access and deploy.

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All of these features combine to create a pack that I’ve turned to constantly over the course of the last year during my adventures all across North America. Every time I’ve called on it, the Photo Sport has responded and performed superbly. From hauling plenty of accessories and gear, to protecting my camera, to providing fast, easy access to my camera exactly when I need it, I’ve found the perfect mountain bike work pack for when I’m on the job. The Photo Sport has indeed become an integral part of my daily life, and I fully expect it to command that spot for years to come.

MSRP: $149.99

Thanks to Lowepro for providing the Photo Sport for review.

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