I love to hike. I love to head out into the backcountry, and I regularly take my camera gear with me. Funnily enough, my first article here on dPS discussed just this fact. So it seems rather fitting that I got to review the Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag.
The opportunity to review the bag was also timely because I’m currently in the market for a new backpack and had been looking at several brands before the arrival of this Shimoda pack.
The Shimoda Explore 40 pack is designed to be used as a daypack. It’s not meant to be used for weeklong treks into the wilderness with your camera gear.
If you’re looking for a pack to suit those needs, Shimoda makes the Explore 60 which more resembles a trekking bag. It’s similar to my 55 L Vaude Bag but it’s designed to hold camera gear whereas my Vaude bag was designed solely to carry backpacking gear. That doesn’t mean I haven’t adapted the bag to carry my camera gear, but it’s nice to have something designed specifically for photographers.
The first thing I noticed about the pack was the material. It is distinctly different from the material of my other bags. I took the Shimoda Explore 40 out of the packaging and was surprised by the feel and texture. It’s a smoother surface that is deceptive at first.
I am used to a bag that has a sort of canvas type material that feels rough like an old tent. At first touch, I was a bit sceptical about the durability of this material. I needed time to get used to the differences. The material is, in fact, double-resin coated nylon. It does not feel like the material of my Vaude hiking pack or my Lowepro Backpack.
I tested it in my kitchen sink. The water easily beaded on the material and rolled off without soaking through. The zippers are also water-resistant. The Explore 40 does not come with a rain cover, though. Most of the time you won’t need one but to be on the safe side, there’s plenty of room to pack a generic rain cover, just in case.
The Shimoda Explore 40 is very well constructed of a heavy-duty material and also comes with a reinforced frame. Shimoda has inserted aluminum rods into the frame of the pack to help it maintain its shape and durability. I like the structure of the bag and how truly sturdy it feels.
The Core Units
The Shimoda Explore 40 is designed for lighter travel. It comes with two small core units as well as a medium sized one. The units are strong and durable. The dividers are easy to use and configure to the needs of your camera gear. I was able to remove pieces and reposition them quickly and easily without the Velcro becoming stuck to the sides and annoying me.
The camera gear is quite safe within the core units. They are designed to protect the gear and cushion items from the bumps and bangs that often occur when out on the trail. On my hike, I slipped down a rocky section of the trail and landed at the bottom of a steep hill. My gear was safe and secure within the core unit.
The two smaller core units come with a very basic strap that allows you to turn the unit into a shoulder bag for carrying around one or two lenses and a camera body. But the strap isn’t designed for all day walking through a city.
I could see the bag possibly digging into my shoulder if I were to use it to peruse a city with my camera for 8 hours. The unit is designed more for quick jaunts around the campsite or for short walks.
Storage within the Bag
The Shimoda Explore 40 is designed to hold more than just camera gear. I was able to pack food items as well as a water bottle. If need be the Explore 40 is equipped to carry a water bladder and hose. For this trip, I chose to take a small mug and water purifying drops, so I didn’t test out the water bladder compartment.
The bag comes equipped with tons of pockets. I was able to store my lunch, extra socks, my phone, a map, a rain cover, mug, and extra mittens within the pack. There was certainly room for more gear inside the pack.
The outer straps allow you to attach items to the exterior of the pack. You could choose to carry a small tent at the bottom of the bag.
The bag also comes equipped with a sleeve in which you can fit a 13” laptop. The padding of the back panel would protect the laptop from any bumps or bangs that might cause possible damage to the gear.
The Shoulder Straps
The pack comes with several different adjustable should heights. I put the bag on the smallest setting. To give you an idea I am 165cm (5’5″) tall.
The pack fit nicely on my torso at the smallest setting. The hip belt rested just above my hip bones, and the adjustable straps allowed me to set the shoulders comfortably so that I felt no strain and carried the majority of the weight on my waist.
The last thing you want is a bag that places most of the stress on your shoulders, and by the end of the day, you’re regretting your decision to take your gear.
My one complaint about the strap configuration has to do with the chest strap. It comes across the front and helps to keep the shoulder straps in place. This takes some strain off the top of the shoulders.
The issue is pretty much based on anatomy. The bag is designed as a unisex item. It does not take into consideration the female chest. Many women’s bags are designed so that this strap sits above the bust. I was able to slide the strap up somewhat but not enough to keep it from resting on the bust.
It’s a minor complaint that only female photographers will struggle to overcome. Believe me, we are used to this. It would be nice one day for someone to take the risk and design a camera bag specifically for the shape of a woman (hint, hint, Shimoda).
Accessing Camera Gear
The Explore 40 comes equipped with both side and rear access to your camera gear. For my test hike, I used the medium core unit and tested out the rear access. It was easy to get to my camera and to switch lenses when needed.
The core unit easily held my 5D Mark III, a 70-200mm, a 16- 35mm and a 50mm prime lens. The side access works quite well also. At home, I inserted the small core unit and stuffed the bag with towels to hold it in place. It was easy to sling the bag sideways and remove my 70-200mm while it was attached to my camera body.
Overall the bag is beautifully designed. I tested it on the Bruce Trail. It was a cold and rainy day. I completed a 15km hike over rough terrain. The design of the bag ensured it fit snuggly to my body. I didn’t ever feel burdened by the gear I was carrying.
The hard frame of the core unit did slightly dig into my lower back, but I was able to make a few adjustments to the straps and solved the issue. Over time I can see myself breaking some of the plastic clips, but this is pretty common in most bags. I have replaced the clips on my Vaude trekking bag on several occasions.
I wouldn’t use the Shimoda Explore 40 for long overnight hikes. The shoulder straps are not designed to carry the weight of camera gear plus all of the items necessary for a backcountry trip. Shimoda recommends their Explore 60 for those types of activities.
After looking on their website I discovered that they also offer a carry-on unit for planes as well as several accessory packs that can help make packing your gear easier to manage. I’ll be honest, I’m considering the carry-on the unit. The core units fit into this bag, so it’s easy to transfer items from carry-on to your pack once you arrive at your destination. I like this feature an awful lot. It would have helped me out a great deal last year during my trips.
See the bag overview in this video:
Shimoda recently completely a Kickstarter campaign. Check them out and see what you think of their products.