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Lowepro DryZone

What’s your bag, man?

By: Steve Kossack


Photograph Courtesy Lowepro

You might remember this rather silly phrase from the 1960’s — but in retrospect maybe it wasn’t that silly after all. Back then it was a statement of lifestyle, attitude, position and passion. In the world of today's photography I think this is still somewhat true. Naturally I’m speaking of camera bags in this context. Your bag can help or hurt you. It was true then and it is true now.

I remember my first camera bag. I still have it! It was a statement of fact then. What fact? Well the fact that I had so much photo gear that I needed to have a bag! My first approach was to just strap everything to my shoulder and carry it — and I did — but this soon became unmanageable and I needed to have an equipment bag. A watershed moment in my photographic life.

From here the story of which bag, how big, what it should and should not do is a long one that I think we all have experienced. For most of us, it’s an on-going story with no end in sight. Some of us know this, some of us fight it. I try to enjoy it! I still like the one bag with everything in it approach. The Photo-Trekker (the largest airline carry-on allowable) is my bag of choice. However, sometimes I need other options.

Photograph Courtesy Bob Lent

Out of necessity I had the need for a different way to transport photo gear down the Colorado river for our f-8 And Be There Grand Canyon Rafting workshop in early 2004. In prior years waterproof Pelican like cases were used. Some are the size of a small coffin! They were to my mind not only unnecessary but also space consuming and a plain nightmare logistically. I didn’t want to have to repeat this.

My solution in 2004 was the Lowepro DryZone. These bags come in two sizes. The DryZone 100 is about 2” taller than the Lowepro Mini-Trekker and the DryZone 200 is about the size of the Lowepro Nature-Trekker. I liked their design so much that I made them a part of the workshop, giving one to each workshop participant. Here’s why:

DryZone is the world’s first totally waterproof, soft-sided camera backpack. Even fully loaded, they float, so your gear is always protected. Think about this, it’s a backpack, its waterproof and will float! Waterproof and backpack are not usually words that go together.

So how do they accomplish this?


The inner drypod, where your photo equipment goes, is waterproof due to a TIZIP zipper which provides 100% watertight protection. It’s like a drysuit for your equipment.

DryZone 100:

• 1 SLR and 3–5 lenses (80–200mm f/2.8);
or
• compact medium format system

Size (Exterior):

12.5W x 8D x 17.5H in. (32 x 20.5 x 44.5 cm)

Size (Interior):

11W x 5.5D x 15H in. (28 x 14 x 38 cm)

outer fabric (Waterproof Drypod):
waterproof plastic-coated nylon

outer fabric (Backpack):
water-resistant 600D TXP and 2000D ballistic nylon


DryZone 200:

• large 35mm or digital pro SLR; 4–5 lenses (up to a 300mm
f/2.8, with hood reversed); flash and accessories;
or
• compact medium format system (like the Mamiya® 645);
or
• small field camera system;
or
• professional video system

Size (Exterior):

14.5W x 11.5D x 19H in. (37 x 29 x 48.5 cm)

Size (Interior):

12W x 6D x 17H in. (30.5 x 15 x 43 cm)

outer fabric (Waterproof Drypod):
waterproof plastic-coated nylon

outer fabric (Backpack):
water-resistant 600D TXP™ and 2000D ballistic nylon

What’s the difference between the two?

The 100 has a much less technical waist belt. The 200 is big enough to hold a 300mm f/2.8 lens attached to a camera body. The 200 is a lot bigger and heavier. Be aware that they both are heavy bags even when empty! Their price is not all that different though.

Photograph Courtesy Bob Lent

How did they work out for us?

Very well, at first. It takes a while to get use to the bags operation. There are a lot of zippers to pull and compartments to learn. Lowepro recommends that you leave the waterproof zipper open when watertight security is not need. However this lead to some trouble part-way down the river.

The DryZone seems to have been primarily designed for use around water. Just water though! I don’t think they had in mind, dirt, dust, sand, wind and water when it was designed. The TIZIP zipper, which requires lubrication (small tube supplied with bag), began for some, to malfunction after a few days. It started to separate when pulled closed and therefore the bag was rendered not completely waterproof. We found that more lubrication just seemed to make things worse by attracting dirt. The solution was to clean the zipper completely. This became a daily, if not bi-daily occurrence for some of us. The most annoying feature was found to be the front part of the bag. When released by the clip from its secured position, the front will fall to the ground no matter the orientation of the bag. It is apparently designed this way to provide access to the insides. The inside zipper does not provide a complete opening to the photo gear though. What this meant was that in order to get into the watertight portion (and that’s where I was 95% of the time) the front flap was always in the sand and dirt! Every time I closed this part of the bag (and you can’t pick it up if you don’t) sand and dirt found its way into bag. This caused TIZIP problems eventually.

A call to Lowepro provided an explanation of sorts. While aware of our problem, they said that they have had very little trouble with either of the bags considering the number of bags sold. Their position is that if they try and design a bag for too specific a client then they run the risk of not satisfying a more broad market or eliminating another segment. I suppose rafting down a sandy river was simply not one of the situations they envisioned.

So, the only solution is to try and keep the zipper clean and lubricated.

The Up Side

These are fine backpacks, as camera backpacks go. While certainly not up to backpacking standards (no camera backpack is) these bags feature an outer shell that comes complete with a technical backpack harness. Also included: ergonomic lumbar support; fully adjustable CollarCut™ shoulder straps; tuck-away tripod holder; self-draining mesh pockets; drain hole; rubber handle; and attachment loops for SlipLock™ accessories. The packs are comfortable to wear. But keep in mind that these bags are much larger in volume than the customary photo backpack and take a little more getting use to. For this reason I supplied my workshop participants with their bags far in advance of the workshop so that they could become familiar with their use. This of course applies to any photo gear to be used on location.

Photograph © 2004 Steve Kossack

Conclusion

Recommend — but only for a very specific use. Where water will be the only hazard the DryZone bag will be at its best. They did the job for us, but not without a struggle. I’ll use them again on next year’s Grand Canyon Rafting Workshop. I’ve learned through experience the bags weak points and was delighted with its strengths. However, I can’t really see a use for it again before then.

Steve Kossack is a photographic instructor and guide who lives in the American Southwest. He operates photographic workshops and tours under the name f-8 And Be There. Steve also is co-instructor on many Luminous Landscape workshops and appears frequently on The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.

 

 

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Concepts: Camera, Water, Grand Canyon, Photography, Waterproofing, Bag, Backpack, Single-lens reflex camera

Entities: Colorado river, Michael Reichmann, Steve Kossack, Lowepro Nature-Trekker, Steve, Lowepro, American Southwest

Tags: photo gear, backpack, zipper, waterproof, workshops, camera backpack, canyon rafting workshop, camera bag, workshop participants, Lowepro, TIZIP zipper, Grand Canyon, Luminous Landscape, soft-sided camera backpack, dirt, bags weak points, equipment bag, largest airline carry-on, customary photo backpack, technical backpack harness, There Grand Canyon, DryZone bag, tuck-away tripod holder, CollarCutu2122 shoulder straps, watertight, technical waist belt, ergonomic lumbar support, waterproof zipper, Luminous Landscape Video, Luminous Landscape workshops, bags operation, heavy bags, solution, silly phrase, rafting, sand, photographic, watershed moment, watertight protection, camera body