Lowepro Pro Runner BP 450 AW II Bag Review

Lowepro designers and engineers must gather around the workbench with a pile of camera bags and challenge each other to improve features—large and small—that are already pretty damn good to begin with. That’s the only way I can explain how their bags keep getting better and better. The updates to the Lowepro Pro Runner series, introduced in late May, prove my point.

I have never attended a Lowepro design meeting, so I can only speculate. But in my mind’s eye I can imagine them mulling over ways to improve upon excellence. They took a line of photo backpacks that was already very popular with working pros, the Pro Runner series, and made it better.

There are three bags in the new lineup, Pro Runner BP 350 AW II, Pro Runner BP 450 AW II and the Pro Runner RL x450 AW II. The 350 is smaller than the 450 but otherwise very similar. The RL x450 is much like the BP 450 but features a pull-up handle, rollers and hideaway shoulder straps so it converts quite easily into a roller bag. As you no doubt already know, “AW” stands for “All Weather” which means the bags are delivered with waterproof covers that can be quickly deployed.

The Pro Runner BP 450 measures 13.7 x 7.1 x 19.5 inches, well under the maximum size of 45 linear inches allowed by most domestic airlines. (And despite what you may have read elsewhere, it looks like the airlines will not be shrinking that any time soon.) The 350 is more than one inch smaller in each direction (i.e., 12.4 x 5.5 x 18.1).

If you ignore the thickly padded shoulder and waist straps, either bag looks like a stylish, rugged carry-on with padded haul handles on top and one side. Two long, vertical zippered pockets on the front afford space for small last minute items and keep them immediately accessible.

There is a rig to lash a tripod on the front, typical mesh pocket on one side and on the other, two sets of SlipLock attachment loops for hanging Lowepro accessories. The thick, back-sparing pads on the rear are among the best looking—and most comfortable—I’ve ever seen. The bottom does not have feet but does unzip to reveal the weather wrap. It’s light gray, so it provides some defense against the sun, too.

A full length, lockable, double YKK zipper closes the large, padded front pocket which stows a 15-inch notebook computer, 10-inch tablet and other large, flat things, like a reporter’s notepad or a small cafeteria tray. You get the idea. This is the first of what Lowepro calls “organization zones.” The protective padding is thick and I don’t hesitate to carry my beloved MacBook Air there, even though it is the outermost location. Lowepro’s proprietary CradleFit pockets suspend and protect items in this first zone.

The next zone, the camera zone is opened from the front, which I applaud because it’s not necessary to fight through the shoulder strap to retrieve a lens or whatever. Once again, the double zipper is a lockable YKK built to last a lifetime. “Double” means two pull tabs allow you to open or close from either direction.

Inside are the normal removable, padded dividers and a flat pull-out bag that could store a portable hard drive, tools and so forth. Here’s an example of what I meant when I wrote that Lowepro people continue to make incremental improvements: on the back of this pull-out bag they positioned a clear business card pouch which could save your bacon if you ever left the bag behind accidentally.

The specs say one can pack two DSLR cameras and six or seven lenses, but I found that to be conservative. I effortlessly packed a Nikon D2X with 50/1.4, Nikon D800 with 70-200mm f2.8 affixed and eight additional lenses—that makes ten lenses total. That’s a lot of weight to schlep, but the Pro Runner 450 made it easier than it might have been otherwise.

Inside the lid that covers the camera zone there are three zippered pockets with translucent fronts so you can see the contents. These are perfect for Cokin filters, wayward lens caps, etc. There are two small stretch pouches, also, designed to hold memory cards—although I can think of better places to carry memory cards—like your pocket.

Negatives? I wish the bottom was rubberized or had feet to raise it from airport floors and wet surfaces. The empty weight is 6.5 pounds for the model I’m using, so no complaint there. The color is basic black, but Lowepro jazzed up the trim surfaces with a diamond pattern that looks quite luxurious.

The new Lowepro Pro Runner II photo backpacks are available now directly from Lowepro or at your favorite camera retailer. Pro Runner BP 350 AW II costs $249, the larger Pro Runner BP 450 AW II costs $299 and the Pro Runner RL x450 AW II which becomes a roller bag is $399.

—Jon Sienkiewicz