One of the main reasons I often decide to take my binoculars on a hike with me rather than a scope is because even large binoculars are far easier to carry. This is especially true when you consider that with a scope you also usually have to lug a tripod about with you.
So when I heard that Lowepro, who are probably best known for their range of quality camera bags, were adding a range of optics bags that included a backpack specifically designed to give wildlife watchers a “hands-free, protective and supportive way to carry a large spotting scope and tripod in the field”, I was immediately interested and made some enquiries.
Wex Photographic kindly gave me the chance to try out the Lowepro Scope Porter 200 AW and below are my thoughts and findings...
Carries more than just your Scope
The Scope Porter is far more than just a bag that carries your scope, it offers you a hands-free solution to also easily carry your full sized tripod, a small camera, some binoculars, a field guide and some personal items.
Main Scope Compartment
Inner Dimensions: 2.2W X 6.3D X 7.1H in./ 5.5 X 16 X 18 cm
The main compartment is very roomy and should accept most compact angled spotting scopes.
It is also very well padded and is adjustable to ensure a snug fit to help protect the scope as well as possible. To adjust the cavity to fit your scope you can move a base and two padded side walls that are attached with Velcro strips and has nine adjustment points to allow for longer/shorter scopes as well as thinner/thicker ones.
The main cavity is accessed by two zips that run almost half the length of the bag. They are connected together with a nice strap - this allows you to unzip both at the same time for quicker access. This flap can then also be fastened with a button that ensures that it won’t open accidentally.
As well as your Scope, tripod the backpack also has two side pockets, both of which are accessed by zipping them open. One has been designed to carry up to a 70 oz. (2 L) hydration reservoir (bladder) and comes with a small hole through which you can feed the hose, Lowepro call this their “Hydration Pocket” which should make keeping you refreshed even on a long walk as simple as possible.
A bladder is not included with the bag, but I checked and there are plenty available on the web with prices starting at about £10 all the way up to about £40. At the time of writing, I have not tried out the bag with a bladder installed, but I think it is a great idea and should be an improvement on carrying around a water bottle.
You can also choose not to use this pocket to carry water and instead use it to carry some of your other equipment or even something like a light fleece.
Within this side pocket there is another small pocket that has a lid that is kept closed with a Velcro strip.
Second Side Pocket
The other side pocket that is also accessed via a long zip that creates a nice big opening contains a number of smaller compartments and pockets inside it and is ideal for storing your field guides and some personal items like pens, keys, a small camera and there is even space for a pair of full sized binoculars.
For me, the fact that I could also carry my binoculars with me is important as there are times when a pair of binoculars, with their much wider field is far more ideal than a scope. In the past when if I wanted to take both out with me I would usually have the binoculars dangling around my neck all day, where they can sometimes get in the way.
There is also a stretch-mesh front pocket on the backpack.
Different ways to use the Backpack
For me the most impressive thing about the bag is the different ways you can use it to carry your tripod and scope, depending on the situation and terrain you are in and those requirements. Let me explain...
1) If you are wanting the most protection for your scope, like when you are traveling or you know you are not going to be using the scope any time soon, you can carry the scope completely inside the bag, with your tripod closed and securely attached to the rear of the backpack.
2) For the fastest access to your scope, you can also carry your backpack with the scope and the tripod already set up on your back. This minimises set-up time and ensures you don’t miss that sighting, but obviously provides much less protection for your equipment (unless you use your scopes own cover). Both your hands are free in this position to use any of your other gear, like binoculars or your camera.
3) You can also fix your tripod with it’s legs folded, but with the scope attached to it on either shoulder strap by using the auxiliary tripod collar and “Easy Clip” - this enables you to set up your equipment fairly quickly and is a little easier to move about than option No.2. It also keeps both of your hands free to allow you to use your binoculars, camera or flick through your field guide.
4) This is the solution that I like best, it is really just a variation to No. 2 as you mount the backpack to the tripod, but by tilting your tripod head, you can easily store the scope, which is still attached to your tripod inside the bag. This allows for fairly quick and easy access, but will ensure your scope maintains a high level of protection. Carrying your scope and tripod this way also means that both your hands are free. I thought that this was really excellent and was the way I used the bag the most whilst out in the field.
My usual way of carrying my scope and tripod was to have the scope attached to the tripod, fold the legs up and sling it over my shoulder. This works well, but can get a little uncomfortable on longer walks and means that you don't have both your hands free.
So far I have tried out the bag a few times, using it fully loaded and on fairly long walks and have been very impressed by just how much easier and more comfortable it is to carry all my gear.
This is achieved with the help of the well padded and fairly wide shoulder straps that distribute the weight over a bigger area as possible. I also like the mesh-covered back pad, that like the straps is well padded. This really helps make sure that the bag balances nicely on your back and ensures there is nothing to dig into you. The mesh should also help to reduce the amount of sweat as in theory it will allow a little air to circulate, but on all the bags I have tested, I have never really noticed that this makes much of a difference.
The Scope Porter backpack also comes with a sternum strap buckle and a waistbelt that will prevent it from swinging out sideways and moving about, but will add to the setup time. I tend to only use this when I know I wont be using the scope for a while and want to make walking with the bag as comfortable as possible.
Another nice feature that will come in very handy for all weather use is the built-in waterproof cover. It is tethered to the backpack and is stored in a rather neat and somewhat hidden pocket under the bag. Once you pull it out and put it over the 200 AW, it acts like a rain coat for the bag and can be used with or without the tripod attached.
Lowepro have also shown a good attention to detail with things like a safety whistle that has been built into the sternum strap buckle and the grab handle on top of the backpack has been rubberized to help ensure that it does not accidentally slips out your hands, that could lead to your gear getting damaged.
I thought that like other Lowepro bags that I have used, this one was very well made with high quality materials and if looked after should last you a lifetime. Fully laden, it was as comfortable as it gets, even on long walks and does a great job of protecting your gear. I like the fact that I can now easily carry my pair of binoculars as well as a scope with me and so for bird and general wildlife observation it is an excellent choice. I also really love how versatile it is and how you can mount the scope and tripod on it in different ways depending the situation.
|Build||9/10||Very well made and what you have come to expect from Lowepro|
|Design||9/10||Very innovative and love the different ways you can store and use your scope & tripod|
|Capacity||8/10||Big enough to carry most compact angled scopes & plenty of space for other things|
|Style||8/10||I love the long sleek design that is not only comfortable but looks great as well|